SI is an issue that is very close to my heart. I have evolved into this condition of being "out" about cutting - although I have not self-injured in a very long time, I have decided not to waste any more time or energy hiding anymore. As self-injury is still taboo, very few pages address the public experience of being a cutter. From that, what follows are just my explanations for those who aren't, some comfort for those who are, and some suggestions of my own on how to cope, both as a cutter and a friend of, or as a family member to a cutter.
Lately, I've seen alot of really cheesey pages on self-injury that don't offer the reader much else besides uninvolved speculation, regurgitated information (unhindered by credit to where it came from), and stereotypes of cutters. Other pages set out to make cutters look like world vision commercials - stranded helpless self-victims who need a pat on the back and your help. Unhappy teenagers buying into a new trend, the neo-braincandy of X Generational depression. Marilyn Manson fandom taken the same way as wearing tartan for the Bay City Rollers. I decided to make a page so that if somebody tries to find it, another viewpoint on self-injury can be found.
Self injury (known by many other names, and often shortened to SI) is just that. The technical definition is the infliction of tissue damage (causing permanent change) without the intent of committing suicide. Most of the time, SI implies cutting (breaking skin with an impliment) but also includes scratching, burning, picking, biting oneself, or pulling out hair. SI is usually a resolution to an emotional stress (anger, self-directed or otherwise, depression, desperation, feeling a need to cry but being unable to, frustration, and on). I personally used to cut most often, either with razor blades rescued from bic shavers, or with scalpels stolen form various sources. I've also used penknives and burned myself with cigarettes. I have also directed violence at myself by overdosing or mixing drugs and alcohol, or intentionally placing myself in harmful situations out of apathy and suicidality. My particular or specific motivations to do these things varied, but conflicts with my parent or things that would remind me of my worthlessness and failures were particularly volatile. Some of my scars can be seen in the black and white photo of me in the gallery section.
It's rather a confronting and startling thought. The idea of people hurting themselves. The mental picture, trying to wrap your brain around the logic of it, and the most immeadiate question: Why? While I don't think there is a universal answer to the question of "why", but I can offer _my_ point of view.
Cutters cut mostly as a last resort. To somebody who has always had plenty of emotional outlets, who has always been validated in an environment where it's O.K. to be angry or hurt, having "no outlets" is a foreign idea. For self-harmers, it's not like cutting is our first and preferred choice of emotional management. Sometimes the addictive property of cutting, the assured relief, stops a cutter from exhausting all possible outlets before they cut. But I'd say that most of us were borne into self-injury because there was no where else for us to release - when faced with a decision between cutting as a survival technique and the alternative, the choice is fairly easy. For me, cutting is indeed an effective release. For me, it's a marriage of pain - the psychic pain fuses with the physical pain, and as the physical pain fades, so does the emotional noise. It's a distraction, expression, and concrete reality all in one. People who are considered emotionally "healthy" do exactly the same things with their emotions. They write, paint or speak them outside, they distract themselves from their pain by exercise or hobbies, they attempt to make a real solution by speaking their sentiments to the outside, rant or rave. Alas, cutters feel boxed in - in every direction we hit a wall where nothing else works, or no other options are viable.
Not that the reactions people have to cutters is of particular aid. Something about our culture's view of the body, or the timelessness of self-injury evokes such a strong response from people that they forget their social graces. Having Mr. Joe Anonymous ask me where and why I've acquired these scars is about as polite as me asking Mr. Anonymous how long his penis is. The deadpan direct approach ("how did you get those scars") is only appropriate if I have a familiar or trustworthy relationship with the person asking. Most often, when people hesitate around asking a cutter a "personal question", we know it's coming anyways. It can feel very awkward. Most of us are terrified and embarrassed of telling the truth about cutting ourselves, but we don't want to live dishonestly either.
As a cutter to a non-cutter, if I may make it my presumption to offer some suggestions about being confronted (either accidental discovery or being purposefully enlightened) with issues of self-injury by someone you care about:
1) Don't freak out. When people are angry with me, it puts pressure on and just makes me more likely to cut. If you freak out, I see that you can't deal rationally with my issue, which is what I want, and I'm probably not going talk to you about it, when talking might be something I need. When you lose it, I am made to feel like a nutcase, I feel responsible, I feel upset. Try to stay cool. Remind yourself that the cutter is still the same person you cared for all along. Remind yourself that we do need support, we do not need you telling us we're crazy. Remind yourself that blowing a cow isn't going to help. If you can't settle down, or if you find yourself too upset to deal rationally with the cutter, it's okay to call a time out for awhile and come back to the situation later. Collect your thoughts and examine your feelings, and you will be more "useful" as a friend from the cutter's perspective. There is no rule that says because you've been told I self-harm NOW, you must deal with it NOW.
