DESIGNS OF THE SKIN
A safe place
No one taught me how to take a razor to my skin and cut. No one showed me how to place my hand over a burning candle and keep it there until the skin let out a sickening odor. No one told me how to take a hammer and try to smash my own bones and no one ever stopped me.
For decades I self-inflicted harm stemming from my childhood sexual abuse. I was not a virgin when I entered Kindergarten. My oldest brother saw to that. A cut there, a burn here, and a bruise over there. All marks of pain. All a sense of relief. You don’t feel it when the razor digs deep; you don’t know what you’re doing while you are doing it. You focus on the pain you feel inside and the need to get it out; a place where even tears could not release the horrific pain inside.
A place where a scream was trapped in your head. It’s when you see blood that you know you are alive and the pain you feel inside stops dead in its tracks as it provides release. Then you know what you have done. Then you feel the physical pain you just inflicted on yourself.
My left arm is full of scars; it appeared to be my favorite place to cut. Designs on the skin revealing years of pain. Scar over scar, with more then one hundred cuts on my body; some subtle, some more daring, some needing stitches. If my family physician was not available, I would go to the local walk in clinic or emergency room, no one asked. It is as if they were used to seeing this.
Killing myself was not the reason for cutting. Killing the pain inside was. If I had wanted to die, as I had tried several times, there were pills for that. No, cutting was not a road to death, in some ways back then it seemed to be a road to life. To feel life and to see that I was human and that I could bleed.
At times, the deeper I cut the more connected I felt to the world. I thought I was the only one who did this until just a few years ago, I learned I was not. Cutting was part of the mental illness, and girls and boys of all ages choose the razor to feel alive; how odd that you have to kill a part of yourself to feel alive, or just to feel at all.
When you are recovering from childhood sexual abuse, you hate yourself at times, even more than hating the abuser. You hate yourself for being the victim. You feel the blame although you were not even old enough to tie your shoes yet. You could act sexually, but could not remember the times tables in math. You could be with a man, but could not tolerate the clumsiness of boys your own age.
So you cut yourself; sometimes daily, sometimes weekly, sometimes monthly. It becomes an addiction. You fade out and fade in, and in between something has caused blood to trickle down your arm. You learn to do your own first aid unless you can’t stop the bleeding on your own.
I can’t explain to this day how one learns to do this to themselves. I have thought about it for years. Perhaps I fell as a child and the physical pain I felt made me feel better inside for a brief time?
The focus was not on the wounds inside, but on a new one on the outside. Perhaps it is a physical release of endorphins like runner’s high, or cutter’s high in this case? No one seems to have the answers. I have finally stopped asking the question. I had stopped cutting when I was in my early thirties.
There were tricks I learned as I went along on how to survive a night of wanting to cut. Some I learned in chat rooms from others who would self injure. I would often place ice on my “cutting arm” as I often called it. It would numb the sting I felt…the itch to take the razor to it.
Sometimes I would try to distract myself and ground myself without making a mark. Sitting in a room, I’d name objects in the room out loud. “Couch, chair, table, painting, vase, flower, cup…” I would continue until I was back.
Once back into the reality of the world, the need to cut would lessen. I could make it to the next hour but then, the urge would return. The cycle would continue, sometimes for hours and sometimes for days. I would cut mostly in the fall and winter. It was just easier to disguise the marks while wearing long sleeves.
There may not be answers to self-harm, but I do know there are children, young children, that are now on the same path. A little girl going to school and finding a paper clip in her cubby will take it back to her desk and pop small tiny pin pricks into her skin…barely visible to the outside world but enough to calm her inside world. A small boy at recess “accidentally” slams a rock down on his own hand. He has a reason to scream and cry and let out his inner pain and torment and his friends will not call him names anymore.
You have to imagine a pain locked so deep inside of you that you are unable to let it out. You are afraid to scream or you just don’t have the energy. You were told not to tell. You have kept this secret inside of you for such a long time and it had to come out. It comes out in trickles of blood.
How many times did I come into your drugstore and buy razors, bandages, and gauze pads all at the same time? Did you not know? Did you not care?
What is left of the years of self-harm? Many scars and I stopped cutting decades ago. The reason was simple. It began to hurt as I began to allow myself to feel the pain inside. Then the day came when there was simply no more reason to hurt myself. All that is left are designs of the skin; all signs of surviving the journey and healing – both on the surface and within.