This is the story I was always too afraid to tell, but I finally put to words how my personal addiction took over. This is not a story I thought I would ever tell, but it’s mental health awareness month, and something in me kept saying to publish it; to tell my story. It’s graphic. It may hurt some feelings. With therapy and love and support from my family- I am recovering. I have my moments, but I no longer let my addiction run my life. I still suffer from anxiety, but I don’t let it rule me. When I feel my anxiety bubbling over the surface, I don’t go near razors. I don’t shave. It’s been 5 years since I took a blade to my skin, and sometimes I still feel the urge to go back to it. Some of the things here are exaggerated, but they are what I felt. This is unedited, and it will remain that way. Writing this took a lot out of me personally. I had to go back to a mindset that was unhealthy in order to remember how I felt, and why I took to self harming. This is my journey as I remember it.
Maybe this well help give you insight, maybe it won’t. But for the first time I’m sharing a piece of myself. A piece that only a therapist really knows about. And now you.
I want to be clear: I am not ashamed of my story. That’s why I’m sharing it. I do not hide the scars I have. I talk freely and openly with those that ask me about it. But writing about it and sharing it with strangers is absolutely terrifying.
I watched the blood drip down my thigh, watched the blood mix with the water, noted the diluted color as both went down the drain. For the first time all day, I could finally take a breath. I relaxed in the shower, laying down in the bathtub as the water pounded my flesh. The combination was better than any massage I could ever get. I closed my eyes, basking in the euphoria that came with inflicting pain on myself. It didn’t last long anymore, so I had to enjoy it while it lasted. When I no longer felt high on pain, I opened my eyes to watch as the blood kept pouring from vein. As always, when the high ended, my head couldn’t stop from asking the same questions that caused me inflict pain on myself day after day: Why are you like this?
I tried to think back to when I first started cutting, but it started long before the first time I took a blade to my wrists. I was 11 when the idea was brought to me, ironically by a therapist. I don’t know why I begged my mother to take me to a therapist, but I did. My brother, who was four years younger, was going to one and I wanted one too. Maybe I always knew there was something wrong with me, I just couldn’t name it. Or maybe I just wanted what my brother had. I didn’t even have a name for it when I was 11, didn’t have a clue that what I felt every day wasn’t normal. I don’t remember much of the first meeting I had with the therapist, but I remember two things from that day. The first, she thought I was depressed so wanted me to be evaluated. The second, was the question she asked that seemed to set the tone for the rest of my life: “You’re not hurting yourself are you?”
The depression evaluation turned out to be total shit. I mean, I was 11. I lied my ass off the entire time, because the guy doing the evaluation laughed at one of my answers.
“Why do you think you’re ugly?”
“Because all the ugly boys like me.”
Cue shitty old man laughter. And then me lying because I didn’t want him to laugh at me again. I mean, why else would I think I was ugly? I always thought I was ugly, but at eleven I didn’t know how to detail all the reasons for that. That was just the only answer I had for him. At the end, he said to me “You’re either a really great liar, or you’re not depressed. So you’re not depressed.” I was actually proud of myself that I was able to lie to an adult, a professional. This interaction with two adults who claimed to be professionals followed me for years.
I never thought I was depressed, really. I mean, I didn’t feel sad all the time, I just felt numb. I didn’t have a lot of friends, but I was ok with that because the ones I had were awesome. My home life was shit, but I didn’t really know why. I just knew I wasn’t allowed to talk to people about the bad stuff that went on at home.
“If you tell anyone this, they’re going to take you away, and take your brothers away. You’ll all be put in foster care and you’ll never see them again.”
I never talked about the bad. I never talked about how I was basically raising my siblings while my parents were off doing God-knew what. I never talked about how I sometimes woke up in the middle of the night to an empty house, just me and my brothers sleeping in our beds. I never talked about the fact that my step-dad scared the shit out of me. I never talked about how easy it was for me to just stay home instead of going to school. I never told people how I was failing class because I just didn’t care. I definitely didn’t talk about how CPS had come to my house before. I just didn’t talk.
“You’re not hurting yourself are you?”
For two years, I thought about this question. I wanted to. God, did I want to hurt myself; I just didn’t have the courage to do it. While my inner voice was telling me I was ugly, that I sucked at school, everytime I couldn’t bring myself to hurt myself, my voice told me it was just one more thing I was bad at. One more thing I couldn’t do. I never told anyone how badly I wanted to hurt myself.
