(**WARNING: Other self-injurers may find part of this entry triggering their own desire to cut. It is not my intent to cause anyone a problem but merely to explain my story. I try to exclude as many potentially triggering details as possible. I have marked potentially triggering sections with ** to allow the reader to brace before reading or make them easier to skip over if necessary.)
I started self-injuring in high school as a way to cope with stress going on at home. My parents put a lot of pressure on me to keep Mom’s extramarital relationship hidden after I accidentally discovered its existence, especially from my brother. He was my best friend, so it was really difficult to no longer be able to go to him with the matters that weighed heaviest on my mind. Everyone in our community considered our family to be an upstanding Christian example for ministry, obedience to God and family togetherness. I imagine that image was very important to my parents. They didn’t want their daughter running around spilling their dirty laundry.
I had long believed my family to be a wonderful, unbreakable unit that could weather the storms of life together. The uncovering of this shameful secret shook me to my core and caused me to question the most foundational building blocks in our lives. I grew slightly paranoid that I held more mistaken assumptions about the moral convictions of my parents and even the world. How could I trust anyone if couldn’t trust my own mother?
After a while, the hypocrisy of our public image versus the truth really got to me. Friends at church kept complimenting us on what an amazing family we were. I think I smiled and went along with it for a bit because I still desperately wanted to believe them. But it was too much to watch my parents give marriage and parenting advice to other couples. I sulked and became increasingly withdrawn, even pestering my Dad to let me drop out of extra church activities. Somehow, I felt like simply being me—sincere, hardworking and God-loving—I was playing a role in our family sham by reinforcing others’ high opinions of us. Guilt stuck to me along with the mask I wasn’t allowed to pry off.
My Dad wouldn’t permit me to talk to anyone but him about how frustrated I was over the whole situation. He tried to convince me we were still all the great things everyone saw in us, but I couldn’t believe it. Frustration evolved into anger. Our new professionally taken family photos had just been put up all around the house. I tore down the ones in my room. “We’re not behaving like a good family. This is a lie,” I argued, pointing to our grins and arms around each other. Yet, I remained silent, wishing to be an obedient daughter and not violate my Dad’s rule not to tell anyone.
Unfortunately, as is frequently the case with dark secrets, this one ate me alive, piece by piece, day by day. I’d become increasingly enraged at my forced participation in the family sham. The only reprieve I could find was to be aloof and avoid contact with outsiders as much as possible. At least then, I would just feel depressed instead of guilty. I daily overheard Mom yelling at Dad. She once blamed some of her dissatisfaction on the cleanliness of the house. I felt like I was to blame when I realized I’d forgotten a bracelet by the kitchen sink when washing dishes earlier. I gradually found other ways to believe I was the source of their marital strife. I began to think of myself as a terrible person who, despite my best efforts, had driven my mother beyond what she could handle. I now believed I was living twice the lie. Depression set in more strongly.
I couldn’t reply to fellow students and teachers about why I looked so down every time I came to class. I was exasperated that my efforts to hide things were failing. There were many times I wished to crack and tell someone what was going on. I berated myself for being weak every time that thought came to mind. My brother and I attended the same school, so if I told anyone there was a chance it could get back to him. I kept a photo of him in my schoolbag to look at whenever I thought I was about to crack. I’d remind myself of how deeply I loved him and tell myself he deserved to live a life free from the crushing reality that his cherished family was not what it appeared to be. I will be strong for his sake.
I voluntarily sacrificed my friendships and pushed away anyone who’d express concern for me just in case they were to catch me at a moment of vulnerability where I might spill everything. I regularly hid in the bathroom during lunch to be away from everyone. I had this image of myself as less than human huddled against a cold stall door munching food in the filthiest place on campus. It was the only place I could feel without facing scrutiny or criticism. I was in the habit of telling myself I was selfish for wanting to reveal the secret. I’d urged my mother to give up her extramarital relationship. Her response—verbal abuse followed by periods of complete emotional withdrawal. I internalized her words and became a monster in my own eyes. She taught me life hurt less if I chose not to care anymore.
I was so full of anger I couldn’t express at my situation, my mother and the man she cheated with. I was infuriated with God for letting it all happen and for how trapped I felt. The effects of my misery had spiraled beyond my control. Panic attacks were a new plague in my life I did not understand how to deal with. I don’t remember exactly how I first learned what self-injury was. A friend at school mentioned that she tried to avoid being around kitchen knives when she was upset. That’s the first time I can remember wondering what it would be like to hurt myself on purpose. I thought it would be sinful to express my anger to others, so the thought of being able to handle my gut-wrenching emotions on my own appealed to me.
For about a week in summer, I decided life was too painful and not worth the amount of effort I was putting into living it. I camped out in my room, hardly ate at all and journaled all day. I was resolved not to leave my room until I could figure out a better way to live life. My family worried about me not eating, but I responded to their attempts to engage me with total apathy or eruptions of anger. I prayed a lot because I still cared very much about faithfully living a life of submission to God even if I was so confused I didn’t know what that looked like for me anymore. I decided to come out and start eating again when a concerned classmate contacted me and made it clear they were willing/wanted to be there for me even if I wasn’t comfortable talking about what was going on.
**This classmate’s support meant a lot to me but the secret’s implosive pressure was still too much for me. I stole one of Mom’s sewing needles to run over my skin at night after everyone else was asleep. Initially, I was curious to discover what that sensation felt like. Then I dared myself to push it just hard enough to break my skin. The instinct of self-preservation was too strong to overcome. I was too afraid to force myself beyond it despite my desire for this outlet. Making myself bleed with the needle would be the first step in self-punishment for the “evil” person I was so thoroughly convinced I was. But eventually I found a way to go through with it.
**When Mom yelled at my Dad, I put on sound dampening headphones and cranked up the volume on whatever computer game I was playing. I did that to drown out the noise even after I was tired of playing. I ended up spending entire evenings and well into the night watching gory videos in an attempt to desensitize myself to the idea of drawing blood. I was horrified by what I saw but gradually numbed myself to it through repeated exposure. I’d watched them for a few hours every school night until I felt so detached that it was difficult to feel. One night, I snapped while watching the videos and felt a sudden burning guilt for what I was doing. That’s it. I simply must be punished. There’s no other way around it. I just need to do this. I know I cut myself in either my bedroom or the bathroom immediately afterward but I can’t actually remember doing it for the first time.
I wish I’d never done that first cut because of the highly destructive path it set me on that I still cannot fully escape. For whatever self-injury has given me, it’s taken far more in return. I don’t know if those parts of my self-esteem or sense of safety are entirely recoverable. It’s a frightening chasm I peek into every time I wake up in the morning. Yet, I cling to God’s redemptive promises, knowing that if I ever can get them back in this lifetime it will be through His mercies.