A few days ago I wrote about remembering harming myself as a child. I was in a therapy session, talking to J about self-harm and how it often emerges in adolescence. It suddenly dawned on me that I self-harmed long before I knew what it was. That was a shocking recollection. It’s left me feeling anxious and angry and lost. I just don’t know how to process it, because it’s like the more I explore in therapy the less I believe any of my own narrative is true. I don’t know who I am.
I’ve always thought that I was this tough, resilient little girl who didn’t let anything get under her skin. Soldiering on, I kept it all together. I worked hard to take care of everyone and keep them happy. Until recently, I’d assumed things only got on top of me in the last ten years.
J says she thinks I have a superhero self-image. That isn’t a good thing. It’s like I sympathise with anyone in the same position of me, but I tell myself I’m pathetic or I’ve failed because I’m not doing better. I read the literature and it all makes sense, but then I find it impossible to apply to my own situation. I want to think I am different to everyone else. I don’t want to be ‘textbook’ anything (even though I, of course, am).
Reflecting now on the few years after my parents found out about the abuse, I am really unsettled by how disturbed I actually was. I would punch myself, burn and cut myself. I don’t remember being conscious that any of these things were out of the ordinary. I know I wanted a real wound. One people could see. It was as simple as that.
When I was sent for horrendous counselling by social services, I self-harmed to control my feelings. I didn’t want to cry because I hated the counsellor. So I would pinch myself or bite the inside of my mouth. The shock of the pain stopped the tears.
I’d also cry alone in my room most evenings. I cried because I wanted to be little. I thought the root of my misery was having moved up from Primary to Secondary school. I felt different to the other children because they all wanted to grow up, they loved their new independence, and I hated it. What I see now, is that the abuse happened in the summer holiday between schools. I wasn’t longing not to grow up. I was wishing I could go back to the time before; things were easier then. And growing up was associated with a whole lot of stuff I didn’t want to have to deal with.
I’d keep these tears to myself. At some level, I must have been ashamed of them. I was scared to draw attention to myself when I felt that way. I didn’t feel like that about everyday sadness. I would always go to my mum for comfort when my sister upset me or if I saw a dead animal on the road.
That part of me is still active now. The young, fragile part that feels like she has to do everything on her own. Aside from J, I can’t imagine anyone being able to handle me being honest about my feelings, or talking openly about what happened to me when I was only ten. That thinking is so ingrained, I don’t even know if I have the vocabulary to express those feelings. So I withdraw. Even in therapy, I isolate myself by avoiding eye contact with J, going silent and dissociating. Because when I go to the darkest places, I just don’t want to risk letting anyone go there with me.