Children often want their pain to be recognised. They want that colourful cast on a broken arm or a big purple bruise after a fall. They need their suffering to be acknowledged and appreciated – ‘I fell over and it really hurt – look at my plaster!’
So when people ask me why I self-harm, I explain using a similar analogy – ‘I hurt myself so I can see physical evidence of the pain inside and know that my suffering is real’.
I remember very clearly the first time I self-harmed. I don’t think I have ever shared this with anyone, but I have come to believe that by sharing our own parts of history, however painful, it can help shape the future for others in a more positive way.
I sat on the back porch after school, sneakily smoking a cigarette whilst trying to stop my boisterous labrador slobbering all over my jumper.
‘Get the hell off me, I’m not in the mood.’ I mumbled whilst pushing his wet nose out of my ear.
I had thirty minutes to get ready and leave for work. I was only fourteen years old, so I just washed dishes and waited tables in the local pub a couple of nights a week, but it was a nice escape from school and home. Not that I had a tough home life, on the contrary, I had a very loving family. I just felt more at ease and free to be myself at the pub. It was a place where I could smoke, swear and talk about whatever I wanted without fearing the wrath of my Mother or God (the former being much worse of course).
I threw my cigarette butt over the back wall to hide the evidence, but while I walked back to the porch, I felt a wave of unhappiness wash over me. I had been experiencing these waves more and more recently, but I just put it down to hormones and crash dieting. ‘Get over yourself you freak’ I thought as I walked through the back door, into the kitchen. I could hear my little brother playing his video games in the TV room next door, but I still felt completely isolated and desperately alone.
I opened the fridge and had a good rummage around. I eventually decided to slice up a large block of cheese, and before I knew it, I had wolfed down the lot. I put the knife back down on the chopping board and stared out of the kitchen window. I could see into the back garden, where a tiny blue tit clutched onto a feeder and two collared doves bobbed their heads as they strutted through the neatly cut grass. My mind drifted away for a second, before I quickly realised I felt full and wholly repulsive.
I ran to the bathroom, slammed the door behind me and forced myself to be sick. When I felt completely empty, I sat down by the toilet and wiped the mascara and spit from my face, wondering if this cruel, daily routine would ever end. I stood up, turned the tap and splashed some cold water on my face. catching a glance of myself in the mirror. I hissed at the tired reflection that starred back at me, haunting me.
As I reached for a towel, I noticed a small scrape on my wrist. I must have caught it outside without realising. I proceeded to gently run my fingers over the tiny nick, soothing the broken skin. When suddenly, an overwhelming urge forced me to fiercely scratch at the tiny cut, making it much larger and bloody.
My mind just took over and I ran from the bathroom, back into the kitchen. I picked up the knife on the chopping board and continued to gouge at the wound with the tip of the blade. I couldn’t stop. It was like all the pain was finally coming to the surface and I was able to control it. I was the one with all the power and I finally had something to show for all the misery and suffering inside.
The sound of my brother moving in the next room, woke me from my frenzy. I put down the knife and frantically wrapped my arm in some paper towel. I paused and looked out of the kitchen window once again. As I peered through the glass into the tranquil garden, I became consumed by the beauty of the lush grass and colourful flowers. My mind drifted away from the agony inside, to a better place. I even caught a glimpse of the blue tit, as he flew away through the branches of the conifer tree.