Chasing Tomorrows

Copyright, Darcy

In my memory, it seems hazy. Perhaps the room was smoky from incense as it often was in those days. I was standing on a stool, stapling pictures to my ceiling. The phone was cradled between my ear and shoulder as I carried on what might be considered a conversation in the loosest sense of the term. I was talking to one of those random middle-school boyfriends that only last a week at best. I lost my balance and fell off the stool, squealing into the phone. Frustrated, I threw the stapler and picked up a lighter. My then-boyfriend was putting together a stereo, I remember. I started playing with the lighter, seeing how long I could keep the flame lit. For some reason, an idea popped in my head. I kept the lighter lit for a few minutes, and then pressed the hot metal to my arm. It made a popping sound, and it hurt like hell. But I kept it there for a long time, long enough that when I lifted it, a small white bubble appeared. I still have the scar. I guess you could say I fell in love that night.

It has so many names: Self-injury, self-mutilation, self-harm, self-inflicted violence, cutting, parasuicide, self-abuse. I personally prefer the term self-injury, because I feel it explains it the most bluntly. Self-injury is exactly what it claims it is — causing injury to oneself. Yet if it were that simple, why does it still evoke so much fear, so much stigma, and so many myths? Why do people find it so disgusting? If one out of every 200 teen girls aged 13 to 19 self-injures regularly, why is it still such a big secret? And if one out of ten adolescents has deliberately hurt themselves, why is it so shameful? (

First, let’s take a look at what self-injury isn’t. It isn’t something done for the purpose of body decoration (tattoos, piercing, scarifications). It has nothing to do with sexual pleasure, nor spiritual enlightenment. People don’t do it to be cool or fit in with a crowd. It isn’t a suicide attempt. Self-injury does not necessarily imply severe, chronic mental disorders such as psychosis or schizophrenia, nor does it indicate the catch-all diagnosis of a borderline personality. The self-injurer is usually not an attention seeker, nor is he or she manipulative.

Methods of self-injury vary from person to person. Cutting is by far the most common. People may also burn themselves with heat or chemicals, hit themselves repeatedly, break their own bones, pull out their hair, ingest toxic substances, or a number of other harmful behaviors. ( So why do people turn to such dangerous behavior?

First and foremost, self-injury is a coping mechanism. Jane feels overwhelmed by negative emotions. Jane takes a razorblade, cuts her arm, and feels those emotions lift — if only for a little while. She might feel that the blood flowing out of her body is carrying the bad feelings out with it; a sort of cleansing. She may feel that it’s a release, that the cutting relieves the pressure she may feel. She maybe also uses it as an alternative to crying, as a way to feel emotions that she may be otherwise numb to. She may also choose it as a means of self-punishment. Over time, this escape becomes somewhat of an addiction, both psychologically and physically. Jane loses the ability to deal in any other way, so she turns to hurting herself more frequently, and often, more severely. She also begins to seek out the depression-relieving endorphins that are released when she hurts herself. ( Why does it make her feel better?

“People see the scars, look, stare — some even dare ask why I do it? Because I can. Nobody else cares about me, so why should I? You say you can help me but you can’t take away the pain. You can’t drain it from me like it seeps out in my blood. Nobody can.” (Quoted in

It works in a variety of ways. On one level, it simply eases emotional turmoil. In a way, it temporarily rids a person of their internal pain through the external pain. It works very quickly and that’s where the addiction comes into play. During my senior year of high school, I found myself cutting or burning myself every single morning, just so that I could make it out the door. It’s very similar to an alcoholic who has to have a drink to make it through the day. Also, some people never learn how to cope effectively. Many self-injurers are raised in an abusive environment. As strange as it may seem to someone on the outside, they hurt themselves because the pain is familiar. On another level, they hurt themselves as punishment. An anorexic girl might burn herself because she has eaten (what she feels is) too much for a day. And with any mental disorder, brain chemistry also comes into play. Causing injury to oneself releases endorphins, alleviating depression for a short time. When you look at these reasons, it’s not as hard to imagine why someone would resort to self-injury. (

But why should you care? Because, as I stated earlier, so many people are engaging in this behavior. Perhaps you think no one you know would do such a thing. You’re probably wrong. I myself dealt with self-injury for years, and I can tell you, we hide it well. Long sleeves, pants, strategically placed bracelets and wristbands… staples in the wardrobe of the self-injurer. You should care because over half of self-injurers have tried to overdose on drugs, and one-third expects to be dead within a year. (

“…The last time I cut, I cut all the way to the fat in my thigh… A couple days later I was in a fitting room with my little sister who is seven, and she was like ‘Oh my, sissy! What happened to your leg? That’s a big owie, how did that happen?’ How do you explain that to your seven-year-old sister who thinks that you hung the moon? You don’t.” (Quoted in

I’ve been on both sides of the glass. I’ve been the one with the scabs and scars, medicated and hospitalized, in and out of therapy, leaving a trail of worried and scared loved ones in my wake. I’ve seen my parents in tears, as I sat curled in a hospital chair, trying to fade into the standard mauve-and-green fabric. I’ve had random strangers grab my arm, point to a scar, and ask, rather accusingly, what happened. Dissolved in shame, I’ve confessed to my boyfriend that I failed at being okay, and slipped, and cut again. And the look on the face of someone I love when they find out, “Oh, Darcy screwed up again,” is not something I care to see ever again.

