[Guest Post] On Addiction and Self-Harm // Shattering Stigmas

Posted October 6, 2017 by Both in Features, Join the Dance // Events, Tags & Challenges / 8 Comments

Shattering Stigmas is an annual blogging event that lasts two weeks. During this fortnight, we’ll be talking about anything and everything mental health related. The aim of these posts are to take away some of the stigma surrounding mental illness, to invite people to open up about their stories, and to help others learn.

Rebecca isn’t an unfamiliar face to the Stattering Stigmas event. Last year she wrote a couple posts for me as well, and they were honest, real, and raw. This year, she’ll be making a few appearances again. You can find her on The Lady Lynx and her Twitter page.

Hey. I’m Rebecca and this feels a bit familiar. I did this last year. After I’d gone to DragonCon and worn shorts for the first time since I’d started cutting, I wrote my first post about self harm. I asked Inge about this event and she welcomed me to write again. So here I am.

These things are hard to write about, especially when you’re struggling with them. It feels like standing naked and allowing people to hurt you. It’s giving them ammo for a gun when you have nothing to defend yourself. I’m sorry if any of this come off as contradictory, but hopefully, if you’re here? You know or you’re learning that nothing about mental illness is black and white. So….

I’m going to start this with the following PSA from my post last year:

You can be addicted to anything. Anything. The Merriam Webster’s simple definition for addiction is as follows: a strong and harmful need to regularly have something (such as a drug) or do something (such as gamble)

And I, Reader, have been addicted to self-mutilation since I was fourteen.

With that said, just like last year I’ve decided to write this in epistolary form because…it’s easier. It’s easier for me to talk about something that is hard and, often, shamed, judged, and stigmatized.

Please, before you go any further that this is going to be triggery. If you are a survivor or struggling with this, please do not trigger or retraumatize yourself.

Here we go.

Dear Reader,

When I wrote for last year, I talked about progress. I talked about how I’ve been addicted to cutting for a long time. I talked about addiction. I told you that there is ONE thing ALL addicts have in common: they lie.

And reader? I lied this past year.

I’m a cutter (I burned before replacing it with cutting at 15) and I relapsed this past January. And when I relapsed…well I did a, we’re going to call it thorough, job. A friend happened to notice the scars in February and thought I’d done them that weekend. I had to explain to her that I hadn’t and that they were taking a long time to heal because I was too emotional and went far too deep. In fact they finally healed into scars, still red, still angry, but scars, this past June.

To quote myself last year:

“Reader when was the last time you read about someone who self-mutilated? Cutting and burning are only two things people do. There’s tons more.  But let’s get back to this person. When you read about them or encountered them or discovered their secrets? Did you judge them? Did you think they were doing it for attention? Did you call them crazy and move on with your life?

While these reactions are often the norms they come from people who aren’t informed about the complexity of self-mutilation. Sometimes it is a cry for help, sometimes it’s for control, sometimes people do need attention, and sometimes it’s a way of coping. Is it healthy? No. But it’s not there for your judgement.

I’m not saying you should try to involve yourself, but before you judge someone or write them off? Before you make them feel ashamed of what they’ve done? Educate yourself. Addiction is a mental illness too and self-mutilation is often a comorbidity (the simultaneous presence of two chronic diseases or conditions in a patient) to a bigger problem. And, frankly, it is not anyone’s place to judge.

As stated I did it because it gave me control. I’m twenty six. I have been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder with a comorbidity of Major Depression, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and PTSD. My life is rarely in my control. I’m not saying I obtained it in a healthy way, I obtained it in the only way I could.

I’m not going to cover my scars. I’m not going to apologize for what I did to survive.”

I’m not excusing my behavior. I still have these problems. I’m twenty-seven now, but it was wrong. However America, which is where I live, is a mess right now.

I don’t know how many of you know what’s going on over here, but a very terrible, very lazy, very AWFUL man won an election most progressives thought he wasn’t going to. His win is and has set forth a chain of events that are putting civil rights back years and years. I can hardly handle most days without anger or crying.

