[Trigger warning: I am talking about my own issues and experiences with self-harm. This can be a triggering topic, and simply hard to talk about. I get if it’s too much, but I invite you to sit and read with me if you can.]
It’s been months since I’ve cut.
I still have the scars on my right arm. They are slowly fading. I wish they wouldn’t. I crave the scars, the evidence of internal pain and the physical memories of the hard times. When I cut, it’s never really about the blood. Mostly it’s for the pain and the scars.
Admitting this out loud, writing and re-reading these words makes me feel like some sort of pariah. I mean, normal people don’t harm themselves to deal with stress, overwhelming emotion, sadness, and the pain of depression.
Normal people, what a laugh. I’m beginning to believe that normal people are as imaginary as the god Pan and his goat legs.
Still, it is not the usual thing to meet people who self-harm, who cut and scar and bruise and burn themselves to deal with mental and emotional strain. But, here I am, one of them, one of the people who hurts themselves, one of the people we don’t really talk about. Sure, there are jokes about emo kids cutting themselves, but that’s not really talking about us, about the people who harm themselves as a way to cope. Turning us into a caricature of some overly emotional, underdeveloped teen robs us of our story.
I am not some attention craving, overly angsty teen in the back of my mom’s minivan. I am an adult, a husband, a father, a writer, and I struggle with the urge to cut, the desire to harm myself.
I wish I didn’t feel the need to hide as a cutter. I wish I didn’t feel so much shame at my wounds when I’m in public. I know not everyone does, but for me, my cuts seem to scream to the world that I am weak, that I am broken, that I am defective. I keep my cuts under my sleeve, hidden, etched into my skin in a place I can keep secret.
I mean, what would you say if you were to see my arm afresh with cuts? Would you feel disappointed in me? Would you feel embarrassed that you see my secret shame? Would you ask in a scornful tone, “What is that? What did you do?” All of these things have happened to me, so I avoid letting you know about my self-inflicted wounds so that I can be alone with my hurts, so that I am not hurt and shamed for my hurts.
But I still want to be seen.
Cutting is about showing something internal on my skin, externalizing pain and hurt. Depression brings so much pain in my chest, Anxiety causes my head to throb with its incessant pounding. The overwhelming mania and simply feeling unhinged and crazy leaves me wanting something physical I can focus on, understand, something to see so that I don’t feel like I’m simply making it all up. I want you to see. More accurately, I want to be seen. I want to be noticed, to not feel invisible and insignificant. So I sometimes take these big feelings, these pains and hurt, and I draw them out on my skin. I want you to see, and I want to be seen.
Even as I long to be seen, I hide my scars, I hide my cuts, I hide my pain because I am told it is a shameful thing. Hiding in shame is a powerful thing. It is buying into the lies that I am not valuable, that I am not enough, that I need more and that I will never be accepted. Hiding in shame is being bound by lies, hogtied and left in the darkness of my own fears.
Hiding in the shame hurts, and makes me want to inflict wounds on myself even more.
So, let me ask you: will you be part of my shame cycle, or can you see me?
Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to have someone to call, to have someone that would come to my side when I told them I wanted to cut. I wonder what it would be like to have someone embody the incarnational Christ when I am in the midst of my self-harming pain and depression. I wonder what it would be like to be held with open arms, to have someone wash and bandage my cuts, order some pizza, and watch a movie with me because they were choosing to see me, to love me.
I wonder what it would be like to feel safe enough to tell someone when I was getting close to that line of self-harm. I wonder what it would be to have someone not freak out over me, demanding I get to the emergency room and get fixed, but rather just intervening with their presence, their words, their safe arms making a safe place for me, a place where maybe I can feel my pain without fear of reproach, and maybe they can help shoulder some of my internal pain.
I can’t expect someone else to be my salvation, to fix my depression and my pain and to make me never crave the cutting again. But it would be nice to not go through these emotions alone.
So I ask, are you a safe person for the people in your life? Can a cutter come to you and tell you about their habit? Can you see them? Do you have open arms and compassion for them?
This isn’t just something that we outgrow. This is an unhealthy way we cope with extreme emotional pain. So you, you as my friend, as my sister and brother in Christ, you as the incarnation of the body and blood, the bread and wine, you are someone who can be here as I learn to cope better, healthier. You don’t have to save me, but you can be a witness of love to me when I feel so unloved.
So I ask again, can you see me? Can you help me bandage my cuts? Can you be there with open arms when I need you?
It’s been months since I have cut, but damn if I haven’t wanted to in these months. This is my ongoing life, so can you live this life with me?
I want to be seen, even in my pain, maybe even without having to bloody my arm and leave scars.