There are few things in the recovery journey that feel worse than taking those backwards steps. You work so hard to move forward and heal, only to feel like a failure. With any invisible illness, many people can't understand your ups and downs. You feel confident in your progress, and then suddenly everything is seemingly collapsing around you.
I will carry my scars with me for the rest of my life. Some are shallow, some were cut deep. They became almost a badge of honor in a way, something I wasn't proud of but had accepted as part of my story. When I was a competitive swimmer, I had limited areas for self harm. So I started cutting my stomach, and I didn't care with what. Knives, thumbtacks, scissors. Carving the verbally abusive words I was repeating in my mind on a constant loop: bitch, unloved, fuck up. I would press a knife into the soles of my feet until blade couldn't go any farther. Somehow only my forearm remainded scarred, which I'm grateful for- fewer explanations to be made. When the words were fresh, people began pointing it out. When they saw the words on my arm, I wasn't asked if I was ok. I was ridiculed. When I confessed to a friend I wanted to kill myself, I was told to shut up. I'm hesitant to be too harsh on them in retrospect, maybe that's how I would've handled the situation in their shoes. But at the same time, I don't think I would have. No one came forward then to confront me or an adult; I was left to suffer in silence. They were content to sit back and watch my life derail. I'm sure I was the subject of jokes, the freak put on display, unable to get her shit together. Or even worse, I was simply ignored.
Recently I had someone mock my scars. I was asked if I went home after work and started cutting myself, as though I were bored and that was my favorite hobby. It may have been a dry, sarcastic sense of humor, but there I was again, nothing more than a joke. I can't describe the feeling of relief I would get from the self harm, it could be similar to that of shooting up or taking a hit, but I've been pushing myself so relentlessly to adapt better coping skills. Yet in that moment, I wanted nothing more than to take a blade to my skin. Bad Carissa. Bad, bad. Stop fucking up. Stop ruining things with your immaturity. Punish yourself because that's what you deserve. And I wanted to so badly. And then I wanted to hurt that person. I wanted to beat them mercilessly, to understand my pain they so casually tossed aside. But my conscience won't let me; I can rationalize hurting myself for whatever reason but not innocent people. As much as they enrage me, I can't hurt them. I can't. So I channeled that anger. I punched a wall, got in my car and screamed in fury. It still may not be the healthiest coping method but I didn't cut myself. Small victories.
The biggest regression came in the form of another self-destructive habit: skin picking. Body-focused repetitive behaviors can manifest in different ways, but mine has always been picking at scabs, either real or non-existent. When I was stressed, anxious, angry, or just going about my day, my hands would be constantly at my face or legs. Rubbing at clear skin until there was a blemish I could dig into. Once there were scabs, it was game on. I pick at scabs like they're a disease I need to remove from my body immediately. Often times even minor wounds won't heal for months because I won't let them. The dark marks and scars litter the target areas. I'm 27 and still dealing with acne paramount to a super rough puberty, all because I've led myself to believe that picking my skin is the solution to my problems, the only way to feel better. Coupled with the self harm, it's as though I want to remove my skin entirely. I had made two months of progress and my skin cleared up like I'd never seen, and one cruel remark sent me back right to the beginning. Without the cutting I needed a release and apparently old habits really do die hard. I scratched and scratched until I had wounds to pick. It made me feel incredibly relieved in the moment only to be replaced by shame later on. The shame is overwhelming and I've spent the past few days telling myself I deserve the picking; I need to feel as ugly on the outside as I do on the inside.
Now, I don't know where I am. I suppose I'll bounce back from this, but not anytime soon. All I can feel is the darkness closing in and working up the will to push it back yet again. I'll make it out and then have to fight again and again and again. It's times like these I feel so exhausted that I want to give up, so I suppose if you're feeling this way as well, you're not alone. I had an old therapist tell me that recovery didn't mean everything was going to be perfect because there would still be setbacks, but it was how we push through the setbacks that defines our strength.
"This is for the hearts still beating." Converge