As many of you know, today is TWLOHA day: To Write Love On Her Arms, a day to spread awareness about issues such as self-harm and suicide prevention. The organization itself is amazing, and you really should check it out and donate if possible. They have done a lot to raise awareness about the “ugly” issues that no one really wants to address. But if you shove something underground because you don’t want to talk about it or confront it, more and more people are going to suffer. And TWLOHA is determined not to let that happen.
Last year on this day, I handed out postcards to my students with information about the organization that had the suicide prevention phone number on it. This year, student-less, I have stickers, one of which is on my laptop. It’s a little thing to do. And I have a shirt. And sometimes people ask me what it means, and that gives me a chance to expose someone to something they may not be aware of. Or it gives me the chance to correct common myths.
- MYTH: “cutters” aren’t just failed suicide attempts.
People who cut do so because it meets a need. It relieves anxiety. It calms them down. It numbs the pain. It lets them escape the world for awhile. It’s the same result as when someone drinks or uses drugs as a means of escape.
- MYTH: People who cut can just stop.
This is like saying the person addicted to cocaine can just walk away. Self-injury is not just a behavioral addiction. When the body is injured, the body releases endorphins, natural opiates. That take away the pain. Take away the thing that masks the pain, and you will have an individual going through withdrawal.
- MYTH: People who cut are stupid. I mean, who would do that to him or herself?
I was salutatorian of my high school class and voted most likely to succeed. I had a 4.0 during various semesters in college, graduating summa cum laude. I began cutting when I was twelve.
- MYTH: There is no hope for people who cut. Obviously they want to cut.
Most people who cut have a love/hate relationship. They love the results of cutting-the escape from pain-but they hate the fact that they cut. I hate that my arms are covered in scars and that I am self-conscious every time I step in front of a classroom wearing short sleeves. But there is hope. There are treatment programs for self-harm now. There are treatment modules developed specifically for people who engage in self-injury. I did an intensive inpatient program for self-harm and was IP for three months, followed immediately by a three month outpatient program. Both used Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, and I still find those skills helpful on a day-to-day bases.
There is hope. There is a way out. Like anything else, you have got to want it hard enough, and you’ve got to work like hell to get there. But it is possible.