I hurt myself today To see if I still feel I focus on the pain The only thing that’s real – NIN
“Why did you do it?” I asked
“Because it hurt, because it hurts inside. Because I cannot tell anyone else about the pain and no one except you understands the torment of self destructive behaviour. I recognised it in you and I know the hell you went through and how you fight that every day and it never seemed as important as your pain. Because of all the pain I felt inside that some actual pain distracted me from it. I am sick, I don’t even have your excuse. Seeing your scars and what you were and what you have become made me ignore what was happening to me. I saw a kind and compassionate man who laughed and spoke with his hands who loved life, music and song. A man who stole my handbag for a date. A man who bled for others. I saw all that compassion fight pain and rage and I saw the times the rage won and I saw the times that despite all that the compassion still won. And I still hurt and didn’t say anything because I thought it was not important. What would you do? What do you want me to do?
“First? Get some alcohol and clean your wounds. Secondly? Stop. Please Stop. Stop. I cannot lose you.”
5 years ago I signed on to study and practice in India because I was self destructive. I have my own guilt and shame and things I did that I am not proud of.
Medicine is just the way I deal with it. Giving something back because it’s the only place where self destruction is rewarded. People are impressed I sleep 5 hours a day or willingly cram myself into a bus seat that doesn’t fit me to travel hours to see patients.
It’s changed a lot since this paraphrased conversation. It’s changed for both of us.
I was a self destructive man and three things saved me. No I didn’t drink to excess but injuries sustained (I have a reconstructed right foot, a artificial knee and reconstructed left hand and right arm neuralgia.) had me on lorazepam for PTSD and vicodin. Vicodin which I was honestly reliant on to get through my day.
I don’t take vicodin anymore. The pain is bearable. The actual crutch of vicodin scares me even more.
And a lot of what I did was destructive. But this conversation with someone I loved very much and still love albeit as a friend shocked me into changes.
I never liked it when people deride people for travelling to find themselves. I found that attitude patronising. Who are we to say where enlightenment is found? India is a hammer, sometimes you learn if you are iron or glass. Either you turn to steel or you shatter. You find out really what you can do, what you can survive and maybe you can learn something.
And sometimes you give something back and sometimes you really learn and change.
Harm? Self Harm? It’s instinct. You know it’s bad but after the first time? The first time you realise that physical pain makes the emotional pain better. Oh the reasons for my and her pain are not important. The reason’s never important because it’ is a perceived reason. You perceive a problem differently to other people.
You never leave the house without something sharp. At the time it shocked me to my core. In my then fragile state she was my rock. The only thing I had to rely on. And in that instant everything changed. The older side of myself awoke. All the things she thought I was? I think she was right. I never thought of myself as any of the things she claimed I was but in that moment I realised that languishing in my own misery, self destruction was feeling sorry for myself. I had lemons, lemonade was the answer but why stop at lemonade when you can make lemon soda? I grew up that day. That was the last day I dumped on her. That was when I started cutting out the crutches in my life.
Life and relationships are about mutual support, but to me a relationship where only one person is the supported is a crutch. Oh sometimes we need such but the trick is knowing when to throw it away. If you always use the crutch you will never learn how to run.
Self Harmers. E950s. Cutters.
Call them what you like really, self harm and mutilation is a problem. We aren’t discussing the self harm caused by certain metabolic imbalances such as Lesch Nyhan Syndrome which has a more metabolic cause.
The problem with Self Harm is that it’s often treated like a suicide attempt. It’s not. The person doesn’t want to die, just is coping with stress in the same way that a bird in a boring and small cage pulls its feathers out. And like the bird the person thinks they are trapped in a cage.
Simple stats? Last year roughly 18,000 young girls and 4,600 boys between 10 to 19 were treated by the NHS for self harm.
It affects girls more than boys, I suppose because the cage of teenagers is more intangible for young girls. It’s easier to bluster your way through being macho than to bluster yourself pretty or thin.
The incidence of self harm is not on the increase. The report rate is though. We are better at catching it, we see the signs.
