I want to start off by stating outright that some of what’s written below may be a trigger for those who struggle with a self-injury addiction. I say this because while I am okay discussing this aspect of my history, I know all too well that others’ openness can sometimes provoke unwelcome feelings.
When I appeared on MTV’s The Buried Life, I knew full well that I was going to be one of the many faces/voices representing the struggles behind the addiction of cutting. I feel that also means I must accept being accountable. I am choosing to share this story because I made myself a promise that I would be honest during my journey—no matter what.
A few months back, I was going through a really rough patch and I let my mind play a trick on me: “It only counts if you cut,” I told myself. I let myself believe this, and then and I went into my freezer and grabbed an ice pack and held it to my arm, carefully avoiding my tattoos (which are an ode to my recovery) and the deafening, silent warning they provided.
Though I didn’t cut, I was after the release of pain, and the false sense of relief it can bring. I must admit that I did find relief. I also felt as if I’d somehow gotten away with something. Had I discovered the perfect loophole? I hadn’t actually cut myself, after all. I kept the incident to myself and all but forgot about it.
But then I remembered.
A few months later, I was reading a blog by Jamie Tworkowski, the founder of To Write Love on Her Arms, the organization I credit for my recovery, when the memory of my near slip came clearly into view. These lines stopped me where I stood, and slapped me in the face:
I believe that self-injury is a form of coping. It’s using pain to deal with pain. People are after relief and release when they do it. If that’s true, then the heart of the matter is not the behavior. It’s the reason for the behavior. The problem is pain. So perhaps the million dollar question is: What do we do with our pain? We all answer that question in our own ways. We respond to our pain. We cope.
While reading Tworkowki’s candid post, I was hit by a powerful realization: It’s not what you do, but the meaning behind your actions. I struggled with the guilt that accompanied this revelation, fearing that I could no longer claim that I was clean. Though I still struggle with this, I have come to a place of acceptance. Many might argue that I can no longer say I’m clean, but what matters is that I’ve acknowledged my misstep and come to terms with it. Above all, I am clean today.
Just last week, I experienced a few really difficult things in my personal life. I felt at a loss, as if I no longer had the strength anymore to resist harming myself. I isolated myself for an entire weekend, reverting back to my lying ways when others expressed their concerns.
On day two of my non-stop cry fest, alone at home, I grabbed a knife and crawled into bed. I was playing with the points of the serrated knife’s blade when I remembered one of my coping mechanisms. I put down the knife and picked up a pen instead to write in my journal:
My hands shaking, my reflection blurred by the finger prints covering the blade. What once felt like a weightless, natural extension of my hand has a new weight to it—one I’ve never felt before, like a ton of bricks.
Then I messaged a friend: “I need you to distract me,” I said.
“From what?” he asked. A simple, logical reply.
I couldn’t be honest. I couldn’t say: From the knife I’ve been toying with for the last five minutes. But I didn’t have to be entirely dishonest, either. I responded, “Myself.”
I am proud to say that I didn’t cut that night. I was able to put down the knife, and I’ve been doing much better lately.
The real reason I wanted to share all of this is to let you know that no matter how long someone with an addiction has been clean, remaining clean will always be a battle. There is no magical point to aim for at which it’s no longer hard. I will struggle for the rest of my life. A huge part of my recovery has been accepting that, and in the same breath accepting that my addiction doesn’t define me. That is not to say that I can use my pain as an excuse to stop fighting or to stop holding myself accountable. More so than ever, I now recognize that staying clean is a choice—one that needs to be made daily, and one that deserves to be celebrated every day it’s made.