Conducted by A.E. Cox
Filled Out By: Teresa
Addiction Type: Self-Injury
Q: So, tell me about this addiction. (What the addiction is, how old you were, why it started, how long it lasted, etc.)
A: The addiction is to self-injury. But I'm really more addicted to the feeling I get when I'm cutting, not the actual cutting itself. I used to hold my feelings of fear, anger, frustration, and hurt inside until I was ready to explode. That's when I would cut myself. When I would see blood coming from the cut, it was like all that stuff I was holding on to was being released. That feeling of release, from getting all of this pain out with a few quick cuts, is what I got addicted to. I started cutting myself with I was about 15. At least that's when it progressed to actual cutting. I'd been scratching myself with thumb-tacks, broken glass, or things similar to that since I was about 13 but it wasn't until I was 15 when I took up the habit of cutting with disposable razors. The scratching started, ironically, while I was an outpatient at Charter (a treatment facility that dealt with everything for drug and alcohol addiction to suicidal youth). I was admitted into the program after I tried to slit my wrist during an anxiety attack. I liked the relief that came with the scratches and minor cuts I had left on my wrist but I didn't like seeing how much it had hurt my family. So at some point I decided to try to have that same kind of relief without hurting anyone else. By the time I was 15, I had started the actual cutting. As time went on, I had to make more cuts and make deeper cuts to get the same feeling of release that I used to get from scratches. But in my senior year of high school I meant two people who became really good friends of mine. For once I had people I felt I could tell anything to. I ended up telling them about my cutting in the spring of 2003, just a few months before my 18th birthday. I promised them that I was trying to stop. It felt good to have someone else who knew about it. It made trying to stop a lot easier. Since then I've only cut twice. Once in the October of 2003 and once in March of 2004.
Q: When did you first know your addiction was an "addiction"?
A: I never thought of self-injury as an addiction until I was trying to stop. Once I was trying to stop I started realizing that I was having "withdrawals." There would be times where I wanted to cut so badly. I felt like I was losing my mind. I used cutting as my way of coping with stress, fear, and hurt. Now that I wasn't cutting, I didn't know what to do with those feelings. It was only then that I started to understand that I had developed an emotional addiction to the cutting, or the feeling of relief caused by the cutting. After I started seeing self-injury as something you can be addicted to I started noticing some really interesting things about my cutting. That's when I first acknowledged that I had started with cutting and progressively gotten worse and worse. Like most addictions, I got to the point where a little didn't do anything for me. I had to have more and more.
Q: Did you feel other people judged you based on this addiction?
A: The biggest thing is people assume that self-injurers are suicidal. That can make some people act very differently toward you. You get a lot of sympathy. And most of it is really, really unnecessary. I know situations are different for everyone, but when was cutting I was never connecting that to suicide. The cutting was more like a way to release the pent of feelings so you could go on living. It had nothing to do with death. For example, if I was really depressed, I would cut and I would cry and then I would normally go to sleep for a while. When I woke up, I would feel okay again, like I could move on. Now if I haven't gone through that 'ritual' of releasing those feelings, I may have ended up so depressed I would have gotten to a point that I was suicidal. But the cutting itself had nothing to do with that. That misconception, that self-injury is directly related to suicide, can get a little irritating sometimes. It's nice for people to be concerned but it's really isn't necessary. They are two very different things. I've always seen a parallel between self-injurers, at least those with cases similar to mine, and alcoholics. Really. They are both dealing with their issues. But the way the go about dealing with those issues are very unhealthy. So they need to learn new ways to dealing with problems.
Q: Did you try to hide the addiction from others? Is so, what would you do to try and hide the addiction?
A: Yes, I hide it from all of my family and friends. No one ever knew except my therapist and my psychiatrist until I told my two closest friends in my senior year. Since then I've shared it with quite a few friends. But, as best I know, my family still doesn't know. The scratching I did early on was easy to hide. We had kittens and the time so it was no surprise that I had small scratches on my forearms. Everyone just assumed the kittens had scratched me when I was playing with them. Once I actually started cutting, I had to be a little more careful. So I started cutting on my upper arm. This was never a problem because I never where shirts that show my upper arms because I'm painfully shy and uncomfortable with my weight.
