* This post discusses self-harm and therefore may be triggering to some. *
Last night after over three months without self-injuring I succumbed to the impulse in a moment of panic. Today I am left in a sort of hangover of emotion over it. And much like with what I imagine accompanies most normal hangovers, I feel predominantly ashamed of myself. I have worked so hard to get to a place where self-injury isn’t a part of my daily life. I felt this was one area of my mental illness from which I had fully recovered. Yet here I am with fresh scratches on my arm and a head full of regret.
But you know folks, the road to recovery is so often full of twists and turns. It’s so easy to think that every moment of perceived weakness brings us right back to square one. But I am not in the same place I was when I was self-injuring multiple times a week. As discussed in a recent blog post, I’ve come out the other side of my two year long depression, I don’t hate myself or wish I were dead right now. I am able to be mostly compassionate and understanding towards myself where I had too often been judgemental and cruel. I am able to feel hope where I used to feel despair. So I refuse to let this slip up bring me right back to where I started.
I have used self harm for two main reasons in the past. The first is as a form of punishment when I feel guilty or ashamed of something. Kind of like Dobby from Harry Potter punishing himself whenever he thinks he is breaking the Malfoy’s wishes, but a lot more real and a lot less endearing. The second reason is when I am extremely anxious and having difficulty regulating my anxiety. These two reasons are not always mutually exclusive, the worst impulse to self-harm comes when I am both feeling guilty/ashamed and extremely anxious.
Such was the case last night. Without rambling on too much, the next few days present quite a lot of huge challenges for me. On Sunday I am supposed to attend two major events for some of the most important people in my life. These are major milestones for those people and I would feel incredibly guilty if I weren’t able to attend these celebrations because I was too anxious; like I was letting them down or failing to show them just how much they matter to me. Then on Tuesday I will be beginning a group therapy program that I was unable to stick with several months back. This group therapy really triggered some things in me that I wasn’t prepared to deal with and I am not sure how I’ll react to it this time around. This is likely the most anxiety-charged few days I have had to confront since my wedding weekend in October.
Last night I found myself alone at home in the late hours of the evening, with painfully high anxiety. I couldn’t stop my thoughts from looping between how bad it would be if I attended the social gatherings and group therapy, and how bad it would be if I didn’t. If I did and I panicked, I might draw focus away from my two loves ones who deserve all the attention. If I didn’t than I wouldn’t be showing them how much I care and I would be missing out on a big moment in their lives. It felt like no matter what I do I’d be in the wrong on this one. I ended up taking a small dose of an anxiety med to help take the edge off but it didn’t kick in before I succumbed to the impulse to self-harm. Now I am in an even worse spot than I was before the self-harm because I can’t stand how embarrassed I feel when others notice my scratches, scabs and scars.
But back to the purpose of this post. All of that does not mean I am back to square one. I can’t let this bring me back to a place where self-injury is the norm. Falling down doesn’t mean you can’t get back up again and succumbing to the impulse to self-harm doesn’t mean I can’t master it again. I have to believe that. And I should, because I have conquered this before. I have shown to myself that I can regulate my emotions well enough to avoid this external show of my internal struggles. So I am going to rely more heavily on the coping tools I use to manage times of high anxiety and I am going to get through this without another scratch. And when I inevitably revert back to this maladaptive coping tool in the future I will remember that a moment’s mistake does not determine the future course of my actions. Because I cannot allow a disorder that I can’t remove to let me feel guilty. All I can do is manage it to the best of my ability and embrace the little victories as they come. I can do this… right?