Why are some things cloaked in shame? Why is it that we have to hide our scars? Shame serves to isolate, to keep things in the dark. Those things that people would rather not think about or talk about. Things that don’t make for polite dinner conversation. That is why people like Mari are so important to us here at The SisterWives. We applaud those who shine a light on the darkness and share their stories. The more we talk about it, write about it, acknowledge it, the less people feel alone. Thank you, Mari, for sharing your story with us. -Gretchen
Four letters contain a world of hurt and a legacy of neglect. I am amazed that so much feeling can be compressed into the span of four letters. Even “I love you” requires eight.
Cutting is a fact of my life, as much as my love for dogs and the beach. The fact that ragweed gives me a stuffed head and that there are some phrases that will echo through my head forever.
There is a lot written on cutting, or self-mutilation if you prefer the more inclusive term. Sure, let’s be inclusive and clinical and sanitary. Wouldn’t want anyone to be upset. Heaven forbid anyone should be uncomfortable. An astonishing amount of that writing is about the shame surrounding the act of self-mutilation.
I don’t feel shame. I wear my scars uncovered. They are just another part of me.
Some people self-medicate. I self-mutilate. Some people take uppers, some downers, some heroin, some cocaine, some alcohol, some ecstasy. I bleed. We are all chasing relief. It’s the same reasoning that drives us to pick up the bottle or the can or the lighter or the razor. To smother the pain, to dull the screaming, to hide the holes or to fill the voids.
I don’t know why I chose cutting. Wait, I do. I was too young to drive, so I couldn’t escape. There was no relief with alcohol. The smell of it alone brought far too much baggage. Besides, drinking was Dad’s thing. My brother stank of weed and while he could get away with it, mom would have killed me.
I was in the 7th grade when I came home from school and picked up a knife. I carried it to the bathroom and locked the door. I held that blade and turned it in my hands and thought of all the things I could do with it. And then, I considered the mess. No, I can’t leave a mess. Mom would kill me. It was 7th grade logic, and at the time I didn’t question it.
The knife didn’t slip and cause me to accidentally discover that I felt better. There was no miracle or serendipity involved. I ran the knife over the outside of my wrist. I wanted to discover how much pressure it would take to actually cut. More than the first slice of a tomato?
I remember the dull feel of the knife. The first pass produced nothing. I was already pretty numb inside. Maybe I just wasn’t able to feel anything at all? I tried again, harder. This time some part of the blade that was nicked caught my skin and drew a ragged line across my wrist. There was the briefest moment of sensation. I was having a hard time sorting out what I was feeling. Was it pain?
I watched the blood well out of the cut and the tightness in my chest began to unwind. And the more drops that fell into the cracked bowl of the sink, the more I could feel. I turned on the cold water and let it just trickle over the cut. Cold water. Warm blood. And a moment of calm.
I was hooked.
So I cut again. And again. I became adept at choosing places on my body that I wouldn’t have to explain. I became familiar with guaging just how much pressure a knife would take. I was never caught. But to be honest, no one was looking. I have had therapists tell me that it was a cry for attention, a plea for interaction. An attempt to end the invisible place that I occupied in the family. I don’t think they’re right. They’re not entirely wrong either, but for me it was more.
I wanted proof.
I wanted the pain to tell me that I was alive. Still capable of feeling. I wanted the emotional pain to have some concrete reason behind it. I wanted a cause that I could see. Something I could understand and bind up and watch heal.
And I wanted that scar.
That scar was proof that I had hurt but I survived it. An indelible physical reminder that whatever my family dished out – or didn’t as was more often the case – I could survive it. That while being chronically forgotten and erased hurt, I was still real.
And somewhere along the line I discovered that for me cutting wasn’t about being hopeless. If anything it was the hope that by bleeding out my demons I could get past them. Cutting -messy, bloody, and scarring as it was- was better than quitting. If I was cutting my arms and legs at least I wasn’t slitting my throat. I could heal.
I’ve been thinking about getting a tattoo, a semicolon. They seem to be all the rage among the suicide survivors I know. It’s a way to symbolize that the bearer came to that dark final place and instead of taking their own life made the conscious and very painful choice to continue. It’s a brave thing to do, to own your fragility and resilience like that. I’ve been there. I’ve earned one, or two, myself.
But I look at my arms, my legs. I see my story written there. I see all the battles I’ve fought that didn’t bring me to the brink. I see every time I didn’t lose hope of one day healing.
That is my triumph. That is my message.