Return to Self – A Journey Through Self-Harm
I would like to share with you my journey through the painful, isolating, shameful ordeal of self-harm. Those who are trapped in this type of self-destruction often feel alone and misunderstood, by others and even themselves. For family and friends, the harm of self is an incomprehensible mystery, especially when it is combined with an eating disorder.
But there is a way out, hope does exist.
As a self-harmer, I was labeled a lot of things: Self-mutilator, cutter, deviant, freak, frequent flyer, Ms. Slice and dice, crazy-girl. These labels were put on me by society, professionals, peers, even myself. Every time I thought or heard these words my self-disgust grew. So, what did I do? Naturally I hid that part of myself and tried to ignore it; my scars and wounds became my secret shame. I told no one and no one asked. Facing the truth was something I did not want to do.
Why was I hurting myself?
Every outer injury reflected a silent inner ache. Every unspoken hurt etched itself on my outer shell—the unheard scream of, “I am suffering!” I truly believed I was a bad, unworthy person. The thought, “I am meant to be unhappy” became an accepted fact. Having experienced so much emotional trauma and pain, it seemed only natural that my physical self should endure the same.
I denied myself inner happiness, acknowledgement, and security that I was worth physical nurturing. I felt unworthy of love and wellness. If no one had shown me unconditional love, then I felt I could not learn to give it to myself. The truth is, I was treating myself with absolute disrespect. My walk down this path began slowly; self-defeating actions crept into my life. I would deny myself simple pleasures—enjoying a sunny day, laughter, and good company. Food, an absolute basic to life, was something that I also declined.
At the time I didn’t know why I was committing such acts, only that it seemed logical to treat myself badly. I saw my life as a series of painful events, circumstances for which I was to blame. A crucial key to the mystery of my self-torture was that I felt to blame for everything wrong that had occurred. I was punishing myself for being “bad.”
Was I “bad”? Absolutely not. I was a victim of circumstance, struggling for emotional survival.
What about the people who could given support?
It breaks my heart to admit that no one paid attention. I lived in a world with unwritten rules, codes of silence. It was an artificial paradise into which only pleasantness was allowed to enter. Secrets were crowded into every corner as there was no room left under the rugs. We all wore painted smiles; to enter without one’s make-up meant banishment.
How do we, as a society, prevent these tragedies?
The answer I have is simple: pay attention and be involved. We tend to close our eyes to the suffering of others, even when it is glaringly apparent. If someone is quiet, sullen, withdraw, or pouting, there is a reason. The worst thing we can do is to adopt the attitude of, “I don’t want to be around you when you are like that.” This only implies that there is something wrong with these very natural states of being. Every suppressed emotion will come out in one form or another. If the person who is suffering can acknowledge their feelings in the moment then nothing needs to fester inside of him or her.
I am not suggesting that we need to rescue people. Rather, we need to show them that they are worthy of rescuing themselves. We must provide the support and tools needed for them to gain personal victory. I implore family, friends and professionals to ask the tough questions, and be prepared to support tough answers.
Today, I can finally say that I love and respect myself. I want to reach my full potential because I know I can achieve great things. I am proud to tell my story because it is a story of survival and victory.
By Willow Peterson
Reprinted with permission from Eating Disorders Recovery Today
Summer 2006 Volume 4, Number 3
©2006 Gürze Books
About the Author
Willow Peterson lives in Vancouver, Canada, and is planning a support group and website to help others. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Gnap website editor eatingdisordersrecoverytoday.com. Dr. Gnap is a family practice physician and behavioral medicine specialist in suburban Chicago. Dr. Gnap developed the Inner Control™ Program in 1970 and has worked with thousands of people to improve and correct medical, emotional, behavioral and learning problems including performance.