My parents voted for this man. They voted knowing he was going to hurt everything I am and stand for. It’s been hard. It’s been harder on some more than me. There is literally nothing I can do about it. My senators are staunch Republicans who refuse to vocally go against Trump or Nazis and, because he’s furthering THEIR agenda, they stand idly by, ignoring the pain of their constituents.

I told two people I relapsed. Very few other people knew. However most clued in, at their own pace (and without me telling them) far after the fact.

However instead of hiding? I again, wore shorts that showed my scars because I am not ashamed of my pain or that I’m an addict. I’m fighting. I just haven’t worn them outside of the house. However, I was taken aside by a family member who expressed their distaste for me showing them, citing they found them to be encouraging others who were contemplating self-harm or were engaging and/or (trying to) abstain.

Which left me in a bit of a conundrum.

I’m trying very hard to fight something that I am addicted to, more than I’ve ever been to anything. I have some pretty epic control issues. I’m in a living situation that I cannot get out of anytime soon that is, on various levels, very triggering.

However, while showing my scars empowers me and allows the people in my life to hold me accountable? Should I consider my relative’s warning or should I be angry that they are holding me responsible for someone else’s actions?

At the end of the day it’s a little bit of both.

I don’t want to ruin anyone else’s recovery, however, if I feel more shame that people KNOW that I’ve cut, that only reinforces the mindset that makes it easier to do it. The mindset that tells me to hide and it’s ok if no one finds out. The mindset that says just one more time and you can give it up. That little voice in my head that reminds me how easy it is to acquire what I need.

Here’s the thing though: It’ll always be one more time or I’ll start quitting tomorrow. If you don’t start immediately? You’re not going to follow through on that ‘one more time’ and committing to recovery is half the battle.

However, it’s been nine months. And with the help of various coping mechanisms, friends, and doctors? I’m “sober.” Hopefully when you hear from me again it’ll be over a year.

A lot of people like to blame a lot of different things for addiction. However, I need to make something abundantly clear,

Only the addict is responsible for succumbing to their addiction. They may have been triggered. They may have just wanted relief. Or maybe they weren’t strong enough yet.

However, at the end of the day, no matter what I’m going through, no matter what an addict is going through, THEY ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR BEHAVIOR.

Reader, if you are someone that knows someone who is struggling, I implore you not to react with judgement. I’m not telling you to help or necessarily involve yourself, but silence is an effective killer. If you can’t help, find someone who can. Tell an adult or someone who can get them help. Whatever happens past that isn’t your business.

Just like it isn’t your business WHY they’re doing it. They need help. Don’t reinforce the shame and stigma that drives people to do it. Don’t stand idly by or make it worse. It’s the last thing anyone needs right now. Listen.

Don’t hurt yourself while doing it. If it’s going to trigger you please point them to someone else and if you know of someone who needs help, isn’t getting it, and is going down a bad path, please find a responsible person (an adult, a medical professional) to help them. Maybe they’ll be mad. But they’ll be alive.

Write trigger warnings on your media material. Don’t deride or belittle someone who’s struggling, because even if you’re going through something you may deem worse it doesn’t make theirs any less. Empathy is empathy is empathy. Please act with empathy or compassion.

However, be aware that, what they do is not your fault. At the end of the day they made the decision to hurt themselves. It’s a very blurred line when you realize someone has done something to hurt themselves or continued to. It’s easy to take on blame or assign blame or responsibility. It is not your responsibility to fix someone at your expense and you can’t fix someone who doesn’t want to be fixed.

Which leads me to:

Reader, if this or another addiction is something you’re struggling with: It’s hard, as an addict, to realize that your worst enemy is staring at you in the mirror. But, while you are your worst enemy? You can also be your strongest advocate. Don’t let addiction steal your voice or your will to live or your power. YOU are stronger than this. You are not broken or defective, you just need to heal over. You need to figure out better coping mechanisms, but nothing is wrong with you. You are beautiful and better than this.

Find something to live for, or find someone to hold on until you can do it by yourself. Devise a system that makes you accountable. There are several help lines that will talk with you til you feel safe with yourself again. DM at @ThatAloraGirl on Twitter if you need to find one. I’ll help you. They’ll help you. You can trust these people. They’ve been trained to help you without putting you in a bad situation.

