out of the darkness: self-injury

kathyescobar healing, out of the darkness 21 Comments

there’s no doubt, i could talk church & theology all day long; i think a huge part of the blog-o-sphere conversations are related to those two broad and never-ending topics. and while i always appreciate the different perspectives, the one thing that i sometimes think is missing from the conversation are stories.  real life stories, God-in-the-midst-of-it-all & what-it-really-looks-like-feels-like-is stories. one of my favorite things on the carnival blog so far was the view from the margins” series.  i have a few more coming in & will share them when i get the interviews back.

but i have had a new series on my heart for a while. i’m going to call it out of the darkness; it will focus in on some stories from brave friends who are experiencing healing & transformation on their journey as they bring what was once hidden into the darkness.  i believe that is a huge piece of what “church” should be–a safe place to bring what’s in darkness into the light so healing has a chance.  each of these stories have one binding thread–shame.  you all know i feel about shame.  it is one of the most crippling, damaging, paralyzing, messing-with-freedom issues that people face; it is subversive, it is prevalent, it’s stigma is it’s-not-the-way-it’s-supposed-to-be-especially-in-the-church.  the biggest eliminator of shame is the telling of our story in the presence of safe people who will listen, understand, and are willing to share their stories, too.  so, here we go, over the upcoming weeks you’ll hear a mixture of journies out of darkness & into the light, beautiful examples of what can happen when Christ’s love shines into the places that often remain hidden.  as always, be kind, be respectful, and listen well.  and even if you don’t understand what it’s like, know that someone in your life, your church, your family, your workplace, your neighborhood does.

* * * * *

self-injury has gotten a lot more press over the past few years.  cutting & burning are two of the most common forms of self-injury, but there are other ways that hurting people find to injure themselves.   the shame level with self-injury is high, especially in the church.  i know a lot of self-injurers.  in different ways, it seems like each one will somehow think they’re the worst, the only ones who struggle, the weakest ones who can’t seem to stop. like every addiction, the most healing moments have come when some of these beautiful friends meet each other & their stories can come out of the darkness and into the light with people who understand. shame & loneliness lose their grip in those moments.

i’d like you to meet sabrina* (like the previous series, all names are changed to create the safest space possible).   i met her when she was in high school; so many people thought she’d never make it for all kinds of reasons, yet she stayed in, pursued God, pursued healing, and has a bright & amazing future ahead.  she is a cutter.  she is healing.  she is passing on love & hope to others who need it.  she is a young woman coming out of the darkness.

  • share just a  little bit about what your family is like and how you came into a relationship with Christ.

My parents are divorced and I have two younger siblings. Growing up my father was abusive both verbally and physically. He never hit us when my mom was around, and he never hit my mom but was verbally abusive. When my parents got divorced my dad decided he wanted nothing to do with us; he told the judge he wanted no custody rights. My dad walked out and chose drugs and alcohol and girls over us kids. There is a lot of bitterness, sadness, hurt and anger built up in each one of us, but my family is not a family that is open and honest with each other. We all put up walls and paint on happy faces and go on with our lives. I am the only believer in my family, well aside from my sister who I believe knows Jesus but doesn’t seek out a relationship with Him. I came into relationship with Christ after my freshmen year in high school. I was in a new town and had new friends some of whom were Christians and went to church and youth group. I went with them a few times but it never really seemed like my scene until a few girls who were seniors at the time decided to hang out with me in the midst of chaos and darkness. They loved me well and sought me out. I finally started to question what was different about them, and that’s when I realized it was Jesus that made them different from anyone else I had ever known.

  • do you remember the first time you ever cut?  what motivated you?  what did you feel afterward?

Yes, I remember the first time I ever cut. I was a freshman in high school. I was going through a lot of really hard stuff and didn’t have anyone to talk to.  I had a really big secret weighing me down that I didn’t feel like I could share with anyone. I got the idea from a TV show I was watching and since I had been drinking and doing drugs and those weren’t making me feel better I thought I would give cutting a try. Afterwards I felt better, for a moment. Then shame, guilt and regret kicked in causing me to only cut more.

  • if you are willing to share, where did you hurt yourself & what did you use?

I cut on my legs and arms. I used a razor blade from a box cutter.

  • everyone’s different.  some cut to relieve pain, others to prove that they still feel, and yet others as a way to express self-hatred toward themselves, just to name a few.  why did you cut?

Sometimes  I would cut because I had made myself numb; I had chosen to avoid things and feelings and the result of that was feeling like I wasn’t really living anymore. I knew I was physically alive but I didn’t feel alive.  Cutting allowed me to at least feel something, feel alive. There were other times when I cut because I hated myself. I am a perfectionistic people pleaser, and when I would fail I hated myself and punished myself. I blamed things that were done to me on myself.  And when I thought about the fact that some of these things happened to others, too, I also blamed that on myself and thought that I deserved to be punished.  I deserved to feel even an ounce of their pain, so I would cut.

