juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
At Whitman, my first college, when my crazies evidenced in earnest but also when I started on birth control, I ended up a the student health office and I honestly can't remember if it was for one or the other. But at some point in my meeting with the nurse, I mentioned that I was a self-injurer. And the nurse, cool as cold, demanded to see my arms.

I think about that moment a lot.

I refused. It wasn't relevant to my treatment. Self-injury is serious business, but it is not likely to pose immediate, life-threatening danger; the wounds do not demand immediate medical attention. And that was in the back of my head, but the thoughts weren't awfully cogent. The immediate refusal came because I didn't cut my arms. I primarily injured my thighs, and injured them because they were the most private part of my body: I have always hated them and since adolescence have kept them hidden.

I thought a lot about self-injury, in my late teens/early twenties. I read books about it. I knew the various social and mental and biological motives; I knew that it was simultaneously private and appeal for help; I realized mine had grown into an addiction, but was also a symptom of my larger problems. I knew my self-injury better than a stranger, even a college nurse who probably saw tons of it. But it was the fact that she'd asked to see my arms which made that clear. There's some 18-year-old belligerence tied up in how I remember things, but I think 18-year-old me was right: right to feel presumed upon, right to feel unseen, right to feel as if this one piece of information had altered our conversation in ways it shouldn't've.

For better or worse, that's how I see my self-injury, now: how I feel when depictions of it trigger me, what I see in my scars, what I think when self-injurying behavior reoccurs—because it's better, but will probably never be entirely gone, and at this point I don't mind, it's more coping mechanism than addiction and I need all the coping I can get. I don't see what the nurse saw. I see my reaction, the knowledge that, as much as I fit every teenage girl stereotype, this thing was mine alone to define.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
[livejournal.com profile] kaimetso asked for "a deep and thorough explanation on your thoughts and feelings of alcohol/drugs, use, and people," so all of you get to hear, or at least see it blip up on your flist—because I don't mind at all if you ignore it. This is a personal, private thing and I know almost everyone has a different view—many held just as strongly. But I was asked, and this is a good "about me" to have out there, so I answer.

I don't use any sort of alcohol or drugs. I've had no more than two sips of alcohol in my entire life (one at a religious event, one before knowing the contents of the drink I was served); I've never smoked and never taken any sort of recreational drug. It's taken me years—and a lot of pain—to consider taking medication, and I limit my use to the bare minimum (rarely more than once a month). Obviously this is a important issue for me, but I don't often talk about it for the same reason I don't talk about my vegetarianism: I hold strong views and it's a personal choice and issue; it's not my business to change anyone else's life, so it's best I keep my views to myself and avoid, rather than speak against, the behaviors of which I don't approve.

I'm a depressive—which is my primarily and most rational reason for avoiding anything that could possibly be mind-altering. If I used drugs or alcohol it wouldn't be social or intermittent: I would use them in order to change my mental state, and I would want to continue taking them in order to maintain my changed mental state. And that right there is a recipe for addiction.

I know I would do this because I have. Any time I take medication, I have this urge—which was most obvious (and most recent) when I took Tramadol (see posts: one, two, three). Just one pill is enough to give me cravings for more, and if I have access to medication I will begin to take it daily rather than when I most need it. This became enough of a problem when I was living on my own in Portland that I stopped keeping Aleve and Benadryl in the house. For years I used self-injury to change my mental state—relying on the euphoria of cutting to break the numbness and disassociation caused by my depression, using the endorphins and lightheadedness of starvation to escape my usual mental state for days at a time.

The simple truth is, the world inside my head isn't particularly enjoyable. I have a low emotional baseline, I'm prone to moodswings and have experienced long periods of severe depression, and I have daily anxiety. I also have chronic pain, which is relevant here because of the link between pain and mood disorders and because many of the medications I'm exposed to treat pain. I'm at a good place right now, but these problems persist to lesser degrees and always have the chance to reoccur in their worst forms. Artificially changing my mental state is twice-dangerous: I enjoy the improved mental state enough to wish to preserve it, and when I return to my usual mental state it's so painful in comparison that I'm even more anxious to return cutting, or taking pills, or going another three days without food—whatever will change my mental state again. I know that this problem and cycle exists with OTC meds and self-injury. I assume that it would be similar for alcohol and recreational drugs, based on simple common sense and on the behavior I've seen in others. I could be wrong. Perhaps I could indulge socially, for the taste, or in moderation. But I don't trust myself enough to risk addiction in order to find out.

