Opening up about how I stopped self-harming, and what’s happened since.
A few weeks ago, I published a story about self-harming. It was a piece I agonized about for months.
The piece pulled up a lot of emotions and memories that I struggle to cope with daily. It also meant opening up about a topic I had not shared with anyone in my daily life other than one person.
With wild animals fighting in my stomach and trembling fingers, I pushed ‘publish’ and sent my words out into the world.
The subject resonated with readers. One even reached out to me through Twitter to ask questions about my experiences and how I stopped.
I appreciate every one of my readers, even the ones who don’t agree with me. As such, I wanted to make sure I took the time to properly respond to the questions my Twitter friend asked.
How did I stop?
It would be awesome if I could tell you I know the foolproof way to stop the self-harm cycle. The truth is, there is no one way. Like dealing with any mental illness, and self-harm is frequently paired with mental illness, it’s a situation that is unique to each individual.
The first step in my breaking the habit was the fervent desire to stop. While self-harm gave me some positive results, as in being able to feel something and be centered for a few minutes, it also came with intense guilt and shame.
With each cut or burn, I hated myself even more. Living with bipolar disorder, self-hatred is part of my life. Adding to that negativity was a recipe for disaster.
I realized it was crucial that I break the habit, and that determination was the first and maybe most essential step.
One step forward…
Like any other bad habit, and I don’t mean to downplay the seriousness of self-harm in any way, stopping the pattern was difficult. I would resolve to never do it again and even be successful for a few days or weeks.
Then, something would happen. There would be a disappointment or a seeming failure. Even if nothing bad happened, the numbness and internal chaos would take over.
Self-harm had become my coping mechanism, and on the worst days, I let myself slide back into my comfort zone.
Forgive and celebrate
Success in beating self-harm only came after I was willing to forgive myself for those transgressions.
One failure doesn’t mean you’ve lost the war. Conquering self-harm is a war, and often one that goes on for years.
Yes, in self-harming again, I was doing something I had promised myself I would stop, but each time I stopped, I was able to go longer before the next relapse.
Owning those victories, even the ones that were just one day, gave me the strength to keep trying. Each time I made it a day without slipping back, I celebrated that victory, even if it was nothing more than a handful of peanut butter M&Ms. Those little celebrations helped me carry on.
Life after self-harm
My Twitter friend also wanted to know if I feel better after stopping, if I feel lighter or like the heavy weights have lifted.
I’m struggling to answer those questions. I would not say I’m unhappy. I have a good life, a close relationship with my aging parents, and friends who are invaluable to me.
Even so, can I say that I am lighter or happier?
There is some lightness in being able to walk away from the shame. Even though I have scars as reminders, I don’t have the daily burden of knowing what I was doing in private. Stopping the habit eased those awful feelings, at least in time.
Part of the reason I can’t say how I’m better is that the biggest reasons that I engaged in self-harm still exist. I will always have a mental illness, and I am still living a life filled with grief from losing the person who meant the most to me.
My life improved when I learned better coping mechanisms, such as deep diving into my inner thoughts and feelings through journaling. So, in that sense, yes, I guess I am happier and lighter now that I’ve stopped.
Self-harm is dangerous
The rational part of my mind, and the often quieter side, knows that self-harm is dangerous. There is the risk of infection or even sepsis because of the injuries imposed. As the habit continues, there sometimes develops the need for more intense forms of harm to get the same results.
Taking the time to focus on the dangers was helpful to me. Even though I frequently face suicidal ideation, there is a part of me that wants to live. That part recognizes that I have to take care of myself to stay alive. Harming myself is not taking care of myself.
It took a huge mind shift for me to move on. It’s been years now since I engaged in self-harm, but there are still times that I hold a knife in my hand or sit close to a candle and remember what it felt like. The draw is still powerful and something I will always work to conquer.
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Find your center
When I was self-harming, it was often about finding my center. Everything in my world felt out of balance, often spinning out of control. Self-harm brought everything to one point in time and space, the tip of a blade or the glowing end of a paperclip.
For me to stop, I had to learn new ways to center myself. Journaling is a big help, but I don’t always have the soundness of mind to write what I need to say. Focusing on gratitude has helped me from slipping into the deepest darkness.
The solution isn’t the same every day. With each new difficulty, I strive to find what works.
If writing in my journal won’t do it, I’ll make a gratitude list. If that doesn’t help, I may go for a walk or find a book of TV show to get lost in. I have friends I can call on for support and now a whole community on Medium to reach out to.
To stop self-harming, try different things to see what works for you.
Life is better
Yes, upon reflection, I have to admit my life is better now that self-harm is no longer part of it. I have satisfaction in knowing that I stopped a habit that added to my self-hatred and that my wounds have healed.
To my dear readers, I hope this helps answer some of your questions or gives you some validation. I’m no expert, by any means, but these are my real experiences. If there are questions you would still like answered, please reach out to me.
You can stop self-harming. The power is in you. Your life will improve as you succeed.
This story originally appeared on Medium on December 9, 2019.