Dear The Whole Wide World,
I was a cutter. Yes, a cutter. One of those emo freaks with a razor blade and a hoodie, scratching poetry into her notebook and prayers into her arms. And I’m here to say, “Look, here is me, here are my scars, and I’m ok. And it’s ok to be not ok. Into every life, a little ‘not ok’ must fall. But I got up. I learned to walk. Then to thrive. Then to be fully alive. And if I can come out on the other side with grace, then anyone can”.
I’m still me. She is still me. I’m not that girl anymore, but I remember what it was like to be her. I didn’t find God or the right prescription. I simply let her rule me long enough to really understand her, and in that understanding, I learned how to soothe her. She’s no longer alpha. I share this with you after so many years of silence because I lived it, I worked through it, and I made it out alive. Not only alive. I made it out triumphant. I had my doubts for years, but lo, I am kind of magnificent, y’all!
I used to feel that I was surely broken, that there was this dark thing in me and it would stay there forever, corralling me to the corner as the world danced at prom. I’m 31 and I’m here to tell you that’s not true.
Not everyone can wrap their head around the concept of self-injury. For a long time I was one of them. I couldn’t explain the whys, even to myself. Really, we’re no different than anyone else. Some people drink. Some people smoke. Some people turn to drugs or bury themselves in work. Our methods are just a little less commonplace – and sadly, a little harder to leave in the past. I remember watching the blood slide down my arm and wound the white tile floor, and thinking that maybe now, the collective world would see how much it was hurting me, and perhaps, give me a break, be just a little kinder. Unfortunately it’s not so simple.
So my scars and I are here to tell you that I’m ok. You’re ok. We’re all ok. My professed ok-ness started back in April of 2011. A visiting lecturer came to my anthropology class to promote tolerance and awareness for cutters, self-injurers, freaks like me. I had a good mind to skip class that day. I’d made pretty good headway in just pretending that cross section of my history never happened; the coffee grounds had finally sunk to the bottom of my mug, and some anthropology professor wanted me to go and stick a spoon in it? I was about to graduate from college -finally- and step out into the real world. And if I had any idea just how real the world was about to get…
At the end of the day I decided to cease being a weenie and go to class. Shake it up a little right?
Gadzooks, this woman got me! Upon returning home I immediately sent her an email detailing precisely how much “getting” had just transpired, in case the monumental “get” was missed. The email went a little something like this:
*The Baker Act (for all you normal folk who aren’t cool enough to have bunked with the homeless gentleman cartwheeling down the halls trying to sniff the blue unicorns all the livelong day) is an involuntary vacation to a psychiatric hospital for 72 hours, during which time you are medicated, evaluated, and urged to stay for an indefinite amount of time. Said amount of time will be set and adjusted upon determination of your own unique level of crazy, and honey, we just can’t help you if you won’t consent to treatment, and that means staying here until we find the perfect little cupful of pills to help secure you a long life of feeling… NOTHING. Doesn’t that sound peachy keen? There you go, Sugar. Bottoms up!
Dear Visiting Lecturer,
I was in the audience at your presentation on self-injury yesterday in Unnamed Professor’s Anthropology class. I just wanted to send you a note to thank you for your talk, and to tell you that I’ve never met a professional who truly understands the phenomenon as you do. Being a former self-injurer, I myself have never felt so understood. It was a sort of retroactive peace, sitting there in class realizing that even if a little late, someone had finally taken the time and “gotten” it.
I was the one who mentioned having a “ friend” who was taken to the emergency room of a religious hospital’s ER, and Baker Acted to the most traumatizing of psych wards. As I’m sure you knew, that was my own experience. Without laying a book’s worth of story on you, in 2004, I was 22 and at a point in my life where I knew I was in a dead end, unfulfilling relationship that should have only lasted a year and was languishing at the 4-year mark, and my own existence seemed to be following right along – dead end, and unfulfilling.
