“You go first,” Justin said.
I pressed it against my skin, equal parts scared and excited. At the worst, it would hurt really badly. At best, I’d finally be in charge of something in my life, which was spinning out of control.
One month earlier my parents informed me of our plans to move. “We’ll be closer to your school,” “You’ll get used to it,” “Just give it time,” they said. None of it made me feel any better. The worst was when they told me, “You’ll make new friends.”
“I DON’T WANT NEW FRIENDS, I LIKE THE ONES I HAVE!” I wanted to scream. But I kept my mouth shut. And now, a day away from the big move, I decided to speak out.
I focused my eyes on the part of my arm just above the crook of my elbow. I had to see everything.
I pressed the point down until I felt a hard pinch. I had to feel everything.
I swiped the blade across my arm. I had to make myself bleed.
I watched as the skin separated like a time-lapse video of a flower in bloom, but it didn’t bleed. Another failure.
As I began to mourn one more thing I couldn’t control, it happened. The blood began to fill up the slit like water on a cracked desert floor. My eyes widened with anticipation, and as it overflowed and began streaming down my arm, I felt it for the first time since in my life.
I was ten years old.
Eight-grade track meets were the best. I got out of school for the entire day. I got to hang out with all of my friends. I got to stare at the best-looking girls from all of the schools in our district. And, best of all, I got to do it all without having to run (Thank you, creator of the shot put).
By the third meet of the year, I’d made a name for myself in my circle of friends for my take on the pre-run prayer. It was funny. It was serious. It included everyone. It was my calling.
About an hour before the final race, my friends and I stood in the middle of the field making jokes and talking to a couple of the popular girls from our school. As I was daydreaming about what I’d say during the pre-run prayer, my buddy Spencer snuck up behind me, grabbed the sides of my shorts in each of his hands, and swiftly yanked them down to my ankles. Mortified, I reached down to pull my pants up and realized my boxers had been pulled down too. I fell to the grass and struggled to pull my dignity back up. About the same time my waistband realigned with its namesake, I heard it. Laughter. There was nowhere to hide and my thoughts went on a rampage.
They’re laughing at me and I’ll never have any friends and no girl will ever want me and my life is over…
I couldn’t take it. I marched off the field shrugging off every attempt to appease the situation.
“I didn’t see anything,” a voice called out.
My life is over…
“It’s no big deal.”
My life is over…
“I’m sorry, man. Where are you going?”
My life is over….
I marched off the field and over to a nearby neighborhood. The tears made it hard to see, but I could still feel everything. The hurt. The embarrassment. The rage. The shame.
I’d felt pain like this before. I thought of that day with Justin a few years earlier and yearned for the feeling I discovered.
I searched the ground for something sharp, eventually stumbling across a small metal section from a chain-length fence.
I picked it up. The end was sharp. I wasn’t scared. My life was over.
Cut. Scratch. Punch. Repeat.
As the sun set, I started the short walk back to the field.
The cuts on my left forearm stung as I covered them with a white shirt that soon became streaked with crimson. The blood from my nose tasted the way a metal bar smells as it traced the outline of my mouth. The horror on my friends’ faces as I crept into view was even more apparent through the squint of a swollen black eye.
Apologies. Disbelief. Fear. Sympathy. Heartbreak. They expressed it all and I welcomed it. I’d earned it this time.
My friends didn’t invite me out tonight.
She didn’t return my phone call.
Mom and dad got in a fight.
Coach yelled at me.
This is what “cutting” and other forms of self-harm became for me. It was my way of controlling my emotions. Sadness, guilt, betrayal, regret, frustration, anxiety, insecurity, loneliness, all gone with the blade of a knife or the prick of a pushpin or the sharp end of a nail.
It didn’t take long before I became adept at hiding my affliction. That second incident taught me that, when it comes to “cutting,” people want to believe anything but the truth.
“I fell into a thorn bush playing football,” I told my parents, friends and anyone else who asked. The cuts were an equal distance apart. They were only on the inside of my left forearm. They were too deep to have been caused by a thorn. They didn’t question it.
I didn’t blame them.
Being in the emergency room for a self-inflicted injury that isn’t quite an emergency is excruciatingly pathetic. I sat with the tourniquet on my wrist. On one side of me, a bald-headed drug addict with sunburnt skin and a twitch. On the other, a ten year-old boy who’d fallen off his bike. I envied him. Not just his head wound, but the look of wonder in his eyes. If only he knew what was in store for him, he wouldn’t be so hopeful.
I wanted to talk to him. To tell him what was coming.