And I’ve watched my friends and family falling into the self-injury cycle themselves. I’ve read diaries detailing where, how, and why someone I love has cut themselves. I’ve seen scars and cuts when someone got a little careless about hiding them. Maybe she forgot and let her shirt sleeve ride up a little, or maybe she was quietly screaming for help. But it seems there’s a bit of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” vibe about it. You see it, but you pretend otherwise. To this day, when someone asks me about the scars on my arms or legs, it feels like the first time I got caught. I startle, jump a bit, lower my eyes, and then, depending on my mood, mutter some unbelievable lie (it’s that damn cat, I swear!) or tell them that yes, I used to cut myself, and no, I don’t anymore. Laugh about it. “Oh, that? I used to be crazy. I take my pills now, like a good little girl.” You make it seem like nothing, because you don’t want them to worry, nor badger you with questions, nor find out your deepest darkest secret — that you’re not as strong as you’d like them to believe, and that you’re terrified you might fall again.

Because in the back of your mind, it taunts you. Like a little voice in your head, it tempts you with razorblade daydreams and easy ways out. You weigh the options, and eventually, you refuse to give in anymore. My reasons for stopping are different from others’ reasons. What works for me won’t work for everyone. But I’m just sick of lying, sick of hiding. I want to wear shorts in the summer, instead of sweating in jeans. I remember the hospitals, the voices on the phone angry with me for weakening and slipping back into old habits. I think about the loss of trust, the loss of freedom, and the loss of privacy that would accompany another inpatient stay. I picture the expression on my wonderful boyfriend’s face if he would find out that I’d cut again. I can’t do that to him. I imagine, years from now, having a child. Then I hear that child ask me about my scars, and there’s nothing that you can say to that. There’s just nothing.

There are ways you can help someone who self-injures. The number one thing they need is someone to listen. Without judgment. Without threats. Without prejudice. That’s why therapy is so helpful. The therapist can offer unbiased advice, without the emotions that cloud the minds of someone close to the self-injurer. Also, it’s common that these people have an underlying mental condition that complicates things. Someone with clinical depression or bipolar disorder is going to experience intense emotions that are more likely to trigger self-injurious behavior as compared to the average human emotional spectrum. They need to get the illness itself under control before even attempting to stop hurting themselves. What is so hard for others to grasp is that self-injury is not done to annoy, anger, or provoke them. Many caretakers in emergency rooms and hospitals have the attitude that because the self-injurer did this to him or herself, he or she does not deserve the same level of care as someone who hurt him or herself on accident. ( These people need as much care, if not more, because they too are very sick. They’re in immense pain, only on the inside, where medical workers don’t always care to look. There’s more to be done than just bandaging a physical laceration. The doctor has to work at finding the person hiding behind the scars, and then find a way to fix emotional wounds that are so deep, one could get lost in them. And indeed, someone has. There’s no band-aid to cure self-injury. But there’s help, an extended hand for someone to grasp while they pull themselves out.

Someone who self-injures is caught in a whirlpool of sorts. The one thing that we depend on is something that is considered bad for us. So we have to build an elaborate web of deceit, much like someone hiding a drug addiction. This hurts us as much as it does you. In fact, it contributes to our downward spiral. We lie, feel guilty for lying, cut ourselves to alleviate the guilt, then it starts over — we have to lie again. Tomorrow will be better, we tell ourselves. Tomorrow I’ll do better; I’ll start over, a clean slate. Only every tomorrow turns to today, and we always ruin today. We spend our lives chasing that tomorrow, that tomorrow that never comes. We cut our skin, trying to carve our imperfect bodies into something pure and beautiful. We hurt ourselves physically to ease the pain that ravages our insides. We hide behind our scars because we don’t know what we are deep inside, and what we do know we are, we hate. Growing up in a world that hates us, we just never learned quite how to live. And it’s as simple as that. No sideshow freaks, no scary psychotic asylum patients… just a bunch of people who are essentially broken in some way, waiting for the day to come when they will find the strength to fix themselves. And that day will come. Eventually they will realize they’ve hit rock bottom. “And that there is, in fact, an incredible freedom in having nothing left to lose.” (Hornbacher, 279).


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