Self-harm, what does that even mean? [Cutting, Burning, Eating Disorders, Suicide]
Maybe you know people who struggle with self-harm; maybe you struggle with it. Either way, in this section hopefully we can speak to those friends who just want to help, but don’t know what to do and speak to those who are hurting inside and turn to self-harm as a coping mechanism.
I sat up quickly in bed. Sigh. It was just another nightmare. The clock read 2:27 AM. Here I was again, shaking, sweating, worried. Sure it was just another nightmare, but they came because I knew it was a real danger for him. I didn’t understand it. I didn’t know how to help, and his scars hurt me in ways I didn’t know I could hurt. It was like the breath was being sucked out of me…how did it feel for him? Why did he cut himself? I was his friend; shouldn’t I have been able to help? But I didn’t know how, didn’t know what to say; and when I said something, it only seemed to make things worse. I knew he had a rough past; I knew his pain ran deep, but then why hurt himself more?
While I worried about him a lot, my biggest worry was that one day I would go to sleep and when I woke up, he would be gone.
I was scared.
He reaches out for it. His old friend. With him from the beginning. That first time. That first draw. That first time that he had put the cold steel to his skin and felt the transition to warmth as the skin parted and warm, dark blood filled in the space left before spilling over and down the length of his forearm, staining the carpet below. Again, tonight, he repeats the ritual. Gently taking the knife from its precious holdings, the young man obsesses over the instrument intently. Checking for nicks in the edge, rust on the blade, slack in the hilt, he is eventually satisfied and places the blade over the target: his aching heart. As it had done many times before, since that first bloody time, the blade is placed gently upon the surface of his skin as he finds just the right spot, just the right target to release the pain that is just raging to escape from inside. With a steady, firm slowness the blade is dragged down across the young man’s skin. Placed once more, adjacent to the first cut, another line is drawn. Into the desk chair he sinks and allows the blood to run down his chest. The old pain is dulled with the presence of this new, fresh pain. A bloody X is dripping freely where his heart resides, but he no longer believes can be healed. For a time, it will be easier to deal, easier to cope. But he knows. He knows that it will be back, this darkness, his pain. It always comes back.
Self-harm is nothing new; for ages different people have struggled with it or decided it was the best way to ease the pain. “Self-harm” can hardly be limited to the things mentioned in the introduction, and even those things mentioned are very different from each other. There is no cookie cutter solution; people are too complex for that, but are there common themes? Are there some things that would usually be good to know or do? While every situation is very different, there are some patterns that we think can be found in most cases.
- Those who “self-harm” are hurting inside
- The friends of those who self-harm are also hurting
- Friends don’t understand why
- Friends don’t know what to do
- Those who self-harm need to hear truth
- Those who self-harm need to be loved
So really, we are writing to two different groups of people right here. It’s a tough topic on all sides and many times, as we have shared, there is deep hurt on both sides. While writing about this is not easy, we write so that others can find hope and healing faster than we did.
Here is what we have found to be true in our lives.
[WHAT RACHAEL STRUGGLED WITH]
As the friend who knew but didn’t know what to do, I really wish my friend who was harming himself would have come to me, talked to me and shared with me his pain. If I had known what was going on inside, maybe I could have loved him better. Maybe I could have understood better and maybe I would not have worried about him taking his life as much. Now I know that he never would have taken his life, but then I didn’t know what to expect or even who to turn to. I didn’t know if I should talk to someone else about what was going on or be true to my word and not tell anyone else. These were all things that I struggled with.
[WHAT NICK STRUGGLED WITH]
My body aches. Getting out of bed in the morning takes more effort than before. The pain, it’s gone, but not for long. As the sleep and weariness of the night wear off, the pulsating gravity that has settled in my chest returns with all the force of the day preceding it. With agonizing clarity, the denseness of reality settles upon my shoulders. Nothing changes, at least very much, and almost never for the better. My life, my mind, is a chaotic whirlwind of thought and emotion ranging from righteousness all the way down to self persecution. I was told that what I did was right, that there was no other choice. But that does not mean I am blind to the consequences of my choice and those whom it affected. I split up my family, for what I thought was the best for the kids, but I split up my family nonetheless. Tore children from a mother’s arms. Why was I forced to come to this decision? Is it my fault things fell apart? That my mother turned back to drugs and sex and lies? Did she have no other choice because of her obligation to me? Am I even worthy of such love? Of any love? Of HER love?
The light in my life, that keeps me going; she makes it seem like there is something worth fighting for. She makes everything make sense somehow. But do I deserve her love? Does she deserve the burden of mine? Should I risk the possibility of ruining her life like I have so many others? Even if I believe that she is better off without me, am I strong enough to be so unselfish? Obviously not! Since I could only think of her since coming back, it must have been a selfish act. And perhaps this was just the excuse, just the little push I needed to get back to her, the girl from that summer. Could have been but who could know? Only God, I suppose. But it did happen and I did fall in love with her and her with me and like everything that has ever been good and pure in my life, I screwed it up, royally and completely. And now here I am, facing each day like a zombie, an emotionless and lifeless drone that wanders life without conviction, purpose, or desire. And the kicker is that it all comes down in the end to my poor decisions and my weak constitutions. So I know I have no one to blame but myself. I deserve this… don’t I? These were all things that I struggled with.
