Today marks three years freedom from self-harm. I’m stoked. I’m thankful. I’m flipping overwhelmed that God’s gotten me this far.
I used to hide. I used to shrink away any chance I got. The most beautiful of days were marred by anxiety about what would happen if my sleeve happened to slip up to reveal the self inflicted marks on my arm. I feared my friends. I was ruled by that feeling; my life was dominated by the desire to disappear so that people wouldn’t see what was happening in my mind.
Three years ago, I took a blade to my arm for the last time. Red lines scattered over my forearm, covered by a bandage and a long sleeved shirt, so that I could go to the community Carols event and plaster on a smile. I remember the day. I remember it all too well. A friend turned to me with a sad smile, and tugged gently at my sleeve. I shrugged. He hugged me. He was one of the few who knew what was occurring, and over that year of struggle, I had slowly stopped feeling ashamed when this friend was aware. “Praying for you.” he told me. “We can talk later if you want to.” He then turned his attention back to his family and I walked away, my heart heavy.
Three years ago. That day feels like so long ago. The shame feels distant. The long sleeved shirts sit at the back of my wardrobe, now only necessary for cold winter days. I’ve been trying to find the words to explain what it is that changed. I’ve been trying to find noble words to express what I’m feeling. But, honestly, I can’t come up with anything noble. The change was a slow, steady one.
It was that I stopped hiding.
I stopped hiding emotions in the back of my mind until they exploded. I stopped hiding my battles from those who love me. I stopped hiding my marked arms around those closest. Most importantly, I stopped hiding my face from the God who calls me His. I stopped hiding.
Emotions used to be terrifying. They would be buried at the back of my mind, and the only moments I dealt with them were when they exploded and there was nothing I could do to contain them. The process of dealing with emotions was a strange one. It began by talking to a mental health professional. They were able to reflect my thoughts back to me and clarify those things that were entirely based on my perception. After being taught these processes, I began to write more and more in a journal, not simply to rant, but to correct my own thought processes. Not shoving my emotions in a corner helped. I stopped hiding from myself.
I’d always thought that no one cared what I went through. No matter how much people showed their care, I didn’t believe them. Nothing in me wanted to hear it, or have them care for me. It took a few stubborn friends to break through that. Some days it felt like they were dragging me out of hiding, every word coming laced with anxiety, and every hour spent together left me feeling like a burden. But these friends told me the truths I needed to hear, and needed to believe. “Maybe it is my fault.” I mumbled one day, thinking about wounds that had been inflicted. “It wasn’t your fault. You know it wasn’t.” my friend responded, throwing empty plastic plant pots at me across the office, until with laughter I relented and let him be right. Not hiding from my friends often took a lot of work on their part, and for that, I am endlessly thankful to those friends. Whether or not they knew it, the time spent with me helped me heal – both my skin and my soul.
Self-harm is a physical act. The hiding of the marks of it is physical, and so is revealing them. One day, someone asked me if I needed alone time or if I needed to talk. I had no words, but I didn’t want to be alone. “Talk.” I requested. They sat by me, and asked, “What’s up?” with a casual smile. I showed them my arm. They sat silently with me until I was ready to talk, but the simple act of not hiding those marks took away the pretence. There was no way for them to think I was okay. I needed a friend. I needed prayer. Hiding the marks in some situations is necessary, but not with everyone.
More importantly, I stopped hiding from God. I stopped telling Him that He didn’t love me. I stopped telling Him that he wasn’t enough. I stopped insisting that he made a mistake when he made me. I started opening the Psalms and praying them slowly, hesitantly, and eventually letting myself feel the emotions of them. God began to remind me that His truth is more than my emotions; that His feelings about me do not depend on my feelings about myself; that in Him, there is no condemnation and there’s nothing I could do to take that away. I’m not sure what process that happened by. It meant leaning on Him when all I wanted to do was give in to the desire to self-harm. It meant never hiding from him, even when I felt most ashamed.
Physical appearances aren’t everything. But photos capture moments, and that first photo captures someone reluctant to smile, reluctant to be with friends… And these days, I no longer hide. In God’s grace, three years ago today was the last time I took a blade to my arm, and though there are still dark days, I don’t need to hide. Self-harm does not decide who I am; God does. No longer do my arms hide under long sleeves; I have no cause to hide them.
Dare I say it, I am free.