**TRIGGER WARNING FOR DISCUSSION OF SELF-HARM**
I’ve been under some significant emotional stress lately, more so than usual. And I’ve had a couple of incidents when I received some very upsetting news. Of course I’ve cried. Sobbed, even. And reached out to my friends and family and cared for myself in all the healthy and productive ways I learned in my years of therapy. Take a hot bath. Read a good book. Snuggle with the kitty. Get enough sleep. All that kind of thing.
But before that – before the tears even start welling up, much less spilling over – my mind flashes on an image of my left forearm. Sometimes it’s being slashed with a razor blade. Sometimes it’s being burned with a cigarette or the hot metal of a lighter. In one particularly vivid recent image, my left wrist was being smashed with a hammer. This happens in less than seconds, before any other reaction. It’s entirely unconscious and I’m often surprised by how quickly and vividly the images take over my consciousness.
I used to self harm a lot. I thought I’d made it up myself, back when I realized that scratching at one spot on my skin with a thumbnail would peel back the skin to expose glistening wet red pain. I quickly progressed to razor blades and learned the exquisite joy of making a perfectly straight line in my skin, imposing some kind of geometry and order on my out of control body that would hopefully extend into my increasingly disordered mind. I learned how pressing a hot lighter to the inside of my ankle would send a poker of pain straight up my body in a wave so powerful it drove out every other sensation or thought. I learned about long sleeves in summer, the trick of putting a painful cut on the inside of my wrist so it would throb every time I took my mittens on or off. My arms looked so bad people thought I was using heroin. (Even writing this out makes me want it.)
And then I stopped. (Not so easily, of course, lots of safety contracts and lists of health coping activities and techniques and medication and relapsing and all of that. But I stopped.) And it’s been … I don’t even remember the last time I did it. Over 10 years, certainly. Long enough that you can hardly see any of the scars unless you know exactly where to look.
But it is still the first thing I think of. My first unconscious innate reaction to stress or emotional pain or just feeling overwhelmed and drowned by my own emotions. It is always there, just under the skin, waiting for me to be weak enough for it to take over again. That’s why I will never trust myself enough to have a razor blade or an x-acto knife in the house – I know that if they’re there, I’ll lose my way sometime.
[I just turned my head and saw two straight pins sitting on the desk (I was mending a hem) and *boom* I see them plunging into my wrist, just near the bone. It’s not that I imagine the process of picking them up – my mind flashes straight to an image of me pushing it into my skin, with the idea that “this is right, this is good.” I can almost feel myself relaxing while I visualize it and then I shake my head and it’s gone and I’m disappointed in myself for even thinking of it.]
I’m beginning to think it will never stop. I may never do it again – I hope I never do it again, I intend never to do it again – but it will always be there. It will always be the first thing I think of, before there’s even time to think.