This is a personal, intense decision on my part, and it creates some unavoidable bias against the alcohol and drug use of others. I think it's stupid and dangerous, a bias no easier to shake for the fact that I've seen people use mind-altering substances for precisely all the reasons I've just discussed—and because most of the people I've seen drinking or using drugs are college-aged kids who get drunk, blare loud music, make out with strangers, and then vomit in the toilet. That creates rather negative associations.

Furthermore I don't trust people under the effect of a mind-altering substances. Inhibitions exist for a reason: they keep tongues civil and pants on; they make a person responsible for and in control of their own behavior. I require that the people around me have self control and that they remain themselves. It takes a lot for me to trust someone; if that person's mindset changes (which is what drugs and alcohol do), they are no longer the individual I trusted with my emotional and physical welfare. I feel like I've been thrust into a situation with a stranger, and that scares me. This issue begins close to home: when my mother drinks she becomes louder and confrontational, changing her from the woman I know and chose to be around, turning her into someone who's partially a stranger and partially reminiscent of how she acts when she's at her most angry and upset.

And I simply don't like to be in the presence of alcohol. I've decided not to use it precisely because part of me really wants to—and I don't want to put that part next to a bottle of booze.

Despite all of this I do have a certain degree of tolerance for drug and alcohol use, precisely because it's none of my damned business what choices others make. I know that my views are private, extreme, and sensitive. I know there are people who use mind-altering substances without health risk, addiction, or major behavioral change. But however extreme my views, they are my own—I've arrived at them after careful thought, and they exist for my own benefit. This is my lifestyle. I stand by it. What anyone else does with their body is their own business, but I prefer to avoid drugs and alcohol whenever possible and I don't condone using them, which is why it boggles me that anyone thinks I would ever sit down with them and an alcoholic beverage. I'm near as like to sit down with a stranger and a bottle of poison, because in my mind they are close cousins—and I would like to avoid them both.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
I was reminded today that I haven't spoken on self-harm in a long time. (Well that comes out of the blue, yes?) I haven't mentioned the topic because for a while now, it hasn't been an active issue in my life. But let me back up for a moment, because for a while now I've been meaning to summarize my history with self-harm.

Cut for potentially triggering but inexplicit discussions of self-harm, borderline eating disorders, and mental illness. )

This is part personal history and part public service announcement. It's been surprisingly unemotional to write, mostly because I am at peace with all of it now. But this topic will always be a part of my heart and as such, I am always willing to discuss it. Seriously. Poke me out of the blue to talk about self-injury concerns or to ask what the experience was like for me, and I will be happy to talk about it all. Or comment here, even! But if I can put one thing out there for everyone to read it is this: See self-injury for what it is. It's not shameful, it's not over-dramatic, it's not even the biggest problem. It is a valid, real symptom which indicates a valid, real issue somewhere behind it. It is pain, indicating pain.

And that's all. It's not something for angsty teens, not something that's only meaningful if it leaves a certain number of scars, not something that should be closeted away or met with despair. It is a painful symptom. It needs the same treatment that you'd give a stabbing pain in your knee: an investigation to try to determine its source.

Treating that underlying source, now that's a different kettle of fish and a different (no doubt far-off) post. And because self-injury is addictive, it can be a troublesome habit to kick and may never truly disappear. Be safe, be careful, and remember that confronting with the root cause is always the biggest, most effective step you can take.

If you are, were, or may be a self-harmer, I send you my undying love. Whether we're strangers or close friends, we are siblings of the heart in this matter and so I send mine to you. It you know a self-harmer, I send my support and gratitude. It can be a scary thing to see, but your willingness to accept it for precisely what it is can make a world of difference.


juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (Default)

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