Whilst I have been careful not to be descriptive of self-harm methods, this post comes with a trigger warning.
I feel that I am nearly at the end of my recovery journey with self-harm. Breaking my addiction to pain has been a long and arduous battle. Now I value my health and my safety enough to be in a place where I actively fight against urges to harm myself. I am a self-harm warrior, and this is my story.
Pain was a relief
My difficulties with self-harm date back to 2010, when I was starting to experience emotional upheaval and found myself struggling to cope. One fateful day, when I was upset and had worked myself up into a state, I accidentally hurt myself. It was a simple mistake: I tripped and fell on the stairs. Nonetheless, the relief the sensation of pain brought me from my emotional state was profound.
The physical pain somehow lessened the anguish inside of me, leaving me extremely confused and conflicted. The bruising that stained my skin gave me a kind of peculiar satisfaction, an evidence of the pain I had suffered. Some small part of me wanted to recreate the physical hurt.
Little did I know how slippery that slope was.
I kept it secret
Fast forward six months, and I was hooked. I had indeed recreated the physical pain, and each time it had helped me cope with my emotional distress. I wasn’t aware of the concept of self-harm at the time, so it never had a name, but it felt right to keep it a secret.
However, as a swimmer, it was hard to hide. People were starting to ask where the bruises were coming from and what was causing the wounds on my skin, so my behaviour was driven underground. I became highly secretive and started to feel ashamed of the way I was living. Eventually, I had to quit swimming because my self-harm was becoming too obvious.
My control was starting to slip — self-harm was beginning to rule my life. My days revolved around ensuring I had opportunities to damage my body, and I had become increasingly withdrawn into a world of depression, with the first symptoms of psychosis becoming ever more prominent.
Addiction to pain
I had developed an addiction to pain. I’d become unable to cope with distress without self-harm.
I had also begun to find that I needed more pain to satisfy my urges to harm myself. Each time I took it further, and I started to experiment with different types of pain, alternative forms of hurting. My chosen methods of self-harm gradually became more and more dangerous as my control lessened. I was trapped in a cycle where the physical harm was never quite meeting the need for agony. I had to keep taking it one step further.
Before long, my increasingly dangerous self-harm, coupled with ever more obvious symptoms of psychosis meant that drastic action was needed to protect me from myself. And so I was hospitalised.
Detained under the Mental Health Act, I felt like a prisoner, which took its toll on my already low mood. Whilst in hospital, things had gotten so far out of hand that my self-harm was mistaken for suicide attempts. I was put on level four observations (within arm’s reach of nursing staff) in order to keep me safe, and there was talk of transferring me to a secure unit.
I nearly died
There was one key low point where I would have died from self-harm, had it not been for the vigilance of the nurses who saved my life. It was the wake-up call that I needed, to realise that I had to change.
Recovery from that point was not linear. There were good days and not so good days. It was hard to break such ingrained habits.
I learnt about distress tolerance, and how to sit with bad feelings and simply notice them without having to act on them. I learnt to ‘ride the wave’ of urges to self-harm, how it would pass over time and how to use distraction techniques to keep me from harming myself. It wasn’t easy, but I did it.
As I learnt healthier coping strategies, I had to come to terms with the physical damage the self-harm had left me with. Thankfully, due to the ways in which I harmed myself, the scarring is minimal, but there are still some scars nonetheless.
In a way, I’ve made peace with my scars. I’ve accepted them for what they are, and the part of my journey that they represent. It isn’t easy seeing the evidence of the trauma I forced my body to endure. But it reminds me of how much I survived and how far I have come. I neither display nor hide my scars. They are a part of who I am, and I’m ok with that.
There were times when I genuinely feared that my addiction to pain was going to inadvertently cost me my life. I may still have urges to damage my body, but I now have far more control over them and therefore my responses to them.
At the time of writing, I am almost three months clean from self-harm. If I can do it, anyone can. I know that you too can become a self-harm warrior.