Pain Building Within My Soul

It’s hard to describe the moments leading up to me cutting. The feeling is indescribable – too intense and overwhelming for words. All the pain building within my soul begins to stir. The emotional pain I am feeling suffocates me, my breathing labored. Cutting gives me the release I need…and physical pain seems so much more tolerable. I wish I could stop…I just don’t have control over my emotions. I never have…


There Is Always Hope

It started when I was 13. My Mom and I got in another one of our daily fights and I went to my room, hysterically crying. I remember not being able to stop crying, completely overwhelmed with emotion. I wanted to drink, smoke, something that would distract me from the pain I was feeling. With my Mom in the other room, I couldn't do any of these things, so I desperately searched for relief. I picked up a pin and pierced my ear. I stood looking in the mirror, amazed that I had just stuck a pin through my ear and in that second of pain, felt immediately better. It was the distraction I was looking for. I stopped crying, replaced the pin with an earring, and took a nap.

Two weeks later, during another awful fight that ended with my Mom throwing a wooden kitchen chair at my head (I ducked and it left a huge hole in the wall), I retreated to my room with a kitchen knife and sliced my thigh 27 times. Sitting with the knife in my hand, I was trying to figure out why something that was obviously not a normal thing to do felt completely natural to me. The second the blade cut my skin, the emotional distress I was feeling disappeared, my mind completely focused on each cut I made. The emotional pain seemed to bleed from me with the blood. Again, I was relaxed enough to nap.

I didn't realize that I was playing such a dangerous game that threatened my life and the way that others looked at me. I didn't realize that I was starting what would turn into a horrible coping mechanism for over a decade, possibly lasting a lifetime. In the beginning, the cutting was infrequent and always superficial. From the time I was 13 to 16, I maybe cut a handful of times when I was overly emotional or extremely upset about something that happened (usually a fight with my Mom). At 15, I moved out of my Mom's house and into my Dad's. Things with my mother just got too bad. We were fighting more and more, I was miserable, my grades were suffering and the breaking point was when my father saw my mother push me into a second story bay window that almost broke from the force. I packed my bags that night and went to live with my Dad.

Things were great at my Dad's house. I went almost a year without hurting myself in any way. A few months after I turned 16, my father and I got in a really bad argument. This upset me so much that my emotions were out of control and I couldn't get a grip on myself. In a fog of anxiety, despair, regret, fear of losing control and a million other feelings, I ran upstairs to the medicine cabinet and grabbed the first bottle of pills I could find. It was an unopened bottle of aspirin. I brought the bottle into the basement, opened it and finished all 400 aspirin about 50 pills at a time, gulping them down with a bottle of water. My father came home 10 minutes later (from driving my friend home) and found me in the basement, passed out, with an empty bottle of pills next to me. I remember him screaming for someone to call 911, he woke me up for a minute but I was fading in and out. I woke up in the ER to doctors telling me I needed to “drink this.” "This" was a quart of charcoal. I'll never forget that charcoal. I gagged it down and when I thought I was finished, they handed me another huge glass of it. I spent a week in the hospital, had a psych eval and was sent to a psych hospital for a 2 week “vacation.” My Mom didn't show up at the hospital for 6 days and when she did, she laughed at me and told me that was a pathetic way to try and get attention. My father, on the other hand, was devastated. He didn't leave the hospital the whole time I was there.

Fast forward 2 weeks. My “vacation” was over and I was sent home. Through meeting with a shrink every day, they determined that I wasn't trying to kill myself (I really wasn't, which was surprising considering 400 aspirin is a LOT) and that I had an impulse disorder (ya think?). The doctor's told my father that if he had come home 10 minutes later than he did, I wouldn't have made it. The reason I mentioned this story was because it taught me a bunch of lessons. 1) I didn't want to die, and pills were too risky. 2) I didn't want to hurt my Dad like that again. Seeing him cry was the worst part of the whole experience. 3) I didn't want that much attention, I just wanted to FEEL BETTER. I decided I would never take pills like that again. Cutting was safer. And less public.

I think the biggest misconception about cutters is that they do it for attention. I never wanted attention for cutting. I would go out of my way to hide what I did, which is why I picked places that were easily covered by normal clothes. If I had cut recently, I wouldn't go swimming because I wouldn't want to wear a bathing suit. It was my secret. Not to mention, I was scared to death what people would think if they knew. I didn't want to be labeled as crazy, I didn't want to deal with the stigma. Every time I cut, I would hide in the bathroom, or my bedroom, or my car, depending on where I was when I needed that release. I used to carry around my favorite “instruments,” which changed during the years. For a long time, it was a tiny pair of sewing scissors. I could keep them on me “in case of emergency.” Just knowing that they were within reach was sometimes enough to make me relax a little and curb the actual cutting. It was a security blanket.