It wasn’t until I was thirteen that I found the courage to do it. I had just moved again, in the middle of the school year. By this point, thoughts of death already consumed my mind. Everyday, I thought of what life would look like without me walking around. Would anyone care? If I died, would anyone go to the funeral? Then, I would think of how I couldn’t even bring myself to hurt myself, how could I kill myself? I didn’t even know I would do it. But I thought about it. But then I would think of my parents, my grandparents, my siblings, and I would push back the thoughts of death. They were there, like the Grim Reaper had taken up permanent residence in my brain, his scythe always at the ready, but always just on the peripherals. If I tried to look at his face, he would disappear, but when I looked away, I would see him out of the corner of my eye.
I was at a friend’s house one night and we watched the movie Thirteen. Another one of life’s ironies. I couldn’t tell you what the movie was about anymore, don’t remember the characters names or the plot line, but I could tell you that I was riveted when one of the girls started cutting. I watched the screen, watched the fake blood drip from her arm, and couldn’t look away. I was entranced.
“You’re not hurting yourself are you?”
I got home that night, grabbed a knife from the kitchen after everyone went to bed, and hid away in my room downstairs. I sat on the bed, with the TV playing some show in the background, and stared at the knife sitting on my comforter in front of me. Could I do it? I grabbed the knife, and put the tip to my forearm and dragged the tip across my skin. I didn’t do it hard enough to break skin, just scratch the surface, but even that scratch made me feel good. I felt the pain. I had been bottling everything up for so long, never talking about anything and just pushing it down so I didn’t think about it anymore, that feeling the pain made me feel so good. I did that.
I did that.
It took two years for me to gain the courage to scratch my forearm, but only took a week for me to take a cheap disposable razor to my wrist and slice it. I was taking a shower before bed, shaving my legs when I stopped and stared at the razor, again asking myself, could I do it? The answer? I could. I didn’t bleed much, just tiny droplets that quickly washed away, but for the first time in my life, I swear I felt high. They were superficial cuts, but the high lasted all night. Rumors started around my new school, not that I paid much attention to them. I always wore long sleeves, and if someone had noticed the cuts on my wrist, I told them my cat scratched me. A kid I sat next to on the bus, a kid I had a crush on, one day asked me point blank to show him my wrists because people were saying I cut myself. I laughed it off, told him it was ridiculous; told him my cat was just an asshole.
After school I had freaked out. I knew I wasn’t going to talk to him again. If he found out the truth, he would tell people and then someone would make me stop. I think subconsciously when I first started hurting myself, I wanted someone to ask me if I was ok. I wanted people to look at me and see that something was wrong with me. It wasn’t until the kid asked me if I cut that I realized I didn’t want people to know about it. I only cut a couple times, I wasn’t doing it every day, maybe every couple of days. I usually let the cuts fade before I would try to do it again. That night in the shower I realized I needed to do it so I could calm down. There was no way I was going to be able to go to sleep if I was freaking out the way I was. That was the first time I consciously made the decision to cut to help with my emotions.
One night, after a shower and a session with my favorite razor, I got the courage to talk to my grandmother about cutting. I had a book I got from a Scholastic Book Fair sheet or something literally called Cut. My grandmother had helped my mother raise me, and in some ways she was my mother. She meant the world to me. She could have stabbed me in the back and I would have had a smile on my face because it was her who did it. So I sat down with her in her room, and brushed my hair.
“Grandma, sometimes I think about cutting.”
“Honey, if you did that, I don’t know if I could handle you.”
Knife, meet back. I didn’t talk to her about cutting again after that. If she couldn’t handle me, then who could? Who would want to?
God, looking back, I was like a walking, talking, breathing sign for fucking help. How many signals did I have to give people? I was fucking 11 getting tested for depression and 13 talking about self harm. What’s a girl gotta do to get help? Apparently a hell of a lot.
When the weather started getting warmer, I stopped cutting on my wrist, and moved to my thigh. I couldn’t hide the cuts on my arms when I was wearing short sleeves, but I found I liked cutting my thigh better. The first time I did it, I still remember how I walked around the next day on a high. Every time I shifted, my jeans would rub against the marks and I would feel a stinging pain all over again. Or when I would get stressed out at school, my stomach would start to hurt and my chest would feel heavy, I would press my fingers to the the little cuts I had made with a razor the night before and I felt instant relief. My breathing would go back to normal, my stomach would untangle itself.
