As my healing path continues, I continue to gain perspective on the self-injury. To some parts of me, never forgetting the vivid image of me bleeding from my own action seems critical. But I have learned to not stop with that image. Today as I write this, I am experiencing what I can only assume is a body memory. Simply put, my anus hurts. It feels like I have been ill used, and left sullied by someone else's nastiness. I do not like this feeling, and can't help but remember how well self-injury used to keep this feelings away. Before, I always had the self-injury to blame for this pain.
I haven't stuck anything inside myself in months. I am not sure that I will never do it again, but I am confident that I am making progress.
Today, I am writing about this to remind myself that I always have options. I do feel sad, and I do feel used, but I am ok. I am safe now.
Roadblocks to success, and how I am overcoming them:
My life with regard to self-injury was a repeating and escalating cycle of violence directed inward. For years each attempt to stop it would end in failure. After failing, I would feel horrible, and quickly move towards doing more extreme things to myself. The last time I self-injured, I was desperately trying to force a 1 liter soda bottle inside of me. I am not sure what scares me more, the fact that I was close to success, or the fact that I know I can do it if I am willing to risk it all.
Untangling the mess of self-injury has not been easy, and I am not done with it either. As I sit here experiencing this body memory, I am getting even more understanding of how complex self-injury is for me, and perhaps everyone.
The first roadblock I hit was the horrible feelings I get around using the bathroom. Whenever I need to go the bathroom, I feel scared, uncomfortable, and generally distressed. Afterwards, I feel dirty, self-conscious, and scared. For me, bowel movements themselves are an issue. As a child I was repeatedly and consistently humiliated by my mother for making the bathroom smell. While at some level it seems ridiculous to have those feeling continue today, it is even more ridiculous to ignore those feelings. They are still here. I cannot comfortably use a public restroom, or even one in my own house if there is a chance someone else will use it after me.
The anal self-injury had some very useful effects in this area. First, because I used soap as well, it would always clean me out, and leave me feeling empty, clean, and safe. second, because I would fully clean myself at night, I would almost never have to use a public bathroom. because my system was so clear, I would only need to go during the day if I was sick or something. This same piece also gave me a sense of control. I could control when I went the bathroom. Fears from the abuse left with the the need to feel control in that area. Another useful effect of the self-injury, was the fact the because I was cleaning myself out in the privacy of my own bathroom, while I was taking a bath, there would be at least a half hour to an hour for the smell to fade before anyone else could come in.
Understanding these factors started to give some hope. I was failing to stop this behavior because I was only looking at one factor: Shame and self-doubt. negative feelings toward myself could not stop the pattern. I stopped drinking, and two years later quit smoking. But the same steps I followed to stop those behaviors seemed to do nothing for this. These other factors were critical. I couldn't just stop the self-injury because the next time I went the bathroom, felt out of control, had a body memory, or whatever, I would have incredible desires to self-injure again. Until I could start addresses those needs, this pattern was not going to go away.
But I was making progress. I made it two months without self-injury. But then, my parents went away, and I had their house to myself while they were gone. I failed to realize that their absence was a very scary trigger for me. Every time I was raped and abused, it was while they were away, or not available. When they are gone, I have desires to re-enact aspects of the abuse. Hiding outside at night, injuring myself in the weeds. One minute I was taking a bath, and the next I was outside, naked, pressing bottles into my anus. Once that desire to be outside came over me, I had almost no defense. Once I did that, I felt like a complete failure, and was right back at it again.
Changes in my life and healing entered my life around this time. I got involved with a new 12 step program for trauma survivors, and started to look at my own struggle with self-injury a new way. I was always fighting it. Always hating it, always ashamed of it. One of the steps in this group is called "Understanding" basically, this step talks about understanding how various elements of your life tie back to the abuse, and helps us looks at ourselves with compassion.
Compassion was hard at this point for me. But, I persisted, and kept looking at old photo's of myself. I finally got it- the small 12 year old boy looking at me was silently carrying all that pain, just waiting for privacy to keep self-injuring. I finally saw it. He was innocent and he was beautiful. There was nothing dirty, wrong, or evil about the self-injury. It was the only way he could cope with the insanity around him. Connecting "him" to me brought the tears of compassionate understanding, and opened the door for self-love.
Suddenly, I didn't feel right about blasting myself for slipping. Self-injuring is not slipping, it is a from of self-care. How can a criticize myself for wanting to heal, and use the only thing that did seem to work?
With this understanding in place, the intensity of the self-injury seemed to subside in some ways, I was more open to using that bigger bottle, but I wasn't feeling as terrible about it, and wasn't willing to really hurt myself to get it inside. I was afraid of really hurting myself.
Some nights, in the bathroom, I would reach for the bottle, and feel a sense of fear. I realized that other parts of myself were afraid of being hurt. The parts of me trying to soothe other fears are not monsters! That immediately lost interest in self-injury for the moment. On those nights, I was able to just sit and relax.
But still, self-injury was continuing.
I started reading the step called Harmonizing. In Harmonizing, we try to gradually adjust or behaviors to healthier choices. There is no judgement, just a recognition that my behaviors are helping me cope, and that it is part of the healing process to always seek out healthier ways to cope and heal.
Some nights, I was able to relax in the bath, and not self-injure.
Some nights I would self-injure, but stop after only a few moments.
Some nights I would need more to stop the emotional pain.
But as the nights passed, I started to see that the self-injury was just a part of my healing process. As I needed it, I used it.
Eventually, I stopped trying to count days from my last self-injury. Counting days, and then resetting the clock each time I self-injured seemed to be counter-productive. Resetting the clock felt like failure, and counting the days felt like a competition. This is neither.
Self-injury saved my life, and saved my sanity. I won't give it up, but I will hug the little boy I used to be. And tell him: you are not alone with this pain anymore, I am here to help, and together we can walk out of the woods.