When I met my (now) husband, and we moved in together, it was a lot harder to hide what I was doing. After a couple months in our new apartment, he found out and talked me into therapy. This was a very hard time for me, especially having to sit down and talk to someone about what I did and why I did it. I didn't like this one bit, but I stuck with it because I knew I really needed to figure out healthier ways to deal with my emotions. Three months into therapy, my doctor told me she thought I might have borderline personality disorder. I never went back.

Things rapidly went downhill after that. We got evicted from our apartment for getting a dog and had to move into my boyfriend's mother's house until we found a new place. It was here that I reached another breaking point. Looking back, there was no way in hell this relationship should have continued. We were fighting every day, nasty, in your face, sometimes physical fights that left both of us tapped out physically and emotionally. During one of these fights was the first time I blacked out while cutting. I would never, ever, ever cut in front of someone else. Like I said, it was a very personal thing and the idea of someone watching me do it makes me want to puke. During one particularly bad fight, I picked up a pretty big, serrated pocket knife I had bought a couple weeks before. I couldn't even see through the tears. I sat on the edge of the bed, shaking from the emotions I was feeling, mind racing, desperate for something, and I blacked out. The next thing I remember is my boyfriend holding me, rocking me on the bed, crying, scared, talking to me, telling me it was going to be okay, telling me I was beautiful, telling me that I deserved better than the life I was given, holding pressure on my arm and I didn't know why. It took a couple minutes to realize the washcloth he was holding against my arm was soaked in blood. It took a couple more minutes to realize it was my blood. The scary part of this was not remembering cutting. Cutting was something I could control, sometimes the ONLY thing I felt like I could control, and now I lost even that. I was scared. What if I had gone for my wrist instead of my arm? I was lucky that I didn't need stitches, well, it might have needed a few, but I survived without them. The cut was deeper than any before, and had bled a lot, but it definitely wasn't as bad as it could have been. For that I was thankful.

Back to therapy I went. I was in and out of therapy for years. I saw at least 10 different psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, etc… and it’s really sad to say that none of them made that much of a difference. I never learned how to cope in a healthier way when I was THAT emotionally distressed. Physical pain was always easier to deal with than emotional pain. Before blacking out, I was cutting every single day. After, I was cutting every other day. It was progress. This continued for a couple years. Sometimes I could go 2 weeks without needing to cut. Sometimes I would do it multiple times a day just to get by. I definitely didn't see an end in sight.

Until I became a Mom.

My daughter was born in October of 2004. The first year after she was born I probably cut once a month. The second year it was probably once every two months. The third year? Maybe twice. And now my daughter is almost 4 years old and I haven't cut in a whole year. Almost exactly. There is probably a plethora of reasons for why this happened, why my daughter seemed to be the thing to at least push me in the direction of breaking this addiction, but all I know is that instead of cutting to escape the emotional pain, it caused MORE emotional pain. Guilt. I never wanted my daughter to see me in that situation. I never wanted my daughter to learn that it was okay behavior, because it’s really not. It's desperation in its truest form. I hope this is my road to recovery. Every day is a struggle, and while I don't know that I'll ever be cured, at least I know there is hope. There is always hope.


I Will Cry For Us Both

Seeing her.

I am heavy with her body. That is to say, my chest is heavy with a great sadness at the sight of what she has done to her body. Perhaps I’d never have had to bear this pain had we not encountered each other in such a revealing place. The yoga studio where I saw her pain carved and burned into her skin is a purposefully sweltering place, as the practice of Bikram Yoga is designed to be. And she knew this when she asked me to meet her here, on our mats, side by side, facing a wall of mirrors, wearing only athletic bras and shorts.

Lying on our backs adjusting to the 105-degree heat before class, I had curled toward her to whisper something – likely some bit of quirky gossip, knowing me – and that’s when I saw four nickel-sized burns in a neat row down the length of her left forearm. I instantly reached out and grabbed for her wrist, eyes wide. She whipped it way. I softened and held out my hand, whispering, “please…let me look.” Averting her eyes, she turned her forearm over.

How long must a red hot cigarette be held to skin in order to make such crisp, ugly, charred yellow-red circles? I imagined her gritting her teeth, screams held in, while fire seared her deeper and deeper, burning out or in or through. One…..two….three….four….and then, a nothingness, a breath of freedom in that space between the act and the acknowledgment of wounds.

Now, it is my eyes that look away, tears held in my throat in a knot for another time. The class begins. Ninety long, hot minutes….of stolen glances at thick scars on shoulders and thighs….of faded lines and lines and lines on chest and arms and belly. A roadmap of pain. A story on skin. I love. I hate. I love. I hate. Me. You. Me. You. Let me in, let me out.

Later, I will cry for us both, and feel a strange envy. Her body screams my pain. She is me, turned inside out.