I needed to feel alive again, by whatever means I could muster, and ending the relationship seemed the best solution to get that engine started. My family was very invested in the idea of “us”; they, like me, wondered aloud “who is PB without him?” Some voiced their concerns less delicately than others, and my already wounded spirit heard “he was the only thing you had going for you and you are worthless without him”. Having a long history with self-injury, this, in addition to seeing him cry and beg me to take him back, yet struggling with the death of my own feelings for him, pushed me over the edge.
I stood aghast as the man who never showed emotion sobbed against a wall in our little apartment, and to my horror, I felt nothing. I loved this man. Was my feeler broken? Was I broken? He was crying and I wasn’t moving. My Chuck Taylors were glued to the worn carpet. Move! Do something! Say something! Comfort him! Try again! Love him! You do love him, right? So why are you standing there feeling nothing with the words to match? I felt like a caged animal. Panic set in. Why couldn’t I get back to that place? Why couldn’t I feel anything? I wanted, nay, needed to feel something. Anything! Suddenly I knew just the tool for that job…
In the silence of the bathroom, behind a flimsy locked door, I opened up a startling gash in my inner forearm. All of the pressure had reached critical mass and I’d just dumped the boiler. It’s the only time I was ever afraid. I saw the muscle, and when it didn’t bleed right away, I panicked. He called the medics.
I was taken to Unnamed Religious Hospital’s emergency room, where the staff looked at me with disdain, neglected to place stitches and possibly save me this ghastly scar, and the nurse lectured me about going to hell for doing this as she took my blood pressure. She was so busy telling me about my front row seat to the Fire and Brimstone Show, that she forgot she had just slid a needle out of my arm, and when she inflated the cuff, I remember blood raining three feet through the air, a macabre party streamer.
She looked again with disgust, shook her head and walked out, not bothering to clean the blood off of me, the bed, or the floor. I felt like nothing, the lowest form of single cell sludge. Road kill. Scrape it up later. Definitely qualifies for the Rock Bottom file.
I was shortly escorted to a psychiatric facility where I stayed for two weeks. I didn’t receive much counseling – I’m guessing the minimum required by law when pumping a 110 pound female full of enough psychotropics, sedatives and mood stabilizers to make a hippopotamus drool.
Doctor Feel Nothing spent a collective 12 minutes with me, told me I was bi-polar, and loaded me up with Xanax, Remeron and Trileptal. The Remeron made me sleep 16 hours at a time, and awake ravenous. I started refusing it. But without it sleep was impossible what with all of the yelling and commotion (zounds, those blue unicorns won’t stand still!) so I caved in. I was in there with addicts, homeless schizophrenics, Baker Act cases like myself. And we were all high on drugs in the quest to stop feeling feelings (or stop huffing blue unicorns). My blood-brain barrier was enjoying more penetration than a hooker’s box on Mardi Gras. I came out of that place having seen crazy, and seeing crazy changed something in me. I knew that I wasn’t what I had seen behind those locked doors.
Slowly, that point being the catalyst, I started to heal. Maybe it was the shock. Maybe I had “hit bottom” as they say. Maybe I just began to outgrow adolescence and young adulthood and the emotional tumult that comes with it. Regardless, the episodes become less frequent. I went off all of the medication within two weeks of my release. After all, I don’t even like to take ibuprofen. I could never reconcile taking daily mood altering drugs. Months passed without incident, then years. Razor blades were less and less survival tools, more instruments laying around garages and bathrooms for cutting carpet and smoothing out stubbly arm pits. I learned to nurture true friendships. To say what I feel. To let things go. To avoid internalizing.
I took up running. This was a two-fold benefit, as it addressed my tendency to be body critical and replaced it with the desire to be healthy and fit, letting slim follow naturally, and thus lessening my emotional eating. It also, I find, is a wonderful natural anti-depressant.
Today I am 29 years old. My life is full of warmth and love and people who care for me. I’m finally getting to know myself, and let me tell ya, she ain’t half bad. In five weeks, I will walk across that stage to claim my bachelors degree. I worked hard and pounded a lot of doors to find myself an internship with a luxury lifestyle and yachting magazine, utilizing three things I love: writing, travel, and boating. Three days ago I was offered an editing job at that magazine. I used to think I would forever be stuck waiting tables, be a disappointment to myself and my parents, never realize a life that was full of bliss. And now I’m here. It has taken me ten years to get this degree, to find my place, to discover where I fit.
