Cutting, a form of self-inflicted harm, is viewed by society as scary, morbid, and freakish. As the cutting is discovered, past and present cutters are subjected to these kinds of emotions from others, further alienating us.
Yes – I said us. I fall in the past cutter group.
After many personal experiences with an array psychologists and psychiatrists, I can say that none of them actually helped me. Not one. I write this today in hopes of providing a way for others to better understand cutters, and in turn, help those inflicting themselves with cut wounds in ways that truly create positive results - and it’s not in any of the ways mainstream America thinks.
I’m an abuse survivor, but there were times in my mid to late teenage years that I only felt the insurmountable weight of being a victim. I saw no light at the end of the proverbial tunnel and the thought of the death was comforting.
Cutting was an action I devised out of desperation, and it only took one cut to find myself hooked. During my childhood (read more of my blog posts for further explanation), I was severely limited in my self-expression as I entered those crucial teen years of self-exploration and discovery. Naturally, if you deny or try to control a teenager’s personal growth, you will be causing that teenager inner turmoil. Even adults that conform or reject part of who they are, or how they feel, because a supposed higher authority imposes it upon them has experienced this internal conflict. The dark feelings of being repressed are not biased to age, gender, race, or nationality.
In the midst of my inner chaos, cutting became my safe emotional outlet. I adapted to my restrictive environment, learned not to show my vulnerability (again, stemming from the abuse), and consequently I disconnected my mind from my emotions. I stopped hugging people because I couldn’t make sense of the good feelings that derived from that kind of contact. I was used to receiving little to no affection and being pushed away, so I began pushing others away, along with my confusing feelings.
My cutting landed me in the psychiatric hospital more than once. When I told the doctors what was going on at home, the remedy was not to focus on the parenting-child dynamic I was legally imprisoned within but simply to prescribe medication. These medications destroyed my well-being for several years. I experienced a sudden spike in weight gain, then severe weight loss. I would at times pass out from the medications prescribed to counter the side-effects of the primary medications. I had horrible hallucinations of dead and mutilated people. My hopelessness became my normal state of mind, and eventually, I became numb to it all. So, the cutting continued. Nothing was being resolved.
It took getting away from the confinement of my childhood house and finding others that found my inner beauty, while dark, worth while. This was the key to my recovery – removal from the oppression and then developing relationships with others who accepted me just how I was – scabs, scars, and all. This is not what medical doctor’s will suggest, as their job is to address medical needs, not tend to social or spiritual unbalances. My issue was not medical, yet I was being treated as though that was cause of my self-infliction.
There’s a percentage of those who cut that may have an underlying medical issue, but most of the other cutters I have encountered since my recovery had social or spiritual issues that continued to be neglected. Personally, I believe medication should not be the go-to solution for self-infliction. All the nasty side effects, both short and long-term that these chemicals can cause, especially to sensitive types like myself and many other current and former cutters, will further and prolong the underlying problem if the root is not medical/chemical to begin with.
Recently, I had a decent cry after researching about a subject very near and dear to my heart (foster kids), and it dawned on me that crying, an emotional release I had neglected for over a decade, felt eerily similar to the sensation of cutting. The feeling of unwanted energy welling up inside of me begging for release was identical to that overwhelming ‘toxic’ feeling I experienced before I used to cut. The way the tears collected in the corners of my eyes before spewing over and cascading down the curves of my cheeks paralleled the swelling blood from the cuts before streaking like red ribbons down my wrists, forearms, and legs. It was a bitter-sweet physical reminder of how far I have come, and how self-aware I am now.
I realized that neglecting to cry when I was at my perceived lowest trough of emotional and spiritual existence (age 15 through 19), caused me to find a different way to cry. My method of crying had simply transmuted into the act of drawing blood. It finally made sense.
My plea for those of you who have a cutter in your life is to first and foremost not alienate them by shaming, shunning, or otherwise condemning their behavior. Yes, it’s not healthy, and it certainly is a sign that all is not well with this individual, but it’s important to approach cutters with love, acceptance, and understanding. Chances are, the beautiful cutter in your life is a very sensitive soul that doesn’t know where his/her social or spiritual home is. Help him/her find creative, healthy ways to express and release their emotions. Visual arts, performing arts, writing, and music are fantastic ways to allow someone to channel their feelings into a form that others can understand and appreciate. Try reducing the cutter’s stress, find ways to help them relax, make sure they are eating a well-balanced diet and getting proper exercise, and encourage them to immerse themselves in art for a while. Leave medication for last, unless it is absolutely imperative to go the chemical route first.
If you want to talk to me about your relationship with a cutter, I’d be happy to listen or give some (non-medical) advice. Now that I’ve shared my story, I’m considering covering up my wrist scars with tattoos. It’s time for me to close those past chapters, and what better way than to add my unique, artsy flare to the scars of my past.
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