The image below was taken a few hours ago but the view hasn’t changed much over the elapsed year.
A year ago, I was on my way home after a long day. I couldn’t tell you exactly what was going through my head- but for the sake of this it doesn’t matter. Clearly it was too much for me to deal with in any logical manner.
It was on this dark, quiet street a year ago that I could take it no longer. I sat down in the gutter, hunched over, keys in one hand and hacking away chunks of epithelial and connective tissue from the back of my other hand. ‘idiot‘ I’d mutter to myself with every dig. ‘Idiot. Idiot. Idiot.‘ It really hurt and I’d made an unspeakable mess that I still have to wear each day… but that sweet temporary reprieve- I thought I was in control of my situation and my gosh that felt good!
As I made my way closer to home, fear struck again. I knew I would have to answer for the gash on my hand. So I formulated a lie about having had an accident in the lab.
It was on that night a year ago that I entered the downward spiral of self harm. Not long after that, I really craved that sense of being in control. I wanted to be sure that everything was going to be ok. My ‘accidents’ were rapidly becoming more frequent and I was more often than not wearing a dressing of sorts so that I wasn’t ‘cross-contaminating with experiments or with patients at work’… although I generally stuck to very conservative regions that no one else would see.
The temporary sense of ‘ok-ness’ quickly caved to intense fear, shame, guilt and despair. Often this occurred to such an extent that I saw no other means than to return to the very behaviour that led me to feel that way in the first place.
I can’t believe how much things escalated since that incident in the gutter. To my myopic eyes, it was unforeseeable. The darkness that I sought so much comfort and safety in is not what it seemed. I became a liar, I became secretive, I withdrew myself from friends and family, my relationship with God suffered severely. It scares me.
I tried to run from God and hide in the dark. But there is no such thing as running away from my great God. ‘If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.’ (Psalm 139:11-12). Although I was often hiding my behaviours in the physical darkness, God could see not only what was going on with me on a skin-deep level, but what was happening in the depths of my brain and in my spirit. He is the light and He is my Vision. This time of hurting was known to Him before time even began (read all of Psalm 139 for more context), yet He still sent Jesus to take my place on the cross and count me free.
I am not proud to admit that a year after that crazy night, I still battle constantly with self harm. I still use it as a substitute for interpersonal relationships and talking things through. I still use it to cope with the world’s overwhelming sensory input. I still use it for reasons I don’t even know. I don’t always hold myself accountable- often I don’t even want to because that’s scary. But when I bow my head, it is not in shame. Rather, it is bowed in thankful and expectant prayer. I am thankful that God’s love and grace is so radical and life-giving. I am thankful that I can come to Him with my burdens and confess all that I have been hiding in the darkness- and I’m thankful that He shows complete forgiveness. And I pray expectantly that He will be my ‘refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble’ (Psalm 46:1). I pray expectantly that He will help me move towards a future free of self harm and hiding in the dark.
Don’t bow your head in shame, bow it in thankful and expectant prayer.