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Cutting Away the Pain
Melissa R.
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A couple of years ago, I read an article in NYC about cutting. At first, I thought the writer was talking about cutting classes or school. But she was talking about self-injury. Self-injury is when you do physical harm to yourself, such as cutting, burning, even hitting yourself.

After I read the article, I thought, "How can she do this to her body? I could never do that to myself." I was wrong.

I discovered cutting by accident. And what seemed crazy years earlier began to make terrible sense to me.

Bottling Up My Emotions

In December 1999, I aborted an unexpected pregnancy. While my boyfriend Michael supported my decision, and said comforting things like, "I'll be here when you need me," he wasn't.

He didn't come with me to my doctor and he was always busy with work, which felt like an excuse not to see me. I wanted to tell him, "I need you now, so where are you?" But I didn't.

Whenever something traumatic happened to me, I usually did what I could to forget my feelings and memories. I tended to bottle up my emotions because I didn't want to deal with them. But this time it wasn't working.

After the abortion it seemed that everything I'd been through in my life was catching up with me. All the bad memories and feelings were replaying themselves in my head: hurt, pain, misery, anger, stress and depression. I couldn't take the torment anymore. I was tired of being strong and resisting how I really felt.

My Anger Drained Out

I tried to explain to my family, friends and Michael how I felt, but they didn't understand. It seemed like whenever I talked to them, they'd roll their eyes, or make up an excuse like they were in a hurry to meet someone. I felt they were annoyed that I couldn't handle my own problems.

I've often felt alone, even when I'm surrounded by my loved ones. This time I felt abandoned.

My release from these feelings happened by accident. I was helping my mom open a box containing her new stereo system.

I was cutting it open with a knife and I nipped my finger. Normally when I got hurt, I'd cry and whine about the pain, even if it was a paper cut. But this time I didn't feel a thing.

I looked at the drop of blood sliding down my finger. I felt all the suffering and anger leaving my body. It gave me a sense of power and it also gave me a high. I had finally learned how to escape from my anguish.

That night I found my mom's boxcutter in her purse. I took it and her lighter. I wanted to sterilize the boxcutter so I wouldn't get any germs in my bloodstream.

I Made Myself Bleed

I needed a place to cut where people would never notice, just in case it scarred. I decide to cut my arms. Since it was winter and I wore sweaters all the time, no one would notice. I put the blade on the side of my left arm and pulled.

Disappointment. All I saw was a small indentation in my skin. I thought I didn't do it right. I wanted to break the skin and I wanted to bleed. I wanted to feel that release I felt earlier.

I kept cutting my left arm until I saw slashes form. Then I proceeded to cut my right arm. After 15 minutes, I decided to stop and clean the slashes with peroxide.

While I was cleaning the slashes, I noticed all the little indentations that I had made earlier starting to show. They looked like scratches. I decided that if anyone asked how I got these cuts, I would just make up a story about a friend's cat that didn't like me and attacked me.

I Felt No Pain

That night I lay in bed thinking, "How come I don't feel the pain of these cuts?"

I figured that compared to the emotional and mental pain I was going through, nothing physical could hurt me as much. Cutting actually made me feel better, not worse, even though I was mutilating my arms.

Every day for about a week, I made a couple more cuts on my arms. Some were just little scratches while others were wide slashes. My arms looked horrible.

I knew I had to keep it a secret because deep down I knew cutting was wrong. I knew I was hurting myself, but I didn't care. I wanted a release from my pain.

I never went below my elbow for fear people would see them. I was afraid that if someone found out I was cutting myself, I would be committed to a mental hospital.

image by Kenly Dillard

Living Two Lives

During that week, I felt like I was living two lives. In public I was just the average teen, going to school, hanging out with my friends and going home afterwards.

In private, I felt like a freak, cutting and waiting for the drops of blood to feel happy. I wanted to stop, but I couldn't. I felt that I needed to cut myself to keep going.

I knew I wasn't acting like myself. I kept imagining I was being possessed by some demon who got a kick out of having people hurt themselves. I tried to push the demon out, to be strong and fight all these evil thoughts about hurting myself.

I Scared Myself

But no matter how hard I fought, I always gave in to the cutting. I felt out of control. I thought it was better to cut myself than to possibly lash out at someone close to me.

But I still had drama with my loved ones. The night before Christmas, my mother and I had a huge argument. Later that evening, I started thinking to myself, "No one cares about you. They will only care when you're dead. Take the knife, put it to your wrist and just slash yourself."

I kept wondering if death was a good idea. I pushed up my sleeves and looked at the veins in my arms. I thought about slashing my wrist and it scared me.

I took the boxcutter and moved it six inches away from the main vein in my wrist. I started to cut and I tried to push the boxcutter as much as I could. Several drops of blood appeared but that was all. I didn't cut anything major.

What's Wrong With Me?

I felt depressed because at that moment I wanted to die and I didn't do it right. I felt powerless and that I was a failure because I couldn't do anything right in my life, not even kill myself. I have no memory of what I did next but I must've fallen asleep soon afterwards.

