Although this is a heavy, serious post, I want to start it with the end in mind. I want to begin with God-given hope because that is where years spent in the darkness has led me to—so here, have a listen to this beautiful anthem:
[For those currently suffering from self-harm addictions, please read with caution, as triggers may arise.]
From the time I was in the 5th grade to the time I graduated from High School, I was what is commonly known as a “cutter.” I spent 8 years of my life taking out my hurt, pain, shame, and fear on my own skin. I never had the heart to hurt anyone but myself. I spent those years wearing long sleeves to hide my cuts, burns, and swollen needle-poked areas. I had such a hard time looking in the mirror because I hated the person in it. That girl was “never enough” and “a trouble-maker.” When I got upset at myself and didn’t have any objects around to cut with, I would slap myself hard in the face and bang my body against hard objects to punish myself. Through self-harm I also developed a habit of binge eating any time I felt stressed, upset, or hurt. The shame from that only led to more physical self-harm—one of the most vicious cycles I’ve ever been in. Needless to say, I could not see the light in the darkness.
I remember the brave day in High School when I finally told one of my friends about the self-harm. He had caught me reading A BRIGHT RED SCREAM, which I had checked out of the library because I knew I had a problem and finally wanted to do something about it. I still buy that book to give to the many teens struggling with self-harm that I have counseled with. After I had revealed my dirty little secret to my friend, he watched over me like only a guardian angel could. I remember one night after a school event, he and I and a mutual friend were all hanging out on the practice football field behind the school. Earlier that morning, I had gotten into a fight with one of my parents and a lot of hurtful words were said by the both of us. That night as we were laying and chatting on the football field, I looked up at the sky with my friends and pretended nothing was wrong. All through the conversation, I was silently clawing my nails into my wrists, attempting to break the skin to bleed out the pain. My friend saw what was going on, and silently grabbed my hands and just held them down while our friend finished speaking. Shortly thereafter, he suggested we head back to the main building where there was more light. He held my hand as we walked back to the front of the building and I saw in his teary eyes, his plea for me to stop. That was a major turning point for me.
I continued to struggle with self-harm for another few years, experiencing good days and bad days. It wasn’t until I got plugged into my local youth group, in my later High School years, that I began to actually work through the addiction with some youth leaders who helped counsel me and loved me through the pain. Through their time + attention and through developing a deep relationship with Jesus Christ, I was able to feel loved not for what I could DO for someone, but for just being ME. While those mind games are still something I struggle with often, I’m gaining ground on it and I’ve been “cut-free” for the past 10 years. It’s safe to say that there may come a point in the future where I am tempted to resort to those old ways, but this time I not only have my best friends and my therapist, on my side—I also have the powerful reminder of God’s abounding love that says, “You don’t have to do that. I will carry you through this. I have already paid the price to give you the victory from that fear and hurt. You are my beloved and I have something much better in store for you.” Because of the love, grace, and freedom I have in Christ, I no longer see cutting as an option for my life. Instead, God has redeemed those years of my life and has graciously allowed me to counsel with 17 different young ladies in the past 10 years who struggle with self-harm, eating disorders, and depression. Together, we are rising up out of the ashes into a beautiful freedom.
With today being Self-Harm Awareness Day, I want to challenge you to not just read my story, but to offer yourself as a listening ear for a pre-teen/teen/young person in your immediate circle of friends. They may not look like they are struggling (and they may not be, but you never know) and talk with them about the topic of self-harm. Ask them if they know of anyone at their school or in their circle of friends that struggles with it. Ask them how that affects them and if there is anything they can do to share love with that person. If you do talk to someone who is struggling with self-harm, please take time to listen to them, give them a hug, and let them know that it gets better—that there is hope and that they are loved. Sometimes, that’s all we need to hear to get through the day!
For more information and some good resources, check out:
To Write Love on Her Arms — A non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide.
1-800-334-HELP – Self Injury Foundation’s 24-hour national crisis line.