Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Overcoming Self-Harm: My Messy Beautiful

This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

This post comes with a trigger warning because it is about self-harm. However, I hope that by sharing with you one of my most Messy, Beautiful stories, if you are currently struggling with self-harm, that this helps you “Carry On, Warrior,” as Glennon would say. We need to know we are not alone. In order to heal, we need to hear from people in similar situations as us who have carried on, and been able to work through some of these messy parts of life.

Here is my Messy, Beautiful story:

October 20, 2013 was the first day of Brene Brown’s online class, The Gifts of Imperfection, through Oprah’s Lifeclass series.

I had all my supplies ready for my art projects. I was ready for six weeks of focusing on combating shame and embracing vulnerability. I was ready to be courageous and embrace my imperfection!

The first part of the art project was “Permission Slips,” where you wrote down some of the things you needed to give yourself permission to do in order to engage in the work of this class. Some of the “Permission Slips” might even be things you needed to give up. I knew there was one thing in particular I had to give up if I was going to be sure I started to heal from shame. I did not want to write it down though.

The second part of the project was to take a photo of yourself with “I’m Imperfect and I’m Enough” written somewhere on your person; most people chose to write it on their hand.

As I was getting ready to take my “I’m Imperfect and I’m Enough” photo, I could feel the pain in my legs. Every time I sat down, the fabric of my jeans pulled against raw skin. I had to remember to be careful how I sat so that I did not aggravate the sides of my upper thighs where the day before I had cut myself. This was the thing I had to give up, cutting. 

Writing it down would not be enough because I knew in a few days the raw skin would heal, I would forget the realities of what I was doing to myself, and I would do it again. A picture would be the only way to remember the gravity of what self-harm does. A picture was the only way to adequately describe what happens to me, and many people like me, when shame is so overwhelming and so painful that the only way we know how to release that inner pain so we can get through our life, is to cut ourselves.

That’s what self harm is, a release. Not a cry for help, not one step closer to suicide, it is a survival mechanism. I admit, not a good survival mechanism, but often the only one we have when we are not getting the help with shame resilience that we need, or we have not healed enough yet to have other ways to survive. Contrary to popular belief, cutting is not only a teen phenomenon or even something that starts in the teen years. I did not start cutting until a few years go, at the age of 33. It was actually an accident. I dropped a dish and I was overwhelmed because it was one more thing that went wrong that day. As I was picking up the ceramic pieces, I cut myself on one of them. I felt relieved and calm, and that’s how it started.

Photo copyright Jeff Norris, 2013.
Then on October 20, 2013, I took the typical “I’m Imperfect and I’m Enough” photo where I am smiling with the words written on my hand, this is the photo I let others see. However, I also had my husband take a photo of me where I wrote “I’m Imperfect and I’m Enough” with the raw cuts on my legs. I was finally working with a therapist, the first in 19 years, who understood trauma and shame, and I was embarking on this six week class with Brene Brown. I knew that now was the time to give up cutting forever because I had the support system I needed to be successful.

That was the most Messy, Beautiful photo I have ever taken.


Rev. Katie

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