[WHAT WOULD RACHAEL HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY]
When I think about the past, when I think about the things that I struggled with and the things that I did, there are some things that I wish I would have done differently. As the friend who didn’t know what to do, the first thing I would have done is talk to someone older and wiser than myself. I think Scripture gives us a good idea of how to approach tough circumstances. Proverbs is full of Scripture that tells us to seek wisdom and counsel, but not from just anyone. Deep struggles like this are hard and peers don’t often offer the best advice. Pray and seek someone who can give sound direction. Then the next thing I would do is communicate with my friend. Scripture also talks to us about approaching the individual in love and by yourself first. Find a place where they are comfortable and talk to them. Think your thoughts out first, pray for wisdom and the right words to speak. Remember to listen first, then talk. I would ask them what is going on, if I could help in any way. And then I would share with them how what they are doing is affecting me. Maybe the best thing you can do is simply be there and that’s fine. If that is the case, let them know that you care, that you love them deeply and you’re always there to listen to them. Remember that you can’t fix what is going on in their lives. Sometimes they may not be ready to face the things of their past, but walk along side them as you continue in life together. Things will get better, but sometimes it takes longer than we want. Remind them that they are loved by you and more importantly by our heavenly father.
[WHAT WOULD NICK HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY]
You have read something today that is true and from the heart. A situation that I experienced and described here in my own words. I write to you now from years down the road, still living and full of life. I still struggle day to day with the difficulty and the temptation to revert to the habits and abuses I once inflicted upon myself. It has taken me a long time to come to the realization that what I was doing only hurt me and those around me more than I could realize at the time. Only very recently have I been able to come to terms with the demons of my past, of my present, and the inevitable demons that will inhabit my future. The difference between then and now is a very simple thing. Acceptance. I accepted the truth that suffering is a tragically beautiful, even necessary part of life. We would never now know the depth of happiness and joy that we have experienced if we did not know also the depth and endless void into which we could fall. Other differences that have come with acceptance are release/relief, serenity, and connectivity to name a few. I feel at peace with myself in a way that I did not ever think to be possible before, yet here I am now. I say this in hope that if you read this and self harm, you can perhaps take away something from my experience. Learn to be stronger, that much faster, in this unfair and unexpected reality. It is the way you handle it from here though that is the real challenge. Changing in the present is much more difficult than living in the past, but it is well worth the effort. If you take anything from reading my pain, reading my loss, take from it that the only person in control of your pain, your joy, your fear, your regret, is you. Through your attitude, your spirituality, and your will, you are the one in control of how you come to terms with the negatives in your life. Don’t forget, though, to look for the positives in your life. It may seem as though there is no positive to be had, but just like God, even though you cannot see the good, that does not mean it is not there.
Like we said before, nobody will find themselves in the exact same situation that we were in but sometimes it’s good to hear how other people faced tough circumstances and overcame them. Going through this was tough. The pain lasted for years, but it does not have to! We are not saying that there is an instant fix. There isn’t. Life can wreck you and sometimes the things that happen to us are not even our fault. Maybe your parents divorced and finding your feet again has been hard. Maybe you were abused growing up and the pain is so deep you don’t know that you could ever free yourself from it. Maybe there were just a lot of expectations on you as a child and you never felt like you could reach them. Maybe the things that have happened to you and the things you have gotten yourself into are things you will struggle with for a long time. Our hope is that in time you will be able to overcome them. Learn from us; remember what we would have done differently and seek the Lord, near or far as he seems, and he will guide you.
Note: We have not really discussed suicide in this section. While it is a form of self-harm, it is much different because it is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. I have listened to too many students contemplate suicide, fortunately most of them have found the help that they need. If you are contemplating suicide or know someone who is, seek help immediately from a trusted person and know these things: First, you are loved more than you could imagine by our Father in Heaven. Seek him, find hope and truth in his word; he is there. Finally, things will get better. It may be a long and painful process to get to a better place, it may mean making big life changes that are scary, unknown, but it is worth it. Your life has barely begun. Don’t cut it short.
When I read this passage, I know that our God is good. Evil is a reality of the world we live in; but when we turn to God, no matter our past, when we surrender our hurts to him and begin daily giving ourselves to him, he begins to re-shape us. He begins repairing the broken parts of our lives and we can find refuge in him. Everyone has hurts; the question is how we cope with them. When I read this passage I know that the Lord is there. The writer of this passage even asks us, the reader, in verse eight to “find out for yourself how good the LORD is…” This Psalm is an invitation to come. God is faithful. He will be there. Pray for the eyes to see him.
Scripture: Psalm 34
- Have you ever felt like you were in a hopeless position, maybe like Rachael and Nick? What was it like? What happened? Write about it.
- How did you recover from that situation, if you did? Were there people involved? Friends? Did someone find out? How did that affect you?
- A lot of times when struggling with self-harm, there are two things going on—an external thing that maybe cannot be controlled by you and the self-harm. Who are people you have been able to rely on when struggling with different situations?
- As we saw from the Scripture we just looked at God our Father wants to help us in whatever situation we are in and he loves us deeply. What do you think when you read those verses? Do you believe them?
Continue interacting with this topic here.
Father God in heaven, guide me.
You know my hurts, you know my fears, you know the things of my past and my hesitations about the future. Help me to accept your love; let it penetrate my stone heart, help me to feel you Father. Help me to see you at work in my life, in the big and the small ways. Father give me courage. I know I am not alone. Send people into my life that I can trust. Please give me your wisdom Father and help me to face the things that hold me down. Help me to trust.
In your name I pray, Amen.