Friday, August 14, 2015

The Thing I Regret Most So Far

When I saw this topic was next on the list I'm working my way through for blog topics, I thought seriously about writing something about how I don't have regrets, because everything I have ever done has formed the person I am today, and even, allowed me to help others, given my experience.

Then, I thought again.

Just because I can reframe negative things in a more positive context does not take away their impact and it doesn't mean there are not aspects of my life and behavior that I do, deeply regret.  And though I don't often share about this, I feel it's important.  Because I'm sure I'm not the only person with CP who has also struggled in this way, and I want anyone out there who is struggling as I have to know you are not alone.

The thing I regret most so far is self harming.  It's something I did for the first time around the age of eleven years old, and again at thirteen.  But the struggle really began in earnest when I was twenty, when I really got caught up in the addiction of it and hurt myself three separate times over the next year and a half.  That was when I realized I had to do something about it.  I told a close friend and they took me to a counselor for a single visit.

It did not cure me.  What it did was let me know that, given my past experiences, coping this way made sense.  It fit my behavior into a context for me.  And contrary to the counselor's statement giving me the green light to hurt myself even more, I found, it gave me the courage to stop.

Hearing from them, and from close friends that "I just want to let you know that there's still going to be times where you struggle, and if it happens again, that's okay," gave me the reassurance that I had support.  With that support, I was able to look into resources on my own to help me deal with when things got overwhelming.  I made lists of alternatives, things to keep my hands busy in a calm and productive way until the urges passed.

Six years later, I happened to read in another friend's nursing textbook that often in addition to surviving things like childhood abuse, people who self harm also often have a history of having multiple surgeries as children.  (I can count at least eight major surgeries between three days and eleven years old.)  Instead of having massive pain inflicted on me via surgeries, I wanted to be in control of it, somehow.  So, even though, at eleven, and thirteen, I couldn't articulate why I did what I did, by 21 I was willing to learn to cope other ways.  And by 26, I finally had a concrete reason why.

Today, it's been almost thirteen years since I have done anything to hurt myself.  Once upon a time, that number of years would have been unthinkable.  I remember being deeply envious of an acquaintance who had three years self harm free, while I was still counting months.  It seemed impossible then, but it isn't.  If you take it a day at a time, and are able to find people who can offer you support while you try to stop, and learn to cope in other ways.  (I still encounter triggers, and it is still a conscious choice to act in a healthy way for myself when I do.)

I'm not a professional, but I want to share a few things that have worked for me, and helped get me where I am today, in my recovery.


1)  Tell someone you can trust that you have been self harming.  You're taking a huge step in keeping yourself safe by taking the aspect of secrecy away. Make sure they know what you've used, so they can help, if possible, keep that item out of sight, especially in the early days.

2)  Look into getting counseling.  I was very against this at the time, but it really helped me.  If you're in school, counseling services are free, I believe.  If you're an adult, and have your own insurance, check to see what's covered in terms of mental health help.

3)  Know your triggers.   Mine are almost exclusively visual.  Have a safe person you can reach out to if you encounter a trigger.  Often, reaching out to someone and being honest about your feelings for long enough will allow the urge to dissipate.  If you have to use something that you have previously used against yourself, only use it in the company of your safe person, especially early on.

4) Make lists of alternative behaviors that will keep your hands busy when you are triggered.   While writing this post, I unearthed one of my first lists, which includes reaching out my safe people, doing household chores and listening to positive music.

5)  Dress to protect yourself, especially in the early days.  For me, this meant long sleeves, even in the summer, and especially while I was healing.  I also wore bracelets around my wrists, and lotions or perfume, as a positive sensory association and to remind me to treat those places well.

6)  Use the urge to control your pain in a positive way.  Especially if you have CP and have been through many surgeries as I have, know that consciously choosing not to hurt yourself will help so much in the long run.  By choosing not to hurt yourself you are still in control of the pain you experience, and you are helping the healthy part of yourself grow stronger and stronger.

7)  Each moment is a victory.  I know that sometimes days, weeks and months seem like insurmountable lengths of time, when you are triggered.  So know that each moment you fight back by not harming yourself is a victory.  Know that if it happens again, though you can't change your history, you can always start from right this moment, and make a new end for yourself, by continuing to try and keep yourself safe and healthy.  Know that I am with you, cheering you on

Participating in a To Write Love on Her Arms event in 2010, which raises awareness about self injury

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