A couple months after I started cutting, I turned fourteen. I was still using a razor to cut, but it became more frequent. Instead of every couple of days, it was turned to every other day. Since it was the summer, my cousin had stayed with us for a couple weeks. My sister had just turned one in early June, just two weeks before my own birthday. My cousin and I were the same age, and the oldest of all the kids at the house, so it was our job to take care of the baby when my parents couldn’t, or didn’t want to. She usually got up to take care of my sister in the mornings, but one morning she complained. I told her my stomach hurt,
“Your stomach always hurts in the morning.”
I stopped to think about it. My stomach always hurt in the morning? I couldn’t remember. I made an effort after that to get out of bed in the morning, but I realized she was right. Every morning I woke up, my stomach hurt so bad I didn’t want to move. I thought about it, about how when my stomach hurt during the day, I would press against the cuts on my thighs and it would help me feel better. One morning I woke up, went to the bathroom, and quickly brought the razor down against my fleshy, too fat, thigh. The ball in my stomach, the one I hadn’t noticed was always there in the mornings until it was pointed out to me, disappeared. At this point I noticed that I was pressing the razor into my thigh harder, that I needed more pain to feel the same high, that the highs never lasted as long, I just didn’t care. The best part? Nobody knew. My shorts were short, but my cuts stayed above the edge of my shortest pair.
Cutting was mine, and mine alone.
I thought that thoughts of death consumed me before I took that knife to my wrist, but it was nothing compared to how I felt after. The Grim Reaper was my closest friend and constant companion. Now I could sit and talk to him in my head, instead of only getting glimpses of him in the recesses of my mind. He would always ask the same question, and my answer was always the same,
“What’s truly keeping you here? Keeping you from joining me?”
“My brothers and sister.”
If not for my brothers and sister, I don’t know where I would be. At fourteen, I didn’t think I would live to see my eighteenth birthday. When I was five, I told everyone I was going to go to Yale. By the time I was fourteen, I didn’t care enough to think about life after high school. My mind and mental health quickly deteriorated. Every conversation I had with those that were supposed to love me unconditionally, I ended up finding fault with. At the end of the summer, my father came to pick me up from my grandmother’s house and took me home with him.
My mother and father weren’t together. They had separated a long time ago, and I was really ok with that. Up until the summer of my fourteenth year, I spent the majority of my time with my grandmother, mother, step father, and three brothers and one sister. And my cousin that was just three weeks younger than me, whenever I could see her. When I moved in with my father, I was going home to three more brothers, and a step-mom.
Moving in with my father had positive and negative affects on my psyche. For four years I was bombarded with comments from my mother and grandmother about how I needed to move “home”.
You know your father doesn’t really love you.
You were always supposed to come back home.
You have until Christmas to come back home, then we’re coming to pick you up.
Think about what you’re doing to me.
Your father has never loved you.
My cutting got worse. One day, I broke a brand new, disposable razor. I threw out the pieces of it, but saved the four small razors, put them in a special jewelry box, and hid them in the back of my bottom draw in my dresser. Every morning, I would pull a razor out of the box, put it to the top of my thigh, and dig deep into my skin, and watch the blood dribble down the sides of my leg. I would wipe the razor down, then put it away, only to do it all over again when I got home from school, before starting my homework. Sometimes I brought a razor to school and would go to the bathroom when life became too much. When the texts and calls telling me to come home would be too much.
My step-mom found the razors one day, and we talked. For the first time I talked about the feelings I’d had since I was eleven. Not all of them; I didn’t talk about my thoughts of suicide, or how cutting made me numb to the rest of the world so I could get up and function; how every laugh and every smile I had was faked. I didn’t talk about how I didn’t cry anymore. I told her how the cutting helped with the ball in my stomach. For the first time in my life, I had a name for it.
For a couple days, having a name for the thing that made it hard to breathe some days, helped. I could identify it, which meant I could tell it to fuck off. Right? Wrong. Once I put a name to it, I knew what it was, but I also knew how I could handle it. Or not handle it. I was cutting two or three times a day, every day. I was cutting so deep I was leaving scars on my thighs. I loved it. I loved watching the blood rivulets drip onto the sheet below me. I loved that with a simple action, I could eradicate the anxiety attacks that plagued me daily. I hid it from everyone.
I talked to some therapists while I was in high school, and it would lead to a week or two here and there without cutting. I was on the recreation swim team in the summer, which meant I couldn’t cut because everyone would notice. Those times were the worst. My anxiety was at an all time high. I didn’t smoke weed, I never drank, but the summers I couldn’t open a vein and watch the blood form tears as it streaked my skin, I thought I was going to suffocate. It was like I couldn’t remember how to breathe.
