When I was a teenager I heavily identified as a “cutter”. This identity was especially reinforced because that is what my peers in high school called me. As I entered my 20’s, I began to identify as a “self-harmer”. I used this term to give myself more compassion and privacy. The softer sounding identify allowed me to see what I was doing was a legitimate coping strategy and also to not let everyone know exactly what I was doing because it’s no ones business. But now, I see myself as something else and I honestly NEVER thought I would get to this point. I identify as being “recovered from self-harm”.
When I was first trying to stop self-harming it was intimidating to think about the end of when I wouldn’t need the behaviours like I used to. I also struggled to think about how I would “know” that I wasn’t a self-harmer anymore. How long do I have to abstain from the behaviour? Does it count if I still feel the urge to self-harm? I also viewed self-harm as one of the key behaviours I engaged in that was keeping me “mentally ill”. I told myself (and still do believe it on some level) that I would never be seen as not “ill” by professionals and society while I self-harmed (what kind of “normal” person cuts themselves to feel better?”). When I saw the proposed criteria for non-suicidal self-injury disorder for the DSM 5 I was heartbroken to see that an individual had to self-harm a minimum of 5 times in a year (among other criteria I met) to receive the diagnosis. Even my best, of self-harming once a month, still meant that I was “disordered”. How was I ever going to know when I was better?!
As I enter my 10th month of abstaining from self-harm, I believe I have found my answer. I am in recovery whenever I feel that I am. For me, this is accepting that it’s not about how long I haven’t cut or not ever feeling the urge to. It’s the fact that self-harm has made its way so far to the bottom of my coping skills list that it’s barely an option. When I become stressed my first reaction is to breathe and not to bleed. When I express that I feel like self-harming I use it as my indicator that more drastic positive coping skills need to be used. I feel like I don’t need to cut. Wow…I feel like I don’t need to cut. It feels fantastic to write that, to think and feel that. I have recovered from self-harm. 🙂