March 01, 2006

 

Sexual Abuse Survivors--Today is Self-Injury Awareness Day

Today, March 1st, is Self-Injury Awareness Day (SIAD). It is one of the major projects of the ASHIC, American Self-Harm Information Clearinghouse, www.selfinjury.org. The clearinghouse website debunks many of the myths surrounding self-injury (SI), also known as self-harm or self-mutilation. I've got some more SI links for you after my story.

I'm writing a new section of my survivor story. What a journey it has been. "What a long, strange trip it's been," the Grateful Dead sang. Indeed, it has been. I've started a new page on my website,
www.survivorscanthrive.com, called "Strange Trip." You can find it under "My Story."

Since today is Self-Injury Awareness Day, I guess it's time to come clean about my own experience with SI. I have only indulged in this particular form of harming myself a handful of times. It's been the same every time. Always on the alert for any visible sign that might prove to others that I'm crazy, I've kept it well-hidden. I've always been afraid that someone's going to find out that I'm just as whacko as my father and lock me away. Therefore, I have never cut. I have always scratched and I've always done it somewhere that would not be very noticeable.

Hell, while we're discussing things that I'm ashamed of, I might as well weave my SI story into the time when I felt like I was abandoning my son. You see, during the most intense phases of my recovery work--when I was doing trauma processing with my therapist twice a week--I needed to have a safe place to get away and stay. I was sleeping at an extended stay suite at the time. I had my reasons for doing this.

My son, who has always been a very intense child, has sensory integration dysfunction. This leads to a lot of discomfort with strong reactions such as loud crying, screeching and yelling. During this period, this type of behavior from my son would launch me into full-blown flashbacks where I was witnessing the horror of my beloved, little twin sister being tortured and there was nothing I could do about it. At this time, my son's screams became the pleading, begging and whimpering of my sister. I just had to have a place of escape, where I could get grounded and keep safe.

During my time in the suite, I got a lot of therapy homework and exercises done, as well as much reading, research and writing of my book. (It will be published some day.) It was a productive time. It was also an excruciatingly lonely time for me.

One day, I felt particularly lonely and unloved. It happened to be my birthday. I was going to go to the house for a visit later on in the evening of my birthday anyway, so I decided to drive down a bit early. I remembered that my husband and my son had a play to go to or some such event. But, I reasoned, I could visit and play with my son and while they'd be gone, I could hang out, use the Internet access and celebrate when they returned.

When I arrived, I let myself into the house and announced, "Hey, I'm here!" No response. The house was very quiet, but I knew somebody was home. I peered into the kitchen. There were my husband and son sitting at the kitchen table. David appeared to be giving our son another lecture. They both looked up at me, but neither offered a greeting or got up to meet me. I could almost hear my heart drop, "Clunk!"

I glanced around the kitchen. There were no flowers, wrapped presents, balloons, or cute, little hand-made things from my young son. Nothing. I pretended I needed to go to the bathroom. I looked further around the house. I feigned thirst. I looked in the fridge. Nope. No cake in there either. There were no signs to indicate that they had any birthday celebrating planned. What?! Had they forgotten that it was my birthday? I felt lower than low. I felt completely unloved, alone and unlovable.

I went and hid in the bathroom (I did this a lot in my heavy dissociation days). I stayed there while the guys left for their event. Maybe they would grab some flowers and a little cake from the grocery store while they were out. No! I decided that would be too little, too late. I began to scream at myself while I hit myself in the head with the heel of my hand (another form of SI). "Stupid!" I yelled. "I am stupid and nobody loves me!" I decided I didn't want my son to see me go psycho. I also felt sure that he was better off without me.

I ran for the car and sped away. Luckily, this time, I did not run away; I didn't have to (my husband was paying for the hotel, my safe place). I went straight back to my little lonely suite. I did not bother to turn on any lights. I went into the bedroom and flung myself onto the floor in a dark, safe corner. There I stayed for a long time, curled up in the fetal position and rocking myself. I didn't want to feel anything. I wanted to disappear.

