This one has a content warning. I’m sorry for this. I’m having a rough week. I feel like I shouldn’t burden you with this, but… I couldn’t manage to write about anything else. So, content warning: self-harm.
I’ve never been a big cutter. When I was a teenager, I tried it a few times, cutting the tips of my fingers with scissors and pins. I didn’t dare do it to any other part of me – my parents monitored my body in terrifying detail, and interrogated any change in my demeanor or appearance. One morning when I was about twelve, I got out of the shower with a towel wrapped around me. My mother, seated at the desk in the den just outside the bathroom, said, “Oh, what’s the towel for, you don’t even have pubic hair yet.” I froze, not sure what to do. “Y-yes I do…”
“What, really? Show me.”
“Come on, don’t be silly, I’m your mother, take that off right now.”
So… I unwrapped the towel in front of my mother and let her lean in to carefully inspect the couple of tiny hairs that I’d recently noticed just above my groin. I felt confused and terrified, certain I was about to get in trouble for having pubic hair, or maybe for not alerting my mother to this development the second I’d noticed it? No one told me that was required! At last she just said, “Huh, so you do. Niiiice, congratulations.” She went back to her work, and I scurried to my room to put clothes on.
So when I hurt myself, it was in ways that would permit me to stand naked in front of my family without revealing what I’d done. They never looked at the palms of my hands, my fingertips. When later on I graduated to punching trees and walls, they never seemed to notice my split knuckles.
I got away from it, or so’s you’d notice. I’m about two years from the last time I broke my own skin – plastic stylus, lower right arm – primarily because I stopped drinking. When I’m sober, I don’t hurt myself. I just obsessively imagine doing so, and then hate myself and wish I could hurt myself for wanting to hurt myself.
This, like most of my issues, hinges on an inability to ask for help. If I can’t give you a solid reason why I’m hurting, I can’t tell you that I am. Maybe you’ll push and push, interrogate my pain from every angle, figure out how it’s unnecessary and ridiculous and all my own fault. Maybe you won’t do that at all, maybe most people don’t do that, but… that’s what’s happened to me.
I’ve spent my life being screamed and sneered at, and while it was going on I used to hope that they’d lose their tempers and hit me. When it got bad, sometimes I leaned into it, pushed them further, hoping they would finally snap, finally give me a mark they couldn’t explain away, finally give me some kind of definitive proof that they were hurting me. Even now, twenty years later, I feel cut to ribbons inside, every negative interaction a punch on top of an open wound crisscrossed by other wounds… but none of it shows. If my pain inconveniences you, I’ll put it away, and you’ll never have to know. Not without checking the palms of my hands.
There’s a kind of ecstasy that results
from driving a sharp edge into your thigh
or punching a tree. You raise your fist high
your blood exults
it’s looking forward to meeting the air
and in that moment you can’t feel, can’t see
it’s a kind of screaming serenity.
For a moment, you almost aren’t there.
It’s not that the pain ever goes away.
It’s just… when you sneer at me, I don’t bleed
and I don’t seem to have the words to say
that I need help in some way that you’ll heed.
At least these wounds, I can’t hide the next day.
When you’re bleeding, no one questions what you need.