Self Harm (Not a How-To, a How-To-Not)

Sometimes the thing a humorist has to write about is not funny. Sometimes it is something you have to write about because hard experience tells you that nobody deserves to go through what you once went through, not even yourself. And if you can do even one little thing to spare somebody else the pain you know too well, you simply have to…

And if you are one of those people who needs to face this demon down, here’s where you go for help:

Go there now if that’s what you need from this confessional article. This article is for those who don’t already understand.

When we are discussing self-harm, we are not talking about suicide. Someone who self-harms may at some point attempt suicide, but that’s not why they are doing it. And, in fact, they may be doing it as a release that prevents suicide.

And self-harm isn’t just the cutting of arms, wrists, or ankles that is commonly talked about. It may also be burning yourself in some way. When I did this as a teenager, I burned my lower back and the backs of my calves on the heater floor grate. It may also be punching or hitting yourself. I still battle the urge to hit myself with a fist to the forehead or banging my head on the wall during arguments or when I am hugely frustrated.

And, yes, I am admitting in this article to having done this to myself. You may already know why I did this to myself, but I need to briefly explain once again. I was a victim of a childhood sexual assault. An older boy trapped me alone and out of sight, got my pants off, and tortured my private parts to give himself a perverse pleasure. He told me not to cry out in pain or call for help. He threatened to make it hurt worse if I did. And he implied that if I told anyone, he would kill me.

Trauma, of course, is usually the cause of the desire to give yourself pain. It happens because you feel numb and want to feel something, and feeling pain is not avoidable. Particularly the way I did it. I went through a long period of burying the memory within my mind, not allowing myself to remember what was done to me until it all came rushing back during college as a PTSD flashback. But I hated myself and felt guilty every time I had any pubescent sexual feelings, burning myself to make it go away. When my doctor asked where the burn scars came from, at 18 I couldn’t tell him. When my high school counselor asked me about the obscure notes I put in a friend’s locker, at 17 I couldn’t tell him. When the Methodist Minister asked me why I was asking so many odd questions as he was explaining the birds and bees to my confirmation class, at 13 I couldn’t tell him. I did gradually stop hurting myself before the age of 20, but not before I planned to commit suicide in the spring of my 17th year. And I was lucky that my friend Ron was willing to listen to me during what I intended to be my last phone call ever. And luckier still that he told me he thought I was a good guy. I never told him, and he didn’t realize it, but he was the one who talked me out of killing myself with a knife.

It was God’s will, I guess, that I survived.

And here are the things I have learned since, both as a sufferer of this condition, and as a teacher and parent of others who have gone through similar things.

  1. If you are doing anything at all like this to yourself, PLEASE TELL SOMEBODY. FIND SOMEONE YOU TRUST AND TELL THEM ABOUT WHAT YOU ARE DOING!
  2. If you know someone who you suspect might be engaging in this behavior, ask them about it, specifically and in detail. And make them understand you are fully willing to help them in any way you can. If they can prove that you were wrong about what you thought they were doing, that’s not embarrassing, that’s the best possible answer you can get.
  3. Find professional help. Psychiatrists and therapists are much better educated about this than they were in 1974 when it almost ended me. Suicide hotlines save lives.
  4. Suicide Hotline; call 988
  5. Life is about love, not suffering. And no matter how you feel about yourself, you deserve love. You don’t deserve suffering.

I now sit here at my computer, more spiritually and emotionally naked than I have ever been. It took three and a half breaks for crying and tears to write this post. But I had to do it. And I hope it helps.

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