First of all, I need to add a Trigger Warning for Self-Harm to this post. So if this is something that you are prone to and you don’t want to be triggered, then please read no further.
I have been mulling over what to write about for the last couple of weeks since returning from holiday. Nothing seemed to stand out as ‘the right topic’, nothing on my list of suggestions fired me up particularly so, feeling slightly guilty, I had abandoned this blog until inspiration struck. And it did, last night, in a strange and unexpected way after a relapse in self harm (2 months ‘clean’). I had wanted to find a way to explain why someone would do this, someone who wasn’t in such deep despair that an uncontrolled act of self savagery was the only option. I wanted to show that self-harm is still very hidden, that not every occurrence needs a trip to A&E and that it is not only the preserve of the ’emo/goth teen’. It is not always a cry for help. And it is not attention-seeking in nature. So here I am now, sharing something that to me is intensely private, but may help dispel some myths and stigma.
Walking Down The Tracks
The bubbles on top of the bath water crackle and pop, punctuating the silence. It’s late and I lie there soaking, my ears straining to pick up the night-song of the village. Cars rumble on past infrequently in the distance and an occasional farewell shout cuts through the Sunday night slumber, but mostly every thing is quiet and still. My breath suddenly seems obscenely loud, so I concentrate and muffle it, slowing it down, making it so shallow that I begin to feel a little light-headed. I savour the realisation, then push my consciousness back out again, searching for the mellow ‘hoo-hoo’ of the resident owl in the copse next door. However, tonight he is silent too. I wait for the disappointment that usually follows notice of his absence, but nothing changes within.
I take a deep breath in to alleviate the oxygen debt and shift slowly in the water, unpeeling my backside from the bottom of the bath and sink back, re-settling. An image flashes into my head of myself weighed down and naked, landing on the bottom of a river bed. Dirt particles whirl up around me.
I am alone.
No, I feel alone. I am not actually alone in the house. My daughter sleeps soundly in the adjacent room; I can hear her peaceful snoozing. It holds relief and respite; I feel love and it hurts. My husband has relegated himself to the sofa – the two of us catching colds simultaneously means an uninterrupted nights sleep is only possible through separation. There is relief and respite; I feel love, but less fervently and that hurts.
One of my cats jumps up onto the side of the bath tub. She sits there, purring, rubbing her head on my hand, the end of her tail dangling into the lukewarm water. She’ll taste of soap when she next washes it. I move my hand and burrow my fingertips amongst her fur and feel its soft, fluffy warmth. Her winter coat is nearly complete. I wait to feel the comfort she brings by her presence, a furry black sentinel every bath time. And wait… tonight’s obviously not the night. I feel alone. I am not alone. Do I even really feel?
I sigh, frustrated in the calm and so I kick the plughole seal open. The world outside sleeps in preparation for the week ahead. I don’t need to prepare. What is there to prepare for? I don’t work – I am physically incapable of dealing with everyday work stress and all my subsequent self-employment endeavours have come to naught, so I am left with the fall-back of motherhood as my raison-d’etre. I chastise myself for my failure in the modern world of successful working mothers. I know that being a full-time mother is a job in itself, but when others point it out to me it rings hollow with patronisation. I have become useless to all society save my offspring, my sole purpose now is to raise her to achieve more than her mother. Which wouldn’t be difficult.
The last of the water gurgles away down the pipes and I remove the cat, then step out onto the tiles, grabbing a towel to wrap around myself before the cat rubs round my legs or decides to ‘help’ by licking me dry. I blot myself perfunctorily before heading into the empty bedroom. I know what’s coming next. I’ve been tip-toeing around it for days, weeks, maybe months, usually only in fleeting moments, but they’ve been growing stronger for a while. It’s inevitable, just a question of when, not if. The last time was about 2 months ago. Just a couple of nicks, nothing serious; a purposeful walk into the edge of a door, a passing punch strong enough to bruise my thigh. But what about now? No. Nothing serious. You’re lacking the desperation for something serious. That was never your problem – it’s the expanse of blankness that’s the issue here.
I perch myself on the edge of my bed and think, without actually thinking. Where? Arms? Too visible. Too many accidental reveals, too many questions from concerned loved ones. I finger the clear white lines on my fore-arm. Evenly spaced, pure, perfect. Not so deep to make real ridges, but enough for me to feel them still. Solid enough to never tan. My history written for my own perusal: you remember that one? Of course you do – the exact place, the time, the reason. You even have a favourite scar. I slowly, slowly trace the lines down my arm, the miniscule bumps of each one. I call them my train tracks. It’s nothing to do with dental braces, they remind me of railway sleepers. Some are fading away. As much as I am tempted to, I can’t add to them. It would be too noticeable – red lines on pale skin in weather that still permits short sleeves? No. Besides, they’re for me, not anyone else. Legs? Yes, legs. Not stomach, that would be far too dangerous, the notion of removing fat just a little too tempting. A leg it is then.
I pull open my underwear drawer and push my hand through my socks and pants straight to the corner where I know they are hidden. My fingers close around the small plastic box and I pull it out, then place it on my bedside table. Such a small thing. Such a huge thing. I slide one of the thin orange packets from off the top and carefully peel back the wrapper. The irony of such diligence is not lost on me. The blade glints in the lamp-light, beckoning, cruel and seductive. My heart beats a hard, errant thump and I pick up the razor blade delicately between my fingers before choosing a spot on my inner thigh. Not too high, please, and avoid the femoral artery. Not that you would ever cut that deep anyway.
Time stops, is wound backwards, twists inwards, tightly bound. I place the corner edge of the blade to my waiting skin. It’s soft and pliant from the bath, warm and yielding. I begin to press down.
Aah! The pain – feel the pain. I close my eyes and wince. Ow! It’s sharp, stinging and cold. God, it expands into everything. I pull the blade now, slowly, carefully, drawing the thin line. The blood doesn’t come immediately; superficial cuts don’t spout in anger. I stretch and squeeze the skin and then the red blossoms within the groove. Yes!! Again, deeper now, the pain’s not so prominent, but still enough to draw breath. This one blooms instantly, bright ruby red jewels dotting the line, growing into larger drops. Another – things are always good in threes, right? Three two-inch streaks decorate a white canvas. Not enough, not enough, more, now and again, pressing, pulling, squeezing; the pain gone, irrelevant now, it’s the blood that matters. Seven. Hey, seven’s your lucky number! So that’s where I stop. Seven new scars made. A new train track to walk my fingers down. To probably add to some day.
I press a wad of tissue against the cuts, making more rose-red blots on snow white; it’ll take a minute or two to stop bleeding. My heart slows, my chest relaxes and a knot unties in my intestines that I hadn’t even known was there. It’s almost a sexual release, a post-orgasmic chill as the world settles back down around me. I feel calm and nothingness, but not the same nothingness that ached before. I hear one of the cats trot down the stairs and then hiss and growl at the other. I roll my eyes and pull on my pyjama bottoms, pausing as I clock the fact that they are cream coloured. I hope the blood has clotted now. I’ll have to be wary dressing and undressing in front of my husband for the next few days. As if he heard my thoughts, I hear him shuffling on the sofa in the room below. A lightning flash of guilt courses through me, but then it’s gone.
I sink into the mattress and luxuriate in the sensation of the cotton duvet cover sliding over my feet and calves. The radiator glugs as the heating kicks in, the Autumn temperatures having just dropped below the desired constant. Outside, the distinctive call of the returning owl pierces the night. My heart swells. I smile and turn out the light.