But, the negative self-talk that went on in my head was ruthless. The dark, the rocking, the safe corner, nothing could keep it at bay. It kept repeating mean things like, "Nobody loves you. You're not worth loving. You don't deserve to be happy."

After an unknown amount of time passed, I began to scratch. I found a place on my neck, under my hair and just below the hairline. I scratched rhythmically as I continued to rock myself. I scratched and scratched until I felt the warm, wet blood on my fingertips. "There, see?" I told myself. "I do bleed. I am alive. I matter...at least this much." This seemed to make the ruthless chatter subside.

After a while, I got up out of my corner to go to the bathroom. I turned on the light and saw the dried blood crusted under my fingernails. I immediately felt ashamed and shitty about myself. But, it was still better than how I had felt before I drew blood from my neck.

This was my last SI incident. It was over two years ago. This is my first detailed communication about it. I tried to tell someone about the SI once when I was hospitalized for my PTSD, but the person didn't take the time to listen. I looked at the note in my chart. It said, "Breaks her fingernails." I wanted to scream at this imbecile, "No! I use my fingernails to scratch my skin until I bleed!" I felt unheard and invalidated. I never attempted to broach the SI subject again.

Fortunately, the trauma processing I've done over the last couple of years seems to have targeted some of the old feelings of being worthless and invisible. I think that has carried over to my SI because I've had no temptation at all to do it. I hope that temptation never comes back.

Here are those SI links I promised. Two of the largest SI resources on the web are from the UK. The Self-Injury International Internet Service,
www.siari.com.uk, says its the "largest self-injury resource on the web." Life SIGNS, www.lifesigns.org.uk, offers self-injury guidance and network support.

At the website
www.psyke.org, you can find an SI forum with over 4,000 registered users. You can also post personal stories and poetry there. Recover Your Life, www.recoveryourlife.com, has an even larger forum, with over 7,000 members. This site offers live chat and live assistance and a first aid guide. You can also post biographies, artwork, photos, poetry and lyrics there.

I do not see self-injury as being the same thing as attempts at suicide. This suicide prevention site, however, has a large SI resource area. The organization is called Befrienders at
www.befrienders.org. Their motto: "Reduce suicide worldwide with 31,000 volunteers in 40 countries." Suicide is an issue for survivors, whether they self-harm or not. So, I post this site here.

Copyright 2006 Marj McCabe ~ All Rights Reserved

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Comments:
Hi Marj,
Great information about sexual abuse survivors, who do self injury! I hope all who read the links will start to heal, instead of inflicting injury. Take Care
 
What a post.

I have written about self injury. Here's the link:

http://drdeborahserani.blogspot.com/2005/07/cutting-quiet-epidemic.html
 
Thank you for your comment and kind words- I can identify so much with what you write here- I will check out the links you've posted- Thanks for sharing :)
Mad*
 
In hindsight, way before it was called "cutting" or self-injury, we called it suicide attempts, because that's what I felt like I was doing...

Although I did admit (when in the hospital, psych or otherwise) that I just wanted to hurt myself and yes, cry for help.

Thanks for sharing that Marg.
 
Marj,

Thanks for the excellent information on SA survivors dealing with SI... it's not easy!

Take care
 
Hi Marj

just read this from the carnival link, very good posting, this would have to hit home with a lot of people. Sadly the part about the hospital note and them not even listening to you really p**** me off, way too typical for our medical system especially in matters like this.

thanks for sharing

john and keepers
 
john & keepers: thanks for commenting. Yeah, the hospital stay was frustrating for many reasons. Not being heard is another aspect that adds to the stigma, I believe. Fortunately, I was able to find an expert in traumatic stress during that hospital stay--that's when I started my trauma processing. I think it really saved my life!
 
Hello - LifeSIGNS is already preparing for Self Injury Awareness Day 2007!

Thanks for linking to us.

Wedge
LifeSIGNS
Self Injury Guidance & Network Support
www.lifesigns.org.uk
http://www.life-signs.blogspot.com/
 
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