Back in the day we saw these cases. The kid who bit their nails till they bled. I have heard of a young lady who when younger wore small shoes to remind her of how bad she was. Others simply hit themselves to leave bruises.
Religion is great for making you do this. You are sinful so you must feel pain. Pain is punishment for sins. Real or imaginary. Whether it be the self harming feats of endurance of tapasam or the euphoric pain of thaipussam. Oh many an atheist may hold up the self flagellation and cutting of Ashura as an evil of Islam but forget that our idea about religious self mortification is from the Catholic Church which still holds public self-flagellation and mock crucifixions.
But they happen to absolve you from sin. Even the pain of childbirth according to religion is deserved. The reality is simply that pain is a biological system of avoidance. It’s meant to remind us to avoid things. So to seek it out is alien to us. It’s why we don’t understand self harm. In many cases it boils down to substituting the emotional pain for a real one. One that’s more fixable. And our body releases all sorts of hormones, the state of mind of euphoria from the pain plus the reduction of emotional pain is a powerful feeling.
To feel pain is to release the hormones that tell you that you are dying in a small and slow way. In order to live you must know you can die. You are alive when you cut or harm. And that’s the attraction for many. Pain’s a drug.
And at other times? It’s to stop the bad thoughts. The idea that if you are hurt you won’t care about the other problems. And sometimes it’s because you don’t feel you are worth anything. You bleed because you are useless and ugly and no one likes you.
Not even yourself.
There is a culture of harm. A cult if you will. Oh it’s not Body Modification. But in the same way that there are pro-Anorexia websites there are pro-Cutting sites. These give ideas, these encourage greater and greater feats of self immolation. The scars become achievements. Now these aren’t encouraging our kids to harm, these are encouraging the kids and adults who cut to do so. In the guise of finding support they find the wrong sort. In the same way that the pro-Anna people were looking for a little help and found only encouragement to walk down such a self destructive path.
And the thing is change brings betterment. You are trapped in the moment whether it be my friend’s situation or indeed mine. When the world changes around you things do get better. The harm stops. Most self-harmers “grow up”. The harm just stops one day. Something changes. There is a moment of zen that brings that change. But some people do keep cutting and some relapse into the old habit. And some? In some it’s fatal. They go just that little bit too far. They don’t mean to but they do. An untrained surgeon rarely knows what lies beneath.
But many do change.
I write this because I read about self harm yesterday and it reminded me about my friend. It reminded me of what I used to do. Most of the skills I have were due to a suicidal self destruction and I know what it cost others before I recognised it in myself.
So what happened? She? She changed her situation. My friend grabbed her life by the throat and made it work for her. And I write this as she prepares for her wedding and how we both got what we wanted and what we deserved.. She found someone who loved her and didn’t treat her as nothing. She found the balance between what others wanted and what she wanted. And she finally gets what she deserves. Love, Compassion, Honesty and someone who she deserves. I am proud of what she has become and how much she has grown. I can never repay what she did for me but I can pass it on.
It gets better. If you are harming yourself now, if you ever think that physical pain makes you live or distracts from the emotional then I promise you it gets better. But for that you need to find the help that’s right for you. I had her and my friends. Frank, Dustin, Lukos… they all helped fight that monster.
And me? I found peace. I found my own feet. I found the one person who loves me and who I want to be with. I may have been shattered and you can still see some of the cracks and scars. But the final piece is the lady who stood by me for the past year through all my ups and downs.
I don’t think there is any person I would rather spend the rest of my life with. And I will. It’s not official, and she kind of rumbled my cunning and devious plot but she unofficially said yes.
And I realised something. It’s not the cunning plot that makes it important. It’s the things I can give. Is it not said that he walks in the shadow of love has paradise at his feet? If this is paradise then it must be love.
To me it doesn’t matter if I asked her over the phone. It doesn’t matter that the ring I am going to give her is battered and scratched and the diamonds are fake. It’s worth nothing but means everything. It’s got my heart and soul and everything that was me, It is nothing and everything. It is love, blood, sweat and tears. It is pain and suffering and it is still standing through all of that heartache. And it’s my life.
And I want it to be hers.