The next morning I woke up and realized that I had tried to commit suicide. I thought "What is wrong with me? Why am I acting like this?" I was scared of myself for trying to take my own life.

My secret fixation was starting to get the better of me, and I wanted to tell someone what I had almost done. I just wanted someone to say, "I'm here for you. You don't have to live with this pain."

But I worried that if I told my best friends, they wouldn't understand the pain I was feeling. I was also afraid they'd tell my mom and I'd be committed.

I Had to Talk to Someone

I wrote in my journal about everything that happened, but it wasn't the same. I wanted to speak to a real person. I really wanted to speak to Michael, but we hadn't spoken all week because we'd had a stupid argument. Since we usually talked on the phone at least twice a day, I thought we were broken up, and I was heartsick over it.

That night, Christmas Eve, my best friend Trisha stopped by on her way home from work to say hello, so I asked her to stay. I didn't want to be left alone and I wanted someone to talk to.

I told Trisha about the problems I was having with Michael but I didn't tell her about the cutting.

I know Trisha cares about me but I didn't want her nor anyone else to think I was a freak. Also I was afraid she'd lecture me and tell my mother. But she did convince me to call Michael, to find out if we still had a relationship.

Telling My Boyfriend Helped

He was so happy to hear from me. We talked and he thought I had broken up with him since I didn't call him in a week, and he started to cry.

When I felt how much Michael really cared about me and our relationship, I told Michael about the cutting and my suicide attempt.

He took a deep breath and asked me, "Why are you doing this to yourself?" My only reply was, "I don't know."

After Michael and I talked, I started to feel much better. I wanted to tell Trisha also, but I didn't. I just opened my Christmas gifts quietly.

I showed Trisha a shirt people at my job had bought me, and I tried it on. When I took off my sweatshirt, I saw Trisha's eyes open wide. "What happened to your arms?"

I looked down. I had totally forgotten I was supposed to be hiding the cuts on my arms. "I don't want to talk about it," I said quietly as I put my sweatshirt back on.

image by Kyron Ramsey

Hard to Keep the Secret

After that night, I knew I wasn't going to keep this secret from my mother for long. Someone was going to tell her or I was going to get caught like I had with Trisha.

Sure enough, two days later, I was getting dressed when my mom had a friend over. Once again I forgot I was supposed to be covering my arms and I went out to greet the friend.

They both looked at me and asked me what happened. I told them the story I concocted in the beginning: My friend's cat scratched me.

I knew my mom didn't believe it. From the look in her eyes, I could tell she recognized what I was going through.

I Showed My Cuts

Later that night, I met Michael. He grabbed my arm and pushed my sleeve up six inches. "I don't see no cuts," he said as he examined my forearm. I lifted the sleeve higher where the cuts were. "Now do you see it?" I asked.

He looked at my arm, horrified and shocked. From that look alone I thought he was going to break up with me.

Instead he said, "I'll help you get through this." And this time, Michael did come through for me. Over time he talked to me about my problems and calmed me down when I got upset.

My Mom Did It, Too

Talking to Michael helped me reduce my cutting, but I couldn't stop entirely. After a few months of cutting off and on, my mom confronted me.

"I'm not stupid, Melissa. I can see what you're doing to your body," she said. "Why are you doing this to yourself?"

I told her the truth, that cutting makes me feel better about myself when I'm depressed.

That's when she told me a secret: She was also a cutter. She showed me the scars on her arms, which were in x shapes.

"What made you stop?" I asked her. She told me when she broke up with my father, she didn't feel worthy of any man.

She eventually tried to cut her ring finger off, but when she felt the knife hit the bone in her finger, it shocked her, and she decided to stop cutting for good. I felt closer to her knowing she'd been there too.

Stopping and Starting Again

My mother sharing her secret made me realize I had to stop. I knew I would need tremendous willpower. With the help of my mother, I found a therapist

who was understanding and down to earth. For several months, I stopped completely.

But in September 2000, I did it again. My mother's boyfriend had yelled at me. I was enraged. At some point, I must've grabbed a knife in the kitchen, snuck it back into my room and started cutting.

I snapped out of my rage when I was in the middle of making a cut. I put the knife down and realized I still had a serious problem. I'm too quick to feel strong emotions, like anger. I can explode and I don't know what I'm capable of doing.

Learning to Control My Anger

I still see my therapist every week. She gives me little pointers on how to handle my anger. She recommends hitting a pillow or a punching bag. It works at times, though the thought of punching someone lingers with me.

Thankfully, I haven't cut myself since September and I don't want to. I do get the urge but I find some way to get past it, like playing a video game or taking a hot bath and reflecting on how I could solve my problems without cutting.

These methods may not eliminate my desire to cut completely, but I find new, positive ways to avoid cutting, like wrestling.

Still, I can't forget my bout with self-injury. Every day I look at my arms in the mirror and they look horrible. There are a lot of scars. But I don't want to get rid of them. I want to keep the scars as a reminder of the mistake I made.

Are you a caring adult looking for more stories to help your youth? Go to HeretoListen.org, a resource for the front-line staff in schools and community based programs to help teens who are struggling with difficult emotions.

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(NYC-2001-01-02)

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