If you have a friend or a family member you can trust, maybe you have more than one, set up a system where you can send them a SOS message that may seem innocuous like “koala” when you need someone to sit and/or talk with you until you feel safe. Maybe they can’t come right away, but, if they can’t? Ask for a time when they can. If they say a hour, hold on for that hour. If you can’t hold on CALL a help live or, if it’s available, text someone or chat online. It is OK to send out a bat signal. Someone will come. Somebody famous once said: Look for the helpers.

I’m not talking about the people online who will encourage you, I’m talking about the people who help you get the help you need. The help and courage to go on,

You are responsible for your actions. You can be better.

You are also wanted. You are irreplaceable. Someone cares. I care. There are lots of people out there who deserve to meet and experience you. Do not let someone or anything convince you otherwise. IT GETS BETTER. It’s hard to see the surface when you’re drowning. But you will learn to breathe again.

You will breathe again.

Mental illness is hard. Addiction is hard. It kills and it’s isolating and HARD. However, you are not your illness or your addiction. You are YOU. Please don’t forget that.

With Much Love,

Rebecca A


8 responses to “[Guest Post] On Addiction and Self-Harm // Shattering Stigmas

  1. Hi Rebecca! I had to skim past a lot of your post because as a former self-harmer who hasn’t cut in 10 years, I still find it very difficult to read about without triggering anxiety. Still, I wanted to say I’m so proud of you for sharing your story with such honest and bravery. Your words have power and I’m so proud of you.

  2. Oh, Rebecca, thank you SO much for sharing your story. It’s incredibly powerful, and just so damn honest and real. I’m sorry that you had a relapse, but I am also very happy that you’ve had nine months without another! I am also incredibly sorry about your parents. I honestly cannot even imagine living with that- because like you said, it does feel like it’s an attack against what you stand for. This has been such a hard year. It’s something I want to go into more on my own blog, because I feel like everyone’s mental health is on edge even more than usual. How could it not be, dealing with this disgusting monster destroying our lives, the lives of those around us? I’m really glad you brought it up, because I feel like a LOT of people will be able to relate to this. As for your family member who wants you to hide away… NOPE. Nope nope nope. Because like you said, you can’t be responsible for every person on the street. It’s like saying that prohibition must be reinstated so that alcoholics won’t relapse. That isn’t how the world works, and by this relative trying to shame you and tell you to cover up, that to me is reinforcing the stigma. I am glad you wore shorts- and I hope you continue to. You should do what makes you feel good, what makes you feel healthiest. And big, BIG hugs ♥♥

    • I almost cried when I read this. It gave me such a warm fuzzy feeling and sense of support. I know that there are a lot of people out there that are allies and/or are going through the same pain, but it’s hard to see that sometimes. Thank you for all your kind and uplifting words, as well as your support, Thank you for the hugs.

  3. I’m glad you’re writing for this event again, Rebecca! I love your raw honesty and letter here, and I know that it’ll help others even if they don’t self-harm. This election has been fucking hard. I totally understand; my mom voted for him. Her family is full of conservative Christians. Like 99% of them voted for him. It’s so difficult being on the opposite side of them. I’ve been having some really bad mental health days since, like so many others. I’m sorry you’ve been having a hard time too. 🙁 I hope you start feeling better soon. Thank you for sharing your journey. *hugs*

  4. Thank you so much for sharing, Rebecca. Your post really shows how complex these issues can be, and I’m sure it wasn’t easy to share. I’m also very sorry about the political situation – I’m not from the US, but I’ve been following from across the world and even here I got into arguments with my family over it (and also our own elections). It can be very difficult to have close family members with such a different world view. Thank you for stressing that no one is responsible for anyone else’s actions and that you can’t help people at your own expense – it’s important to be empathetic and kind, but it’s also important to take care of yourself so you can even get to that place. What a great post!

    • Thank you so much for your compliments and empathy. It means so much more than you’ll ever know. This situation is so crazy and it feels like fighting thirty battles at once. Thank you for reading this and for the lack of judgement in your comment.

      P.s. Everytime I see your name I laugh because my middle name is Alora and I thought it was unique until I saw yours. Vlora is a freaking awesome name!

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