Closing the Door on Self-Harm

Recovery is a Leap of Faith

I had a therapist in college, one of my best, who told me that I’d never get to the place I wanted to be unless I fully closed the door on all my destructive coping behaviors. I was leaving the door open a crack, he said, just in case I needed or wanted to go back.

At the time, I panicked at his words. I tried to deny them but I knew they were true. I neededthat door open. I couldn’t move forward without knowing I could go back. It was a safety blanket that I wasn’t ready to give up.

I’ve been a self-harmer for nearly 15 years. It started as innocently as it can, out of an 11-year-old’s curiosity and inability to cope with her strong emotions. It escalated at age 16 until it became an obsession. At age 17, I was self-harming many times a day. When they tried to protect me from myself, I just became more creative. Desperation makes a monster of the addicted. At least, I felt like a monster at the time. I couldn’t stop butchering myself and even worse, I felt like I deserved it. When I went to college it slowed, but never really stopped. I did a lot of behavior chains with that therapist to analyze my decisions, in true dialectical behavior therapy fashion.

It’s been 4 years now since that conversation with my therapist and a lot has changed. I got happy, I graduated college, I got sad again, I moved home, I got in touch with myself, I got happy again. But I still never truly stopped self-harming. I made it a full year without it once. But never longer than that. I always came back to it when my emotions got too tough to handle. I kept a little package of tools for those moments even though the first thing they tell you to do in recovery is to throw them away.

I’m an adult now, 25 years old. A young adult, perhaps, but an adult all the same. I think to myself sometimes that I’m too old to be doing this. I’m not, of course. Self-harm is stereotyped to the teenager but it doesn’t discriminate by age. I am an adult left with a thousand scars, a thousand choices I made, a thousand times I dealt with my emotions in an unhealthy way. I’m not ashamed of my scars though. They are my history.

I am an adult in an adult relationship, poised to start my adult life, whatever that means. I can’t bring self-harm into my relationship with me. I’ve always been told that there’s no space for it in a healthy life, and it’s time for me to believe it. That’s why I’m closing the door.

In May, I threw out my stash of self-harm tools. I was ready, I was willing, I was excited. But when I dangled the bag over that trashcan, I felt scared. It was a huge action for me. It was 15 years of history, of suffering. I let the bag fall. I let the tears fall. The door was closed.

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I wish this is where my story ended. It ought to be. Unfortunately it’s not. I have self-harmed twice since then. I ran back to the door and it opened for me. But I closed it when I was done. My old therapist would probably say that’s BS. If I’m doing it, it’s not closed. But it’s not something I think about anymore. It’s not something I crave. It’s something done out of desperation at rock bottom. I’ve got my back against the door, trying to keep it shut as I move forward. I’m done. I’m done. I’m done.

The same therapist used to say that recovery was a leap of faith. I scoffed at that too at the time. Leaping without knowing where you’ll land? Terrifying. I couldn’t leap then. But now I can. Now I have the strength, the support, the self-knowledge to know where I’ll land. That’s why I feel comfortable closing the door. That’s why when I say I’m done, I mean it. Self-harm might happen again. Expecting it not to would be foolish and a cognitive distortion. Recovery will never be perfect, though we want it to be. I’ve messed up. I’ll mess up again. But I mean it now, in a way I’ve never meant it before. The door is closed. I just have to keep it that way.

Author’s Note: When I need a reminder to leap, I turn to the miraculous movie Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

Art by @Dangsiqueira on Twitter

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