The first time I hurt myself I was sixteen. I used a pin, and scratched the part of my body I despised the most at the time – my hips. I blamed myself for my brother’s cancer diagnosis. I blamed myself for the shouting that accompanied his move back in with my parents. I blamed myself for the failures I encountered daily, for every small mistake I made – the flickering in people’s eyes when I made social errors, the disappointment from teachers when I got B’s instead of A’s, and the isolation I felt no matter where I went. I didn’t feel safe anywhere. Not at school, where I was bullied incessantly. Not at home, where there was shouting constantly. And there was nowhere else for me to escape to except the beach, where I didn’t feel safe because of strangers, and suicidal ideation, and hypothermia from being so underweight.
I might have lost anorexia, but self-harm filled that space. It served the same needs. It has the same purpose.
The first time, I was angry at myself. I had made a promise to myself that I would never follow in the footsteps of my friends (friends who had by this time stopped self-harming), and scar my body. They told me it was addicting, but I didn’t believe them. The next time I hurt myself, I was angry at my parents. For ignoring me, for not believing me, for neglecting me. I took a pair of nail clippers and I slashed my calves. The time after that, I used a pair of surgical scissors stolen from my mum’s nursing office at the hospital.
Then, I turned to more dangerous implements. The typical ones. What started out as an immediate release for anger and rage became a coping mechanism for any emotion at all. If I was numb, I hurt myself to feel something. Sad, I hurt myself to focus on the pain. Angry, I hurt myself to find relief. Dissociating, I hurt myself to feel real. Worthless, I hurt myself to be punished.
What began as small, localised scars that soon faded, became deeper, more dangerous wounds. And I clutched them tightly to my chest, like memories I needed to cherish. The thing about a starved brain is that it will do everything it can to conserve energy. It will divert energy from memory-making to keeping your heart beating, and that’s it. So there are spaces in my mind, years, where I have no memories. It’s black. The only points of reference are the first time I cut, and the last time I cut before moving out of home, and the lies I told my family when they asked.
After that I move to Sydney, and it becomes a blur. A monthly release becomes a daily habit. Single scars on single limbs become messy thighs. I always hurt the parts of myself I hate the most. And I always need a clean space. So once the thighs have been filled, I move on. The wrists are next, so that people can finally see how much pain I was in. Look, I invited, when I didn’t try to hide my wounds, look and help me. For fuck’s sake, help me.
I was told that self-harm was an addiction, but never did I think it would become a desire. It went from being something I needed to do in order to cope, to a way to punish myself, to the only reliable part of my existence I could count on to keep me from falling apart. I have self-harmed at home, crying on the carpet. I have self-harmed at work, hiding from coworkers. I have self-harmed in psych wards using earrings or my fingernails. I have hurt myself inside and out. The wounds were external, and the scars are external, but the pain remains internal. The shame is internal.
The last time I hurt myself was yesterday. Ana was screaming at me – you ate too much you fat pig. where are your bones. where are your bones stupid girl. where are your bones because there are no bones anymore. I had binged, and I’m not allowed to do that. I convince myself beforehand that it will make me feel better, but it never does. Neither does hurting myself.
Hurting myself also doesn’t silence Ana, and it doesn’t silence the thoughts inside my own head, but it does satisfy a need. It serves a purpose. It helps. I know it’s bad for me, but it helps.