I honestly don’t know why I cut myself the first time. I know I didn’t want to die, but I’m not sure why my brain would come up with the twisted idea that slitting my wrists with a razor blade would somehow make me feel better. I didn’t know anybody who self-harmed. At the time, I didn’t even know that cutting yourself had a name and could be labeled. I just knew that I couldn’t stand how I felt, that my insides were balled up in a knot, screaming to be let out, and as the razor sank deeper into my skin, the chaos inside stopped.
I didn’t know why I cut the first time, but once I felt the release that happened as the razor burned through my skin, I could not stop cutting.
It sounds crazy, I know. Inflicting pain in order to release pain seems illogical. Self harm IS crazy and illogical, but I continued to do it because I needed that release. I needed to get the emotional pain out. I needed for it to have somewhere to go. And at the time, nothing else seemed to provide that same release.
People have asked me to identify the emotion I felt right before I cut. If I had to pick just one emotion, the most painful emotion that pushed me over the edge and caused me to pick up the blade, what would it be? Is it fear? Anxiety? Anger? Sadness? Hopelessness?
Yes. All of them. And none of them.
Everyone self-harms for different reasons; I am by no means an expert on self-harm. But for me, there were two nameless emotional experiences that pushed me over the edge. It has been nearly impossible for me to describe these emotional experiences adequately with words but here is my attempt:
Imagine your feelings are little bugs crawling around inside your body. The bugs are pretty chill, they hibernate most of the time. When you feel an emotion, such as sadness, you feel a couple of the bugs crawling around inside you, usually around your throat, stomach, and face. It’s uncomfortable but you can tolerate them for a little while.
The bugs aren’t always bad, sometimes they make you feel good. When you are happy, the bugs tickle you in a way that makes you feel alive. You feel peace and serenity when the bugs are asleep. Joy feels like the bugs are doing a funny dance inside of you. You get the idea.
But sometimes, the bugs get out of control. The two experiences that caused me to seek immediate release were:
1. ALL of the bugs that live inside of you, in every crevice of your body, came to the surface and were simultaneously scratching right beneath your skin. The scratching keeps getting harder and louder.
2. The bugs got hungry and ate away all of your organs and then they all died. You are left feeling like an empty shell. Nothing is moving or breathing inside of you. Hollow space is all that exists.
Both are terrifying experiences. Both led me to cut. In scenario A, cutting myself released the bugs. Opening my skin up let the bugs out. In scenario B, cutting myself and seeing blood assured me that I wasn’t hollow. It put the organs back in my body and breathed life back into me.
That’s why I cut. But here’s why I stopped (I’m going to run with the bug analogy because it’s the only way I can make sense of this right now):
There were also bugs living in my head. The bugs in my head clouded my vision and made it hard for me to see clearly. They convinced me that what I was feeling was permanent. That I had to fix how I was feeling because those feelings would never go away. The bugs in my head ate at part of my brain: The part that houses self control and rational thought. Without that part of my brain I couldn’t remember that CUTTING DIDN’T ACTUALLY MAKE ME FEEL BETTER. It made me feel worse.
The release I talked about earlier that came after the first time I cut never came back. I’m not so sure that release was even real. I think it was an illusion that I created to help make sense of what I had done. But what my brain failed to recall after the first time I cut was the guilt, shame and remorse that followed. The embarrassment of lying about my Band-Aids and scars and knowing that people didn’t buy the lies. The physical pain that haunted me in the days following. None of that was worth the illusion of a quick fix.
I stopped cutting because it didn’t work and because I learned that feelings won’t kill me. Feelings eventually pass. ALL OF THEM. And feelings aren’t facts. Just because I feel like there are bugs scratching below the surface of my skin, it doesn’t mean there are actually bugs living inside of me. Just because I feel like a shell of a person, doesn’t mean I am hollow on the inside.
And I learned healthy coping mechanisms that helped me deal with how I was feeling. Things that provided a substantial release without having negative consequences. These include going for a walk, calling a friend, reading, painting, baking, dancing, writing, shopping, etc. Anything that gets me out of my head and engaged in life.
I will never know why I cut for the first time, but I will never forget why I stopped.
My life is worth cherishing.
My body is worth taking care of.
So is yours.