A lot of grief has been happening in my life recently. I have felt like the world broke me down, and then continued kicking me while I was still lying no the ground, struggling to get back to my feet. Then, after the most recent blow, I turned for a moment to an old demon: self-harm. I had reached my breaking point and I just couldn’t handle any more pain. In the past, my harmful behavior has taken the shape of disordered eating and excessive exercise. Occasionally, I would hit myself just to feel the instant pain, but I usually did things that drew it out. This time, I felt more pain than I ever have before, and I turned to something I never thought I would. I stood in the bathroom, looking at my tear-soaked, splotchy red face in the mirror, and reached for an old razor. I pried the top apart – gouging two of my fingers in the process – and disassembled the blades. Then I took one and slowly dug the corner into my forearm, sliding it across the width of my inner arm. I cut across the same line multiple times until I stood and watched the blood ooze out of the incision I had made. I wanted to feel so much pain that the pain inside me would start to feel small… but I felt almost nothing in my arm at all.
The next night, I wanted to do it again. I wanted to create a collection of slices in my arm… an image to make me feel strong. But I didn’t. By God’s grace, I was removed from the desire to hurt myself. The day after that, as I was getting ready for bed and struggling once again with the deep, dark pain inside me, I thought about picking up that razor blade. But I received a phone call from a friend who simply wanted to encourage me. As we spoke, I confessed to her my struggle, and the fear I have of the immense pain I feel. In the process, I came to realize that I refuse to let this struggle own me again. Instead, I will use it to defeat itself the best way I can. So this journal is being written to expose this horrible demon for what it is, and, hopefully, equip those around me to notice and understand it in others around them. Maybe, we can join forces to overcome the shackles of self-harm.
Of course, this is only from my experience, so I can’t explain it for everyone, but hopefully I can at least help some of my readers understand this struggle.
For anyone reading this who has never struggled with self-harm and doesn’t understand the rationale behind it, let me give you a little insight. First of all, there isn’t what most people would call “logical” rationale. But this is the first thing you need to understand: for people struggling with self-harm, it makes sense in their head… even when it seems absurd to everyone else. So what is going through someone’s head when he/she is inflicting self-pain? Take a moment and think back to the last time you were sick to your stomach… when you had that sour feeling in your gut and you just wanted to throw up to make it go away. Now take that feeling, multiply it by 1000, and make it emotional. Confusing, right? Well this is the best way I can describe it. See, it’s like all of this pain and sadness builds up inside your body and pushes out from the inside. It hurts so badly and all you want to do is get it out of you. You think that if you hurt yourself physically, it will ease the emotional pain, or make it leak out of you, or at least give you control over what you feel. That is the worst part about emotional pain… you have no control over it. You can’t take Advil and make it go away. You can’t put ice on it to numb it. You can’t help it along with some Neosporin and a Band-Aid. It’s just there. And it chews away at your insides, distracting you from the rest of life and making you want to hide away in a dark, lonely room. But sometimes, your human instinct kicks in and you desire to take control of the pain. It’s like you tell yourself, “If I’m going to hurt, I’m at least going to be the one causing it.”
The problem (ONE of the problems) is that self-harm is like a drug: you do it once, and you want to do it more. Sometimes, you don’t even feel anything until you’ve done more than ever before. In a way, at least for me, it becomes something in which you start to place your worth. You think of it almost as a measure of strength. As you make yourself endure it, you feel good – in a way, proud of yourself. And this is just one way in which it holds power over you.
At the same time, Satan whispers to you that you are all alone. He whispers this over and over until it becomes a pounding scream inside your head. This only adds to the pain you feel. Now you are sad AND alone. When you do find yourself with someone that you know might be able to help, you think about telling them about your struggle – you may even want to – but you fail to bring the words to the surface. See, Satan uses another tool from his box: fear. He tells you that it is embarrassing, or weak, or a flaw in your character and value. If you tell someone, they will always see you as broken…as less than everyone else. So you hold it in. And, with your sadness, loneliness, pain, and fear, you retreat once more inside yourself and put your “everything is fine with me” face on the outside. And when you are on your own again, and you want to explode or tear yourself open, you turn back to the physical pain you can inflict upon yourself.
