My addiction isn’t the kind that comes with name-recognition or support groups or help. It isn’t understood in a way that allows people to nod their heads, purse their lips and offer empathy. I’m not addicted to drugs or alcohol or sex or any of those other things that, while stigmatized and harmful, have treatment options and can be dealt with.
To deal with my addiction, I don’t have to abstain from being around a substance, and it’s not really the kind of thing I can tell others to watch out for. Because my addiction is private, practiced in secret, the kind of thing I can hide from anybody and everybody for months at a time.
It’s the kind of addiction that can slowly destroy me from the inside out without anyone knowing.
My addiction is a razor blade, the dull edge of a pair of sewing scissors, a shard of a broken mirror, a safety pin (if I’m desperate enough).
My addiction is the sight of blood on my arms, the scars marring my skin, the release of emotional pressure that I experience when I cause myself physical harm.
I don’t know why it works that way — I don’t know why hurting myself physically makes me feel less emotional pain. I just know that when my brain feels like it’s going to explode because of how loud I’m screaming at myself; that when my body is wracked with sobs to the point that I can’t breathe and I lose my voice; that when my soul is screaming out in agony; I think that the only way to make it stop is to take a blade to my skin and cut.
But it’s an insidious addiction, like they all are, because instead of actually helping me, it just makes it worse. Because I feel shame at every cut, shame so vitriolic it makes me throw up. Because there’s never a time when hurting yourself more is the answer to pain. Because giving in is not the way to overcome.
Because giving in is not the way to overcome.
According to the all-knowing web, an addiction is the ingestion of a substance or engagement in an activity that leads to momentary pleasure but, in the long run, causes harm. Is there any other way to describe cutting?
In the moment, I feel pleasure. I like the sight of blood on my arms; I feel emotional release and the pressure of pain is lessened; I now have a visible way of telling people that I’m hurting. For all those reasons, I continuously fall back into the trap of thinking that cutting is a good idea.
Yet in the long run, it does more harm than good. I’m literally, physically harming myself, leaving scars that will last for years if not longer. And it never works the way I expect it to.
I struggle to find the way to vocalize my hurt when I’m going through a depressive episode.
I tell people — counselors, doctors, concerned friends, etc — that half the reason I cut is because I’m crying out for help. Despite the fact that my business is words, I struggle to find the way to vocalize my hurt when I’m going through a depressive episode. I don’t know how to call someone up and say, “I’m going through a hard time, can you walk with me/pray for me/help?”
Instead, I suffer in silence and wear my cuts on my sleeve (literally), waiting for someone to notice and ask about it so I can try and explain.
Which is a totally flawed system, because people aren’t going to come right out and ask why there are marks on my arms; it’s an awkward conversation and one not many people want to have.
I think my best friend and college roommate is a lifesaver, because she wasn’t scared to confront me when, barely two months into our college career, she noticed scratches on my shoulder. She’s the one who took me to the counselor to get help. And even though I haven’t been able to quit, I always know I can turn to her when something goes wrong.
I think my best friend and college roommate is a life saver, because she wasn’t scared to confront me . . .
Half of the reason I cut is because I’m depressed.
But here’s why I call my cutting an addiction: because the other half of the reason I do is simply that I want to. I know it’s harmful and pointless in the end, but I’ve got a taste for it.
I won’t pretend to have all the answers. Even when I make public promises to stop, I keep falling back into the trap. But I know that right now, in this moment, I don’t want to ever cut again; the last time I did, I felt so sick that I physically threw up and then curled into a ball and sobbed.
That wasn’t a pleasant feeling, the knowledge that I’d regressed, broken a promise and hurt myself. I’m gonna remember that feeling in the future, and I’m going to use it to keep from going back yet again.
Because what I’ve finally figured out is that this addiction is harmful; to me, to the people who love me, to anyone who might be going through the same thing and tempted to react similarly.
Cutting isn’t the answer, I know that much. I know it’s not healthy and, instead, actively harmful, and I don’t want to do it anymore. Not even a little.
Can I ask you to seek help?
I don’t want anyone else to do it, either, but I know that cutting comes from a place of intense pain and if you’re going through that, I’m so, so sorry. I wish I could help. If you’re struggling with an addiction to cutting or even just the temptation, can I ask you something?
Can I ask you to seek help? Talk to a friend, a family member, or call a helpline. Recognize that cutting is a symptom of a deeper problem. You can stay anonymous and get help. It’s so important.
I don’t want you to hurt.
Karis is a grad student at NYU in New York City. Her writing has appeared online with Seventeen as well as Good Housekeeping. She blogs at karisrogerson.com. To stay informed about all her writing, sign up here.
If you’re struggling with thoughts of self-harm, there is hope. You can call 1-800-273-TALK to chat with someone about it. For a list of other resources, visit the website of To Write Love on Her Arms here.