Thursday, January 09, 2014

Defining Self-Harm

I opened up publicly about something that D and I have been going through yesterday. Because of the responses I got, I wanted to talk more about her self-harm. This is going to be long and might contain triggers, so please proceed with caution. 

Also, I want to add the disclaimer that I am telling you this from my perspective as a parent. I have not self-harmed, although I have been in dark enough places at some points where I could see the attraction of it. I am not a medical professional so I can only answer questions based on my experience and suggest that, if this ever happens in your family, you need to talk to a professional. 

D told me herself that she was cutting. This was after she told her school counselor and her pediatrician. While I was hurt that she didn't tell me at first, I was proud of her for standing up for herself and asking for help. I had to put my ego aside. 

To learn how to cope with this, I talked to her school counselor and her therapist. I scoured the internet for information. I read groups for parents and cutters. I read medical reports. And I still couldn't wrap my head around it. 

Her counselor's opinion was that, since her cuts were so neat and symmetrical, she wasn't suicidal. She was looking for control. A lot of what I read confirmed that cutting isn't necessarily a suicide attempt. Because she had only been doing it a couple of months, I thought maybe it was just a phase. Her counselor also told me that it comes in waves at the high school. A group of girls will suddenly start doing it at the same time. 

In that first year, I went through a thousand emotions. I'm not proud of a lot of it, but then I was coming from a place of fear. When I felt she was doing it just for attention, I threatened to take away privileges. When I was really scared I yelled at her and told her I didn't understand her, that she was just stressing me out. I pleaded. I cajoled. Once, when we were in the dressing room while she tried on a bikini, I fought back tears when I saw the lines on her hips. I blamed myself over and over and over. I defined myself as a failure. 

I tried to be reasonable. I tried to be understanding. I shamed a lot. I researched more. I asked her why. Why? 

D is somewhat of a control freak. If we have an argument, she can't leave it to resolve itself later. She has to have it all smoothed over the moment she wants it. Which isn't realistic when I'm still angry. So some of the way that she chose to cut convinced me that she just needed that control and that was the way she found it. And some of that was true, but she also explained that it was a way to punish herself. She hated that she was depressed and felt sorry for herself knowing that there are so many people with "real" problems who have it worse. So she hurt herself. 

In my more reasonable moments, I told her that it scared me. I told her I didn't understand. I told her that everything I do is just because I love her and I want her to be happy. I let her know that I was wrong. Her response? Gratitude. Gratitude for telling her that I too make mistakes and I don't expect her to be perfect. 

In the really good moments, she expressed that she wanted to stop. One month she said she wanted to cut deeper, that she wanted to see how far she could go. She told me she liked it. I know that sounds like a horrible moment, and it was truly terrifying, but it told me that she was really working it out. She was testing her limits. Until, one day, she did cut too deeply. And it scared the shit out of her and she really wanted to stop. 

So then, like an addict, she started counting how long between cuttings. Two weeks. Several days. A month. When she made it to six weeks and then self-harmed again, she told me she was ashamed and worried that I would be disappointed. "But you said you were proud of me for making it so long." I hugged her and told her I was proud of her, no matter what. I was proud that she kept trying and I was proud that she opened up to me. 

I think her real suicidal moments came when she stopped cutting. Because she no longer was allowing herself that release, she was just stuck with all of the ugly thoughts bottling up inside of her. I told her that was pretty normal. Often, it gets a hell of a lot worse before it gets better. 

And, just like with the suicide, I don't think her self-harm is entirely behind us. I hope it is, but it served a purpose for her and she might find she "needs" it again. She has said that she doesn't want scars that she will have to one day explain to her children. She makes lists of reasons not to do harmful things. 

Now, why have I told you all of this aside from my own catharsis? Because there are dozens upon dozens of reasons that people do things that we can't explain. And if you're one of those people, or the parent of one of those people, it is really scary. And people judge. However, the biggest reason that people judge is because they just don't understand. It's simple ignorance. If you're up to it, you can try to educate them. If it's not in you that day, just walk away and take care of yourself. 

If someone you love is hurting, get help. Get help for them and get help for you. I went back to my therapist to help me cope and be able to better support D. Talk to people you trust. Gather the wagons, build your cocoons, and trust that it will get better. Communicate, communicate, communicate. 


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