I’ve wanted to post this for a while, but now I am finding it hard to start writing. Self-harm is such a difficult, triggering and emotive topic. So please, if this might trigger you, take care of yourself and read it later when you feel stronger.
I’ve had a real problem with self-harm. When I was 16, I went through a short spell of cutting myself. It was very superficial and I was very mixed up. I hadn’t yet realised I was gay. I felt different to my friends but couldn’t figure out why. A small part of the reality of the sexual abuse I experienced as a child was slowly reemerging for me. It was a time of change, physically, emotionally. I was starting to make big steps toward my future, like taking my driving test and choosing a university.
After a short time, this behaviour just seemed to settle down and disappear. I had another brief period of very self-destructive behaviour when I was 21. I was at university, I’d just come out and I had no idea who I was. I drank. I drank far, far too much. I got so wasted I stereotypically went home with people and didn’t recognise who they were in the morning. I fell asleep in car parks, the library, a phone box, the list goes on. I smoked a lot of weed. I took class A drugs with people I didn’t know very well in places that weren’t very safe.
Again, that behaviour just faded. Until about a year ago, when I started cutting again. I was under a lot of pressure, and struggling to deal with looking after people in my family who were emotionally needy of me. I started cutting myself because their sadness made me feel anxious and helpless. It made me feel like a failure because I couldn’t fix things for them. It was easy to get into the habit of taking it out on myself.
So last October, I began superficially cutting myself and again, drinking heavily. The two would often go hand-in-hand. Half a bottle of wine, some depressing music and a broken piece of glass I kept hidden in a drawer.
Once I’d been doing it for a while, it started to become a reflex. And surface scratching of the skin on my thighs wasn’t enough. I went deeper. I found the glass shards and kitchen knives inadequate, they just didn’t do enough damage. That meant I went shopping and bought something much, much sharper.
Once I had those blades, I was so excited. It was a rush just knowing they were in my car. I had them for a few days before I tried them out. With the lightest pressure, they tore through my skin, exposing the yellow fat layer underneath. The blood pooled quickly and I was exhilarated. I got a rush, I was shaking and grinning at what I’d done. I had to wrap my leg in sanitary towels and go to hospital to get sutures put in the wound.
I assured my wife I would never do it again, but I knew really I would. Even in the hospital waiting room, I kept getting butterflies in my stomach thinking about what I had done. I wanted more.
It was only a few days later when I did it again. Multiple lacerations to my forearm. Same drill, off to hospital. This time they managed to stick it all back together with glue. I hated my wife’s distress, but for myself, I got a thrill. I was proud of what I’d done and what it said about me. It screamed, ‘Hey everyone, I’m really not OK. I am fighting hard. I’m losing. It’s awful and I’ve had enough’.
The third time happened a week on. We’d just sold our house and moved into my parents’ place. I knew all day that I was going to do it. So did my mum and my wife, they watched me all afternoon. When they went to walk the dogs, I seized my chance. I ran to where I’d hidden the final blade in the bathroom, rolled up my trousers and started hacking at my right leg. I got into this terrifyingly dissociated state. I had lost control and I just couldn’t stop. I was frenzied, manic, and I could not stop.
I didn’t stop until they came home. The bathroom was like a murder scene. There was so much blood, all over the white tiles. All over me. My leg was ripped to pieces, gashes inches long exposed the flesh all over my shin. I was shaking, I could hardly breathe. They bandaged me up and bundled me in the car. As the surgeon worked on sewing my leg back together, my wife held my hand, and in tears, I promised her this was the last time. I knew I couldn’t end up there again.
Strangely, it feels like a long time ago that I sat in my parents’ sitting room, confessing to my consultant what I’d done and agreeing to be admitted to the psychiatric hospital. I’ve come an incredibly long way since then. I do still self-harm at times, but not in such a devastating way. As I continue the work of processing my trauma and recovering from this horrendous time in my life, my body has also been working hard to heal my scars. Here’s my leg then and now.
I just want to say to anyone struggling not to self-harm, be patient. It doesn’t happen overnight. Don’t be ashamed of what you’ve done, remember it is a symptom of an illness. Try to find some compassion for yourself, as though you were sitting with someone you love dearly, helping them get through. Dare to reach out and hold your own hand. It’s scary I know, but I am starting to do it and I assure you it is possible. You will get there.