I am fifteen, and the tech rudely asks me “How did you start self-harming?” as I sit huddled in a chair in the adolescent psychiatric hospital. She is looking at the healed scratches on my legs and arms that I made with a thumbtack weeks before. I don’t answer her, and she cranes her neck trying to make eye contact with me as I stare at the floor. “I have a daughter about your age. I don’t want her to start. Did you read about it? See it on TV?”
“No. I just did it,” I mumble.
“But what made you? Were your friends doing it?”
She gives up and walks over to another patient, leaving me to trace the pink and white lines on my skin with my bitten-down fingernails. I know I will do it again.
I started self-harming just before I turned fourteen. I was being bullied in school, and not being treated for depression, which I didn’t know I had. I remember the night clearly: I was in the shower, and I scratched my chest and wrists until they bled. It was the beginning of an addiction that would follow me for the next five years. I graduated to needles, thumbtacks, nails, knives, and finally, razors. I hoarded band-aids, gauze pads, medical tape. My rituals were obsessive and painstaking. My bathroom became a sanctuary. It was easy to clean up the copious amounts of blood if I cut in the shower; I was already naked, so I didn’t have to worry about getting blood on my clothes, and I could flush the band-aid wrappers down the toilet so as not to leave evidence in the wastebasket. I started cutting on a daily basis, and soon, my life revolved around self-injury.
I defended my habit profusely, ignoring the fact that it was detracting from my life. I missed out on pool parties, beach dates, being outside in the summer, tank tops, shorts, sex… It wasn’t that bad, right? I’d just wear a cardigan in the ninety degree weather. I’d replace my bloodstained clothes. I’d skip that date, just in case there was intimacy. I was fine.
“I’ve been bleeding for three days,” I tell the therapist running the women’s eating disorder support group. “Do you think I need stitches?”
“Yes,” she says. “You need to go to an emergency clinic as soon as you can.”
The bleeding stops, and I don’t go. I slice up the opposite leg the next weekend. I’m fine.
“I’m six months self-harm free!” I announce, and the small room bursts into applause. My IOP is proud of me, but I’m not proud of myself. It’s just a matter of time until I cut again. I still have razors stashed in my dresser, a few gauze pads in the bathroom, and half a roll of medical tape. They ask me how I did it, and one girl rolls her eyes when I tell her my secret is chain-smoking.
A boy hits me.
I quit smoking.
I cut again.
It hasn’t been six months, but two weeks is still something to celebrate. Today, I threw out the bloody razors in my bathroom cabinet. I dumped the gauze pads, the tape, the band-aids, everything into a trash bag and took it out to the garage. I want to eradicate self-harm from my life. Cutting has brought me nothing but pain, literally and figuratively, and it’s time to give it up. My body is not a war zone–it is a vehicle for life. My scars are a road map that show me where I’ve been, and yes, they show me where I could go. Every day, I make the choice not to return to self-harm. Today, I am balanced, healthy, and safe. These are my scars. Although my body tells a story of pain, I am love, I am life, I am joy.