As I am sure many can understand, I am overwhelmed with mixed emotions with The Beauty Within Foundation’s release of my story on its site today: you can read my story in my own words here – www.beautywithinfoundation.org/stories/2015/8/24/lisa-finding-hope-after-abuse (which contains two videos, the one at the top [https://vimeo.com/137061144] is a poem I wrote and the one at the bottom is an interview about my experience with cutting [https://vimeo.com/137061144], you can cut and paste either of these links to watch) and you can read more about my experience with The Beauty Within Foundation through Elizabeth Craig’s words here – www.beautywithinfoundation.org/blog/. This has been such an intense journey from the moment of conception until this very day, I never would have dreamed that it would have led to such an amazing opportunity. So I would like to take a moment to tell you of how this all transpired…
While growing up I entered the world of cutting (self-harm) as a way to cope with everything I was experiencing, which you can read more about on The Beauty Within Foundation’s site using the links above. “Red Sam,” a song from one of my favorite bands, Flyleaf, said it best…”wishing my wrists were bleeding, to stop the pain from the beatings.” During this time, I spent most days attempting to hide my wounds out of embarrassment and fear that my only coping mechanism would be taken from me.
This underlying fear caused me to resort to other avenues of obtaining that same release in a more “accepted” manor and I began giving myself piercings. However, I later found it inevitable that people would notice as I was continuously coming to school with new piercings in the most random of places.
Initially, I would go back and forth with cutting my wrists or my legs. Later, I wore thick leather bracelets or long sleeved shirts so I could continue cutting my wrists while hiding it, but then returned to my legs because it was easy to hide any wounds. All I really had to do was wear jeans or longer shorts…piece of cake.
Still, years later when I entered my second marriage, my husband was embarrassed of everything: my scars, my piercings and my tattoos. So much so that he asked me to always keep them covered, which only added to my own shame and embarrassment.
Unfortunately, the beginning of my divorce proceedings left me in a state of complete depression, which ignited my urges to cut. Ultimately I gave in and was left with an array of new scars and tattoos…what do they call them…life’s permanent souvenirs?
So, as you can tell…this past year has been one of complete transformation for me. During this time I have had a lot of firsts. First time being happy by myself. First time I have focused solely on me and my happiness. First time I have reached out and accepted help from those who had the power to guide me through this process of accepting, forgiving and letting go.
And…during all of this, it was the first time that I fell in love. I mean truly head over heels in love. It was this person, my first love, that really began opening my eyes to the beautiful strength my scars exuded…which led me to this very day. Recently, I was in an extreme amount of emotional pain that I instinctively walked into my room, sat on my bed and pulled out my knife with every intention of cutting away the pain I was feeling. However, my thought process was completely knocked off course as I my eyes laid on my comfort box. For those who have no clue what I am talking about, a comfort box is something filled with items that make you smile or happy. Something you can go to when you are upset in hopes that it keeps you from hurting yourself. Well, he had made one for me and it did just that. It completely stopped any urge to cut as I began combing through the items. At that moment I was smiling as I thought of him and of all the times he told me of the beautiful strength he saw in my scars and tattoos and…well…everything. Of course I loved hearing it, but I was having difficulty in seeing it myself.
Suddenly, I found myself wondering how many others are also struggling with self-harm. How many others feel the same shame and embarrassment? How many others are left unable to see the same beautiful strength that I was failing to see? Most importantly, is it possible for me to find a way for everyone to see it? Is it possible to create an understanding that would ultimately lift any shame and embarrassment?
Then it came to me. Photography is something I have always had a deeply rooted love for as it has a way of conveying such intense emotions through a single frozen moment in time. So I hunted for the perfect photographer that would allow me to finally see this beauty, this strength, this power that I had been so blind to. That is when I came across Elizabeth and Elizabeth Craig Photography (www.elizabethcraigphotography.com)…which led to this amazing opportunity with The Beauty Within Foundation (www.beautywithinfoundation.org) and creating this intricately woven work of art with Elizabeth, John, Justine (www.beautyjustified.com), and Soncerae Yeager (who somehow managed to wonderfully edit the continuous ramblings of my crazy mind).
Someday soon, when I am ready, I will take the time to go into greater detail of the stories behind these scars and tattoos. For now though, I want to take a moment to breathe in the beautiful strength that I am finally seeing in these permanent works of art that I have managed to gather during my journey through life.
I want to share that same beautiful strength with the world…because sometimes pain is just that, simply beautiful…
My hope is for everyone to see the beauty in not only surviving life, but also in sharing it. There is no reason for shame and no need for embarrassment, but rather an undeniable power in the strength that was once hiding. So I would ask that everyone read my story, learn from it and share it with anyone and everyone that would benefit from it.
