I remember the day I found out my sister was a cutter. She always did the cutting in private, she hid the wounds and the scars. Her pain was hers and cutting was an outlet to release the pain. I knew she didn’t do it for attention. I knew she was suffering an agony I would never understand. I caught a glimpse of a set of healing cuts on her leg that she hadn’t intended for anyone to see. She quickly covered the area on her leg with her skirt. I found out later, after she was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, that she regularly cut herself when she was a teenager. Small cuts on the inner upper part of her arm and likewise on the inner thigh. Places that were discreet enough to go mostly unnoticed. Her cuts were hers, and no one else’s. Cutting for her wasn’t a cry for help. It was a way to cope.
Somehow I innately knew that the cutting was a coping mechanism. I knew she wasn’t trying to kill herself. I knew I would never truly understand as I had never felt anything close to depression or mental anguish or even serious anxiety. I had never felt pain and fear building up inside me that threatened to swallow me whole. I also knew, for sure, that I would never have the desire or need to cut myself. Ever. Cutting was something people did when they didn’t have control over their own minds. It was something people did when they had mental illness.
Fast forward to February, 2014. I was sitting in a hotel room in Hawaii with my husband of 25 years, intimate partner of 30 years, listening to him spill some of the horrifying details of his sex addicted secret life. His words were rhythmically fading into the background with every wave crashing against the shore. I could feel myself slipping away. The pain was overwhelming. I had to get away from it, and quickly, or I would surely die. But before I went away, I had to release some of that horrifying, all encompassing really, agony I was feeling in my chest. My broken heart was aching for release and I reached across and viciously scratched my left arm over and over until I could see the blood. I needed it to drip, bright red. I needed the release. I then faded away, into nothingness.
In the most intense of times during the first two years of recovery, I scratched. I savagely scratched my left arm until it bled. Sometimes I stared at the bloody wounds and I was thankful. Thankful that the pain in my chest was being replaced by the pain in my arm. Even after the cutting incident with the pottery shard, the ER visit, the 16 stitches, I still focused on that left arm. When I was in the throes of intense PTSD, I longed to rip open those stitches, just to see the blood. Sometimes I merely went to a place inside my mind, to the memory of that deep gash and the blood pouring out. I briefly moved to cutting the top of my left leg with anything I could find that would release even the littlest trickle of blood. I had been reprimanded by our couple’s therapist (a CSAT pretty focused on my husband’s healing, not so much on mine) that my self harm was hindering my husband’s recovery. That he lived in fear of me self harming and really truly hurting myself. I really truly dislike her for those remarks. If not for the decades of lying and betrayal, I wouldn’t have PTSD. I wouldn’t be suffering. Was anyone actually focused on me and not just wanting to scold me? I knew she didn’t understand self harm. Self harm was not for attention or to “punish” or freak my husband out. Self harm was my survival. It wasn’t something I consciously chose to do. It was a pure survival instinct. In the moment I knew I needed to distract my own mind from sending blood gushing to my heart. I actually didn’t want to die even though I felt like I would, without the self harm release.
I know now that unless a person has been in the situation I was in (and my sister before me, and many many other people every single day) they couldn’t possibly understand how the self harm actually helped. It allowed me to survive a situation I wasn’t sure, at the time, was survivable. That is post traumatic stress. Way back when, I blogged about my self harm, because… I blog about everything, especially as it relates to the C-PTSD I have suffered from since the discovery of my husband’s betrayal. A couple of blog followers commented about my self harm and about my needing serious psychological help, and then they stopped following me. Instead of staying around and encouraging me, they left. One even sent a private email saying she wouldn’t sit around and watch me kill myself. Well that is fine and of course their choice. It helped me understand that some people just don’t understand. Not everyone is meant to understand. It’s okay.
During the healing process, I have faced my own fears and my anxieties. Over time the need to self harm to release the pain, has vanished. In learning to manage my new reality, I have learned to manage the pain. I still have the stress induced heart murmur, but I don’t feel it as much anymore. If I can manage the stress, my heart doesn’t hurt as much. I never mentally go away anymore and I have not self harmed in nearly three years. I am truly thankful to the people in my life who DID understand and didn’t chastise or belittle me for doing what I needed to do to survive.