Please Read: In this story, I will talk frankly about self-harm. I will discuss in vivid detail my experience with self-mutilation. If you are struggling yourself, it will not be a good idea to read this piece because you will be triggered, and that is the opposite of what I’m trying to accomplish.
If you are fighting a battle you aren’t winning, please get help.
There’s a group of people who feel so much pain — the only way they know how to live through it is to create more physical pain to cancel it out. These people are everywhere, and if you don’t look close enough, you may miss the signs someone is suffering.
There are things from my past that I don’t spend much time talking about. These things are too painful or too embarrassing to bring up, but mostly, I don’t want to dwell on certain times in my life. Even after all the years, it’s still painful. But, I know I should deal with these things sooner than later.
I was a cutter, and like an addict, I always will be.
I don’t fit the profile of someone who self-mutilates. But that’s the thing about self-harm — it can affect anyone. Most often, you hear about young girls cutting, and most people think they and the rest of us hate ourselves or are looking for attention.
That couldn’t be farther from the truth.
I didn’t do it because I loved it or I was looking for attention but used it as a coping mechanism for dealing with the mental pain I was facing. We continue to do it because we get addicted to the rush that releases Endorphins and takes away the fear and angst. We continue because for some, it’s the only way we have any control over what is happening to us. We can take away the mental pain with a cut, burn, or pinch.
It’s not selfish in the least.
If you had asked me when I was younger if I would ever cut myself, I would have looked at you like you were mad. But the fact is, for many years of my life, I mutilated myself.
How it started
The first time I harmed myself was in 1997. I’d finished college, and the letdown of spending three years working 80 hours a week and going to school full-time was causing me to have a mental breakdown.
I was anxious, withdrawn, and depressed. I was full of panic and cowering under all the voices and noise in my head. I still went about my daily life, working, and being a father, but the times when I was alone were frightening.
One day, my wife at the time, and I got into a huge argument, and I grabbed a knife and locked myself in the bathroom. This was the first time I threatened to kill myself, but never experiencing this kind of thing with me before — she didn’t take me seriously. Seeing that she wasn’t going to help me, I held the knife to my wrist and tried to cut. All I did was break the skin, but the pain I felt was a rush I’d never felt before.
I laid the knife on my upper arm, put pressure, and cut where there weren’t any veins that I could sever — causing me to bleed out. The pain in my arm was frighteningly exquisite. All the anxiety and confusion I felt moments before was gone, and in its place was a feeling of lightness.
I felt like I was floating.
I bandaged my arm and went to bed, sleeping like a baby. My wife didn’t find out, but she worried enough about me locking myself in the bathroom that she called my dad in California. He drove to Tucson to tend to me. He took me to the psychiatrist and helped me get on medication. I never told my dad or my doctor I had cut myself, and I forgot all about it.
Another visit from pain
Much later, around 2001, I was sitting in my frigid basement in snowy Massachusetts, trying to get the courage to end my life. I had grabbed a razor from my toolbox I’d used to cut carpet when we moved in the house.
Again, instead of ending my life, I started cutting my arms — very deep. A few minutes later, I was panting, lying on the cold cement floor in an ever-widening pool of blood. It was running down both arms from about ten very deep gashes.
I don’t know what happened. I think I passed out.
The blood and the pain brought me back to who I was, and after composing myself, I found a towel and cleaned myself up. It took about 15 minutes for the bleeding to stop, and as long as I didn’t touch the cuts or bump them, they wouldn’t bleed anymore.
For the next year and a half, I continued slicing myself almost daily. I even did it in the bathroom at work, but by this time I had a kit that held first aid supplies, so I could close my wounds.
One day, I was in a meeting, and I reached in my briefcase to get a folder. I forgot I left a razor blade in the sleeve because I sliced my thumb open. I rushed out of the meeting before anyone saw the blood and drove myself to the emergency room. I managed to get through the ordeal and the peering eyes of the doctors and nurses without them inspecting the cuts on my arms and legs.
A few months later, after I lost my job, I fell into deep despair and cut myself again — deeper than ever before. I couldn’t get the bleeding to stop and didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t go to the emergency room because they would commit me immediately because my upper arms and legs were like hamburger.
With nothing else to do, I went to an appointment I’d scheduled with my psychiatrist, and sensing something wrong, got me to confide in him. Before this, nobody — not my family or my doctors — knew that I was a cutter.
I spent two weeks in the mental ward and promised my family that I would stop cutting. And I did for a while.
Things go downhill
A few years went by, and I got good at hiding my scars. As far as everyone was concerned, my experiences with mutilation never happened.
But after my divorce, I spiraled down until I was back cutting every day. This time I didn’t hide it from anyone. My doctors knew, my family knew, even my kids knew what I was doing.
I even wrote about it on the internet.
There were some kind young girls, who had themselves been cutters as well, who helped me get my head around the fact that this wasn’t a good coping skill. I went about doing what I had to do to quit cutting.
The recovery was difficult, but I did it. Like everything hard to quit, I put my stubborn head down and powered through the pain. I found other ways, like breathing exercises and relaxation, to combat the mental pain I felt. For the first time, I started having positive thoughts.
I haven’t cut myself for eleven years.
The road back
As part of healing myself, I’ve had to deal with the consequences of my actions all those years ago. I don’t hide my arms anymore. If someone asks about the thick, white marks crisscrossing my upper arms, I tell them what happened most of the time.
The part where I fail is trying to get my young daughter to understand why I did it. She can’t understand how the person who gives her so much love could be so terrible to himself.
For the most part, I don’t think other people understand either, but they accept it as part of who I am. It’s part of my past and part of me.
I try to educate people as often as I can. I’ve also had the opportunity to help a few younger people with their issues dealing with self-injury. I’m not a doctor, but I’m an advocate, and if people ask me for help, I do whatever I can.
I got to pay forward the help those online friends gave me when I needed it. I do it because of the times I wished that someone would help me, and somebody came through for me in the stretch. I wish I could tell those girls, who are now women, what they taught a stubborn old guy. I wish I could explain to them what I’ve learned since.
If you are struggling with self-harm and you read this whole essay despite my warnings, don’t keep your pain a secret. Self-harm is not a healthy way to cope. It’s a horrible thing to do to your body and mind.
Tell someone you trust. Anyone. If you don’t have anyone, tell me.
Do something. Don’t let this fester inside of you.
I got help, and so can you.
I believe in you.