It happened over ten years ago, but it feels like it was just yesterday. My mind somersaults backwards to when I was sixteen, lying on my bed with a blade in my hand, carving at my wrists, thinking I could pluck the pain out of my broken body.
I was a fragile and delicate teenage girl who was muted by shame and silenced by fears and worries. I see myself sitting quietly on my bed, trying to silence the hateful words that are on a constant loop in my head. An earthquake of tears rolls down my cheeks. Life was not something I wanted anymore.
Watching the old me, I see her hands tremble whenever she’s nervous, and just about everything makes her nervous. It feels like ghosts are slithering underneath her skin; they never give her body enough room to know what it feels like to not be anxious.
She’s tall and slim like a pencil. She says hello with a closed-mouthed smile to conceal the gap in her teeth that kids used to make fun of.
At school she’s always surrounded by a crowd. People know her, but just on the surface. She’s like the fog on a mirror, settling on the glass concealing her true reflection.
Sweet and kind, she’s funny and easy to get along with. No one would question her happiness.
That girl must really have it all together.
But there’s something they don’t know about her.
Every time she looks in the mirror she hears the bullies who told her she was ugly, images of the kids who teased her and refused to play with her. As much as she tries to push them out, she can’t help but believe every word.
She hates the life that she has been given and doesn’t think she will ever amount to anything when she gets older. There are times when she hears whispers, voices telling her that she is in control of life and death: She has permission to choose her own fate.
The shame I felt when I was younger was so thick that even as my mind trickles backwards I can still feel it.
She plants her feet firmly on the ground, walks into the bathroom and grabs a razor. She plucks the blade out and throws away the rest of the plastic. Then she holds the sharp strip of thin metal in her hand and makes her way back into her bedroom.
Night after night, she cuts until she bleeds. The lines are tally marks accumulating across her her thighs and her arms.
The shame I felt when I was younger was so thick that even as my mind trickles backwards I can still feel it. I wish I could yank that blade from her hand and tell her she is beautiful, loved, intelligent, magical, and far more worthy than she thinks she is.
That summer I showed up at my job wearing a short sleeve smock, fresh cuts on my arms from the night before. A young girl I worked with stopped me.
“Hey, what’s on your arm?”
I quickly pulled away and told her it was nothing. A frown formed on her face; she didn’t believe me. I walked away, feeling raw and naked. I hated her for asking me, but, for the first time in a long time, I felt seen, like I was no longer invisible to people. For the rest of the day I hid in my office, needing the quiet and empty space, crying over and over again as the shame for what I had done hit me in the belly. I didn’t leave until it was time to go home, where I cried some more.
She never said anything to me about it again, but that exchange, after three months of consistent cutting, was a turning point.
The first person I told was my best friend. She had no idea how to respond, but her empathy was enough. We cried together. Eventually, she asked if I would be willing to talk to her mother about it, but I didn’t feel comfortable. It wasn’t until I was in school one day, walking down an empty hallway, feeling sad and unworthy, when a faculty member asked if I was okay. I started to cry. She asked if I would be willing to see the school social worker, and I said yes.
I am wired to go through seasons of hurt and pain. I am filled with so many emotions that it is impossible to only experience the good and not the bad.
When I walked into the social worker’s office she stretched out her hand to me. I can still feel the softness of her palm. She was a short, white woman with curly hair the color of an orange sunset. Her voice was delicate like a whisper.
I had no idea what I was doing, but she had given me the invitation to talk, so I did. I told her about my hurt, my sadness, the voices of the bullies that still tormented me, my insecurity and fragile soul. The more we met and talked, the more those urges to harm myself evaporated; I was finally giving voice to all the things that had pushed me to cut in the first place. My best friend made it a duty to come to my house after school; she took away all of my cutting devices. As time flowed, my cutting slowed and then stopped.
By then I was 18, getting ready to face the adult world and head to college. A year later, when I felt I had finally found healing, my father died.
With his death came a range of emotions, even urges to cut. I knew I didn’t want to go backwards. I immediately told my best friend. I relied on her and a large circle of friends to keep me afloat. I graduated college, found a full-time job, and did what was expected of me. I was making my mother proud, but despite all of my successes, I wasn’t happy. My heart was coming undone.
One night I took myself and all my brokenness to church, eager to lay my burdens down. I was tired of the never ending cycle of pain and suffering. A friend of mine saw the tears spreading across my face; I told her everything. She introduced me to a therapist who went to the same church. I immediately made an appointment.
Once a week, for the next three years, I sat on the tan leather couch in her windowless, white-walled office with wooden floors that moaned and groaned every time I walked across them. She helped me identify my hurt by helping me put names to the things that ailed me.
Grief. Depression. Trauma. Low self-esteem. Anxiety. Self-harm. Addiction.
I was in a sunken place. My therapist recommended antidepressants, and because I truly trusted her, I trusted that being on medication would give me the kick I needed to take charge of my life. It did.
I became motivated enough to incorporate exercise into my day-to-day life. I created a nighttime routine to manage my insomnia, a side-effect of depression. I learned to recognize my triggers, and I taught myself to say no to things that weren’t beneficial for my mental health. My eating habits changed, too; I paid attention to how certain foods made my body feel and eliminated fried, greasy, and fast foods.
I learned what it truly meant to show up for myself. I learned how to give my body the love and attention it deserved after years of self-induced pain and exposure to hurt. Working on my mental health didn’t just mean going to therapy, it meant inspecting every area of my life that needed improvement and paying attention to what left me feeling full or suffocated.
Healing isn’t fast-paced, nor does it ever have an ending. Healing is something I will be seeking for a lifetime, because if there’s one thing about me that will never change, it’s that I am human. I am wired to go through seasons of hurt and pain. I am filled with so many emotions that it is impossible to only experience the good and not the bad.
I never thought I would arrive, but I am here, well and whole.
I am finally in love with the gap in my teeth that never closed, my tall and skinny frame, my beauty and all of my flaws.
I may continue to stumble, but I trust that I will always rise after I fall.