If a friend confided they were in an abusive relationship I would tell them to run far away from danger, as quickly as possible. What do you say when the person they are most at risk from is themselves? Whether it’s self-mutilation with a sharp object, drinking to the point of unconsciousness or gorging to the point of sickness; self-harm comes in many forms. I am no mental health expert but being an absolute c**t to yourself? I could have a PhD in that.
The realisation that I am my own worst enemy came late in life. It was summer 2014 and I found myself in floods of tears in a stranger’s bed. I wasn’t drunk. I had engaged in consensual sex. He hadn’t harmed me in any way. Why was I crying? Because I had put myself in a position of extreme vulnerability without care for my safety. I had spent the summer indulging in a string of Tinder dalliances. I flirted aggressively, encouraging filthy chat and exchanging of pictures. I always wanted to meet. Looks were rarely important. I just needed to have that physical contact.
On this occasion I had jumped on a train straight from work to meet a relative stranger at his home. He was the fifth guy I had met from Tinder. We had previously met for a fairly tame hook up but in following weeks the flirtatious messages had kicked up a notch. When I arrived on his doorstep that Thursday I had put myself completely at his mercy, there were no boundaries, and he could do anything to me that he wanted. I wouldn’t utter a word of complaint. Trapped in a numb fog of depression and grief, I craved any feeling to bring me back to reality – even pain.
What followed would probably make Christian Grey blush. When the sex was over I felt an overwhelming wave of emotion, tears stinging my eyes immediately. I got up to go to the toilet so he wouldn’t see me cry but he caught sight of my pained expression and asked what was wrong. Cue four hours of sobbing and incoherent chatter. I was lucky he turned out to be a good guy, who held me gently while I cried. When the tears stopped he drove me home and told me to be careful because the next guy may not be so understanding. I would love to say offering myself up as some kind of sex toy stopped right there and then, sadly it’s never as simple as that.
I did seek professional help shortly afterwards. According to friends my self-destructive streak has been rife since my teenage years. I was always after obliteration; moderation and I were not friends. Whether it was alcohol which was consumed to the point of sickness or comfort eating my way from a size 12 to 16 in three months, I gave little care to my body, my mental health or the consequences of my exploits. Friends and family often talked about my actions amongst themselves but they never spoke to me directly. The general consensus was “I would grow out of it.”
Thankfully during therapy I discovered my behaviour wasn’t as uncommon as I thought. Have you ever repeatedly played a song guaranteed to make yourself cry? Deliberately watched a movie that yanks at the heartstrings when feeling low? Self-harm isn’t always about causing physical pain. It’s continually tugging at that thread that will cause you to unravel. Sadly, what can start as fairly innocuous behaviour can lead to more serious harm and even attempts at suicide.
Thankfully, there’s help available. Identifying the triggers of harmful behaviour is a good place to start. Keep a diary. Chart your moods. If you find yourself in a situation where the only comfort appears to be drowning your sorrows or dropping your knickers, ask yourself why? Life is difficult. It’s even tougher when you spend most of your time and energy disliking yourself…
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