Today is self harm awareness day.
What does self harm mean to you. To me it can mean anything from cutting and burning yourself to smoking, drinking, overeating and promiscuity. I should know – I’ve done all of them at one time or another.
I want to start with the first examples I gave. Cutting and burning. To someone who’s never done this, it can seem alien and ridiculous to even think about never mind do.
The best way I could explain it was that it was a way of getting the inside pain out. When I self harmed in this way I was in a pretty dark place mentally. I felt lost, alone and scared. I was socially anxious (thought the people around me probably wouldn’t recognise that) and had real issues about self worth. I didn’t like myself very much and treated myself accordingly. The problem was, these internal wounds couldn’t be seen. Also they couldn’t heal. By turning them into outside wounds, I felt like I was taking some control. I could see them. I could understand them. I could watch them get better. They were not a cry for help. I kept them private and never shared them with anyone. In fact, the first time someone challenged the cuts on my arms, was the last time I did it.
Then came the second phase of my self harm. I self sabotaged. I quit university. I drank, smoked, took drugs and ate rubbish food. All in the name of ‘enjoying myself’. The problem was, it didn’t help. It numbed me a little, which I thought was useful at the time, but it didn’t fix anything.
The big question is – what does help?
For me it was a lot of little things. Working on forgiving myself, accepting that I wasn’t perfect and so shouldn’t hold myself accountable to insanely high standards. Being kinder to myself, becoming my own supporter instead of my personal bully. Accepting that I wasn’t going to feel good all of the time, but that also meant that I wasn’t going to feel bad all of the time too.
These things started to allow me to take care of myself instead of harming myself. I started eating better, quit smoking, stopped drinking (well mostly) and worked on my mental health through Mindfulness and meditation. I became more honest with myself and accepted who I am. I became strong enough to ask for help. And I got help. Help from my partner (who is awesome and amazing), help from my friends and help from people who know about this stuff.
I feel grateful every day that I survived this phase of my life and am now somewhere so much better. I also feel grateful that I went through it. Was it nice? NO! Was it useful? Yes, because it has given me more empathy to that problem than most people will ever have and it has given me the ability to be truly happy and grateful that I don’t feel like that anymore.
If you, or someone you know, is suffering in this way and using self harm as a coping mechanism, start with kindness. Encourage them to get help and support them through this.