I remember being terrified the day I arrived on the S.A.F.E. Alternatives floor. I had signed the no-harm contract, wanting so badly to be rid of this horrible behavior, but having no idea how I was going to live without it, knowing how much pain I was still feeling. Some of those 30 days felt like the worst and longest of my life. But I learned so much about myself and I shared more of myself with the friends I made than I had with most of the people in my life. I’m grateful that S.A.F.E. was there to give me a place to laugh and cry with other people who had felt what I felt, who knew what it was like to hate your yourself, so feel sadness, and guilt, and anger so deeply that there seemed no other way to get rid of it but through self-injury.
But along with my new peers, I also met wonderful counselors who sat with me while I truly felt, for the first time, what it was like to live with these emotions. To talk about them with another person rather than holding it all inside. I think, though, what was most important in my healing, was that these people helped me to believe that I was a good person, worthy of happiness and kindness.
I must be honest in saying that after S.A.F.E. my life didn’t instantly get better, or even plateau with small peaks and valleys. I had two more hospitalizations after falling back into injury and a suicide attempt. My bipolar disorder was being treated with medication at the time that wasn’t controlling my moods as well as it could have, and I was constantly feeling unsteady.
Finally finding the right medication was a miracle to me, but that wasn’t enough to rebuild my life at school and the relationships with my family and friends. I have never forgotten the tools I learned at S.A.F.E. And to this day, I find myself utilizing alternatives without consciously reaching for them the way I would at the beginning.
Those of you who sigh and think, Am I always going to have to log? Am I always going to feel impulsive in this situation? Will I always look at my scars and wonder what I might have been if I had never started this? Perhaps. I am often asking hard questions of myself. I don’t think we would be human if we forgot to focus on the hardest parts of life. But I do know one thing: I would never have survived without the wonderful people in my life who cared enough to hold me close when I wanted to push them away. I know that the small steps add up, so that before you know it, you have walked miles, and you have become stronger than you ever imagined.
I am about to graduate from my university in the spring, and my days are filled with as much as I can fit into my planner. Sometimes I am rushing across campus, exhausted, and knowing that I am not even half-way through the obligations of my day. It is in those moments that I sometimes smile to myself because I know that two years ago I could never, ever have done what I am doing now. And so, in the moments now when I feel weak, and small, and tempted towards my impulses, I remind myself of the days when I thought self-injury made me strong.
I was wrong. Staying silent was my weakness. Holding in my pain was my weakness. You may feel small, and weak, and in pain. Do not despair. The strength to reach out is in you. I am certain of it.