My thoughts of death slowly faded. I didn’t think of death everyday. I would go weeks without thinking about death sometimes. The scars on my thighs would heal during the summer break, but once the pool closed, I would start again; sometimes I would cut over a scar, and the pain would be so delicious, I was tempted to re-open all my old cuts. I never did that, though. I knew if I did it too much, it wouldn’t hurt as much eventually. What once hurt, what once would cause me to gasp, I had become immune too. I had to cut deeper and press harder against my flesh to feel the same pain; get the same high. It was moments like that, where I would press the razor to my flesh so hard I could see my flesh separating, when I would wonder if I took it too far. Was this the time that I would have an accident? Who would find me?
Would they care?
I didn’t. Death was not on my mind as it once was, but it was still my companion. I am told now that I wasn’t really ready to face death, because if I had been ready, I would have welcomed it with open arms. I disagree. My heart, mind, and body were ready for death. They still are. It’s not me that’s not ready for me to die. It’s that my heart still has tethers to this earth, ones that have always kept me firmly planted in the land of the living: my siblings. Not my parents or grandparents. My siblings. My six brothers and one sister. Since I was thirteen, they have always been what’s kept me from going to the Grim Reaper in relief. While they are what have always kept me firmly planted, I will never know and would never know if I mean as much to them as they mean to me.
Over the years, I got better at hiding my secret; from friends, boyfriends and family. I knew I was addicted. Knew that without cutting, I wouldn’t make it. Every minute of the day, I had to make the decision to breathe, and every day it got harder to do that without feeling the blood flow from my body. Watching the blood flow from my body now, in the shower, was like watching the bad shit that got tangled in my head flow from my body. If I shifted the right way, the water from the shower would hit the cut just right, and for a second the stinging pain would come back and I felt the high. That never lasted long, though. Just like the pain from the initial swipe against my flesh, I got used to that pain as well. My body had numbed itself to the pain as my mind and heart tried to stay numb against the emotions that bombarded me on a daily basis.
I knew I couldn’t tell anyone how I felt. Couldn’t tell anyone how my addiction had overtaken my life. I was more afraid of living without the feeling of a blade pressing against my flesh than I was of living life. There was the fear that someone would take away the only thing that allowed my lungs to function on their own, the only thing that helped me rise out of bed every morning. Then there were the callous comments made by those I thought I could be friends with.
“I could never be friends with someone who cut themselves.”
“How sick do you have to be to want to hurt yourself?”
“They must hate themselves.”
It was true, most days I hated myself. I hated that I couldn’t get through the day without bleeding, hated the way I looked when I saw myself in the mirror. Hated how awkward I was and how hard it was for me to make friends. Hated the fact that I had doubts to whether my family gave a shit if I woke up the next morning, even though they were the only reason I had to wake up the next day. I did hate myself. Hated all the things I couldn’t do, my anxiety keeping me from truly enjoying life. But no one understood. They didn’t get it. And they never would, because I would never tell them how wrong they were. How I needed them in my life, I needed more reasons to continue breathing. I wasn’t sick, I was struggling to breathe.
Over the years, in high school and in college, my inner voice constantly told me how I was a fuck up. How I couldn’t do anything, and that I should stop trying. Another voice, one that was much smaller, had started in my head though. It sounded a lot like a blend of my step mother and father mixed with the various therapists over the years. It tried to tell me that talking about my feelings, about the crushing weight of the pressure I put on myself to be something my parents and siblings could be proud of often weighed me down, would help. It tried to tell me that if I told people I was having trouble breathing, that they would help me. The voice was just too small, though. Any time I found it in myself to talk about it, other comments would swirl in my head, drowning it out.
“You’re not hurting yourself are you?”
“I don’t know if I could handle you.”
“How sick do you have to be to want to hurt yourself?”
Would they care?
Instead of talking, I would go to the bathroom and find my relief. And at night, before bed, before the voices had a chance to battle in my head and heart, I showered and opened my vein again. And every night, I would go to bed with peace instead of with hatred for myself. I would go to bed with lungs that worked instead of lungs that refused to do what they were supposed to do. There was a part of me that hoped one day I could make it through the day without watching my blood run down my thigh, but there was another part that refused to believe I could do it. I also didn’t want to make it through the day. It had been six years since the first time I took the knife to my skin and scratched my forearms; six years since I felt high for the first time. Six years since my addiction started slowly taking over my life.
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