Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The First Time I Self-Injured, I Thought I'd Invented It

[Trigger warning:  This post is about self-injury.  Also, I lifted most of the title from a Chuck Palanhiuk novel.  That's probably not a trigger, but I want you to know I know.]

When I was in high school, I started hitting myself in the head.  Slapping quickly progressed to closed fisted punching.  Eventually I escalated to banging my head against the wall of my bedroom.  

The first time I did it was fairly instinctual -- I think.  I don't remember if it was before or after I'd first heard of cutting, but the idea of cutting was unappealing to me because I was self-conscious enough about my body already and didn't want to add scars to the list of attributes I felt I had to hide.  When I hit myself though, it was instinctual.  I didn't know anyone had ever done that before.  The physical pain anesthetized my emotions.  It was immediate.  It felt good simply because I didn't feel as bad anymore.

I don't remember what prompted each occasion I hit my head, or any of the occasions.  I had a hard time living at home with my parents, especially after the dawn of adolescence, which also coincided with the start of my mother's prescription drug abuse.  I had plenty of friends and did well in school, but I was not entirely well and home was not a happy place.  I hit myself a lot the year I was, I think, seventeen.  Seventeen was hard.  I remember dreaming that I was graduating and moving away and then awakening to find myself still a junior in high school.  I cried and cried.  The cheap wood-paneled walls of my bedroom gave a satisfying vibration when I slammed my head against them.

I eventually developed a dull, lingering headache that lasted for weeks.  I don't often get headaches, so I was a bit alarmed.  I think now, in hindsight, I had possibly given myself a minor concussion.  At the time though, I thought I might have caused a brain bleed.  My grandmother suffered a brain aneurysm not long before this time, and I worried that I might have caused some kind of hemorrhage in my brain that was going to kill me.  My primary concern wasn't so much the dying as the possibility that God would count my self-initiated brain hemorrhage as a sort of "long con" suicide attempt and that I would burn in hell for all eternity for instigating it. 

In a panic, I bargained with God that I would stop hitting myself in the head if he would excuse me from dying of a brain hemorrhage and burning in hell.  I stopped hitting myself, and within a couple of weeks my headache subsided.

I took up banging my head against the wall again in the final year or two of my contact with my mother.  I don't remember the circumstances.  My mother was at her worst in terms of leaving me raging voicemails and waging campaigns against me with family at that time.  It was around the same time I started drinking and actively researching suicide techniques (spoiler alert:  the most effective ones sound horrifying).  I don't remember any of this in reference to self-injury though.  I just remember the apartment where I lived at the time.  My bedroom had an exposed brick wall, and I made the mistake of banging my head into it.  Just once.  It hurt.  It hurt really, really bad.  There was no satisfying vibration or echo or even a thud.  It barely made a sound and it HURT, and the bricks were actually sharp.  I remember that wall.  I stopped not too long after that and haven't taken it up again. 

Now I know that 45+ minutes of high intensity cardio creates the same numbing effect in me, except my head doesn't hurt and the only physical sensation is a sort of warm, sore, jellied feeling in my muscles.  It isn't as immediate an effect, but it's close enough.  This end note sounds off here to me, like it doesn't belong with the rest of the story, but I think it's worth noting it's hard to quit self-injuring without finding a coping tactic with which to replace it.  I didn't come up with exercise right away either.  I don't remember that time all that well, but I probably just drank more for awhile, until that stopped helping too.

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