Caution: This post may contain trigger words.
For those of you who will read this and worry, I do not cut. But I know what it's like. And I know people who do.
I'm not a stranger
No I am yours
With crippled anger
And tears that still drip sore
A fragile frame aged
And when our eyes meet
I know you see
I do not want to be afraid
I do not want to die inside just to breathe in
I'm tired of feeling so numb
Relief exists I find it when
I am cut
-"Cut" by Plumb
We live in different worlds; we all have different reasons. There are those of us who cannot feel; we are caught within the everlasting numbness. We want to feel something, anything, even and perhaps especially if it causes pain. We have blocked off our feelings so completely, often as a defense mechanism, that nothing can reach us except for the sharp slip of the blade against our flesh.
There are those of us who need to concretize the pain. Our personal art project, we start slow, with plastic knives, paper clips and safety pins. Then we graduate to razors. We want there to be proof. We want to make our pain real. There's too much of it, so much that seethes within. It simmers quietly, under the surface, in places you cannot see and cannot reach. It's pretty, the criss-crossing of lines across our wrists. And then it's not about prettiness anymore. It's about anger, the deep kind that wells up just as tears mist over the eye. That anger goes deep and it is expressed violently, with lines that may be pressed deliberately into the skin but are just as eloquent as savage slashes.
There are those of us who seek for control. There is so little in our lives that we can control that this action, this creation of the red blood that swims to the surface and spills over, is what makes us feel powerful. We have been violated and at the root of that violation is the loss of control that forged us. That loss is so desperate, so terrifying that we seek for whatever solace we can find in the careful assortment of ingredients. I sit by the bath: so. I take out my cotton swabs, my alcohol, my razor blades, my bandages. I make sure no one else is around. And then carefully, calmly, I walk the fine line between control and the loss of it. I do not want to die. This is not my suicide attempt. It is my power. I have regained it.
We cut in a blind rage, shaking with tears, sobbing in the shower, holding blades to our wrists. We cut carefully, composedly, in an act of defiance against those who would strip us of our power. We cut in anger, feeling worthless. We write that worthlessness on our skin, that rejection, that loss of self. We write our pain in brilliant colors, searing its message in a way that heals us for that moment in time. There are even those of us for whom the activity is pleasurable. We feel ourselves sink into calm, relaxation as we methodically go about this process.
Too often the movies romanticize cutting. It is not romantic. The body scars, a web of ugly marks across our otherwise perfect flesh. There are whole clumps of skin that we wash into the sink, the water mingling with the blood. It is disgusting. We realize that what we do is wrong, deviant, even crazy. That's why we hide it. We don't want you to know about it. It happens quietly, behind the scenes. I don't flaunt the cuts. I hide them on the inside of my thighs, high up on my arms. We try to stop. It's hard to stop. It's like any other addiction or sickness. An anorexic girl cannot simply choose to stop starving herself. Someone who cuts can try to go without it for a time, but then the urge comes back and it's so strong, almost irresistible.
Cutting is a maladaptive coping mechanism. But it is a coping mechanism. It is the way that we cope with the hurt, rejection, neglect, abandonment, pressure, stress, lack of power, lack of control or pain that we feel. It is not something reserved for supposed problem children from dysfunctional homes. Trying to determine who suffers from this based on external signs misses the point. Top achievers who seem completely normal on the outside cut. Straight-A students. People who do so much kindness for others. People who usually reach out for others, saving them from falling. These people can save everyone except themselves.
There is a darkness so treacherous and terrifying that most people do not ever visit it. It is an incalculable blackness, unending agony. Together with it comes the rage. The rage turns inside. It focuses on me. The rage tells me that I am so weak, so pathetic, so stupid, worthless and otherwise not valuable. The rage tells me that the problems I face are a result of my own poor choices. I rage at myself and coldly deliver the verdict: I deserve to be rejected. No one could possibly want me or love me. Other people manage to cope; it is my fault that I cannot. Because of these things, I deserve to be punished. That punishment needs to take concrete form. The delicate lines I trace across my arms demonstrate my surrender. I know I am not worthy.
We cut for different reasons. We come from different worlds. Some of us find cutting pleasurable; some of us resort to it to relieve tension. Others cut in order to feel something, to realize that we are still alive. Some of us cut to make the pain real, give it a form and a voice. For all of us, it is the only way we feel we can function. There are differing levels of dependence upon this coping mechanism. Some people simply try it and leave it. Others have the force of will to stop. Still others cannot stop unless aided by others. We have different faces; we have different needs. But all of us cut.
Please see that we are not definable as belonging to one group. We come from the best of families, ones that are tightly-knit and close. We also come from the worst of families. We are students who test high on our IQ tests. We are people who are over-achievers. We are also students failing out of school. We are people who have faced incredible struggles. There are those of us who have been abused, neglected or hurt by those close to us. We may also not have something you would perceive as a legitimate 'reason' to be acting out this way. We may have been raped. We may simply feel worthless. We may simply crave control. We are found in many communities, across the range of human experiences. We are simply not able to be put in a box or limited to one particular sector of society. The best way to help us is to recognize that we are amongst you as well. And then, instead of passing judgment and labelling, you will join in the effort to teach us to write love on our arms.
- To Write Love On Her Arms