Share it with those you know are struggling with self-harm. Share it with those who struggle in being supportive for a loved one who is going through the same. Share it with those who have no understanding of it at all. Just share, because in sharing you are helping. We are helping. That is all that truly matters.
And remember, while you may not understand someone’s external displays of their internal struggles…be patient, be kind and be accepting for you have no idea what that person has been through or is going through.
The same goes for someone you feel has it all together. It is rare that the outside matches the inside…so again, be patient, be kind and just love each other in the way we all deserve to be loved. I am happy to have finally experienced the most powerful love I have ever felt…because it is truly healing and gives me hope. It is something we all should have, but also something we all have the power to give.
First, I cannot even begin to express the gratitude I have for The Beauty Within Foundation and this amazing opportunity to share my story. It has been such a painstaking journey on my road to recovering from my past, but an equally necessary one that can only be done by facing it head on, which is exactly what I am doing. I am hoping by facing and accepting my past, and transforming the negatives into positives, I can use my experience to help others. So far it has been a terrifying struggle. Not only because of the intensity of the work itself, but also because I have been making it a very public one through my recently created blog (www.roadtotranscendence.wordpress.com), where I have been putting all of my pain and tears and smiles and fears and all too sought after (but much appreciated) triumphant moments out there for everyone to see. My intention was to reach as many people as possible in order to let them know that they are not alone, they are not hopeless and they can heal. Never could I have imagined the depth of how truly healing it has also been for me!
Having started at the age of 9, cutting (a/k/a self-harm) is not something that I ever thought I would continue to be struggling with at 35. Cutting is such a “taboo” issue that carries the weight of intense shame and embarrassment, making it difficult to gather courage to openly discuss it. I think mostly because it is equally as difficult to openly discuss the causes of it. Yet it is there and many are struggling with it while believing they must keep it to themselves and that there is something wrong with them. Through the work that I have been doing, I have come to realize there is nothing wrong with any of us and we do not need to remain alone in this. For me, I knew people were wrong when they said that it was just a phase or something that I would outgrow, yet I was left hoping they were right because I wanted so badly for them to be. Instead, here I am right smack in the middle of this misunderstood self-harm because it is a part of me, it is a part of who I have become, it is a part of my entire being that I have ignored for so long…and it is time for me to say goodbye.
My not-so-secret love affair with cutting began at a relatively young age while having been forced to endure years of physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Unfortunately, the abuse had become so intricately woven into my life that I was a slave to it from the very beginning, which was several months before my third birthday while living with my mother, her boyfriend and my older brother. I always thought of her boyfriend as a starving “artist” for he would spend days painting my body with whatever sick and twisted fairy tale of a dark fantasy he had . There were countless hours in which he would cover my body in bruises that matched even the most revered of Monet’s paintings and I quickly learned to remain quiet as I was being beaten, or tied up, or poked and prodded with various objects like some sort of science experiment. Of course, those hours became painstakingly slow creeping through each moment that his hands were becoming one with my body, in my body, only to finally be thrown into a closet like some overused pair of shoes where I laid in a crumpled heaping mess with little to no life remaining. This was the beginning of the many causes that led me to believe I was worthless and that my sole purpose was to be there for the use of any man that entered my life, which ultimately led to my reliance on cutting. Most of my memories of him are moments, flashes really. However, there are a few of the more memorable days that often play like old family videos you really have no desire to watch, yet have no way of stopping. It just happens. Sometimes it is a particular smell, a seemingly familiar voice or even something as simple as a name, and suddenly that video is playing from beginning to end with a stop button that broke all too long ago. Unfortunately, I am left with reels and reels of his unedited director’s cuts that play on repeat in my mind. Strangely enough though, the worst was something I only became aware of years later when my father told me of a time he picked me up for a visit and noticed my arms were covered in bruises. He said as soon as he mentioned it, my brother immediately responded “you should see the rest of her body.” He never said a word and sent me back home that night. I sometimes question whether the idea that he could have stopped it did more damage to me than the act itself.
