My Journey into Self-Injury
By Rednut
April 2005


Like many self-injurers I grew up in an alcoholic and violent home. I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and was date-raped as a teen, but I never told. I struggle with low self-esteem.

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder in 1994, and suffer from post traumatic stress. And I am a self-injurer! 

I hate the thought of examining my childhood because frankly it was a nightmare, but I suppose when I look back I’d have to say that I first began self-injuring by scratching my legs, scratching ‘til I bled, and then scratching some more. Moreover, I would cause myself pain when overwhelmed by emotions I couldn’t or didn’t know how to deal with by hitting my head, twisting my fingers hoping to break them, and throwing myself against walls. It sounds bad doesn’t it and yet, neither I nor anyone around me ever realized this was “self-injury”. I must have been in my pre-teens then. But eventually I moved on to cutting, although I must confess I would still hit myself when overwhelmed with emotions.  

So, I started cutting the underside of my feet. I’m not sure exactly when it started, but I did it for years, hiding this “habit” from the world but denying there was anything wrong. I always felt crazy and getting the diagnosis of bipolar seemed to explain that feeling. I had one of those therapists that didn’t believe in telling the patient about a diagnosis of borderline personality, so I didn’t find out about it until the year 2000. Had I known sooner, I could have faced some important issues including self-injury much sooner. My self-injurious behavior increased, inevitably, as it always does without treatment. 

It took years before I managed to get a medication combination that came close to stabilizing my moods, although I still cycle every three weeks and get very depressed. This I’m sure did not help things. I’ve found that my bipolar illness has worsened over the years; it has made me incapable of holding a job, it has destroyed my marriage, and while I used to be a social butterfly I am now most comfortable alone at home. Of course, having started out with low self-esteem, battling these demons has done nothing to improve my sense of self.  

My SI always peaks when there is conflict in my relationships. The fact that another person can utterly destroy me and my sense of self is part of my borderline personality, and then I cut. Needless to say I cut often during my marriage! On one occasion, after a particularly cruel argument with my ex, I cut my thighs 36 times. In my marriage, I was given what I thought I deserved: I felt small, inadequate, and invisible. So we divorced, and the “abandonment” was overwhelming for me. One night I cut too deeply, very deeply, I foolishly had sharpened my knife before the act. I had to go to the hospital and get 16 stitches, but couldn’t drive myself because I had to hold the wound closed. Several people found out and I was so ashamed. 

One year later I started having flashbacks of childhood sexual abuse that had been to date repressed. The cutting helped me through, but I was still nervous about cutting too deeply. That year, 2004, I was in and out of hospitals. It was one of the worst years of my life. The same year I was diagnosed with epilepsy. I had my hands full to say the least. During the 2 outpatient hospitalizations I had that year, I learned about Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) and DBT skills, which were developed to help people with borderline personality disorder. DBT skills are very useful in getting through an emotional crisis and can thus help self-injurers overcome their urges. I’ve since been applying DBT skills and while I can honestly say these didn’t always work in the beginning, the more I “practiced” the more they helped. Keeping a list of substitute strategies for when that urge hits has been very useful to me, so has medication.  Seroquel has helped enormously in dealing with these crises. As of the publishing date of this document, I haven’t cut since August of 2004. Then again, I also avoid relationships which will cause me to get so overwhelmed I would harm myself.

 

Published April 2005

 

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