The Suffering Beneath the Smile: Self-Harm (Trigger Warning!)

ImageIf you look at my “Where to Find Help” section you may notice something. The help category is largely for self-injury. There’s a reason for that. My daughter is a recovering self-injurer. It evolved the way it does with so many…at the onset of adolescence, in a flurry of confusing emotions, and in total secrecy. It became a full blown addiction. For those who don’t understand I’ll explain it in it’s simplest form. There is a trigger or series of triggers in the environment (an argument with mom, being left out of a friend group, hating your body, academic pressure, etc.) and an overwhelming amount of intense feelings like anger, sadness, and desperation, then an urge to “purge” the feelings, physically, to cut yourself. And a strange thing happens, instead of pain she feels a sense of relief and calmness. And it happens again, and again, and again. Until there is no room left on her arm. So she moves to her inner thighs (which she hates anyway). And then her lower back, or her breasts, or her ankles. And she is ashamed but she cannot stop. And her body becomes the canvas that holds her deepest pain and secrets. On the outside? Nothing is wrong. She’s a star on the track team. She’s getting A’s and B’s in school. She has lots of friends. She’s smiling; laughing even. But on the inside she’s a total mess. And so was I.

Even being a trained therapist I wasn’t prepared for this. It was 8 years ago and I had heard of self-injury but had no experience with treating it, I barely knew what it was, and certainly I had no idea how to deal with it when it was my own daughter. I muddled though. Desperate for answers. Making mistakes. Obsessively researching it it hopes of making it stop. It was quite a terrifying experience at the time. I learned a lot. Knowing what I know now, I wish I had had someone to talk to about it, to explain it to me. But I didn’t. And the internet was my only teacher. 

Fast forward 8 years and I’m a self-declared expert now. I’m even giving conference presentations on the topic. And my daughter, she’s in recovery, making growth, and finding her way as a young woman. We couldn’t be closer. But for anyone going though this, please know, your not alone. The prevalence is staggering. Approximately 15% of teens report self-harming without suicidal intent. There is information out there. Please see my “Where to Get Help” section to get you started. Feel free to message me.

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