I was jolted back to reality by a warm and wet sensation running down my fingers. In a moment of panic, I reached for a tissue to wipe the mess I’d just created. I didn’t intend for it to go this far, but the pain and sight of blood felt good. It had a calming effect on me. The intense rage I felt moments ago dissipated in an instant.
I had woken up from my sleep feeling unsettled, greeted by an intense rage from the previous night. I laid in bed for an hour, trying to push those thoughts away. No, I told myself. You’re better than that. You don’t have to do it.
But the temptation raged. Finally, I succumbed to the inner demons in me. I took the needle out of its packaging, and went for that vein. In my mind, it wouldn’t be too bad as it was a small vein. I was wrong. I had miscalculated. Thankfully it wasn’t a medical emergency, but it was scary how things had escalated over the past two months.
I’d decided to tell a trusted mentor about my little secret. It took many months before I gathered enough courage to talk about it. I was finally ready to get it behind me, and face any old wounds that was buried deep inside. I didn’t want to deal with this for another 20 years.
I thought recovery is a linear progression. But instead of making progress, things seemed to have escalated at a terrifying rate. Maybe it’s because I’m no longer hiding away, but facing the issue head-on. It went from skin-picking and cutting attempts (never had the guts to purposefully cut through), to rubber band snapping, inserting needles at random parts of my skin, and then finally targeting a vein.
I remember when the first escalation happened. After surrendering my penknife, I was determined to make a shot at recovery. I heard about the rubber band technique recommended for self-injurers to wean off the habit. I thought it was a good idea. I was doing well for a few days, until a major trigger happened at work. In a moment of frenzy, I went on a snapping rampage that stretched over 48 hours. At the end of it, my wrists and arms were full of angry, swollen and bruised welts. I’d broken 10 rubber bands.
I’d always relished the calm and relief that followed. It gave me a sense of control over my world. But that rush was quickly followed by immense guilt and shame. What have I done to myself? Which “sane” person would hurt herself?
Self-harm wasn’t something new to me. I was about 10 when I first cut myself. I vividly remember the adrenaline rush it gave me that first time. I’d never felt so good. As the months and years went by, I would have a few cuts at any time. I would also engage in more “benign” behaviours, such as peeling off scabs.
More than a decade later, my body still bears the scars of an unstable childhood.
Self-injury became a coping mechanism as I tried to navigate my way through a very confusing childhood, and it continued through my teen years and into adulthood. Growing up in a home environment that was chaotic, I was often left to deal with emotions on my own. I was never prepared to cope with the verbal abuse at home or the bullying in school. I was often caught in the middle of domestic fights that were occasionally violent.
The world seemed a very scary place to live in. I felt all alone, with the weight of the world upon my fragile shoulders. There was nothing I could do about it. I tried in vain to be that “good girl”, hoping that Mum would love me. She never had to worry about my homework, and I kept all negative emotions to myself. I did everything possible to create a “normal” world for myself.
On the outside, I looked like a normal girl – unperturbed by abuses thrown at me. But deep inside, the turmoil was tearing me up.
Self-injury is an outward expression of emotional turmoil. It soon became a way of gaining control for me. Whenever I needed a release, I would hurt myself. At least, I could control what I did to my body.
I was my worst critic. In fact, I was my worst enemy. I could escape the school bullies, but I was stuck with an “internal bully” every minute of my life. I tore myself apart constantly, and would beat myself up at the slightest mistake. To express that self-hate, I would leave scars and marks on my body.
Instead of turning to drugs or alcohol, I turned to self-injury. In an instant, I would be rewarded with the peace that I was craving for. It provided an outlet for the raging emotions bottled up inside me.
Sometimes, I cope by pushing painful emotions aside. Numbing my emotions would provide temporary relief, but I would soon be left in an emotional vacuum. When that happens, I would do everything I could to feel again. Physical pain jolts me back to my senses and helps me to feel alive once more.
Unfortunately, the reward that comes from self-injury is only fleeting. Very soon, that peace and calm would be replaced by the all-too-familiar darkness. I would be tempted to hurt myself again, often needing more pain and blood than the last attempt, to get the same relief. It had become addictive. To make matters worse, shame and guilt would creep in like an unabashed beast. How could I do this to myself?
I often wish that someone had noticed it earlier and stopped me.
Now I know recovery is my sole responsibility. After years of hiding my emotional wounds, they had become infected. It’s painful when they’re exposed. But if this is what it takes to recover, I’m up for it.
I did make a number of feeble attempts at recovery. I wanted to let it go, but I was afraid. What if a crisis happens and I can’t cope? Taking away my weapons is like removing my oxygen tank. What if I crumble and fall to pieces? I found it incredibly hard to give it up completely. But at the same time, I knew that as long as I held on to a penknife or a needle, I have no chances of recovery. I simply cannot afford to have temptations lying around.
For me, coming clean is the first step towards healing. Find someone – a therapist, parent, relative, friend or teacher – to talk to. It will be scary at first, but you’ll find that there are people who genuinely care about you. There will be people who love you for who you are. Don’t be afraid to let them into your life.
If someone you care about is practising self-injury, don’t be alarmed. Oftentimes your reaction will either encourage or deter them from opening up. Stay calm, and assure them that you love them for who they are even if you may not agree with what they do. It will be a challenging time for both of you, but hang in there. Love never fails, and hope never fades for those who believe.
Beyond Barriers is a platform for sharing and raising awareness on disability issues and any chronic medical condition. We welcome contributions from readers who have a disability or any special needs, caregivers, advocates of disability groups, or anyone living with any chronic medical condition. E-mail your stories to firstname.lastname@example.org. Contributions which are published will be paid, so please include your full name, IC number, address and contact number.