I don’t even know who that girl is anymore. She is a distant memory, a friend to whom I once told all of my secrets. But I remember what it was like to be her. I’m so glad that there is someone out there like you, someone who won’t judge, who listens, and most importantly, truly understands. I was one of your hopeful girls. My hopes and dreams are now a reality. We aren’t lost causes. Like schooners tossing in wild seas, we are simply passing through storms. For whatever reason, our maps led us astray, far from the others who so easily make the passage to adulthood. We will likely come out on the other end, rejoining our peers, a little worse for wear but also stronger and more mature. There is a peace that many of us will find, a happiness we’ll go on to pursue. Know that your work is important. And that you are making a difference. It was a pleasure to make your acquaintance.
A lot has changed since that letter was written. I ended the relationship with my boyfriend of three years. Then I cried. I cried for the death of a relationship that for a long time I had believed in, and for the loss of the only home that was ever really mine. I enjoyed many more dizzying nights of sleepless soul searching. I didn’t get that editing position at the magazine (budgetary hooey).
But you know what? I got a job editing 6 weeks after graduation, and there, I met my perfect plus one, my blue-eyed love song, my future husband, Mr. PB. Then I was laid off. Then I was lost. Then I cried again. I went back to waitressing. Spun my wheels in the mud. Wrote some KILLER waitressing rants (which can be found HERE) Cried some more. Threw myself on the floor and wailed.
I moved into this beautiful house with Mr. PB. And it wasn’t all sunshine and puppies. At first I felt alone and out of place. I missed my home. I missed feeling like something, anything, was mine. I had no faith in love or myself. I’d gotten it so stupendously wrong so many times, I found it hard to trust my own judgement. But Mr. PB was patient. He waited out my storms, despite all red flags in his path shouting “Caution! Back AWAY from the hot mess slowly…”
With time, and Mr. PB’s gentle patience, I started to feel at peace – at peace with my past, at peace with my choices, at peace with my ability to make judgment calls, at peace with my tendency towards spectacular mistakes, and with this peace, I also finally felt at home. At home here in this house, at home in my relationship, at home in my own skin. I grew roots.
Then I lost my grandfather, which doesn’t sound too Earth shattering until he’s yours, and he’s gone, and you just don’t understand how the world can keep spinning while Papa is no longer walking upon it. And I cried.
That same week I was offered the job I have now, making more money than I ever had, with a dream schedule of 8-4 and unheard of benefits. Birth and death, give and take, love and loss.
I got engaged and it was more perfect than my most exotic game of make believe. I realized that wedding realities are nothing like wedding fantasies, but then, the reality ends up being so much better, because it’s you and it’s him and it’s real and there’s cake. And you have to starve for the year before so you can save money. ‘Cause all that cake doesn’t come cheap.
But that’s life! And my word, it’s so beautiful! It’s sweet and salty and sour and bitter and umami, some days, all at once, and that shit ain’t delicious. You’re going to cry. A lot. You’re going to have days that are so impossibly wonderful, you’ll swear they can’t be real. You’re going to get dirty. You’re going to feel like you’ll never make it out of this. But it’s a breathless ride and the mud only makes the shower feel that much sweeter.
We’ve all got scars. Strangers can see mine. But the ones on the inside of all of us are there, and they stand for something. They stand for you. The culmination of who you are up until this moment in time.
Cry, scream, throw yourself on the floor. Wail. Make mistakes. Big ones.Take the lessons, get up, and keep walking. Fail. Suck. It’s ok. That’s how we learn. Learn to crawl, learn to walk, learn to live, learn to thrive.
Learn to be fully alive.
And remember, I’m ok. You’re ok. We’re all ok. A little lost. But that’s ok, too.
There’s a beauty in being lost. And a poetry in finally being found.