2) We know it's gross. Non-cutters, I find, can be immeadiately repulsed by the sight of injuries or scars, or be grossed out by even the though of cutting, especially when that thought involves somebody they care about. Whatever your reaction, keep a tight reign on it. When I am told that my cuts are disgusting, I feel that _I_ am being called disgusting, not just my scars. Unless your immeadiate impulse is truly nurturing and positive, try to keep it rational. "That is revolting" and "I find your scars upsetting, but I know that you aren't necessarily your scars" are two VERY different ideas. We're already self-conscious about it. You don't usually run up to somebody who has an obvious facial disfigurement from an accident and tell them that it's sickening, do you?
3) Try not to threaten. It is really unhealthy for us as cutters to be frightened into not self-injuring. It only makes us feel boxed in and stressed out. Non-cutters have to understand that cutting is like a tool for survival - without any other means of coping, cutting is almost a need. If we are given no alternative (ie: If you cut, I'll [whatever]), yet not given any other feasible means of coping, we are put in an impossible place. For example, if a cutter feels that they cannot express anger, and then are told that that can't cut, yet nothing about the expression of anger situation has changed, we are effectively having our only respite taken away from us. This sort of goes under #1, not to freak out.
4) Ask us what we need. Depending on the situation, a cutter might not actually need anything from you except to let you know, and perhaps to feel accepted, cutting and all. We might want you to help us find a therapist, we might want to know we can talk to you about cutting-related issues, and on. It's safest to ask so that any support you give is what the cutter truly needs - not what you think he or she needs. The answers might not be what you feel are healthy or helpful, but trust the self-awareness of the cutter. Sometimes improper or unwanted interventions can do more harm than good. And sometimes we don't really know how to ask of things from another person. Ask us.
I'm sure there are many, many other points that can be made about confronting a cutter, or being confronted. I've heard it compared to "coming out." This is just my personal feeling as one who self- injures, and should be taken as such. As cutters, we need patience and tolerance, just like everybody else managing their problems. Without these things, nothing will make your day bright and happy like being hailed as a freak or an outcast because your shirtsleeve slides up. We don't want to lie about how our scars came to be, but we feel forced by fear of what might happen if the truth is told. These are not irrational fears. (They are all too real.) Help us by not staring, by simply realizing we're human beings. Yes, some of us are in emotional pain and distress (which can be frightening too), but that does not relinquish the right to be treated the way we sometimes are. Let's change that.
(Well! Now that we've got the other guys straightened out! [kidding!]) You will be graced with my personal spin on things, because there links to excellent academic and resource pages made by people who can do it much better than I, and if you're a cutter chances are you've checked them all out already. This is mostly to do with being "out" about cutting, or at least, not abolishing the scars to secrecy anymore. I gave up on long sleeves last summer and the only way I could cope with the self-consciousness was to give a big "fuck you" to everybody who stared in good punk form. I've learned to be much more relaxed about it, though, because maintaining that kind of defiance through the entire public part of your day is fairly exhausting :>. So this is what I've learned about dealing with people in the process of going public.
On some days, I feel like we need to start an army. I feel like we need a "scar pride day" to get in everybody's faces and make them realize that there are far, far more of us than they've imagined. There'd be such a surprising number that we would force recognition and awareness. Like the bravery involved in the gay movement. It's revolutionary. I know this is almost an impossibililty, but occasionally I become so upset with people for refusing to respect or tolerate... I feel like a non-person when people don't have the decency to quit staring at my arms, or when someone suddenly stops what they're saying to ask, tragically, what I did to my self, and I just walk away because I can't explain in a way that they will comprehend. (I think we all know the drill here - unless you give a tragic story of being punished by a tribe of peoples where custom is to throw disobedients into a pit full of starving geese, people stop hearing you.) I don't think people who have never cut, or at least not lived with a similar condition as cutting (drugs, alcohol, gambling addiction etc.) will ever, ever understand us. Either they don't understand the need or the action. So we are eternally misunderstood. Either as psychos, freaks, nutbars, or as constantly angst ridden and angry even when we are not. I'm not asking much when I only want to left alone, am I? I'm not asking anybody to understand the mechanisms of cutting, the mental reactions that go on, leading us where we go - I am just asking that people understand that we're not insane and oblivious to their behavior. We are minimalized, told to "just stop it"... Anyways... Here is my guide for dealing with people who just don't get it, which is of course, similar to many other lists about dealing with people, only mine.
