*Trigger warning: This post describes cutting, drinking, addiction, and sexual, mental, and physical abuse in graphic detail. Please be wary that the content in this post could be potentially distressing, especially for those who are in recovery or recently lost someone to suicide or addiction.
I can’t pinpoint exactly when being alive began to feel unbearable.
By the time I was 7 years old, my parents had already been beating me for several years.
They would threaten to throw me out and leave me inside the dumpster or push me out the door.
I wasn’t allowed to cry or scream when I was punched in the face or had a bamboo stick cracked over my head.
The rule was: if you make a sound, the next one will be even harder.
So I learned early on, how to disassociate. To be somewhere else when the pain got too great. To embrace numbness.
I attended public school, but couldn’t grasp the English language. No one ever questioned why I would miss several days of school at once or come into school with a black eye.
When I look back on it, I always wondered why no one asked if I was okay. I remember concerned looks, as if someone was going to do something about the new bruise on my face. (No one ever did.)
I was bullied for being unable to speak English. The other children assumed I was stupid. They would ask me to say certain words (like ‘dildo’ — though I’m not sure how a 7 year old knows what that this) and then all laugh at how I said it with my accent.
I dreaded waking up every day to get bullied in school and then come home to be beaten by my parents.
By my tenth birthday, I developed a fascination with how people would die in tv shows — stepping on needles, drinking poison, hanging.
I opened my mother’s sewing kit and grabbed one of her pins. I decided to prick myself with it several times to see what it felt like.
I mixed acetone nail polish with my water and drank it, to see what would happen.
I wrapped the shower cord around my neck and managed to edge close enough to feel like my neck was going to burst from the circulation being cut off.
Each time, I felt lightheaded. There was a warm sensation that covered my body like a soft blanket. As a child that never experienced affection or love, this was the closest thing I ever had to feeling comforted.
Over the weeks and months, I became fixated with the different ways I could hurt myself.
I figured out that my body reacted to different pains in different ways.
Cigarette burns were dull and unpleasant. Drinking cough medicine or poisoning left me with a terrible stomachache. Bashing my head against the wall gave me a headache.
But then came my first love — cutting.
The sensation felt precise — like a focused burning. Relaxation would ease through my body. My breathing deepened. My fingertips tingled and my body would pulse between hot and cold.
That was when life became bearable again.
When I started middle school, the abuse at home had taken a different turn- it went from being violently physical to mental. My parents had discovered that in the United States, there was a such thing as social services and I had learned how to reach out to Child Protective Services.
Since my parents were married and had money, it was deemed that I didn’t have it as bad as children who had absent or addict parents. I had to deal with it because the system was too crowded. Still, my parents were cautious about how they treated me physically, from then forward, because they were fearful of being embarrassed.
They found other ways to torture me.
Every meal, they would remind me of how fat I was. I would begin to hide food and eat in the middle of the night, so I could be at peace, though their comments would still ring in my ears. I would binge eat and then run to the bathroom and shove my fingers down my throat.
My mother stared at my face once and shook her head. “You are so ugly,” she sighed, “Let’s get plastic surgery on your nose and sew up those fat lips.” My father laughed, pointed to cheerleaders on tv, doing their Superbowl routine and said, “Take a good look at those girls because you’ll never be pretty like that.”
I also had a little brother now, who was sick himself. My parents would also beat him, but if he was beaten, I was punished as well. His method of coping was to grope my breasts and watch me shower (I wasn’t allowed to lock or close any doors), as I started to grow into my teenage body.
Yet they didn’t leave any marks on my body that could be shown as evidence. Everything that happened was subtle… nonchalant. My word against their’s.
In fact, when I ended up in the hospital after my first suicide attempt, they told the doctors that sometimes I would lie about things for attention. My mother could cry on command and tell them she didn’t know why I was like this, because they loved me, so very much.
And why would anyone believe a thirteen year old girl who was heavily medicated with antidepressants and antipsychotics?
On the car ride home from the hospital, my father reminded me, “You have nobody. You know if you died, no one would come to your funeral. Nobody cares about you. The only person you’re hurting is yourself.”
