One of the most unhelpful pieces of advice I received from well-intentioned people with no understanding of self-injury was “just stop.” They didn’t realize how addictive cutting can be or why I was doing it. The reason “just stop” didn’t help was because when I tried to, my inner pain would find a different way to make some part of my life spiral out of control.
If cutting was no longer an outlet, my eating habits would decline to the point where I would get easily winded walking up a long staircase. Feeling really hungry wasn’t the same kind of pain as cutting, but it still let me take out my anger on myself. I even felt good about the level of self-discipline I exercised in not grabbing more food to make myself feel better physically. It helped me feel in control to know I was feeling awful because I’d chosen to and not because life was forcing me to feel that way.
If I tried to stay on top of both my cutting and eating issues, my sleep schedule would go haywire. I’d either lie awake at night being so upset that I couldn’t sleep or I’d have to spend a few hours distracting myself so I could sleep. Depression hung over me so heavily that I’d spend as much time as I could sleeping in in the mornings or procrastinating getting up.
The point is that saying “just stop” is about as effective an approach as trying to plug a hole in a ship that’s bound to sink unless it’s given a way to weather the raging storm outside. The pain will find other outlets, no matter how many holes you block. The ship needs to be reinforced so that it can handle the chaos without falling apart. It took a long a time even after I had stopped self-injuring for a couple years to learn how to start dealing with my pain instead of running from it or numbing it. Facing hurt and haunting memories is far easier said than done because doing so is a process…not something that can be accomplished with a single decision or in a single moment. But I am convinced it is the only path I can take that will actually help me recover and not give me more problems.
Each time I cut to solve my problems was another day I ran from learning how to deal with life. Sometimes life seemed so overwhelming that I didn’t believe it could be dealt with. I thought I was making things easier on myself by cutting when I was actually setting myself up for a harder life. I couldn’t learn healthier ways to tolerate stress as long as that was my way of coping. One of the scariest things I’ve had to do was tell myself I’m not going to cut in this situation. I have no idea what else I’m going to do, but I won’t figure out what to do if I always resort to that. It’s terrifying in a way to give up the one thing that feels like it works. It’s nerve-wracking to choose to feel instead of numb over or run. But if we don’t sit in that tension and wrestle with what drives us to want to hurt ourselves, how can we overcome it?