WARNING: Discussion of self-harm and other destructive behaviors
I’m a tiny bit embarrassed to admit it, but this past weekend, I was tooling around the back roads in my car, listening to my iPod when a song by a favorite artist queued up. Most of the songs on the CD are about standing up for yourself, not letting anything hold you back any longer, and there is an underlying theme of getting out of abusive relationships and situations. It’s a powerful CD by a great artist, Anna Nalick. So when “Scars” began playing, I started singing along–only to be struck like a sledgehammer when I finally realized what the song was about.
It was about cutting.
I was staggered by two things: first, the fact it took me so long to recognize the meaning of a song I’ve listened to several times before. I’ve lived with a cutter. I know the signs. Sadly, knowing the signs doesn’t always mean you understand what compels some people to self-harm. In my defense for not picking up on the meaning of the song, in it, the singer speaks to that part of her that self-harms as though it is another person outside of herself, and the first couple of times, that’s how I heard it: that the singer cared about someone who she wasn’t going to give up on, someone in a dark place that needed help. Once I realized she was speaking about herself–the part of her that was twisted and in pain, I was gobsmacked.
The second revelation followed closely upon the first: there are many more ways to self-harm than cutting. You can practice self-harm by staying in a bad relationship, or eating the wrong foods, drinking too much, using drugs, or simply by hating yourself.
I hit replay on the song I don’t know how many times. All because of one line: Know that I forgive you.
Wow. I can’t tell you the effect that had on me. Here I am, on a lovely Sunday morning, tootling along country roads with a tired puppy in the back, having just gone on a hike in the woods. And this song hit me with something on the level of an epiphany: we have to accept the part of us that is destructive in order to heal. We have to learn to love the whole of us, even the parts we hate, in order to get better. Sure, today we might not be the person we want to be, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be that person tomorrow. Aside from habit and exhaustion, two things that make it very hard to change anything about our lives, I think it’s critical we stop denying that part of us that hurts, the part that uses pain and distress as a coping mechanism, that says, this pain (be it the way you feel when you slice skin or the way you feel when you binge and purge or whatever your not-so-great coping mechanism might be) is better than the pain you were feeling before–of being unloved, unwanted, unworthy.
And when I sang those lyrics about forgiveness, I felt something inside me shift. Something I hadn’t even realized was bound in chains. Something gave, took a deep breath, and said, “Okay. We’ve got this.”
We. As in all the parts of me. The good and the bad. The parts I like (which admittedly are few) and the parts I dislike (the list of which seems to grow longer each year).
No, I don’t think I’m magically healed. You don’t spend a lifetime running a negative commentary on yourself and erase its effects overnight because of a pop song. I don’t think I’m going to immediately stop doing the things that are counter-productive to the life I want to lead. I suspect I’m going to find myself choosing between the lesser of two evils for a long time to come. But I think I’ve taken a big first step here because I realize now it is a choice. I can choose to keep walking in the direction I want to go or remain stuck in a quagmire of angry thoughts and bad decisions.
I choose to sing.