This could be triggering. If you’re struggling with self harm, please take care if you read on.
There are obvious reasons why I damage myself; self hatred, anger, trying to cope with overwhelming feelings. There’s also the addictive or learned part of it. I know how it will feel. I know I’ll enjoy it. There will be a release. What’s going on internally might not improve, but it will change, and that gives me a sense of control.
When I bleed, I feel gratified. It feels like something is being rebalanced. As I cut myself, I rarely feel any pain, only a slightly euphoric sort of relief. It’s a sense that I’m doing what needs to be done. It’s the right thing. It’s necessary.
Afterwards, the cuts are sore and they throb. Again, that’s gratifying. Knowing they are there is important to me. I like feeling them. If they’re not sore, I’ll squeeze them so I can feel the tenderness. For some reason that matters to me.
I also like the wounds. I enjoy looking at them and remembering how it felt to cut. I enjoy watching the blood. I get a rush when they’re deeper cuts than I expected and they look more severe. Often I feel like I don’t want them to ever heal. Like it would be better if I always had this collection of open wounds.
But the wounds aren’t for anyone else to see. They’re really just mine. And that’s a big part of it. Since I was about 16, I have needed to have secrets. Not just from my parents. But secrets from everyone. And it was always important that those secrets were detrimental to me. They’ve always been things I’ve done that I knew others wouldn’t be happy about. It gives me a buzz to do things that people who love me would really hate me doing.
I know that during breaks from therapy, my destructive behaviour kicks in. Normally a little before a break, I’ll self harm more, drink more, eat less. In the past year or so, I haven’t got through a break without anorexia taking control and I seem to always lose weight.
During the most recent therapy break, that was a particular concern. My weight was low at the start of the break, and I can’t physically cope with the demands of my life when I keep getting dizzy and passing out. That’s why I started thinking about this stuff. I wanted to try not to lose weight during this break. Not knowing why it happens made it difficult to figure out how to avoid that behaviour.
When I started really thinking about why breaks trigger my self destructive urges, I considered what I fear might happen if I don’t harm myself. The answers came quite easily.
If I don’t harm myself:
- I won’t matter / I won’t be important
- J won’t realise or believe how bad I feel
- J will forget about me
- J will think I don’t need her.
That last one is bold, because it was a surprise to me and it feels really important. I think a part of me is very scared that if I am not sick enough, or dangerous enough, or demonstrative enough of my distress, J will think I am OK without her. And the automatic assumption is that this would mean her abandoning me; a very real and present fear in my relationship with her.
It’s like I am worried that she is here for me because she feels an obligation to help keep me safe. Thus, if I am safe she will back off and I won’t be able to access her anymore. I won’t feel like she cares about me. It feels easier to believe that she’s going to be there for me if I do things that are detrimental to my physical wellbeing.
That sounds messed up, I know. But I guess nobody really cares about what’s in my head, but it does matter when it becomes tangible or visible. My dangerous thoughts matter a lot less than my dangerous actions, even though they feel just the same to me, and they matter just as much.
In fact, the thoughts are worse than the acts. The thoughts are crushing, overwhelming, obsessive. The thoughts drown out everything else in my head and in my life at times. Fighting those thoughts is a constant, exhausting struggle that I can’t ever explain in a way that reflects what it’s really like.
Acting on those thoughts is simple. It’s easy. Effortless in fact. And then instead of trying and failing to explain how awful it is to live with those thoughts and feelings, I can simply say I acted on them – and feel a whole lot more like I’m being understood.