At 14 years old, I started making friends with others who were also disconnected when it came to their parents. A few of them were cutters. A lot of them stole their parents’ drugs and would get high after school.
We were the rejects. The freaks. The kids that no one gave a shit about.
And still, I didn’t feel like one of them, either. (Borderline Personality Disorder does that to you).
I was exposed to harder drugs at 16, but I didn’t enjoy anything that I experimented with. There would be a trip or hallucinations, though nothing compared to the thrill of what it felt like to cut myself.
Cutting was my daily ritual. My fix.
The top drawer on my nightstand had a box of Kleenex, a lighter, rubbing alcohol, scissors, knives, and razors.
I would strip down all of my clothes and find a patch of skin that wasn’t covered by previous scars. I was gentle with myself. If I had cut an area too recently, I wouldn’t touch it again for a few weeks. I gave my skin plenty of time to heal, before I marked the same area again.
I finally had closure and relief. Every cut silenced the piercing sounds of my parents’ voices. The bullies at school couldn’t get me now. My brother couldn’t touch me. The smell of old leather and cheap vodka from the man down the street that raped my virginity from me, would vanish.
I’d cut anywhere. It could be my arm, my shoulder, my chest, my stomach, my thigh, my legs, anywhere. Anything to feel better.
No one had to listen to me anymore. No one had to believe anything I said.
I had my support system now, in the form of knives, scissors, and razors.
This was the only time where my body was mine and my mind would cease being in fight-or-flight mode.
Over time, I was no longer reaching the same high as I was when I first started cutting. It took me three hours to release the same amount of endorphins that one single cut used to give me.
I began to bring pills back from my friends and took them before cutting. I began stealing alcohol from my parents’ liquor cabinet. Anything to feel alive.
When I left that house (it’s important for me to differentiate between a house and a home) and went to college at 17, I thought that I would finally live a normal life. I had a Borderline Personality Disorder diagnosis, but I assumed that once I was away from the toxic environment I grew up in, I would be okay.
I went to college in a whole different state and chose a military school — they were strict about self-harm and drugs.
To my surprise, the friendships I made were turbulent. I was suffering from the beginnings of PTSD (which I wouldn’t be diagnosed with until I was 22)
At first, I tried cutting discreetly, but I was having a hard time getting back to that high, since I was limited on how much skin I could scar up. I began to have panic attacks and explode on my friends — and no 17–20 year old knows how to handle someone with BPD and budding PTSD. I don’t blame them for running far, far away from me.
I desperately needed another way to cope and I turned to sleeping with anyone that would have me, to give me the fix that cutting did. This led me down the road to promiscuity, alcohol, and more bullying (slut… whore… she changes partners faster than she can change her underwear).
There is a kind of high that you can get when someone looks at you like you’re the most beautiful person in the world- even if it’s only for that one second.
I craved to be loved and wanted, so deeply. Yet, I had no idea how to give it in return, since my whole life to that point was an endless cycle of abuse and violence.
Lovers put me in the center of their world for two minutes, in exchange for sex. I did my walks of shame and listened as people whispered things about my life choices. It didn’t matter if I was attracted to the person or not… as long as they were willing to love me for a second.
Eventually, my depression grew so deep that I kept drinking and I kept fucking until no one wanted to buy me alcohol or fuck me anymore. My GPA dropped to a point that I left college before they could kick me out.
I found myself wandering the streets of New York City (I grew up there, so I was intimately familiar with it.) I stayed with anyone that would have me and went on dates so I could have a hot meal. I cut. I drank. I partied. I spent every penny I would make.
I became the type of person that my parents always said I was. People agreed that I was disgusting, ugly, useless. The type of girl that no one would care about if she died. No one would miss her.
My Borderline Personality Disorder had gone untreated for way too long and since I was an unemployed adult, I had gained the lazy, mooching millennial, you-deserve-everything-you’re-getting status.
I got lucky a few times and old friends that felt bad for me let me stay with them, in exchange for sex or a little bit of cash. Since I knew my way around computers and was a decent writer, I freelanced for work. I also found a job working in a BDSM dungeon which also helped me pay for a place to stay, temporarily.
