Up to the age of six, I had a happy, loving family home, until my mother left and it was just me and my Dad.
Although I wasn’t strongly exposed to it at that age, she was an alcoholic. Being little, I didn’t understand the ins and outs, I just remember going off to play in my room because “Mummy had fallen asleep again”.
After she left, there was a short period when it was just me and my Dad, but he worked away a lot so time together was limited. At this point, I didn’t know where my mum was or why she had gone. Eventually I went off into boarding school, at the age of eight. My father met another woman who, with her daughter, lived with my father 30 minutes away from my boarding school, so they played happy families and I wasn’t included – although I was slightly aware of this at the time, it was only when I got older and thought about it that I realised this was how it really was for the younger me.
I ended up moving schools a number of times due to bullying and ended up in my last boarding school 150 miles from my home town. By this point (five years after my mum had left) I discovered that mum had attempted to send me letters but that they’d never actually reached me. So not only did I have the pressure of a new school and finding new friends, but also rebuilding a relationship with my mother. In the years that I didn’t see her and hearing of her alcoholism from my Dad, I had built up this image of someone who had turned teetotal and back on track since leaving. How wrong I was. Yet there was also her side of me hearing nothing but occasional letters from her for the past few years: she had turned up to the contact centres, as arranged by court, but I never appeared. I knew nothing of this. I remember going to these centres but her not turning up, but it seems I went on one day and she was told to turn up on a different one. This is just one of the guilt issues that surfaced during my early teens. Another issue is that I never have found out the true reason for my parents splittng.
So, at this point, I’m dealing with a drunken mother who at one minute acts like a mum, then the next, I’m the reason for her drinking. Then my father just puts money in my bank account and gets on with his life ‐ lots of financial support might seem great, but it’s the lack of emotional support that got to me. Then there was the usual bullying and teenage hormones to deal with. When I did start occasionally seeing my mum, when she went off on a drunken rant I would pinch myself to focus my emotional pain onto my body. She’d get angrier if I cried.
This was how it started. Living in a house full of teenagers where everyone knew everything, I didn’t want others to know my inner turmoil. In fact, I guess I felt a loss of my identity ‐ I felt like I didn’t know anything about my past and I had just imagined it. One day, after school ‐ I must have been about 11 ‐ I was upset over name calling and began pinching myself. I pinched and scratched until I drew blood. Then all my emotional pain turned into physical pain and seemed to go away.
It moved onto burning myself on the inside of my arm. I suppose it was a kind of warped idea that the longer I could cope with the searing pain, the better I could cope with the emotional stress. It then escalated to cutting on my arm. It was easy to hide as most other pupils suffered from more ‘obvious’, visible issues such as anorexia and bulimia, so peoples attention was drawn to them.
It was never all the time, the urge for pain always varied depending on if I could put all my focus on helping others ‐ I’m told that’s a trait of self-deprecating self-harmers: you will focus as much as possible on others, as if by helping them, you’re helping yourself. If my room mate or a friend was not happy over anything, I would be the one who listened and comforted them. This gave me a chance to focus on other peoples problems instead of mine.
I never told anyone, even when I was forced to go to counselling. At the time, I felt the counselling was pointless but at least it got me out of some lessons. Also, it kept the house parents off my back, who set me up to go after they noticed I was withdrawn and down. I kept my mouth shut because I was so ashamed. I was a pupil at a boarding school ‐ people thought I was the spoilt little rich child, and that all self-harmers want to commit suicide and I was happy to let them think that. It was better than the truth and as long as I always had my long tops or my sweatbands I felt like it would be ok.
It carried on this way for 10 years, from the age of 10 to 20. It was only when my best friend burst into tears repeatedly over what I was doing that I realised harming myself was harming others. I ended up telling her - she had been there and seen my mother at her worst, so when I was at breaking point, I rang her and told her. In fact, in recent years she revealed that she had memories of my Mum that I didn’t. That feels terrible, but after a long conversation, I know that she has always had the respect for me that I lacked in my low states. Our friendship has grown with our age, but the support she has shown me has been there all along. I just didn’t see it through the dark haze of depression.
I’m glad to say that I did get through it.
I realised that I needed to get myself on track, and hurting myself was getting me nowhere. I began enveloping my emotions instead of suppressing them, and throwing myself into studying to give myself the best future I could. The urge never goes away, I’m still far off from that. But I have coping mechanisms, I talk to someone - even the Samaritans if I can’t find anyone - as it helps so much. I also write a lot and create stories or plays that I let flow out without worrying how it will turn out. Or I just go out with my headphones, I don’t plan where but a change of scene makes a world of difference. On exceptionally bad days, I wear an elastic band round my arm and snap it to get the singeing sensation of self-harm, but leaving no mark. Doing this during recovery makes you think whether you actually need to harm yourself.
I just wish I’d done that 10 years ago.
I’ve managed to get my own life and still have some parent problems, but it’s happened for so long now that I’m used to it. I’ve just finished uni, have a partner and a good job and a better relationship with my family, but most importantly I have people around me who respect me for who I am and don’t judge me by what I’ve been through. The most important thing is that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel, you just have to keep walking to get there. When you do, you have beaten one of the toughest battles a person could face so feel proud of it. You don’t have to broadcast it, just know inside yourself that you’ve come so far.
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