“In five years, you’ll fail your first suicide attempt so miserably that the doctors who are supposed to be saving your life will tell you to wait in the ER like someone renewing a license at the DMV. But don’t worry. In five more, you’ll solve everything. You’ll figure out how to numb your pain so efficiently that you won’t mind hanging out in hospital waiting rooms. You’ll even have some fun. Nothing compares to the joy of filling a prescription after convincing the same doctors who stitched you up five years ago that you’ve never heard of oxycodone and you’ll give it a shot if they think it will help with your chronic back pain.”
“What’s oxycodone,” he’d say.
Self-harm is an addiction. Addictions tend to go one of two ways. Death or recovery.
I am sitting on my bed and the girl I love is standing before me. She’s telling me that she’s sad and worthless and hurting and I’m telling her it isn’t true. I tell her that she’s smart and beautiful and funny and I can see that, for her, it isn’t true.
She says, “I’m sorry,” and I ask, “For what?”
She pulls up her jeans and I see them. I see them and I know exactly what each one means.
I am ten years old again.
Seeing yourself reflected in someone you love is the most powerful catalyst for change I’ve ever experienced.
Sometimes it’s impossible to be compassionate with the person in the mirror, but with loved ones, it’s usually effortless. Just seeing my reflection in her was enough to spark a change in my life that would lead me away from my need to control everything and toward a powerful realization.
We weren’t perfect, but we were trying. And as much as we wanted to be in control, we needed even more to surrender. To give up this misplaced ideal that tells us “everything that isn’t right is wrong.” To realize that we might not be exactly what we wanted to be, but we were enough. To let go of all of the judgments and all of the negativity and all of the mistruths that led us to believe we were unworthy of love. To finally feel it…
9 thoughts on “Cut it Out”
Thank you for sharing this insightful and touching story about people that are often referred to as cutters and how it is a way of releasing pain!
Thanks for reading it!
There is so much behind the release and control. I’ve done my fair share of research as to how and why it can become do addicting. Growing up and I found myself going down the same path and 6 years later I am here today, over a month clean and trying to continue further. Though there have been many trial and errors, we learn from each one
Honestly, I could’ve written a book about my struggle with self-injury. I’m sure you can relate. Such a personal thing and a tough habit to break. Glad you’re clean and wish you the best in finding new ways to deal with the stresses of life. It’s been over ten years since I cut myself and I’m grateful each day.
What I actually did, and so far it seems to be helping though the thought of course still lingers in the back of my mind from time to time. What I did was think about some of the other cultures around the world and how they purposely mark themselves in most cases to show status, so what I tried to do was instead of the negative thoughts that went towards looking at the scars, I actually made a design of my choice on a day that I wasnt upset in hope to try to change the mindset about it. So far it appears to be working, though we will see. Another battle to face, eh?
this was beautiful. thank you so much for writing this. so many people just don’t understand. they are so skeptical and harsh, because they can’t understand the relief you’re trying to find. no, it doesn’t make sense. but like you said, it’s something you can control. for once, it seems like no one else can hurt you. the only pain you have to feel is the pain you cause yourself. thanks again for being so open and sharing. this was emotional for me to read, but it really is beautiful.
Thanks so much for your comment. It makes me feel better about telling this personal story. I’m extremely grateful this post resonated with you.
As always, you wrote from your heart and it’s powerful. I remember the first time I saw cuts on your arm in a classroom where I was your substitute teacher. I knew what it was, but I convinced myself that there was nothing I could do, so I didn’t call you on it. If I had it to do over again, I would have done more for you and for Spencer and a few others. I would have found a way… even though it was unpopular and most certainly would have cost me the job. Would it have made a difference in your life – or just made you (temporarily?) hate me? Your dad often made presentations to groups of adults about gangs, theft of retail goods, and sexual trends. The comment he made most often was that adults cannot turn their heads (or bury them in the sand) – teens were counting on adults to do the right thing and pursue their cries for help. Somehow, I justified my inaction by telling myself that Art knew and it was his job to take care of you and your friends – not mine. If I started “meddling” in that whole business, I would be called on the carpet and banned from the building – or be falsely accused of something I didn’t do or say. And then, there was the completely other thing – I had a daughter who had to live with whatever I did… Please know that I did care and I did what I could do to hold you and your buddies accountable in class, to make it fun for you to cooperate with the rules, and to support you as you played sports and compliment your efforts and achievements. Trying to live life with no regrets, but this one is tough. Thanks for being honest and candid – and thanks for getting clean and staying clean!!! You can do so much to help others that lots of the rest of us could never reach! Love reading your blog! Thanks for letting me!
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