Today is a very special anniversary for me. Even as I write this, I hesitate to share it. It makes me nervous to think of my secret finally getting out there for all the world to see. But if I don’t share the pain of needing a deliverer, how will God be glorified?
So, here’s my confession: Three years ago today, I cut myself for the last time.
It started sometime when I was sixteen. Anxiety and self-loathing would build up in me until I was desperate for some sort of relief. It started with scratches from a pin and graduated from there. I had a pocket knife in my room that I brought out of hiding when I needed a distraction from the pain.
If you’ve never self-harmed (and I pray you never do) then it’s difficult to explain how it helped. It’s this release; an outer manifestation of an inner pain. And it’s a punishment, something that left me feeling like I’d paid my debt and could continue on my way without too much guilt.
It didn’t happen often, but every few months, after things had been building up for too long and the pressure was high, some little thing would set me off. I would go off on my own and I would hurt myself until I didn’t hurt anymore.
I am ashamed of what I did; many people who self-harm are. Because of this, very little is known about the compulsion. And many people don’t know how to stop.
If you have ever self-harmed, you might be where I was three years ago, wondering where the path to healing begins. Well, here’s what I’ve learned so far…
Step 1. Realize that every time you hurt yourself, you’re hurting one of God’s beloved. I tried to earn a place as His child for years, then He showed me that He doesn’t value me because I’m valuable, I’m valuable because He values me. The same is true for you. You are irreplaceable to Him, invaluable in His eyes. He sees your every tear and He desires to give you peace and joy. He loves you and, no matter what you do, He’s waiting for you with open arms. Psalm 56:8 says:
‘You have taken account of my wanderings; Put my tears in Your bottle. Are they not in Your book?’
Step 2. Identify who you’re really trying to hurt. For me it was a lot of self-punishment. But there were also people in my life whom I blamed (unfairly) for my struggles over feelings of loneliness and worthlessness. In some twisted way, I felt like punishing myself would punish them. I had to let go of the grudges against myself and others so I could forgive and move on. I had to let God take charge of justice.
“For He says to Moses, “I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION.””
Step 3. Tell someone. I’d read this step in my own research and always hated it. I didn’t want to let anyone know I was damaged; I was sure I could figure things out on my own. But I kept relapsing. So I finally broke down and shared my secret. I expected to feel better and I expected to be helped, but as it turned out, the topic was too shameful and embarrassing for the parties I told to cope with. It wasn’t until I met my future husband that I trusted someone else with this secret. My Hubby (well, boyfriend, at the time) couldn’t have handled it better. He was understanding but not intrusive. At first, he only asked that if I felt the compulsion to cut again, that I call him first. Then, over the next few months, he gently asked me more about it, prayed with me and took away my knife, and asked to see my scars, one by one. He helped me see and understand my true value in God. I know God used him to set me free from cutting and I know I wouldn’t have made it three years without him. Keep looking until you find that friend and helper for you.
“For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.”
Step 4. Don’t be alone. When I would get upset enough to hurt myself, I would go off on my own for hours. Sometime it was just up to my bedroom, other times it was after driving somewhere far away. I recognized early on that if I wanted to stop cutting, I’d need someone to make sure I wasn’t on my own when I was upset. My husband became that person for me. Whenever I would get upset, I’d seek him out and stay close by his side. If I was too upset to make that rational choice, he would seek me out instead. The important thing was that I had someone there to talk it out with me.
“Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?”
Step 5. Celebrate your declaration of freedom. At first, I looked into laser scar removal so I could erase my sins and get a fresh start. But I realized that God doesn’t always cover our mistakes; sometimes He transforms them. Erasing my scars would have just given me a blank canvas to start again on. I needed to remember. So instead, I went to a tattoo artist and asked her to put butterfly wings on my final scar. Now, whenever the temptation to cut rises up again, I look on that image of new beginnings and the words to my life verse (Is. 43:1) and remember that God gives beauty for ashes. I’m not saying you have to get a tattoo, but set an Ebenezer, a milestone that marks how far God brought you and declares clearly that there’s no going back.
‘Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the LORD has helped us.”’
I wish I could tell you that three years ago was the last time I self-harmed, but that would be a lie. This is the anniversary of the last time I drew blood, but it was sadly more recent that I last hit myself and called myself names.
However, God is greater than the temptation to disobey Him and, step by step, I know He’s setting me free of my pain. With His help, I’m beating this. He can set you free too.
If I can help you in anyway, if I can pray for you, or answer any questions, or just give you someone to talk to about this, please don’t hesitate to email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Don’t stay where you are another minute, not when Christ died to set you free. Put your hope in Him. Come on, this could be your anniversary day too!