There are many roads that lead to the pit of self-harm. All of them are bound to a horrifying sense of internal pain and agony. But what is it that makes us go back? When I was doing my demon’s bidding, it’s not that I didn’t know it was wrong. So why did I keep going, night after night?
What is an addiction?
Addiction is a chronic psychological and physiological disorder marked by compulsive substance use or behavior despite harm. It often includes tolerance, needing more for the same effect, and withdrawal symptoms when not engaged. This condition significantly affects physical and mental health, relationships, and quality of life. It can involve substances like drugs, alcohol, or behaviors like gambling, gaming, or overeating, activating the brain’s reward system and creating a cycle of cravings and consumption.
In the case of self-harm, the rewarding element is the end of pain. Well, at least the internal kind. The logic goes that the physical body will heal, and the little pinch we get from the harm dulls the mental scream. It grounds us to the reality, at least somewhat. You can see why this cycle would become addictive, and could even lead to the death of a person.
Self-harm is also often something we tend to hide. Be it the shame we have put on ourselves, or the stigma of it in general, no one would go boasting about it. At least, those of us who weren’t doing it for the sake of being cool and getting attention in certain circles. Believe me, there are some pretty sick things out there, and worship of self-destructive behavior is among the least of them.
My history of self-harm
I started my self-harming young, somewhere around 12-13 years of age. My parents had just split, and my friend group had kicked me out. It was a tumultuous time in my life, and the existential angst was beginning to be too heavy for me to carry. Add to that the bullying that started soon after, and I was set on the path of shadows. Unlike some, I chose to become a hermit, instead of hanging out in the wrong company.
My destructive behavior really only stopped after I met my husband, somewhere around 2021. That’s when I really started to take care of myself and turned the ship in another direction entirely. This means that I was more or less active in my harming for more than two decades, which is shocking to look back at.
Before my husband, there was only one attempt to ever get me into treatment, and that ended poorly. My hometown’s psychiatric people were not as inclined to take me on as one would like to think. It was a difficult time that ended with me having scars for the rest of my life, both inside and outside. These days, though, I wear long sleeves for a different reason – modesty.
I wanted the pain to stop.
The most common reason for me to engage in such activities was the desire to make IT stop. Voices whispering in my head, the constant barrage of unhealthy interactions with others… The Chaos in my mind was more than I could bear. I hated myself, and my existence. That is why I also ended up trying to take my life on several occasions and wished for it daily.
One thing I want to share with you, to the best of my ability, is the pain. It’s horrifying, suffocating. You can’t run away from it. Unless you alter your mind and detach completely. It’s the reason why people choose alcohol, sex, drugs, or self-mutilation. Whatever you do, in that pain, you have to act fast. Otherwise, you will surely die, or worse, lose your mind completely.
In my darkest moments, there was nothing else than the agony. My mind filled with death, be it my own or the death of my family and friends. Images of my worthlessness, and the sounds of those who would abuse me saturated my inner space. I was frozen in time – in terror.
I am worthless
Continuing down this rabbit hole, being a failed human being was my second most used excuse to take part in the dark arts. After all, someone so useless, so unnecessary, surely I had to punish such a being. The bitterness of it all tasted all the sweeter with a visible crack in my outer shell. Horrifying as it is to look back at it now, I know the relief it brought on.
It is a vicious cycle of defeat. I felt ashamed of my afflictions, and my lack of rationale in those moments. I would punish or ease, whichever you prefer, that feeling by taking part in the act. And so I would go on, for days, weeks, months… for over 20 years. I never quite understood how it could be that nobody noticed. And if they did, why didn’t anyone call for help?
During the time that I wrote this article Baldur’s Gate 3, a well waited game, has come out. I’ve been playing it, and find the Dark Urge path rather amusing. Of course, I was never called to rip the wings of a bird or to kick random squirrels. Even so, the premise of having a constant voice in your head, trying to veer you off the Path, resonates.
It has grown more quiet now, but it still exists. I used to call it Shade, the formless creature of shadow, calling me to the garden of death. Whenever I am vulnerable, down in the dumps, or even tired, it calls to me. It shows me images of past bliss and droplets of blood, reminding me how it was all beautiful. How it was the only thing there for me. Every sharp object in the house becomes heightened, gleaming even if there’s no light. It’s quite scary, really.
The urge is so overwhelming that I need to stop. IT may hit me while I’m chopping vegetables for dinner, and suddenly the edge of the knife looks extra sharp. Malicious almost. Often I find my hands shaking as I take a moment to regain my composure. Thankfully, I’ve gained control over my inner worlds, and can now weather the storms without an incident.
The daily problems
As with any addiction, my self-destructive behavior often disrupted my daily life. Back when I was still in school, I had to make sure the PE classes were such that I could cover my arms. Swimming, while being my favorite, put a stop to the actions. I would plan my next weeks, I knew how long it took for me to heal from the wounds.
So much of my time was spent in that terrible state that I learned how to disassemble and put back together the shaving blades we had in the house. I became an expert in avoidance, hiding the behavior from my mother, with whom I lived at the time. A person from my past busted me to my parents, but before that, I was never talked to about it even if I’ve heard rumors that they knew.
In a way, I wasn’t that different from an addict. Slugging through the day, anxious to get into my room. There was a fix waiting for me. All the stress and pain would go away come night. I had hidden blades all over the place, in case my mother would ever find one. I must’ve had the demeanor of a shifty fox, hiding in the shadows, not looking anyone in the eye.
One thing we, the afflicted, must do our best to remember, is that our actions are never affecting only ourselves. We are all someone’s child, mother, friend, or acquaintance. The concerned passerby will not easily forget our empty stares. And should we finish the gruesome game, the world will mourn the loss.
It’s difficult to bring up our past. Not to even speak about the current situation. The shame we have for having lived this way, and due to the general state of affairs, is immense. I hope one day we will step into the light. That one day the words: ‘I am in so much pain, I don’t know what to do’ will be a staple in the minds of us all. Pain is not a sin, my friend. And you, you are not beyond salvation.
My salvation came packed in a fit, brown package. He looked at me with fire flaring in his brown eyes. He was furious. And I don’t mean the cute kind where you can talk yourself out of it. I mean the kind that lets you know the depth of the disdain and anger within the one looking at you. My husband’s anger saved me. It woke me up to reality.
My life is not my own. And heavens damn me if I let anyone hurt someone I love. Including myself.