WHEN IT COMES TO BATTLING THE STIGMA OF SELF-HARM ADDICTION
My mother has always told me that everyone has scars - some are physical, and some you can’t see right away. It was instilled in me from the get-go that I should treat people gently and go into new relationships with an open heart and open mind, because that kind of acceptance and kindness was rare.
I didn’t realize back then how big a role that empathy would play in my life.
Self-harm addiction is something that doesn’t get talked about in any real way. You hear about drug addiction, alcohol addiction, cigarette addiction. You hear phrases like “a cry for help” tossed around, and while there is truth to that, there is another side to self-harm. For me, it was a compulsion, something that I could control. I was diagnosed with clinical depression in my teens and it controlled my life. I couldn’t get out of bed, I couldn’t eat, and I had anxiety attacks multiple times a day. My days were absolutely consumed by this monster in my brain, a pressure just begging to be released. And eventually...I found a way to relieve the pressure. It was a daily ritual for me, the only way I could find relief from the vortex that was my mind. I was good at doing it, and I was even better at hiding it.
Eventually, once my parents caught on to what was happening, there was the regular slew of therapists, psychiatrists and support groups. There was even one particularly scary night that landed me in the hospital and, though it snapped me out of my suicidal ideation, it didn’t do anything to quell the need to self-harm. Then suddenly, there was the right medication. The right therapist. The knife drawer in my kitchen still had a sort of siren call to me whenever I walked past it, but my compulsion to reach in there was a little less. The medication dulled the need, but like a former pack-a-day smoker, that urge was, and probably will always be with me.
Fast forward to today: I’m an actor in my late twenties living on my own in NYC. The last time I relapsed was about two and a half years ago (not the longest I stayed clean, but still significant). And while the discussion around mental health has evolved and grown, the stigma around self-harm certainly hasn’t. Which means that my biggest insecurity, to me at least, sits loud and proud on my body for all to see: my scars. My worst ones are hidden underneath the waistline of my pants - big, ugly gashes across my hips that makes wearing a bathing suit around people I don’t know well a constant mental game of “will they ask or won’t they ask”. Because 90% of the time, when people do ask, and when I sheepishly tell them the truth, they give me a look that breaks my heart. Suddenly it’s like they’re walking on eggshells, even if they don’t mean to. They have this preconceived notion as to why I have those scars to begin with and who I must be as a person to have done that to myself. Over the years I became guarded and aloof to new acquaintances just because I knew that when they inevitably noticed my scars, there was a good chance that I’d never hear from them again. It hurt less to be removed from people than to be judged based off of something on my body. It also made dating hard - any time I would get intimate with someone my scars would be on display, and it would scare people away. My two year relationship ended earlier this year, and as I got back into the dating scene, I had a moment of “what if I don’t find anyone who accepts every part of me again”? I live in constant fear of being discovered, while at the same time, I want to scream about how far I’ve come to the world.
Over the last few years I have made huge strides in accepting and celebrating both my mental and physical scars. I cut toxic people out of my life who were judgmental of my journey, and I’ve built a community of other wayward souls that understand where I’ve been and where I’m trying to go. I was originally looking into covering up my scars with tattoos or cosmetic surgery, but I’m starting to look at them more as a thing to be proud of rather than something to hide. I have literal battle armor, and how badass is that? Do I still get urges to self-harm? Of course. Does my anxiety go into overdrive whenever anyone asks how I got that gnarly scar? Yes, and it probably always will. But whenever that starts to happen I remind myself that, like my mother said, everyone has their scars, mine just manifested physically. And to all those people who decided who I was based off of some scar tissue? If you can’t love me scars and all, then you don’t deserve any part of me.
And that’s a mantra I can take into battle with me, time and time again.
INSECURE: HIDING A PART OF YOURSELF THAT SHOULD, IN THE GRAND SCEHEM OF THINGS, BE CELEBRATED - BECAUSE MORE OFTEN THAN NOT, THOSE PARTS OF OURSELVES ARE WHAT MAKE US HUMAN AND CONNECT US ALL TO ONE ANOTHER.
I celebrate: my journey, my tribe, the future that I didn't think I deserved.
Resources for self-harm addiction: National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255 + To Write Love On Her Arms.