I haven’t self harmed in something like a year and four months- and truthfully, I can’t remember the last time I wanted to. But it’s taken me a long, long time to get to this point- in fact, I first began trying to recover from self harm in October 2011 and went through long periods of recovery and relapse before I got to where I am today. So it’s not easy, or something that will happen overnight, and recovery WILL involve lapses and relapses and it may take a long fucking time for it to happen or for the urges to go completely, but here I’m listing nine things that I think ultimately helped me in my recovery from self harm.
- Doing it for other people- people always say the opposite- that you should recover for yourself and not for anyone else, but when I first attempted self harm recovery I couldn’t do it for myself because I didn’t value myself enough to appreciate what I was actually doing. I started to recover because I wanted to show someone who was helping me that I was really trying to get better, and throughout my recovery there have been times when I’ve actively thought ‘I can’t self harm because I’ll be letting down this nurse/my therapist/my mum/my friends if I do.’ With time (and lots of therapy, reflection, personal growth) I began to realise I wanted to recover for me too, but during those times that I couldn’t recover for myself, having people I wanted to keep going for definitely made it easier
- Having a goal- I’ve found it helpful to have a goal to work towards, as it keeps you motivated and gives you a reason to fight through the urges. In the past I’ve set myself a goal of being self harm free for my school formal, a holiday with friends, my last day of sixth form. The last time I set a goal it was to be a year self harm free by the time I begin my nursing course in September 2016, and any time self harming has crossed my mind, I’m quick to remind myself that as a nurse, I can’t have fresh cuts or purple scars and that keeps me going. Be realistic though- start with small, manageable goals to avoid overwhelming or putting pressure on yourself
- Not counting the days- I used to count the days religiously, particularly the first few times I tried to stop because each day was SUCH an achievement. But I soon learnt that by counting the days I was putting pressure on myself, and whenever I relapsed I’d beat myself up for ‘throwing away’ X number of days self harm free. I’ve always done better not knowing. This time, it was around March 2015 when I realised I hadn’t cut in a while (I later worked out exactly how long it had been because I remembered it was a couple of days before an admission). So as I hadn’t actively been counting the days, I wasn’t thinking about it as much or drawing attention to the fact I had’t cut or putting pressure on myself to keep it up
- Learning the difference between a relapse and a lapse- instead of viewing a self harm incident as = RELAPSE, I started to see it as ONE day out of X days/weeks/months. So in X days/weeks/months, I’d only self harmed once, or twice (or whatever the number was). Slipping up with self harm doesn’t have to mean a full blown relapse, and that’s where I’d gone wrong in the past. If I self harmed once after 7 or 8 months, I’d view it as being back to square one and fall back into the cycle of doing it multiple times a week. A lapse, or one self harm incident DOESN’T mean you’re back where you started, and it doesn’t mean you can’t pick yourself back up and try again tomorrow. Forgive yourself, and move on
- Realising my self harm would never be ‘enough’- I found that with my self harm, I was constantly in competition with myself. Ironically, it started when I first began to stop. My self harm was ‘superficial’ (hate that word bc diminishes the fact that ANY self harm is literally hurting you??) then, and I remember thinking my ‘last cut’ had to be ‘big enough’ to leave a scar that I could point to and say ‘that was my last cut’. Which sounds irrational, but there you go. It escalated, and things that should have scared me, didn’t, because it never felt like ‘enough’. Enough what, I don’t know. I think I began to recognise that it was never going to feel like ‘enough’ when after being found with blood pumping from my neck, a nurse told me if I kept doing it I would end up paralysed, and it still didn’t feel ‘bad enough’. Saying ‘I’ll stop when…’ is like an alcoholic saying they’ll stop after one more drink- one more turns into passed out. It’s the same thing, you’re an addict chasing a high you’ll never get. So why keep doing it?
- Realising it didn’t help- self harm helped at the start- or rather, it felt like it did. It masked things, numbed things, released things- but it was only ever a temporary feeling. I’d feel a brief moment of relief, then I’d start to feel negative things- shame, embarrassment, guilt. Self harm doesn’t fix things- it won’t take away your low mood, or stop the racing thoughts, or make the things other people say to you less hurtful- the things that made you cut in the first place will still be there afterwards. It took a long time for me to realise this, but over time, I began to find things that made me feel better than self harm- cups of tea, hugs, painting my nails, being creative. Once I began going long periods without self harming, each time I relapsed I became ‘aware’ of what I was doing and how maladaptive it was as a coping mechanism. I remember one day realising that I was literally hurting myself, and feeling shocked
- Becoming sick of the ‘cycle’- self harm became a cycle and dominated by rules. I would go months without it, then relapse and spend weeks or months self-harming/lying to my parents/driving to A&E in the middle of the night/burning shame and mumbling to nurses that greeted me by name that I ‘did it myself’/ talking myself out of sections or hospital admissions/mopping up blood/trying to hide wrist to shoulder bandages/showering with cling film all over my body. It was a merry-go-round that I couldn’t get off until the rules dictated that I could. It was wearing and self harm was no longer something I was in control of- it controlled me and it was getting harder to hide. So I try to remember the bad bits and how exhausting it is and how trapped I felt on that merry-go-round, and they usually remind me that it’s not worth it for that tiny short-lived rush
- Scars- I used to hate my scars fading, and I remember thinking ‘I don’t care if I have scars’, so this wasn’t always a motivator. But when things started to get better and I started to go out more and plan holidays with my friends I became increasingly frustrated with them. Some people feel ok having their scars out, but I’m not one of them, and so spend summers in cardigans and jeans and can never wear the clothes I want or buy the dresses I like because I always have to think about my arms/legs. I avoid things like swimming (which I love), won’t apply for jobs if the uniform requires a short sleeved uniform and my biggest worry about my nursing course is that I’ll have to wear short sleeves. So for the past few years every time I want to self harm I stop and ask myself ‘is this worth permanently scarring my body over?’ The answer is always no. Rationalise it- do I want to look at my body and be reminded of that incident/that comment/that argument/that bad day? Your scars might not bother you right now, but I promise you, one day they most likely will
- Urge surfing- I find it infuriating when people tell me to ‘distract’ myself. A lot of the time, self harm for me was a result of relentless intrusive thoughts, so I might spend an entire DAY trying to ‘district’ myself, and still have urges to do it. Other times, it was an impulsive decision and I might be gawking at the damage before I even realised what I was doing- so distraction didn’t even come into it. But something I find useful is urge surfing. Basically, urges are supposed to peak and fall within 15 minutes, so you gotta keep busy (or sit on your hands!) for 15 minutes, and by then, the worst of the urges should have passed. If they’re still there, do it for another 15. It still involves distraction, and sometimes I spent the whole night doing it, but I found giving it a time period was helpful, because I could say ‘you just have to get through 15 minutes’, and those 15 minutes were all I had to focus on because looking beyond that was too hard. If I’m having an all out Bad Day, I always say to myself ‘just get through tonight’ because generally, things feel a little better in the morning
So that’s that. Simple, right? That’s the problem with these lists- they make it sound so easy, and it’s not. It took YEARS of therapy, medication to lift my mood or stabilise my mood, harsh conversations with my therapist and nurses and being really fucking honest with myself to get here. A lot of these things came with time, and it was only through trying to recover from self harm that I realised that actually, it didn’t really help the way I tried to convince myself it did, and that I didn’t want to spend my life hiding scars and wounds- and that’s what I keep reminding myself.