Finding A Reason To Wake Up: Warbler
Trigger warning: self-injury and self-sexual abuse.
I know my older brother cut himself. Sometimes he was just overly rough in whatever he was doing and got hurt that way. I remember him sitting on the other corner of the table as my dad made us study Koine Greek together. He glared at my father with hate-filled eyes and used his one set of fingernails to scrape up and down the inside of the other arm. He got spanked about 3 times as much as we girls did. He was “strong-willed” and didn’t seem to care how much they hurt him. He boasted that he was never hurt and that they could/would have to try harder. He was always “the rebel” and was the first one to defy our parent’s authority.
The eldest sister was “perfect” and I didn’t think she did anything like that until her ‘courtship’ went up in flames and daddy grounded her and threatened severe repercussions for ever touching the computer or getting online ever again. I was in the other room listening to all of this, hiding. She found me late and we sat there mutely staring at each other. She said she was going to run away and she had a plan. I was scared and I didn’t want her to get caught and punished worse, because that is what daddy always threatened. But I looked deeply into her eyes; and I knew that if she did not get away, one of us would find her dead in her bedroom the next day.
I was a “chicken” in the fullest sense of the word. I never had the courage to actually cut my own skin. But I would exacerbate any wound or scab by picking at it fiercely and not letting them completely heal. I would pick at the corners of my fingernails until I pulled off skin down the the cuticles that would bleed and ache for a week. I would allow myself to get burned when I was cooking and wish the pain would keep going. I developed a very high pain tolerance as I refused to care for bruises or cuts and attempted to “be tough” about them.
I had an active imagination and I would imagine myself doing things. I hated being in the kitchen with the knives because I was never sure when imagination would lead to reality and I would “snap.” Sometimes I wanted to snap. Other times my primal instincts kicked in and I fought myself for life. Because I saw myself as worthless and ugly and bad.
An Active Imagination
I hurt myself specifically from the time I was 10 until I was 17 or 18. I know for a fact that homeschooling made this a problem because had I been taught more, I would not have used this to hurt myself. A sex-ed class would have taught me much sooner that what I was doing was damaging.
I hurt myself sexually. I would imagine some scenario where I was being forcibly raped or forced into being a sex-slave. I would ball up a towel or a sheet and I would lay on top of it until I rubbed my skin raw (and sometimes rub it off). I did not know much of anything about human sexuality, or why it hurt so much, but I would walk around in pain every step I took for a couple days and then do it again the next week. I did not even know that it was “masturbating” or what that word meant until I was 14, and at that time, I was told only that it was a sin. I stopped for a couple of months because of fear, but having no other outlet, I began hurting myself again semi-regularly. I was able to hide it even though I shared a room for most of my life. I didn’t get any other information about sex until I was at least 16. When I first understood the workings of sex, I was grossed out and immediately shut off the conversation.
It took me over a year to realize that what I was doing was actually sexual and bad for me physically. By that time I had an outlet for myself in a homeschooled social circle, a pet to care for, and an outdoor hobby (gardening) that gave me exercise, sunshine, and something to love and invest myself into. I was incredibly depressed most of my teenage years and I know that was a big reason for my self-abuse.
Another reason, I believe, was because when I had a crush on a young man (he was 12, I was 9) my parents squelched it quickly and shamed me for it. Instead of helping me develop my relationship skills and experience, I was made emotionally stilted. My next male-interest wasn’t for another 11 years, but it fell apart due to my relationship-immaturity and inability to ‘learn’ years of relationship-growth-experiences/consequences in two years. It caused a lot of pain and I think it was because I would have been a very different person if I had a larger social group. I am the girl that has crushes on everybody. Had I been able to express those and have them dealt with in a reasonable manner (not told to save everything for courtship, or when I was “ready” to be a wife and mother) I could learn what men were interested in me for me, what crushes were stupid and should have bad consequences, and what it took to make relationships work.
Homeschooling meant that my parents controlled my outward actions around men with fierce looks, codes of conduct, chaperones, and stringent rules. So my emotions turned inward in a bad way. I would imagine violent scenarios and hurt myself personally. I could hide it from them because sexuality was never again discussed. Homeschooling kept me away from my peers, leaving me with the romantic-relationship-IQ of a toddler.
When it comes to relationships with authorities; I am co-dependent and I feel the need to hide any part of me I think they will censure. It was not healthy and it is something I still struggle with, personally.
Advice For Others Who Struggle
Find a healthy outlet. Depression kills.
Go jogging, or plant a morning glory, grow an herb garden and start making tea, or adopt a pet, or volunteer at a shelter, or buy a junk car and find parts at a junk yard to get it running, or restore a painting.
Or climb Mount Everest.
Find something that you love and that you can pour your energy and emotions into: a place to give.
When you find a reason to get up every morning, you will not want pain any more. I remember taking a shower and screaming into the gushing water, because that was the only place they couldn’t hear me.
It eats you up inside and I know you want to be free.
Advice To Parents
Dear Parents: Your kid is struggling. Don’t say this isnt your kid. I know they are.
This is not 1% who have a few problems, it is the 99% who hide it.
Your kid is struggling because you have set up a shame-based system of right and wrong. If you ask them, they will deny it because they don’t trust you and they don’t want to be shamed even more. They know their failings more personally than you have ever had occasion to point out and they have internalized it.
You know that one issue that never seems to go away? It’s a sign that something rotten is eating away at their heart.
The bad news (no, the first part wasn’t the bad news): you cannot really do anything about it at this point. Your child does not trust you; your words and actions and rules and teaching and religious views are largely the reason that this behavior began and has been happening.
You cannot stop it until after you prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are changing. And that will take a lot of time, more time than it will take for them to grow up and move away. So I suggest that you do major damage control by being as brutally honest about your failings first. Don’t expect anything from them except to try to live with you as you learn to listen. Get books and read them and ask your child for help. And if they actually tell you something: do everything they say. Don’t argue, don’t talk back, don’t tell them that you never taught that. Take what they say and live it.
Maybe after a couple years they will start trusting you enough to share their lives with you. When you demand your child give you her heart, she will give you the one you want to see. Her real heart will be hidden as far away as it takes to stay alive.
I have this one quotation saved in my email drafts with the title “Raising Children”:
“The only hope you should have is that they will gladly share their own adult journey with you.”