1) Settle down, and be patient. Realize that people can come from entirely different or very similar walks of life, yet still not comprehend aspects of you that they do not find in themselves. Some people don't want to understand. Some people do understand and refuse to admit it because it's scary. Some people understand and think you are crazy anyways. Some people want to understand, but will never be able to. It doesn't matter, the point is some people will never achieve empathy, and any amount of explanation cannot change that. Relax and try to accept it.
2) Decide what to do. Will you ever have to see this person again? If you are frustrated or angry with them, will you let them know that? If you are in the same environment as this person on a regular basis (work, family etc.), how will what you do affect the relationship? My responses are usually tilted towards the indignant because people tend to have no tact with cutting (and a snarky retort from a girl with pink hair isn't entirely unexpected). People forget that just because my scars are highly visible, it does not make my cutting highly public or available for their comment. When people I don't know and will not know ask, I often respond with, "What were you, raised by trolls? Stop bloody staring, it's so impolite!"... When dealing with people at school, I usually completely ignore them after the question "what did you do?" is posed. For people in positions of authority, or those I respect, inquire, I go for a mild answer. "The scars are pretty old (lie!). They were from when I went through some sour times." Or the bare minimum "I used to cut myself." Just remember that you don't owe anybody an answer. This is your private life and it is your decision what you disclose, regardless.
3) Remind yourself of who you are. You are not your scars. People who self-injure tend to be highly intelligent, creative, intense people. Remember that. Often I am belittled or made to feel ugly. I refuse to accept that, and I find that reminding myself that I am a strong, ass-kicking, sexy-as-hell grrl helps ground my self-worth. Don't accept a judgement from anybody who wasn't entitled to give you one in the first place.
That's really all I have to say about that. There are alot of stories to tell about silly people with silly ideas. There are so many times that those who are near to me try to make me feel guilty about my scars. My mother told me that one day I'd be looking for a nice boy, but he would see my scars and wouldn't want me anymore. Those things hurt, they are a result of misunderstanding regarding conduct. I hope that as cutters we can both rise above it and help get rid of it. (And for the record, I have found in my relationships that partners either find my scars very beautiful, or they completely cease to notice them after awhile, so there.)
I wish the best for all of you. I know what it is to be there, and how _interesting_ the road to recovery is. I'm still not fully recovered. I'm still not ready to commit to giving it up, even though I haven't cut regularly in a really long time. I think being "out" about cutting has helped in that department alot - letting all of your pain and emotions hang out like that is very liberating, because half the trauma comes from trying to handle our moods without letting on that we're having them, from having to keep everything a big horrible secret. Tattoos over some scars have changed my body from "disgusting scarred mess of flesh" into a beautiful, and certainly interesting canvas. It's easier to speak my feelings outside because people sort of expect intense things to come out of the mouth of a girl with scars up and down both arms.
Dealing with cutting when you aren't able to be or have no desire to be "out" seemed endlessly more difficult to me. When the urge to cut hits you like a ton of bricks, or has been growing on you over a long period of time, I would implore you to check out the many lists of alternatives that will help lessen the intensity of the moment. None of those activities suggested will ever replace cutting. Because of the sheer nature of the act, very very few things could even come close to offering the same complicated level of catharsis. But that one day, one week, or one month that you can stop yourself from self harming if you so choose, makes your chances of ever stopping permanently that much greater. And if you must cut, cut safe. Swab your skin with alcohol or iodine first, or wash it with antibacterial soap. Clean anything you use before and after. Keep your wounds clean and taken care of - try to let them heal. We are survivors who are surviving. Stay away from risky areas - wrists, as they are especially tempting, in favor of fleshy places (thighs). Death is _not_ the point here! I don't know how I can convince an entire generation to love itself, but loving yourself can often curb the compulsion to self-injure. It's allowed. It's ok to cry for yourself, to cry or throw a hissy fit over other people in your own private space. It's okay to treat yourself with respect, to nurture your hurting inner child, to cradle the hurting aspects of yourself, to express. To be alive, I guess, having permission to be human.