When I was a girl I was terrified of my mother.
She wasn’t a malicious person. She was just completely ill-equipped to live the life fate had created for her. She had no education past the 8th grade, didn’t know how to drive, and had no marketable skills. Her 46-year-old husband walked out of the door a healthy man and dropped dead of a heart attack a few hours later. He left her with 6 children, aged 2 – 12.
She was an orphan who grew up in a group home. There was no love there, only beatings. So she beat us, sometimes mercilessly, to discipline us. I have long forgiven her, because as Maya Angleou said, “You did the best that you knew how. Now that you know better, you’ll do better.”
She worked 3 jobs, 70 hours a week and was rarely home. So, if you provoked her anger, sometimes, she let you know that you were in big trouble – later.
That was the most terrifying part. The beatings were never as bad as the emotional agony of anticipating one. I wondered what her hands would grab – her shoe, a spatula, once a cutting board – because it hurt her to use her bare hands. I have inherited her narrow hands, and long, slender fingers. Only mine have never been used to strike my child.
I was 11 years old and cleaning up the dinner dishes. I had lost a brand new pocket book that afternoon. Brand-new anything was hard to come by in our household, and I knew I was in trouble. The fear manifested as pressure in my hands and I squeezed a glass. It shattered. I’ll never know why – but I grabbed a shard of glass and dug it in my palm.
As soon as the blood dripped out of my hand, the excruciating precognition leaked out of my brain. The immediacy of the physical pain took precedence over all.
That was the night I got knocked in the head with a cutting board. My oldest brother, who raised me, brought me to the hospital and held my hand when they stitched up my scalp. I remember him looking down at my hand, saw him seeing the gash. But he said nothing. Not that time, or any other.
I stopped cutting in my early 20’s and replaced it with a narcotics addiction. And as I got older, I found positive ways to combat my inner turmoil, and relied neither on drugs nor cutting. However, my worldview was built upon a damaged foundation. I’m still in the process of renovating, and it becomes sturdier all the time. But occasionally, the faulty misalignment at the base of my existence wavers, and the life I have built weaves precariously out of control. If I do cut, it’s always predicated upon an experience that dredges up childhood fears.
Recently I had a falling out with someone I see as an authority figure. I started the argument. I was upset and behaving irrationally and he became furious. Unfortunately, there was no time to resolve our dispute and the discussion was tabled until the next day. And I was left with the knowledge that I had angered him tremendously, but there would be no closure that day or night.
I fell completely apart.
I entered a time warp and sat in my childhood bedroom, awaiting my fate. My skin didn’t fit. I couldn’t get comfortable. No matter how I sat or lay, my body kept bumping into the sharp angles of my own pain and there was no impending sleep. I wandered into different rooms, seeking a place to settle myself. I needed to release some of the emotions flooding my body. I felt like a bomb, suspended in the forever right before it detonates.
I cut, therefore I bleed.
I bleed, therefore I am.
It was not pleasurable. It never is. It is the absence of pain. And the absence of pain is a beautiful thing.
When I cut, whatever turmoil I am experiencing gets pushed onto the back burner of irrelevance as the reality of open flesh and blood take precedence. From an aesthetic perspective, the deep red visuals dominate the delicate landscape of skin.
And I feel in control now. In control of my own pain. I get to injure myself. I’m in charge of what I feel, not you. Your words can’t hurt me. Only I can hurt me.
Self harmers are given advice on how to avoid this behavior. We are told to wear rubber bands around our wrists and snap them to create a sharp sting, to eat pungent foods like jalapeno that burn fiercely. To create the same neurological pathway of pain stimulus, without actually opening the flesh.
Sometimes it works.
Sometimes it doesn’t.
Sometimes I don’t even try. I just cut.
I rarely cut anymore. This was an anomaly.
I have a lingering irrational fear of my friend. I feel terrible because he is a kind person who, if he knew about this, would probably be upset. He had no idea that our unsettled turmoil would trigger this maelstrom. I try to resolve all conflict, especially of my making, as swiftly as possible.
I cannot have unresolved anger towards me live in my body. I need to know that I am forgiven and loved, despite what I have done.
The cuts are almost healed. The friendship will take a bit longer, but I’m hoping my soul is as resilient as my skin.
And my misaligned foundation is getting balanced and strong; so strong, that there are days – where I am almost magnificent.
Do you know anyone who self harms? Or copes in other destructive ways?
Talk to me. I’m listening.