So where is the remedy? Well, let me tell you what I have learned and discovered…
- Saturate Your Soul – Make a list of truths. Dig into Scripture and write down as many of the truths and promises you can find. The best way to fight lies is by having the truth deeply rooted in your heart.
- Identify Yourself – You are a child of God, made in His image and saved by His grace. He loves you in ways you can’t even fathom.
- Remain Yourself – Don’t let anyone steal your smile. No one and no thing has the right to steal you from yourself… this means your happiness, your personality, your dreams. If something in your life robs you of who you are, kick it out. It’s toxic.
- Choose Community – Surround yourself with people who encourage and uplift you. Even when you feel as if you want to be alone, fight the lie that says you ARE alone by choosing to be with positive people. Also, find at least one person with whom you can be transparent and tell them about your struggle. You will realize that everyone has their own struggles, and you are no less of a person because yours happens to be self-harm. This person will be able to help you remain accountable and grounded in the truth once they know your battle.
- Persevere in Prayer – I know…it’s pretty easy to feel like you don’t want to pray when you are so torn up inside. Sometimes, it doesn’t feel like God will listen to you anyway – He feels so far away and, maybe, silent. But remember (even put this on your list of truths), He is NEVER far away. He desires to be close with you and is ALWAYS listening. Psalm 34:18 says, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
- Externalize Emotions – Find new and healthy outlets for your feelings. I love to write (obviously), so I have started keeping a journal. Every time the pressure builds up inside, I write down everything I am thinking and feeling. It’s amazing how helpful this can be. Everyone is different, so find what works for you. It may be going for a walk, talking everything out to an empty room or another person, creating artwork, or kicking around a soccer ball. Choose something positive through which you can expel all of the negative pressure.
- Hold On to Hope – Keep in mind that God created you for a purpose. He has a plan for you… a plan that ONLY YOU can complete. He made you and placed you where you are because He WANTED to use you. No one else can take your place in this life. That makes you so special! Also, God always works for our good. That means that He is most likely using your current suffering to prepare you for His plan! This gives us hope… Hope that, in Christ, we are sure to emerge victorious on the other side of every spiritual battle. “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful.” (Hebrews 10:23)
- Light Breaks Darkness – Probably the most important thing I can say is in this point. When Jesus died on the cross and rose to life three days later, he defeated all sin, death, and darkness. He already won this fight for you. If you will stop trying to take control of the pain…stop trying to rage war for yourself…and let Him have it, you will be able to rest in His arms as He carries you through. The key here is that you have to be okay with giving up control. Remember, Christ already bore all of your pain and broke through all of your darkness…let that be enough, because it is.
If you are not someone who struggles with self-harm, but you know someone who does, share these things with him/her. But when you do, please remember what I said in the first part of this journal: what he/she is thinking and feeling probably won’t make sense to you. He doesn’t need a lecture about how self-harm is not good for him. She doesn’t need to be looked at like she is broken. He might need a hug. She might need a note of affirmation. She might need a random phone call or two. He might just need time to be still and silent in the same room as someone that he knows cares.
Maybe you are someone who thinks a person you know could be self-harming, but you aren’t sure. This is what I would tell you… There were times that I wanted to tell someone, but couldn’t bring myself to do it, so I hoped that they would somehow ask me. But no one ever did. Don’t be afraid to ask. Pay attention to what you hear and see. Do you hear them talk about not knowing how to bear the pain they feel inside? Do you see them wear clothes that might be used for disguise (like long sleeves in the summer or baggy clothes)? Do you see strange or frequent bruises or other markings? Do you notice weight loss, signs of dehydration, or other physical changes? Do you notice that they withdraw or seem unengaged? This is not a comprehensive list, but my point is that you should try to observe verbal and nonverbal indicators. Any one of these things by itself may mean nothing, but if you notice a combination, the flags should go up. Don’t ignore your intuition. It’s better to ask and have them say “No” than to miss an opportunity to help someone who is hurting.
As I wrap this up, know that I am by no means an expert on this topic. Sure, I have a college degree in psychology, but most of what I know comes from living through it. I am still learning. But this unchanging truth is what carries me through everything: In Christ there is freedom…even freedom from self-harm. I am proof of this.