Then I discovered the art of cutting. I can easily recall my first time. I had walked with my brother and his friend to the campground store where this little red Swiss-army style knife caught my eye. To this day I have no idea why, but I stole it. On the walk back I opened it by the blade, which immediately sliced my thumb and yet I closed and opened it again. It is ironic because the initial cut was a complete accident leaving me stunned by the lack of pain I felt…I just stared at it, but then became aware of this intensely comforting release that followed. At that very moment I knew I was in trouble. That night I waited for everyone to go to sleep and headed to the bathroom where I began cutting. It became a routine for me because I was often awake when others were sleeping, so I spent most nights in the bathroom releasing the days’ tears by trading them for blood. I never felt any physical pain from the wounds, maybe it would have changed things if I had. Instead, I began chasing this intense release that it had provided me with. I became so dependent on cutting that I kept a knife or razor with me so I could cut at any given moment when a situation became too intense. There were times when I was scared that I could not stop myself before I went too far, others when I thought I had and still others when I wished I would. It is extremely difficult to explain the pain from the abuse itself, but equally as difficult to explain the suffocating despair that comes from the knowledge of having no end in sight. I had no one to talk to, no one I trusted and no one who was there for me. So it is no surprise how quickly cutting became my crutch whenever the pain was too difficult to bear, which often seemed to be the case.
Throughout the years I had made countless efforts to stop, even as the abuse continued. Then the abuse stopped and I found that I could not. I failed to understand why, which left me feeling so confused and embarrassed. It left me feeling weak, thus starting this never-ending cycle of cutting followed by repeated attempts at trying to hide it. Mostly because I believed I could feel everyone’s eyes scanning each wound as songs of judgment began playing on repeat in their minds…even when they were not, but also because it was the only way I knew how to process emotional pain. By this time people were aware of my cutting, which landed me in various psychiatric hospitals and therapists offices. None of them could help because I was not in a state where I was able to accept it, so I thought if I changed the form of self-harm then I would not be forced into these situations and thus began giving myself piercings, but no one was fooled. Still, as an adult I discovered the world of tattoos, which opened the door for me to have that same release that I had become so reliant on. Even though I would have done them anyway, almost every tattoo was done at a time when I was in such extreme emotional pain and despair that I was using them as an attempt to keep myself from cutting. Ultimately, the realization that I was replacing one form of self-harm with another only led to a long string of subsequent failed attempts at leaving it behind.
Of course I have had periods in which I believed I had been successful at leaving it far behind me. Years even. I fell in love and married a man that I thought was truly amazing. A man who I thought had changed my life. Unfortunately, I came to learn that was not the case. During our relationship I had been so focused on making him happy that I found it easy, almost comforting, to put my issues on the back burner. In doing so, I tricked myself into believing that I was okay, that I had moved beyond it. I began to believe that I had finally outgrown it, just as people had said I would. In reality, I had ignored myself for so long that the demise of my marriage was also the demise of my happiness as my focus was left with nowhere to go but towards myself, which inadvertently led to two very serious but failed suicide attempts. It is difficult to explain what happens when reaching the point of such despair, the point of finally holding up that white flag, to giving up on myself and life. Even more so, I cannot even begin to express the pain that comes with having survived it…twice. I went from finally experiencing a sense of indescribable peace by believing that this pain was finally ending…only to wake up in an even worse position than before. So I once again this vicious cycle of cutting, then getting a tattoo to keep from cutting, then being overcome with shame and embarrassment for giving in to this addiction.
I soon realized the problem was that I had never taken the time to work through the pain of my abuse. Instead, I did everything in my power to avoid it. So the need to harm myself laid dormant, waiting for the next trigger to reignite its ferocious appetite. The trigger would inevitably rush in and out like an unexpected tidal wave tearing me apart and leaving me in a pile of shambles. Leaving me a broken mess. I often wondered what was worse, the trigger that caused me to reunite with my favorite coping mechanism or the shame and guilt I always felt afterwards. Throughout the years, my relationship with cutting has not only deepened as have my wounds, but the overall need and effect has developed into something so intricately woven that I find it difficult to share with those who have been blessed not to have experienced it themselves. At the same time, I also recognize the need for me to share my story, to get a conversation started; to help. Why not share my story at a time when there is such a need for healing. Not only for those of us who have come to depend on self-harm, but also for our loved ones who are left holding their hands up in the air with no idea of how to help and for those who simply do not understand. I sometimes do not even understand. What I do know is the life I am currently living. There is no better time than now, when I am in the midst of working through this pain by allowing myself to finally experience all these emotions, to share my story.