My life was a constant cycle of me disappointing other people, being told I was worthless, wallowing in self-pity, and then finding a way to numb the pain or feel alive. I had nothing to look forward to. I seriously thought about killing myself several times a day and kept a handful of doting lovers around to talk me out of it.
When I did wake up in the emergency room, the nurse would always ask if I regretted it. I always said, “I only regret that I’m such a failure I can’t even succeed in killing myself.” (Even when my heart stopped, I was somehow revived with medical care).
I couldn’t get my shit together and I was an absolute train wreck. But as long as there was a boy (or girl — I don’t discriminate) keeping me warm at night, whiskey constantly flowing through my veins, and a blade within arm’s reach, I was okay.
I made one last ditch effort to clean up my life by joining the military. It never occurred to me that I could move around the country and change the environment, but it wouldn’t make a difference to how I coped with life.
I was still haunted and held back by my abusive upbringing. My Borderline Personality Disorder was still there. I was still thinking about cutting myself every second of the day.
And I had lovers in and out of my bed. I also had a reputation for being a dangerous drinker — I didn’t know how to stop and pressured my friends into joining me.
People always say, “Get over it, it was so long ago.” “You’re too sensitive.” “You need to get tougher skin.” Trust me, I was doing my damn best to get help when the opportunity presented itself and because the abuse was no longer still happening, I was deemed as using my upbringing as a means to seek attention.
I was still getting worse, no matter how hard I tried to get my life together.
Then one day, like the cliche, my whole life changed. I stared down at a positive pregnancy test, still hungover from drinking so hard the night before.
It’s been 5 years since I last cut myself.
What destroys me is that people that walk into my life after I stopped cutting myself, think that I’m some great mother and doting wife. They think I have everything together- I give great advice, I’m so zen all the time, and I try to remove myself from drama.
People actually look up to me and I have no idea why.
I didn’t do anything special. I didn’t get the help I needed. I didn’t try harder.
I got pregnant and some guy I was fucking on and off decided that he was going to do right by the baby and marry me so maybe we could become a family. He kept me away from sharp objects. He stayed with me while I had panic attacks and had blackouts. He moved to Japan and he took me with him.
He spent hours holding me as I cried because I had nightmares about my parents. He was patient as I pushed and pushed him away because I hated being in skin that so many people had violated. He stuck with me as I repeatedly threatened to divorce him before he could ever leave me.
I don’t cut myself anymore because he doesn’t let me. I don’t drink anymore because he doesn’t keep alcohol in the house. I got so lucky that he supported me through every step of my recovery and that he completely accepted me, scars, baggage, and all.
I still think about killing myself and cutting myself, several times a day. I stare into the eyes of my beautiful sons and I ask over and over, “Why can’t I just be happy? Why can’t I just be at peace?”
I haven’t lived with my parents for a decade and my brain is still in a constant state of fight-or-flight. I can’t be in clubs or around people who do heavy drinking or drugs because I will relapse.
I have relapsed, and I know I am capable of going back there- because it was the only place I was comfortable, for a very long time.
I don’t have some inspirational, Rocky-esque story about how I beat the odds and now I live a normal, well-adjusted life. I’m just some useless, deteriorating girl that got lucky because a guy that barely knew me, took a chance on me, and that opened the door to healing some of the shit I carry with me.
I got fucking lucky- and most people never have that chance. I’m 26 and I know way too many people who will never see this age. I like to believe that they’re in a better place where they can no longer feel pain, but their deaths leave shrapnel and permanent scars on the people they leave behind — people that had no idea that they were hurting so badly.
I write my story in hopes that if you are hurting, that you don’t compromise your need for support. I hope that the people you surround yourself with are the people who want you to live peacefully, not people who encourage you to stay where you are. You might need to take the edge off, especially at night (evenings are the worst… they last forever) but if you can see the sun come up in the morning, be open minded to trying to find support again.
