trigger warning – self harm
i like to read books about religion and philosophy. they’re often helpful as i battle with mental health issues. i read an entry every morning, a kind of daily devotion practice, and i usually find something applicable to my current situation. of course, my inside voice tries to point out that i’d be much further along in recovery if i’d started doing this years ago, but i’m getting better at telling that voice to go away and leave me alone. it’s enough that i’m doing it now.
in addition to my eating disorder, i have a decades-long history of cutting. some of the scars are hidden from the general public – they’re on my legs or forearms. the former are generally covered by clothing – i don’t do short shorts or skirts – and the latter i’ve covered up with tattoos. the worst of them are harder to hide. fifteen years ago, or thereabouts, i started cutting my face and the damage is clearly visible.
mutilating your face is horrifying thing to do to yourself. i think about that sometimes. i think about the pain and despair that led me to want to destroy myself so fundamentally. it takes a lot of self-hatred to engage in a behaviour that results in the destruction of your appearance. i’m moving beyond that behaviour now, or at least working on it, but the scars and damage remain.
my skin looks like a patchwork. i have white scars and nerve damage everywhere, and deep, grooving scars around my mouth and chin from the wounds that needed surgical intervention and iv antibiotics. i still cut a little, i still obsess over perceived imperfections in my appearance, but there has been a significant improvement over the past year. medication, therapy, and resolve have helped me move away from wanting to compulsively harm myself in that manner. unfortunately, the scars and nerve damage remain. i spend a great deal of pre-sleep time hoping that when i wake up, the injuries will be gone, knowing, of course, that they won’t be.
yesterday’s reading was from marcus aurelius’ meditations and it was particularly apt:
“i have no right to do myself an injury. have i ever injured anyone else if i could avoid it?” (8.42)
that’s the thing right there. i don’t harm others, or at least, i try very hard not to. i’d rather harm myself first, mentally or physically, before anyone else. i prefer to err on the side of the self-inflicted wound rather than to cause damage to another in any way, in part because the guilt from causing harm so is crucifying and in part because standing up for myself in any way leads to massive fears of rejection. however, the guilt from doing permanent harm to myself is difficult to live with as well.
“i have no right to do myself an injury.” the little voice inside me tries to object to that statement and i get it; i’ve spent a lifetime doing the opposite. i’ve spent a lifetime harming myself and it’s hard to let such a big part of yourself go. grief comes with loss, even from the loss of defective behaviours, and even though i recognize that i don’t need the pieces i’m trying to abandon, bits of my brain argue the point. the ill part of my brain tries to tell me that of course i have the right to cut or starve or binge and purge. it tells me that the harm was incidental; i was only seeking perfection and that’s a good thing. seeking perfection by using sharp objects to mutilate oneself is an odd argument but then, my inside voice is seldom logical.
the quote reminded of an episode of star trek from back in the day, “a taste of armageddon”. kirk shares a line that has always stuck in my head:
“We’re human beings with the blood of a million savage years on our hands! But we can stop it. We can admit that we’re killers . . . but we’re not going to kill today. That’s all it takes! Knowing that we’re not going to kill — today!”
that’s all we have, ever. we have today. i can’t go into the past and undo what i’ve done. seeing the damage day in and day out is triggering to be sure. it makes me want to cut more. just one more cut, just one more slice, and then i’ll be perfect. then i’ll be okay. lies, complete lies, that my brain tries to sell me.
if i have no right to do myself an injury, and if i deserve to live a life in which i no longer harm myself, then i need to alter my thoughts to reflect that fact. perhaps something that mashes the two quotes up would be helpful.
i am a human being with the self-harming behaviours of decades on my hands! but i can stop it. i can admit that i often choose to harm myself…but that i’m not going to do it today. that’s all it takes! knowing that i’m not going to do myself an injury – today.
i often struggle with coming up with a daily affirmation; my choices always seem to me to be banal and trite. my brain mocks me when i write “i’m worth it” in my journal. this one, however, seems like a good one to hold close for a while. “i’m not going to harm myself today.” i can do one day. it’s all i can do, in fact. it’s all any of us can do. yesterday’s done and unchangeable and the future isn’t here yet. we have the now and that’s it, so a resolution to not damage myself anymore in the now seems like a good one to make.