Content Warning: while not particularly descriptive or detailed, this piece does mention self mutilation so, if you’re extra sensitive to that topic, this may not be the read for you.
I don’t remember exactly when the first time was that I cut myself, I just remember that I was in 7th or 8th grade. All of my journals from that time in my life are in my dad’s basement, 3000 miles away in New Hampshire so, I’m having to go on memory here. Please, bear with me as I work to recall the details
I must have been in 7th grade because I have a really strong association with my social studies class. For the life of me I cannot remember the teacher’s name, only that his affect was so monotonous that the reminded me of Ben Stein’s character in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off but, whenever I think of when I first started cutting myself I think of that classroom as a marker of some sort.
From what I recall, the first few times I did it were not at all related to depression or self-harm. Junior High is when I discovered body modification and I was obsessed. I remember being 13 or 14 and REALLY wanting to get my tongue pierced (sadly, by the time I was old enough to get it done, so many people already had them that I wasn’t interested.) I know that the first couple of times I cut myself was in order to see if I could tattoo myself. I had read somewhere (this was pre Mark Wahlberg in Fear) that if you cut yourself and put ink in the cut, you would end up with a tattoo. I’m not sure if I didn’t cut deep enough or if I didn’t use enough ink but, I definitely didn’t end up with a tattoo.
Other diy body modification I attempted while a student at Londonderry Junior High were mostly piercings. I used to pierce extra holes in my ears before school in the morning if I thought it would add to my outfit and I did semi-successfully pierce my belly button. I got it through and wore a ring in it for three days before I took it out. It wasn’t far enough back. I do still have a scar though so, there’s that.
Now, I suffered from teen angst as much as anyone and later in life realized that I suffer from depression but, I don’t recall some terrible trauma or event that was a catalyst for any of this. However, knowing what I know now about how my depression is synched up with my menstrual cycle and how I can have fewer or more intense symptoms based on how balanced my hormones are, I’m willing to bet that had something to do with it when I was a teen as well.
Flash forward to my sophomore year of high school.
Things were beginning to start churning inside me. I was realizing that I liked girls, my period became more regular – so did my bouts of depression/anxiety and, my long term friendships were changing. This is the point in the story where most teens start drinking but, I didn’t. I had made a pact with myself when I was younger that I wouldn’t ever drink or smoke or do drugs (clearly I didn’t stick to that but, I didn’t start smoking cigarettes until I was almost 18 and I didn’t start drinking until I was almost 21 and I don’t do either now so… it sort of worked.) I did, however, remember the pain from cutting myself when I was diy-ing my body modification and I thought that might be the ticket.
Listen, as far as cutters go, I was pretty mild. I was ashamed so I didn’t do it often and I was scared so I didn’t cut deep. While I have scars that I can still see today, I’m pretty sure the average observer wouldn’t even notice them. I may not have been the most frequent cutter but, I still loved it. I loved the feeling and the pain and the relief it brought. I loved the sting of the blade and the beading of the blood and the lingering pain the next day. I knew it was a “bad” thing to do so, I was ashamed and waited as long as I possibly could in-between cutting.
When I was 16, I came out as a lesbian (well, I technically came out as bi first, gay later) and the relief of even having one person who knew who I really was and accept me changed everything. As I started being more honest about my feelings and who I was, the time between cutting increased and the urge decreased significantly. I started going on long walks when I felt the urge. Walking through the apple orchards that abutted my neighborhood, the hallways of my high school after the school day had ended or, whatever trails I could find through the woods. I walked far and fast until the craving to cut went away.
The last time I cut myself I was 22. By that point it had been at least a year since I had last cut myself and I was so embarrassed and ashamed after I did it that I subconsciously decided to only use alcohol to release this feeling from then on. It was less worrisome for friends and family and, especially at 22, I didn’t have to be embarrassed about drinking. It worked until it didn’t.
Something I found in early sobriety is that the feeling I had when I wanted to drink was the same exact feeling I had when I wanted to cut myself as a teen. Same. Exact. I was shocked to realize after I no longer had alcohol to dull this feeling that I had an intense craving to cut myself. The only two things that kept me from doing either in those first few months were my willpower and walking. Just like when I was a teen, I’d walk far and fast until the feeling of the craving was walked right out of my system.
As I’ve grown in my sobriety, I’ve learned all sorts of ways to manage cravings and feelings in a healthy, holistic way: moving my body, meditation, allowing myself to feel my feelings, expressing myself, eating what’s right for my body, staying hydrated, getting enough sleep, knowing when I need alone time and, learning when I need to be around people. I’ve also been working on my gut health and trying different ways to lessen my PMDD symptoms.
All of this has led me to where I am now, a mostly content and confident human. I mean, things aren’t always great, I’m still a fucked up mess like most people on this planet but, I’m aware of my fucked up-ness and I either embrace it or try to change it.
I’m not hiding anymore.