You aren’t going to find the one person that makes everything better. You aren’t going to go to therapy or a hospital and come out a brand new person. There is no magic pill that makes it all go away. Not even cutting, drugs, alcohol, or sex makes it go away.
You just need to take that first step and open the door. You don’t even have to take a step inside yet.
Maybe you’ll meet someone who will look at you and love the disaster that you are. Maybe after one hundred therapists decide you’re too difficult to work with, the next one is brave enough to take your case on.
You don’t have to reach out today or go cold turkey, but you can ask the person you’ve known the longest or trust the most, to come over and sit down. You can even take it a step further and remove yourself from anyone or anything that has contributed to your pain. For me, that meant completely cutting my blood family from my life and deleting Facebook friends who were more interested in watching me degrade than helping me get better.
Maybe even that step is too painful right this second but you can tell yourself, “I want to get better.”
I’m not going to say that things are going to be good one day. I still crave the numbness of alcohol and the happy highs of cutting myself. It’s a constant, persistent thought in my mind that tempts me over and over. I’ve relapsed, had my slip ups, and still blackout, but it doesn’t mean I failed.
It only means I try again tomorrow.
If you’re reading this and you love someone who is struggling with pain, compulsion, and/or addiction, know that it’s not your fault. People who contribute to that pain don’t give a fuck about helping the person get better. They only want to stop feeling guilty about what’s happening. But you, I want you to know and understand that there will be good days and bad days. There will be days where it looks like your loved one is going to break out of it for good, and then suddenly it all comes crashing down. You’ll be exhausted. You’ll be tested. You’ll want to run.
You can’t bear the burden of someone else’s pain, no matter how hard you try to take it away. You have to let the person that is suffering go through this experience. This is the hand that they were dealt and they have to play it out. Still, you must take care of yourself and if you need to take a step back, do it. Taking care of people like me is a lifelong commitment, not something that just stops one day. Get support for yourself and establish your own self-care, too. Prioritize your own mental health so you can take care of the person you love.
And for the rest of the world, if you’ve read this far, I really don’t know how you found this post or why you’re still reading, but I do have a request for you. If you see someone who sleeps around, is “looking for attention,” or always in a state of victimhood, addiction, compulsion, don’t be so quick to condemn them.
You don’t know their story. You don’t know where it all began. You don’t know what they’re running away from. He or she could be one bad day from turning off the lights.
I see those reposts on Facebook all the time… “repost this hotline if you care about…” “repost this if you’d help someone suffering with…” While the gesture is nice, a lot of us have given up on help. Therapists have failed them. Friends have teased them or called them weak, attention seeking, crying wolf. They trust little and hurt a lot.
If you’re willing, ask if they’re okay.
Those few words mean everything to people who are in pain.
They might not know what to say. They might not know what they need. They might lie to you and say they’re fine, but the fact that someone bothered to ask if they were okay, matters.
Ask, without expectation.
They may block you for no reason. They may cry and scream and vent at you for hours. They may ignore it. The important thing is that someone bothered to ask, instead of assuming they needed something or forcing them to get help or judging them for how their life turned out. Don’t send them links to support hotlines or suggest mental health services for them — you don’t know what they need and there is no one-size-fits-all help.
Instead, if you see someone who seems like they are crying out for help or having a hard time, don’t ridicule them. Don’t participate when people gossip cruel things about them.
Ask them if they are okay.
I close this by saying that I hope this post sheds some light into the world of someone living with an invisible illness. We carry a stigma of being too weak to help ourselves, but the truth — the actual truth, and not the one that society writes for us, is that we are fighting every second of our days, to stay alive. To not let the demons win. To hold on to the shreds of reality around us and not succumb to the darkness.
Each one of these people are human beings. They were once someone’s baby- whether they were loved and cared for or abandoned or neglected. They were once a child that dreamed and hoped and aspired. At some point, something went terribly wrong, and then something else, and then something else. And when that child turned around, no one was there to hold them up. No one got through to them.
There’s a door to recovery for each and every one of these people. All of their doors look different and all of their journeys before and after that door aren’t the same. No path is cut and dry or straightforward.
We’re trying. Remember that.