The end of July is my three year anniversary of being self harm free.
When you look back at time, years just seem to fly by and if I think about those three years ignoring the self harm then I can really appreciate that sentiment. But when I add self harm into the equation I really feel like time has dragged and it seems to be a miracle I've come this far. What a lot of people who have never experienced mental health issues don't seem to understand is that when you're recovering from something, be it self harm, drugs, alcohol or an eating disorder, every day when you've fought your demons is a victory. Every week that drags past you where you don't fall back into bad habits feels like you've won a war, when really it was only a battle. The fight continues even when you're out of the worst.
I may be three years down the road of being a reformed self harmer, but that makes the pressure just as hard. I sometimes get gripped by the fear of relapsing because three years is something to be proud of but I know what I was capable of feeling and doing. Self harm was a big on and off part of my life for about six years. It was all consuming. I've spoken about it before; the confusing mix of teenage years combined with the fact that I did have an amazing support network but I just couldn't deal with my crippling self esteem and own personal issues. If self harm were easy to talk about then 1 on 12 of us wouldn't be suffering from it.
I am very proud of having come this far and stepping away from something bad that was so all encompassing and consuming. I went to therapy for it (out of my own free will) and the minute I walked through the door and told my therapist: "I self harm" it felt like the weight had been lifted off my shoulders. The reason why I stopped hurting myself was actually because of my mum. I'd been going to therapy for a while but still found myself in a bad place. She accidentally saw one of my new scars. To this day I have never seen her get that angry. Her violently emotional reaction broke me and to this day I haven't self harmed.
So three years later, where are we at?
There is no quick fix, it doesn't ever go away.
A lot of my scars have faded but I know the exact places they used to be. I'll be sad to see the rest go, it will be as if nothing ever happened. 3 years later and my self harm is a topic we still tip toe around in my family. My mother never mentions it unless I do and I'm not even sure how much my dad knows. He saw the therapist bills so he must have known something was going on. 3 years later and I'm still trying to figure out what impact my self harm had on my family. As with everything related to self harm, it's an incredibly grey area. But I know now that self harm was not only hurting me but it was also hurting my family. I suffered so my mum suffered. That breaks my heart that I put her through something like that.
I resorted to self harm because I thought I was to blame for everything, I needed an outlet for something I couldn't put into words. I hated myself and thought everyone else did too. I loved having a secret. Now I just see how toxic all that was. My therapist pulled me out of of the hole I had dug myself into. She's now teaching and helping kids in Ethiopia. I've drafted an email to her to say thanks for everything but even those words feel so insignificant because she gently led me in the right direction. I wouldn't say she saved my life. I did that. I got myself on track but she showed me the way. The email is sat in my drafts and I've cried a lot. 'Thank you' just isn't enough to convey how I feel.
Self harm may seem like an answer but it's just a symptom of bigger issues. It feels like an outlet at the start but then it becomes everything and before you know it, you don't recognise yourself any more. I'm living proof that with patience, the right kind of help and a few set backs you can get yourself to the place you want to be. I got through university, nine months in France, a Masters programme and now I'm in a good job. Nothing is impossible. I have actively tried to be, and do better. I'm by no means a perfect person, or a constantly happy person. I still have hangups. I can still get very down and let my self esteem get the better of me. I think if we ever met in person you may be surprised. I look like I've got my shit together, but who really does?
Everything in my life has changed for the better since I made the decision to go to therapy and since I decided to start taking care of me. If you are dealing with self harm I really urge you to take care of yourself. This is not the place you want to be in, trust me. The struggle of getting away from harming yourself is hard but once you're free it's the best feeling in the world.
“You have been criticizing yourself for years, and it hasn't worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.” - Louise L. Hay.