Pain has always provided me with a moment of clarity. Depending on the cause, the clarity could last only moments or a few days. When my head was muddled beyond comprehension, I turned to pain to clear the waters. As far as coping habits go, it’s a pretty awful one, but years later I still haven’t kicked the habit. Though it has evolved over the past six years, the purpose and damage hasn’t changed very much.
When I was fourteen, I was introduced to the concept of cutting, a practice where you took a sharp object and dragged it across your skin. I had been going through a rough patch and thought that, as horrendous as it sounded, it might be something to help numb my pain. I didn’t start off with blades right away, that was far too intimidating for me. Instead, I started with my house key, scraping it across my wrist until it hurt. The key only scratched my skin, didn’t even break it, but the scratches lasted several days and stung a bit when a touched them.
I was fifteen when I moved up to razors. I removed the blade of a pencil sharpener with a screwdriver late at night. I had been sobbing and remembered what I had heard about actually breaking the skin. Honestly, it terrified me. I stared at the little silver blade in my hands for several moments, twisting it carefully between my fingers. I’ve always hated blood but in a moment of unrestrained impulse, I slashed it across the edge of my wrist.
It hurt more than I thought it would, but watching the blood bubble up from the crimson red line on my skin filled me with an odd sensation of calmness. It felt as if all of the clutter surrounding me had started to go away. It was bizarre. I hated the sensation and loved it at the same time. I don’t know if it was the shock or the endorphins, but either way I had started a snowball that showed no sign of stopping.
I only cut twice the first night. Two little niks on the edge of my wrist. To this day I wear a watch to cover them. They’re too small to notice unless you’re really looking, but I still worry. After that night, I learned to be less obvious about it. Middle schoolers are cruel. They mocked the kids that openly self-harmed. I didn’t want to be another victim on top of everything else in my life.
So I switched to my hips. Less obvious, but hurt so much more with the way your clothes rub against them. It became almost a daily event for me. Wait until late at night when everyone else in my house was asleep before I would pry the blade out of the same pencil sharpener and replace the noise with pain. It was so bad that stuffing toilet paper into the sides of my jeans was routine.
I felt so lost in my life that self harm was one thing I felt as if I had control over, but soon even that wasn’t enough. The same year I started using a razor to cut, I developed an eating disorder. My lunch was frequently stolen from my locker, which fueled my desire not to eat further. I would barely pack lunches unless my mother forced me to, and even then I would give it to someone else or just toss it.
And just like the cutting, no one noticed. It felt like my own little secret, a little portion of control of my life that nobody could see or take away from me. The hunger, much like the pain, sharpened my thoughts. In some twisted way, I felt more in control of my life than I had ever been.
Maybe it stemmed from my invasive helicopter parents or the fact I always felt like I had to please everyone all of the time. I felt as if I had to be the perfect child, the perfect honor roll student, the perfect captain, the perfect anything. And there were standards and expectations that came with that. I couldn’t do this or that, so much was expected of me, I felt like nothing I did was enough to please them.
The little things I could do to give me any feeling of indepence or control of my life I did. What I thought was powerful and taking my life back was destroying me slowly. I’d go as long as I could while eating as little as possible. I’d lie about eating at work or bringing extra snacks to practice. Most days, I would only eat around my parents when they forced me to. I felt as if they were trying to take back one of the few things I had away from them, which pushed me further into the grasp of anorexia.
I sought out books with anorexic characters. I counted my calories and tried to push myself harder at practice. I kept pinterest boards of skinny girls and workout routines as motivation. I destroyed my body one skipped meal at a time. Combined with the cutting, I became a shell of the person I used to be.
No matter how hard I tried to stop it, the eating disorder swallowed me entirely. I couldn’t shake it, and to this day still haven’t entirely. I never regained my appetite, still rarely being able to finish my plate at restaurants. Some days I skip meals, making excuses for why I can’t eat, even though I’m fully in control of my life now. I threw myself down that hole and haven’t stopped falling since.
I moved on from cutting when I left high school. I was embarrassed of my scars, ashamed of what others might think about me. But the itch never went away. I craved the release that cutting had given me but didn’t want to go back to it. At college, I only relapsed once. I was a wreck afterwards. I had fallen back into those habits so easily.
My new method of release through pain was prettier. I began getting tattoos, slowly at first, but I want more every time that I get that itch for pain. The pain of my first was almost unbearable, I saw stars the whole time I was getting it done. The pain was far more intense than the blade had been and lasted much longer. Instead of scars, I had pretty designs on my skin.
While tattoos are a more expensive alternative, I’m not embarrassed to show them off. I’ve started a cover piece on my hip where the bulk of my scars are. It won’t be perfect, it won’t ever be. I get reminded of my bad habits everytime I change or look in a mirror. The pain of the tattoos reminds me of the cuts, itching while they healed and having it be painful to wear certain types of clothing.
I hope that my tattoos will cover the memories of my past. I hope that I can look at myself in the mirror without cringing, or go to a public pool without being horribly self-conscious. I hope that I can not be embarrassed to eat in public and that I can finish a normal sized meal.
I don’t want you to pity me. I did this all to myself, and I can’t escape from myself. I don’t want to be seen differently because of my past. I’m working to work past my pain and history. I don’t want you to think of all my bad things when you look at me. Would you ever be able to see me in the same light? Not worried about triggering me to fall back into those old habits. Could you see me as anything other than broken? Damaged?
I’m terrified that knowing how broken I am will scare you away from me. I don’t want you to abandon me because you think that I’m too unfixable. That my scars are hideous reminders and that as an extension of them so am I. How can I know that you won’t leave me if you know? What if you’re repulsed by me? I’m so scared that my past will make me not good enough for your love.
One of these days, I’ll find a better way to cope with everything that’s going on in my head. Maybe I’ll trust you enough to let you know all of this. Maybe you can help heal me, or maybe it’s something that I have to deal with entirely on my own. Until then, my next tattoo appointment is in three weeks.