“How will you know . . .”

*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*

C. Blount

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?

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Beautifully Broken

I originally had this on another blog but as I’ve deleted it, decided to move this over here, one day I’ll go through and make it more coherent 🙂

 

Beautifully broken.

 

Those aren’t words we generally put together.

 

Society pushes to train us to see beauty in perfection, driving us on a lifelong quest to achieve an ideal which is typically not possible through natural means.

 

I’ll admit I’ve fallen victim to this mentality.

There is allure within the commonly unattainable standard. There is a longing for a visible mark of achievement, for a tangible sign of worth in a world which revels in pointing out our imperfections and shortcomings. Because, no matter how deeply we attempt to deny it, almost all of us have, at some point, connect perfection with worth, be it a visible beauty, an intelligent mind, a perfected craft, or some other ability or quality whether it is a natural quality, earned through time, sweat, and tears, or purchased with a price.

 

It’s not surprising that this shattered world has given birth to such sorrow.
My studies have introduced me to heartbreak but you don’t need to look far or formally to see the sorrow permeating our world. People are suffering.
Just look at the crises facing today’s youth – male and female – and it becomes even more clear the effects these twisted understandings have had on how we live.

 

So what do we do?

 

What a question.
So many answers seem trite in light of the magnitude of the world’s problems and the church has been equally guilty in this regard. Part of the issue is we want easy answers. We live in an instant world. If something takes too long we complain and someone invents a solution.

Have we, as a people, lost the art and beauty of wrestling through life?

Are we so far within our self-absorbed society that we no longer see the beauty and art of walking through a longer journey?

Again, not simple questions, but as I grow, I’m coming to the conclusion we don’t have the time to ignore the big questions, the deep questions, the hard questions. At least, we don’t have the time to ignore them if we truly want to live.

 

Back to brokenness, back to beauty.

 

When we reach a place where we’re no longer comfortable with minimizing or brushing aside, when we come to the realization that a life lived well and a life lived truth includes joy and sorrow, accepting a lack of knowledge and the presence of “imperfections”, and a wrestling with truth that may sometimes leave us confused, exhausted, and feeling alone but in the end  leaves us stronger. That is the place where we can begin to start see the problem as a whole.

A large portion of our society’s quest for perfection, for beauty, is found within its insistence of equating perfection to a set of human standards. This confuses me.
How can humanity, a group which has never reached perfection, determine the standard of something they don’t understand? Doesn’t that seem just a little wonky?

So, I got to thinking, what does the Bible have to say about things such as beauty, perfection, and worth?
Actually, quite a lot it turns out. Here are some highlights

When it comes to worth, the world tells us we’ll never measure up to the standards presented by media and social pressures. God says that we are fearfully and wonderfully made(Psalms 139). That’s a startling truth in light of the world’s messages. I know it’s one I wrestle with as I try to place the meaning of a life lived with a genetic illness. To be fearfully and wonderfully made means that, not only is there value, but there is worth that we have not done anything to deserve or earn. We, contrary to popular belief, do not make ourselves. We are made, and the Bible says we are made in God’s image. Interesting, how society’s urging of beauty, more to follow, often encourage us to distort that image both visually and internally.

In Romans 8, Scripture tells us that creation’s redemption (and that includes humanity) was so important that the Son was allowed to die for that redemption. The Trinity is a whole other issue but, even at a cursory glance, the idea that a Triune God would allow a third of himself to be separated a die a criminal’s death speaks volumes as to the value ascribed to a redeemed creation.

When it comes to physical beauty there is an equally contrasting view. Now, that is not to say that the Bible doesn’t talk about beauty or God doesn’t care about such things.
I can’t quite reconcile the idea that a God who would take the time to fashion the glory that is a night sky dancing and swirling with the wonder that is the Northern Lights doesn’t at least notice those things. But the concept of what counts for beauty in people is far different than the unhealthy, plastic that is pushed on us by runways and film.

Rather than showing us how quickly we can “correct” our “flaws”, we our told that God looks to the beauty of one’s heart.
Now, I’ll admit, this is a very overused sentiment and looking back at my own teenage experiences this is one that I can remember being a sign I could tune out of the conversation because all that would follow was half-hearted cliche and catch phrases, probably followed by a “God is my boyfriend” song. Oh, memories.

The problem  is that many aren’t willing to go beyond words or, maybe, the problem runs deeper and generations of being spoon-fed our world-views have left us in need of reminders regarding what it means to live beyond our words, to live with our deeds and our actions.
The way I see it, in order to truly understand where this statement has power we must live a life that cultivates a beautiful spirit.

 

As I learn what it means to live out this truth, I’m beginning to understand how true beauty is often mess,y because beauty and character often develop most clearly in times of crisis. Beauty is not something you can buy or create with enough material possessions and beauty products. We are humans not barbies (or is it bratz now? Either way, they’re both kind of scary.)

We are created beings, we are fearfully and wonderfully made and when I reflect upon the most beautiful people I’ve encountered it’s not the Hollywood star or the runway model (in all honesty, the runway model usually triggers red flags from my youth crisis lecture on eating disorders). I think of a woman who, for years, has cared for literally hundreds of young women who have been entrusted to her care as they journey in adulthood as college students. The work is hard and I’ve seen her heart break as girls reject, make mistakes, and self-destruct yet she has a grace and peace about her that draws people in and she patiently waits for these girls to return from their journeys of pain. While Hollywood may never rate her among their top ten (and she’d probably laugh if they did) I know she is beautiful.

I think of so many of my friends and dorm mates over the years who grab life fearlessly, who love deeply, who serve graciously, and learn humbly. These women are different shapes and sizes, some thrive on standing out with their physical appearance through attaining societal standards of beauty, some through their complete defiance of their standards. It doesn’t matter, it’s their heart and character which shines beauty wherever they go.

 

I think I’ll talk about perfection another day. It’s getting rather late and I get the impression it could be a tangent on its own.

 

Life is not meant to be a shallow reflection. Media has allowed us entrance into a world which can inform and delight but it has also left us vulnerable to a world where nothing needs to be any deeper than smoke and mirrors or a distant wi-fi connection.

 

If we actually want to find meaning in existence, if we want to find an identity, a purpose, a reality that can stand amid a world that is morphing and reacting by the second, we need to be willing to take a stand, wrestle through the clutter, and be willing to seek truth.

 

Life is messy but is anything less truly life?