*How will you know if I am hurting if you can’t see my pain? To wear it on my body tells what words can’t explain*
Self-injury has seen a lot of changes over the past years. From virtual unknown, to “hot topic”, to almost blase – self-injury has entered the public stage but is it really understood?
C. Blount’s words describing self-injury have become among some of the best known for their simple elegance regarding the complex topic of self-injury. In my own studies, I have encountered this particular quote time and time again. I’m actually amazed at the number of quotes used within studies on self-injury but then again maybe I shouldn’t be. Quotes are used to express what we cannot find the words to say on our own and few people can find the words to describe self-injury.
Self-injury flies in the face of self-preservation to those who have not walked that road. To cause intentional harm to our bodies, to risk our own safety whether in slight or severe ways goes against instincts that are ingrained in us from birth. So to come face-to-face with those who would purposely seek out pain, who are able to overcome this instinct creates confusion and fear. It’s understandable.
At least, it’s understandable until you broaden your horizon.
I’ve yet to encounter a self-injurer who has the same story. All have similarities but self-injury is an addiction that refuses to play favourites, anyone can fall to its lure and it is alluring at first. In a nut shell, self-injurers typically want to feel less or more, depending on their story they may have sought both at different times during their journey. Because self-injury begins as a tool as a coping mechanism, before endorphins enter the picture, before the brain forgets to turn to other methods and the individual who desires to walk away finds themselves re-learning behaviours that used to be natural.
I know because this is the path I walk everyday.
I found self-injury in a desperate plea to keep fighting to wake up in the morning. I was so far within my pain self-injury wasn’t an action in contrast with my self-preservation but a lifeline I clung too.
Even eleven months after my last incident I still feel the urge. So I learn to help others who have fallen into this road and to teach those who haven’t.
Because, as painful as it is to admit it, the people I love and the faith I hold to have been some of the most harmful players in my recovery, not because of spite but ignorance.
The church can be a wonderful place of healing and was commissioned to be not only the “hands and feet” but the body, a community that supports, instructs, and corrects. Sadly most self-injurers encounter unhelpful correction or outright dismissal when they take those initial steps to recovery.
It’s funny a lot of people try and protect themselves from their inadequacy by presenting as “religious” telling those who are hurting to pray more or, in the case of people who should really just stay silent, question someone’s faith because they are struggling.
Others hold to what they know, reminding people of the consequences of their actions – the scars, the shame, the regrets, the isolation. Which makes sense, we tell people right from wrong and they should choose right. Right?
Well, I know I like to choose rightly but when you’re overwhelmed, often right, seems more self-righteous, or even more frustrating- so simple that you cannot understand why you feel the temptation in the first place.
Tonight’s one of those nights where it’s hard. I know I could talk to my fiancee but life doesn’t stop and midterms and jobs require sleep. I could talk to my friends but the fact is even now talking is shameful because people still don’t understand why I’m tempted or why I can’t just see how much “easier” life is without my addiction.
So what can we do?
The fact is most people don’t have the training to deal with the root causes that lead a person to self-injury, that’s what trained professionals are for but that doesn’t excuse us either.
What anyone who is hurting needs is simple, love. Funny, I think that may also be scriptural.
I’m not talking a sappy Valentine’s type of love either. This is a love that is hard, a love that knows when to be silent and grieve with a person but also knows when to speak hard truths. I love this quote by Henri Nouwen.
“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”
It’s not an easy path to walk, but seriously when are the goods paths ever that easy?