I started cutting myself, self-injury cutting, when I was 9 years old. It was the beginning of fifth grade for me. It should have been a good year. I got to wear a new uniform, a skirt and blouse instead of a childish jumper. I was one of the upper classmen in the small school, and one step closer to 8th grade when I would graduate, get out of there and move on to high school. But that year, in September, my grandmother was killed by a drunk driver. I had a special relationship with her that's hard to explain. I always knew that she understood me better than anyone, even my parents. When my mother wanted me to have more friends or different friends or to be more social, my grandmother told her that she would have to accept me the way that I was because I was never going to be like the other kids. She told my mom that as long as I was happy, there was nothing to worry about. My parents were good about a lot of things, but somehow Mommom always understood me better. When she died, it seemed like I lost more than just a grandmother. I lost a friend, a confidant and a mentor.
My dad woke me up the morning after she died. It was early, before my alarm clock had gone off. I remember his exact words.
"Lauren," he said. "You have to get up now. Mommom's dead. It's okay to cry." Just like that. Bang. Reality check. A hard thing for a father to have to tell his child, I'm sure. I believed him, but it didn't seem real, not when I went to the viewings or to the funeral or when my parents went to court to testify against the drunk driver. I knew what dead was, but I couldn't apply it to my Mommom. Then, one day, I realized dead meant that no one would ever understand me ever again. At least that's how it felt.
How I Became "One of Those People Who Cut"
That night, I sat in the basement, in front of the TV, took my good old Swiss Army knife out of my pocket and cut myself, a diagonal cut on the back of my left arm. I don't know what made me do it, or why I thought that it would make me feel better, but it did. It made me feel strong and it made me forget my sadness. I didn't know exactly what I had done or the potential ramifications, but I knew that I couldn't tell my parents. They had other things to worry about.
I didn't cut myself again until high school. I cut myself twice in the 4 years that I was in high school, and I don't remember being particularly upset or emotional at the time. I just needed to know that I could still do it, that I was still strong enough. I remember friends talking about eraser burns on their hands, but I didn't consider it the same as what I did. I didn't think that I was doing anything at all, certainly not anything that had a name or that was potentially addicting. I know differently now, of course.
Cutting Made Me Feel Strong, In Control
When I went away to college, it got much worse. I was becoming a full-fledged self-injury cutter. I don't know if it was just the stress of trying to adapt to being away from home, or always feeling like I wanted to cry, or not having anyone to talk to that made me feel so weak and vulnerable. But I knew that cutting made me feel strong and in control and in some ways worthwhile. Late at night, alone in my room, it would make me feel better, stronger than the girl who was afraid of so much, who always wanted to cry. I'd cut a slash into an arm or leg or wrist, cut until I'd forget about everything but the cut. The pain didn't bother me; the blood didn't bother me. Surely this meant that I was strong. I would do the same the next day and the next, cutting in the same place. As I felt better about myself, I would let the cut heal a day and then cut it open again, then maybe wait two days until I cut it open again. Slowly it would heal, until the next time I felt like my emotions and my fear were getting the best of me. Because of this, I don't have a lot of scars, but the self-harm scars that I do have are fairly obvious.
A Self Injury Cutter. Explain That!
I lived in a dorm on campus for 2 years. I guess it was inevitable that one of my roommates would find out about it. I mean, how many boxes of bandaids and gauze pads can a normal person use anyway? Near the end of my sophomore year, my roommate found out I was a self-injury cutter. I didn't particularly like her anyway, so she was the last person that I wanted to know. But she took a picture of me one day. She just knocked on the door and as soon as I opened it, she snapped the picture. A lovely picture of me with a very startled look on my face, and my right hand holding open the door, wrist facing the camera, cuts for all to see. It was careless of me, and I can't help but smile sarcastically as I'm thinking about it now. I should have known better than to wear short sleeves in my own room. So she confronted me about it later and when she showed me the picture, I admitted it. Yes, I was a self injury cutter.
I tried to explain as calmly as I could, even though I was frantic with worry. People finding out has always been one of my worst fears. I told her that yes, sometimes I cut myself. I am very careful. I have never been suicidal. I don't want anyone to know. And I looked at my watch and realized that I was going to be late for an English class. I told her not to do anything, that I'd talk to her more after my class.
I wish I had read something about how to talk to someone about self-injury. I think that maybe it would have turned out better if I had skipped the class, because, of course, she panicked and told the Resident Assistant (who is just a graduate student that gets free room and board for living in the dorm and keeping the rest of us in line). The RA called me into her office that evening and told me that I would have to get counseling at the university counseling center or I would be kicked out of the dorm and be put on behavioral probation until I either graduated or complied. It may not seem like much of a threat, but I was terrified. I couldn't get kicked out of the dorm. How would I explain that to my parents? And behavioral probation - I was a good student in class and in the dorm. I followed the rules to the letter. I didn't want that on my record.
So I went to the counselor, an older man with long bushy grey hair and wire rimmed glasses. It wasn't as bad as I expected, but it wasn't very good either. I signed a paper insisting that the only information that could be released if anyone asked was that I was there, so that was one less thing to worry about. And once I managed to convince him that I wasn't suicidal, he spent the rest of the hour pretty much telling me stuff that I already knew. He told me that I could be institutionalized for doing what I was doing, which is certainly incentive to at least pretend to recover in a hurry. Basically, he said that I should stop self-injuring because there are better and healthier ways of dealing with things. So I went for a few months, until he decided that I wasn't being helped and that since I wasn't going to kill myself, I was okay. I have to admit that I didn't put forth my best effort either. I didn't want to be there, and I made sure that everyone knew it. My roommate moved out not long after she found out about my little secret, and the next year I moved into a one room apartment off campus, one of the best decisions that I've ever made.