My scale of self-esteem is of a delicate nature. It doesn’t take much to tip me toward the never-ending, all-consuming well of self-hatred that exists somewhere inside of me. It can be a few well intended but poorly executed words, an ignored text or phone call, an assurance that comes a few seconds too late for me to start, all on my own, to rip myself apart in a way that can really only come from within.
But then it starts, and I find it impossible to stop.
I try to reason with myself, to force some logic in where it simply will not fit.
It’s only been a day that he hasn’t talked to you. A day means nothing. Don’t freak out yet. Please don’t freak out yet. He’s only a boy. Just a boy. He is not everything. Who cares if he doesn’t talk to you for a day or two?
She’s probably asleep. That’s why she didn’t answer your phone call. It’s not that she doesn’t want to deal with you. She’s just asleep.
But all too easily, this perceived slight becomes my downfall, and not soon after, all that is left is a kind of permeating hatred that is uncontrollable. I cling to the horrors that my own mind wreaks upon itself, and I am nothing. I am a poorly wrapped package of not enough that I cannot overcome. I am left, I am beat, I am broken, and I have nothing else to give. I am not strong enough, and I hate myself for it. I hate myself for being weak and pathetic and willing and hideously naïve and, somewhere along these mangled lines of thoughts, I convince myself that I am deserving of it all.
And maybe I am. There’s no way that it can be random, after all, right? No possible twist of fate that would bring me to this point by accidental coincidence?
Three nights ago, these thoughts were especially prevalent, proving, as always, to be impossible to quiet. The boy that I liked hadn’t spoken to me for a few days and seemed to be ignoring my phone calls. I’m not proud that this is all it took, but as soon as I considered the possibility that he would be the next in a line of many to leave me, I panicked. I started, as I always do, to interrogate myself with a ceaseless line of questioning that never fails to lead me to the deepest, darkest, most vicious crevices of my mind: Why me? Why now? Why again? Why can’t it stop? What did I do?
I started to pick apart the pieces of my being, applying labels to myself, murmuring under my breath a string of foul expletives that I could see in my flawed personality. Whore. Worthless. Not enough. Useless. Alone. Angry. Slut. Nothing. Stupid. Naïve. Spineless. Coward. Weak. Abandoned. I repeated the worst adjectives I could think of vehemently, determined to convince myself that they were true if only to make sense of the feeling of abandonment I could feel leaking into every thought.
None of this was new, but for some reason, it didn’t feel like punishment enough. It felt incredibly evident on this particular night that there was something disgustingly wrong with me that every other person could see, and I was determined to find it in myself.
So I picked up a pen, took off the cap, and used the skin of my thighs as a canvas upon which I unleashed everything. I put down every word I could think of, be it names of those I felt had wronged me, labels bestowed by myself or others, or phrases that people had spoken to me that had made a particularly strong impact. As soon as I had covered one thigh, I took on the next, and I took a depraved pleasure in seeing the distortion take place by my hand, the black ink covering so much territory that my real skin almost didn’t show through. I wasn’t gentle, knowing, somehow, that I deserved it. I pressed harder and harder, seeing my skin bow and submit to the pen, and the more words I wrote, the more in control I felt.
All too soon, though, I found myself out of room. My thighs were almost completely black, and I feared moving onto my calves or arms, knowing that these were far more visible locations.
More pressing, I came to the realization that, in a matter of minutes, all of my penmanship could be washed away. I had provided myself temporary relief that would come off easily next time I showered, and, with these thoughts repeating themselves with ever increasing volume, I entered a panic that became my downfall.
Without much thought other than preserving my efforts, to make them a more permanent fixture on both my body and my mind, I reached into my desk drawer, pulled out a safety pin, and began carving where I had previously only etched. I outlined my words, making sure it hurt.
In those first few scratches, those first droplets of blood oozing from red, swollen, raised skin, I’m ashamed to admit that I instantly saw how addicting this could become, how addicting this already was. I’ve never been big on pain, always reluctant to hand my finger over to nurses for pricking, but the stinging I was inflicting on myself felt different. Rather than dreading the next drag of the safety pin, I found myself going back over the letters where I felt I had not cut deeply enough. I only moved on when I felt there was enough blood to be sure the cut would stay even when the ink was washed away.
When I was done, I let the tips of my fingers smooth over the rough patterns I had made, feeling the heat of my red skin, the ridges of the flesh I had torn, and I saw the pinpoints of blood smear delicately as I traced over what I had accomplished. I went to the bathroom and took a wet towel to my legs to wipe away the pen, the fabric coming away tinged with red and black as I saw the permanence of what I had done. But I didn’t feel shame. I felt appropriate. I felt as if, finally, what inadequacies I had been feeling, what inadequacies others had laid upon me, were out there for everyone to see. If the labels really were as visible as I felt they should be, then I wouldn’t have to wonder what was wrong with me or leave others to do the same. I had created almost a defense mechanism for myself, a way to ground myself back to reality and remember everything that was wrong with me for every moment where I became weak and allowed any hope of a happy future to which I really had no right.
The next day, I slid on pants so that the still ragged remnants of my skin were invisible. But I felt them there all the same, kept rubbing the spots where I had dug particularly deep, and I relished the burn that doing so brought. It served a constant reminder to myself, and, for some reason, I took sick satisfaction in it. When I got home that day, I eagerly went back to open the wounds, cutting deeper, trying to make certain that these labels would stick.
I don’t understand the logic behind it, why cutting myself felt like the most reasonable thing to do. All I know is that, even now, I have that safety pin beside me, and my skin is itching for more carvings. I am practically craving it.
And it scares the shit out of me.