Most online discussions of self-injury revolve around our mistakes…how diligently we’re trying not to fail or how badly it hurts when we do. These can provide wonderful encouragement, but I’d like to draw your attention to the often overlooked aspect of our struggles—our victories. It’s too easy to focus on the negative, to get swept away in what went wrong at the expense of giving due attention to what went right. We look at the one time we relapsed as if it somehow means more than all the other days where we didn’t. No wonder we feel all kinds of terrible; this train of thought accepts nothing short of perfection. Where’s mercy? Where’s understanding? We are quick to offer these to others in forums who have relapsed but not to ourselves. Why?
All the time I spent fighting the urge to cut myself was focused on the next potential relapse. It hadn’t even occurred to me to think differently until a good friend of mine who noticed how anxious I was made a suggestion. “Look at all the times you’ve said no to cutting yourself and compare that number to how many times you’ve slipped up. If it’s higher, that means you’re doing something right.” I grew to view relapse as a moment of forgetfulness or a foolish decision not to do what I knew helped me. I just needed to be more consistent in applying the coping skills I’d already been using for a long time. I was able to adopt a more merciful attitude toward myself when I saw my setbacks as temporary lapses and not sweeping judgments on my worth as a human being. Messing up is not the same as being a failure.
I would gently challenge you to take a second look at how strong and capable you consider yourself to be. Take out a sheet of paper and write down the date you last hurt yourself. Then tally up the number of days it’s been since then. Somehow, it meant more to me when I tallied each day rather than summing them up in digits. It paid justice to each one and forced me to acknowledge how many successes I had to be proud of. I taped my paper to the ceiling above my bed (might be more practical to put it by your bathroom mirror or someplace more accessible) where I could look at it when I felt too down to get up and start my day. Keep adding to it as you keep saying no and feel appropriately proud for each tally made. Let’s stop rehearsing the guilt/shame as we approach a more merciful, truthful view of ourselves.
Celebrate your victories! Treat yourself to something special you enjoy after a particularly difficult stretch of saying no to self-injury. Let yourself be happy over your hard-earned accomplishment. You deserve it! Create a personal holiday for yourself. I set aside November 17th every year to no-holds-barred celebrate my triumphs. It looks different every year. Sometimes I go out to eat somewhere nice, get together with friends, journal or write poems. Other times, I’m unabashedly silly and run through meadows laughing or dance in the rain. It’s up to you how you want to let your joy shine. But, please, do yourself a favor and let it.