The Struggle of Self-injury – Breaking the Cycle.

Since the irritability episode I had last week, I thought councelling session number 6 was a good place in which to bring up the taboo subject of self-harm.

We had barely talked about this before – I tend to skirt over the issue as bring it all out in to the open can be highly triggering for me.  As you may or not know, after almost ten years of battle with self-injury urges I am not a stranger to being at war with myself. I have gone through it all, the denial, the addiction, the excuses, the shame, right through to the acceptance, the recovery and the relapses. As it hadn’t been for the recent decline of my mental wellbeing, the end of this year would have marked my 3rd year clean from any form of ‘self-punishment’. Over the years I’ve had alot of time to think about why I fell in to the trap in the first place, how it all escalated in to such a difficult problem to overcome and had changes in attitude towards the topic throughout the struggle.

Looking back, I don’t class the trichotillomania (hair pulling) I went through as a way to vent that inner anger, but a way to self sooth which developed after my parents split. In certain life situations such as that one, peeple will often seek means of comfort to get them through the episode and distract their thoughts. Unfortunately for me, locking myself in the bathroom daily and having my mum frantically drag me to the GP concerned about bald patches on my head was a rather unhealthy way of dealing with that situation. I eventually realised things were serious, vowed to stop and ended up cross-addicting in to obsessively skin picking my scalp instead. I stil do it.

Do I have a problem? Possibly.

Is it a form of self-injury? I’m going to have to disagree on that one.

Self-harm for me stemmed from extreme self-hatred towards myself, and was a way to vent out the uncontrollable build up of emotion inside (for me, with the addition of occasional black outs). It did not start as a distraction technique, or a way to self-soothe, but a clear form of punishment toward the inner me I despised. Then came the shame, the guilt which added to the hate even more. An agressive and self-destructive cycle which is hard to break. And then by the time I learned to love myself, it was too late.

There’s only so many times you can deny to yourself that you have a problem until the addiction takes hold of you.

And then that was it. There was no need to punish myself anymore, but that euphoria that you are rewarded with by giving in to the temptation of the strongest urge you have ever felt in your life really tests your strength in character. You want to stop, but a subconscious part of you doesn’t want to let it go.

I used to look down at my scars and know that one day they may slowly dissappear, and it was enough to send me to the brink of a panic attack at the thought of losing them. Of course, to really break that cycle you have to really want to, or else recovery will get you no where.

In the end, it was at risk of losing my relationship that scared me in to fully committing to stopping. I realised just how serious the situation was, this could potentially ruin my life, if not end it by acidentally having the urge to go too far. I’ve also had some near misses over the years. Of course, the attempt to stop sent me in to all kinds of crazy method seeking – I tried them all: the ice cube holding, the red pen, the twanging of the elastic band around my wrist. As I had predicted, the prevention techniques just wasn’t enough, I wanted more. That’s then the overdosing on painkillers and whatever other medication I could get my hands on occurred, a dangerous method to just dissolve the urge for a relapse at risk of my life. Prevention methods are still a source of self-harm, and still stir up the hunger to want it more. Lesson learned.

And then came the acceptance. The battle with the shame, I realised, was not going to go away unless I truly accepted that it was okay to have a problem. I stopped hiding my scars, I spoke up about them, and I learned to love them.  I forgave those who judged me for my marks. I began to understand that it was society who had the biggest problem, not me. Society wasn’t ready to destigmatise what self-injury is really about – an issue is merely a coping method for people in need. It’s okay for people to not understand, as how can you truely judge if you haven’t been through it yourself?

I found unity, through people on online forums who go through the same issues as me, and realised I was not alone. We helped tackle each others urges, gave advice, generally ranted and formed a bond. I can’t stress enough how much opening up to others helped me to understand and change my viewpoint about what I was dealing with .

And the last step to recovery? I forgave myself. For the years of pain and torture I put myself through. For each relapse I fell in to (and believe me, there was alot!). I wasn’t going backwards each time I was resisting to the urges, no, I was learning. Learning that it was okay to give in sometimes. The battle with self-injury has been one of the hardest battle of addiction i’ve ever had to overcome in my life so far, and I was bound to give in every now and again.

I started to take less note of the failures, and count my stars on my successes. It was okay to give in, but next time i’d push myself that little bit further. Relapse after 3 days? Next time I will try and make it to 4. Relapse after a week? Push it to a week and a half. Baby steps soon turned in to giant leaps and I was on my way. My perspective and approach to the situation had totally turned on its side. I wasn’t dwelling on the two days out of the month that I gave in to the urges. I was patting myself on the back for the 28 days I had resisted. And that positive thinking as well as the countless people who helped me through it brought me here today.

I’d always thought that if I ever relapsed again after so long, that it would completely destroy me. So when, for the first time in a long time I gave in this year (twice), I made sure that it didn’t. I will always battle with it, that I know. But I will not punish myself for being ‘weak’ to it. Its no big deal, I’ve had alot to deal with this year, I gave in to it, move on.

In my councilling session this week, when he gave me an elastic band to twang whenever I felt the urge coming on – I proudly took control and declined. Because I know deep down, however strong the urges are – that tacky little elastic band does not deserve to be worn around the wrist of a fighter like me.

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