Q: Did you loose any friends or harm any relationships due to your addiction?
A: No, my addiction to self-injury never really affected my relationship with anyone. The people who do know about it are all very supportive (without being overly sympathetic).
Q: Did you feel, at any point, you were in control of your addiction and brushed off concerns of friends or family members?
A: Yeah, I was pretty convinced that I was just cutting because I choose that as a way to release these pent up feelings. But there were a couple of times when I would be cutting and crying and seeing quite a bit of blood running down my arm. And I would realize that this wasn't healthy and this wasn't an okay way to deal with things. When you see yourself getting that bad off, you know that this is more than just something you have control over. You know it's something that you've let take control over you.
Q: Were there certain "triggers" that made you want to continue your addiction?
A: My biggest trigger was disappointment. Sometimes I would even a tally in my notebook of how many times I was going to cut that night. If I got a bad grade, I'd add mark or two. If someone teased me, I'd add a few. If I said or did something that embarrassed me, I'd add one or two. If my parents yelled at me, I'd add a few. And I would just keep going on and on like that. Every time I was disappointed in myself, felt like someone else was disappointed in me, or was embarrassed, I'd cut.
Q: When did you decide enough was enough and get help for your addiction?
A: When I started to realize that every time I cut I had to cut deeper or make more cuts to get the same feeling of release as before. Plus there were those few times where I really saw myself, saw what I was doing. And I knew this was something that I needed to stop.
Q: Were there certain steps you took to recovery? Did you go to someone for help?
A: I was already going to a therapist so that was really helpful. Each week she'd ask me if I had cut. And, of course, I didn't want to disappoint her. So that was quite motivating. But mostly, I've just focused on not disappointing my own self. I've gone almost 11 months now without cutting. So when I start thinking about cutting and my mind starts making up excuses for me ("I'll cut just this one last time") I remind myself of that. And I know I would be so disappointed with myself the next day, after I'd calmed down. So that has kept me from cutting so far.
Q: Did you experience any kind of withdrawal symptoms?
A: I don't have as many "withdrawals" now as I did when I was first trying to stop cutting. Every once in a while, I still have withdrawals. But not often. Usually the withdrawals are just me wanting to cut so badly that I can imagine it. And my mind is trying to convince me to do it. "Just go into the bathroom, get the razor. Make a few cuts and then you'll be fine. You can just do it this one last time."
Q: What kind of support system did you create for yourself in trying to overcome the addiction?
A: Well I have a few friends who are so amazing and so supportive. They remind me not to be so hard on myself and that it's okay for me to make a mistake every now and then. I also have a great group of online friends. I use my online journal to get out a lot of pent up feelings. That's been a huge help.
Q: What would be your advice to anyone currently experiencing this addiction?
A: I would just advise them to take a good look at what they are really doing to themselves and think about why they are doing it. Every self-injurer might have their own reasons behind it but none of them deserve what they are putting themselves through.
Q: How do you feel your life has changed since your recovery? What have you learned?
A: Well I don't really think of myself as completely recovered. I still have urges to cut sometimes and sometimes I still keep a tally of how many times I should cut that night (even though I don't make the actual cuts, the tally in itself offers some relief). But the scars on my arm are finally starting to fade. And this past year I went through a lot. There were quite a few deaths in my family, deaths of people I was very close to. I made it through those without cutting and I have the utmost confidence that I can make it through anything that comes up in the future. I’m also learning that there are other ways to release those pent up emotions. Talking about it, writing it in a journal, or just sitting down and crying about it are all things that work really well but I never let myself do those things before because I thought it made me weak. Mostly though, I'm just learning to take life a little easier, to allow myself to make mistakes (because we all make them). That's definitely making life a lot more enjoyable.