  • how much sobriety do you have from cutting at the moment?

3 days.

  • in the past did you ever tell people afterward?  why or why not?

There were times when I would tell someone afterwards but a majority of the time I  kept it a secret. I usually only told when I had friends who knew who would ask me about it but most of the time no one knew. I didn’t want to tell anyone because I thought I was supposed to be past cutting.  I was suppose to be happy and have it all together and I didn’t want to disappoint anyone by showing them I was weak, I still struggled, and I wasn’t happy. Plus I didn’t want people judging me; it’s a shameful thing you just don’t want to share with the world.

  • people who have never self-injured can sometimes say “well, that’s dumb, just stop doing it.”  why is it so hard to stop? how is it like an addiction?

It’s hard to stop because it makes you feel good even if that feeling only lasts a few minutes. Like someone who does drugs craves the next high, a cutter almost craves that next cut. You know it’s not okay and you know it’s hurting you physically but you just choose to ignore that because it makes you feel better. Plus, it’s something you can control.  While the rest of your life is spinning out of control you can control how you respond to that, how you make yourself feel better.

  • share a little bit about the shame factor related to cutting.

The shame factor in cutting is simple, people judge you. People look at you and think you are weird and psychotic, when truthfully you are just trying to keep yourself alive. You also feel shame because you do it knowing it’s wrong and it’s not the healthiest way to deal with life. As a Christian the shame factors into my relationship with God.  I sinned and that always leaves room for guilt which ultimately leads to shame. I chose to cut instead of trust God which makes me a failure and the cycle continues to make you feel shameful.

  • what are some of the dumb things people have said to you when they found out you cut?

“You are psychotic”

“Life can’t be that bad”

“You can just stop.”

People have used it as a way to hurt me as well.  They will say things like, “Well why don’t you just go cut yourself then.”

Then there are those people who don’t know I cut and they think it’s a big joke and make fun of it and the kids that do it by calling them emo or they will say something like “I am going to go slit my wrists,”, etc.

  • why do you think it’s so hard to be honest about self-injury?

Because people are to quick to judge, because it’s easier to hide self-injury than to admit that life is hard and that the pain you feel is real and valid. It is easier to stuff everything down and ignore it than it is to deal with things. It’s also hard because people respond in ways like I said in the question before making you feel worse than you did before.

  • what do you think help you the most in your journey to greater freedom?

Continuing to walk through some of the issues that still hold me captive and learning to rely on God’s strength as well as being open and honest with the people in my life about where I am at and what is going on in my heart and my life.

  • what words of wisdom do you have to share for parents out there who are scared for their kids?

Continue to love them.  Get them help even if they fight it. Most of us want help we are just to scared to ask for it. Try to really talk to your kids about life and don’t belittle anything they tell you— something as silly as an argument with a friend or a boyfriend breaking up with them or whatever that may be small to you is a huge issue to them, and they just need someone to talk to. Be quick to listen not to give advice… most of the time all we want is someone to just sit and listen to us share all the crazy wacky thoughts that run through our heads.  We want to share without the fear of being judged. Also don’t assume we are trying to kill ourselves and we have mental illnesses, for some that may be the case but for a majority of us it’s not.

  • what do you want other cutters to know?

YOU ARE NOT ALONE!! And that there is hope and a light in the midst of your darkness.

  • what are you learning to do with your pain?

I am slowly learning to share my pain with others as well as with God. I am learning to use my pain to help others.  Even when I am in the midst of pain I can still help others and in doing so my pain starts to fade and healing begins to happen.

  • how is safe christian community helping you on your journey of healing?

I can trust people to share with them what is going on in my life, I can be real with them and they love me regardless. I am surrounded by people who simply LOVE ME and who walk right along side me as I journey through healing.

  • what are you discovering about God through your healing process?  what are you discovering about yourself?

I am learning that God is strong, He is in control, He is fighting my battles with me not against me and because of that I am victorious because He is victorious. I am learning that God doesn’t heal me in a day; It is a life-long journey He will continue to go with me on until the day I am sitting with Him in heaven. He heals us thoroughly;  he doesn’t just stick a bandaid on our wounds and call it good.

I am learning that I am stronger than I think, I am learning to ask for help. I am learning to be open and vulnerable not only with myself and God but other people as well. I am learning to have hope that cutting won’t always be a struggle, but until then I am learning that I can stand up and not give into temptation.  Now, more often than not, I don’t give in to the temptation.  That is what healing looks like.

thank you, sabrina, for letting us in to a bit of your journey.  i hope that others who struggle on either side of this issue can feel a little less alone in the midst.   it does seem, in reading this story, how the same elements are always present when it comes to healing in community–the importance of a container to share our real story without fear of being judged, fixed, or patronized with trite prayers & a lack of understanding.   instead, good listening, merciful hearts, God-in-the-flesh and long-haul relationship seems to do the most good.

* * * * *

ps:  next week, out of the darkness:  brave thoughts from a former abuser