This is not something that I have been doing alone, for I fear that would be disastrous. Instead, I have found an amazing therapist and began the process of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. Initially, I believed it would be a piece of cake. I thought I would walk in there and say what happened while walking out healed, but that was not the case. For the first time in my life I was speaking about things that I had never before discussed, which led me to feeling things that I had never before felt. As a child, I had become so emotionally shut off that I was incapable of feeling or processing the emotions that came with the abuse. When these emotions reached a point where I was no longer able to contain them, I used cutting as a control mechanism. I have only recently come to realize this. As the pain increased, my cutting also increased. My adult relationships allowed me to control my emotions by focusing on my partner’s wants and needs rather than cutting. So naturally, I thought I had beaten it. However, this year my cutting quickly returned as I finally began opening up about my life. It was not a choice, but an instinct. I had no concept of how to handle my feelings as they began seeping out of my very existence. And while I have yet to really allow myself to cry for everything that I have been through, I have found that I want to. I want to so badly and I have come so close…but I am scared that I will not be able to stop the pain-soaked tears once they start. At the same time, I know it is so necessary for me to share my story if I am ever to move forward, which gives me an understanding of why I have returned to my crutch…and a little peace in knowing how to say goodbye. Of course, there are days that I am scared of whether I can move on and I question whether I have the strength to leave it behind me, but the answer is yes I can and I will. The key was in changing my perspective so I could accept this as a part of me, and that is when someone said my scars were beautiful because of the strength they reflected from what I had survived. I certainly appreciated the sentiment, but I could not see it. Although, I wondered whether they were right and began searching for a way to see the same. So, being the visual person that I am I thought of doing a photo session in hopes of seeing what I was hearing and in hopes of also helping others to see. What has happened since has been nothing less than .
Meeting and working with The Beauty Within Foundation has been completely serendipitous and has opened my eyes to the raw beauty and strength of my external displays of my deeply internal struggles. The first photo I saw of my legs immediately caused my eyes to well with tears because I was not only able to see the beauty in the strength I had been so blind to, but I also felt a stinging pain from deep within my heart at the intense suffering that was so clearly being conveyed. It was almost as though I were looking at someone else’s wounds and I wanted nothing more than to wrap my arms around them while telling them that everything was going to be okay. Then came the forced acceptance that these were photos of me and I began seeing the unnecessary pain I had inflicted upon myself while attempting to release what I had held onto for so long. At that moment several tears began to slowly release as I recalled the memories of each scar and I felt an undeniable strength from deep within as my need to help others by sharing my story only intensified. So I focused on the glimpses of peace and acceptance as I processed each memory, so many glimpses that all the terror and pain began to be worth it. That life began to be worth it, that I began to be worth it. For me to place value on myself is truly amazing. It is something that I cannot begin to thank The Beauty Within Foundation enough for. Not only for giving me this new form of release through acceptance, but also for walking this journey with me, for being there for me, and for showing me my beauty within that I had continuously struggled with seeing.
Now, when the pain becomes seemingly unbearable I focus on the good. I call people that I have formed supportive and healthy relationships with. I go running or biking, which has become such a release for me because it allows me to shut out all the noise of life while leaving me in peace. I become aware of nothing but my breathing, my heartbeat, my pace and the road ahead of me. As I had written in a post of mine entitled “How running has saved my soul…” it truly has saved me time and again. I often tell people the easiest way to find out if I am okay is to ask me when I last went running. My answer will often tell you what I am unable to. And, of course I write…and write…and write. For me, I have become as dependent on writing as I had with cutting because it provides me with a way to express how I am feeling at times when I am unable to speak it, which is almost always. It amazes me how the seemingly simple act of playing Tetris with a group of once meaningless words can provide such a release…it can provide a voice where there was not one. Of course there are days when none of these things seem to work and the darkness begins to set in, but those days are becoming less and less; and while I know that I am such a work in progress, I also know that I am trying. I am heading in the right direction and I am hoping that my ever-evolving story will somehow help someone to gain a new perspective so they can finally write their own happy ending as I am writing mine.
In the end, I am left with hope for blog and the potential my story has to help others who have or are struggling with self-harm, and their loved ones, to find even a shred of hope for themselves through what I have not only experienced, but survived. Maybe it will allow them to believe in their own beautiful strength in order to continue moving towards a place of peace, just as I am. At the same time, I want to finally begin this open conversation about cutting in order to shed light on the matter for those who have limited to no experience with it, so the next time they see someone’s external displays of their internal struggles, they can be accepting and understanding rather than placing any judgment where it is not needed. My dream would be to one day write a book, start a support group and have the opportunity to openly discuss my story directly with people to help them through their own struggles. From what I have found so far, there really are not a lot of options for people struggling with self-harm and the idea that I might be able to reach even one person is more than worth it to me. It should be more than worth it to everyone, for we are all working through our own struggles and the only real tool we have at helping each other is by coming together to share our own stories of what we have experienced and how we have worked through it.