April 19, 2007


I have been waiting to post this. I wrote it for a creative non-fiction contest that my school sponsors, and I have been waiting to see if it won or not, so that I don't post something that is copyrighted in another publication. I did not win (I came in 3rd place), so I thought I would share it with the people who read this blog-- if anyone (aside from Bob, my dad, and the Ryans). Here it is-- after much revision. Special thanks for Prof. Teddy Norris for editing and proof reading.

"Flesh and Blood"
Most of the people I know tend to make their cuts short, deep, and quick. They say it adds to the effect. It maximizes their available space. Mine were never short or quick. Mine were long, thin, and sometimes even decorative-- if a long, thin gash on the arm can even be considered "decorative." I’d slide the blade across my skin, just like the blades of ice-skates, carving slick grooves into a freshly Zamboni-cleared rink. In my mind, this was something that was supposed to happen. The slate was not supposed to be left clean.

People will tell cutters all of the psychological things that go on when they try to destroy themselves-- self-mutilation, they call it. I call it destruction by choice-- destruction by something as slick and beautiful as a razor blade. It releases a rush of endorphins, thus providing a sort of "high" without taking any real drugs. This is the scientific explanation of self-destruction. The addiction is often reduced to nothing more than chemistry in the brain and certain events from one’s past that flipped a switch in their mind, turning off the lights on their way out of the room.

I would argue though, that self-harm has little to do with the physical body at all. The high is not just endorphins; it is feeling—any feeling—which truly captivates the individual. That’s all it takes, really—sensation. I often found myself in a strange, thick atmosphere, in which I was hardly lucid. It wasn’t even that I was hurting— I just couldn’t feel. It is common for anyone who is depressed to be so emotionally damaged that he or she becomes numb. It’s a coping mechanism, like two year-olds plugging their ears when they don’t want to listen, or an ostrich sticking its head in the sand. But self-destruction is far beyond little metaphors. For the most part, self-destructors are suffocating in the dark room, and they have just stubbed their toe for the fifth time. But, if they see a small, shining stripe of blood on their arm, the sting of the wound is the best and most intense feeling they can conjure. When you’re that numb, I swear it’s better than falling in love.

It always surprises me when I tell others about this struggle of mine. "Struggle"… what a religious word! I say it out of habit because I was raised in a religious household, and am very religious myself. But, the connotations of the word "struggle" are very applicable to the mindset of a cutter. In a religious sense, the word "struggle" often denotes a person fighting against something they have no true desire for.

It is easy for a person to fight against something they never really wanted to begin with, but I wanted to cut. I wanted desperately to leave no perfect spot of flesh on my body. In the New Testament, The Apostle Paul wrote, "…our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Ephesians 6:12). I struggled with both flesh and blood, but I also struggled against this addiction of the body that had great authority over my life. I struggled in the darkness of this world and the darkness of my mind after the switch was flipped.

In my experience, it is rare for a non-cutter to focus on or even recognize the brutality of self-destruction. Most people usually want to focus on the origin of it. If they are initially shocked by the fact that I ever participated in self-destruction, they are even more shocked when I cannot give a definitive answer as to why I gave up my entire high school career to multiple forms of it. I cannot give a specific situation or tragedy from my past that led me into depression, I know only that I have dealt with it. I also know that I can pinpoint the exact moment when it all began.

I remember I was standing outside my house in Farmington, Missouri. Because Farmington is mostly suburban, there is very little "city noise." It is a place where falling snow is heard in winter. That night, it was snowing. Like many self-destructive individuals, I had reached a point socially where I couldn’t stand to be around people. There were days when the sound of someone’s voice would send me into a frenzy of unchanneled rage and incredibly irrational thinking that would become belief for me. It was that particular night (while the sound of each snowflake pounded repetitiously in my head as it hit the ground) that I made the decision-- I hated myself.

Amid all this business of self-hatred, social awkwardness, and self-destruction, my biggest struggle-- the real bane of my existence-- was (and often still is) found in a little, belligerent thing called ED-NOS: "Eating Disorder - Not Otherwise Specified." ED-NOS is a category of eating disorders that encompasses anyone who has disordered eating habits but is not underweight (a defining symptom of anorexia nervosa) or participating in all of the facets of bulimia. It is a hodge-podge of all eating disorders. In my life, however, ED-NOS has not just been a condition, it has been an entity— nearly a monster.

I couldn’t have been anorexic, because I actually was "fat." I was 248 pounds, as I recall. I also obviously wasn’t bulimic, because I never intentionally made myself throw up. I was, however, massive. At only five feet and five inches of height, I was lumbering. I hated my body. I struggled with it. I fought against it, because I had no desire for it. I also didn’t eat more than 400 calories a day. I exercised for no less than three hours per day, and I was never happy with myself. Even after losing 70-80 pounds the summer before my junior year, I still wasn’t good enough.

ED-NOS was the monster that lurked in the closet of the dark room in my mind. It was by far my most beloved obsession. Often, ED-NOS was the one thing in a wide-open room that I would stumble over. I was Franz Kafka’s "Hunger Artist," making a grand spectacle of myself because of what I knew I could not be. The things average people valued could never fulfill me. ED-NOS provided me with a purpose—it made me feel accomplished. This made ED-NOS the hardest facet of self-destruction to give up.

It is easy for me to ramble about cutting or ED-NOS, because those were the thorns in my side. They were not my real heart-issue, though. Self-destruction is the most common heart-issue. It creeps into everyone’s lives. It is often found in grand masquerades, or in something as subtle as a teardrop. Self-destruction is not habitual action; it is a lack of habitual accountability. After training your mind into self-destruct sequence, one must train it back to a normal way of coping-- just as one would have to train a dog to sleep in a doghouse or relieve itself outside.

It is common for people to ask me if I ever had any sort of counseling for my habits of self-destruction. "No, I’m not crazy" I tell them, not because one must be clinically insane to participate in therapy, but because I am not crazy. I am recovering. If hating your body, or wanting to be someone else makes you crazy, I don’t think there is one sane person in the world. But, self-destruction magnifies our criticisms of ourselves-- it draws them out of us, sometimes metaphorically, and sometimes in the form of short, deep, and quick cuts.

Many people need counseling to deal with the sorrowful tunes played out in their life, and someday, I could find myself there, too. In a way, I seek counsel everyday. I talk with those who have been recovering much longer than I. I pray. I journal. I smile. I trudge through the hard days. I choose to feel. It is enough. It is enough to be reassured that I am not any less sane than those around me. It is enough to no longer hate myself each moment. It is more than enough to know that self-destruction does not loom in every corner of my dark mind. It is not in my power to self-destruct, and for this I am glad. Instead, I choose to strive for self-reconstruction.

No comments:

On Aprils

Ten years ago, I sat in the dining hall of a Christian camp. A man my father's age sat with me. It was April, and I had no idea... I had...