After my first “Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to suck” chat, I went to sleep and dreamed I was in a shop belonging to TWLOHA, looking for things to purchase so that I, too, may spread this powerful message. The woman behind the counter bared no physical resemblance to anyone I know in real life, but she was kind and welcoming despite my obvious timidity about revealing my own history of self-harm. On the other hand, the fact remained that despite the self-hatred and chronic feeling of worthlessness I’d had in my teens and twenties, time really had healed those wounds and I was no longer a slave to the self-abuse I’d been afflicted with for so long. The truth was, my shyness lay in conveying how much I wanted to be a part of the TWLOHA team – not for any sort of monetary sum – but for the gratification of knowing the suffering of my younger days actually did – and still does – have a purpose.
As I stood talking to the extremely kind and hospitable woman behind the counter, a beautiful, young, flaxen-haired girl walked in, slightly out-of-breath, but sporting a smile just the same. She would’ve seemed perfectly normal were it not for the fact that her naked arm still bled from fresh, self-inflicted wounds.
The woman behind the counter and I immediately snapped into “rescue mode” and expressed our genuine concern for the young girl’s safety. But the bleeding and blatantly suffering girl carelessly brushed aside our worries and insisted she was fine and that everything was under control. In fact, she didn’t even realize she was at TWLOHA. Apparently, a worried young man had seen the blood dripping from her arm when he’d pulled into a neighboring service station. He wanted to help her and he knew there would be someone at TWLOHA who could help her. But she was sadly unable to admit she needed help. She insisted she had everything under control.
I was all too familiar with her kind of façade. When I was in my twenties, I went to school and then work with an ever-expanding wardrobe of long sleeves to cover up the pain. My scars, though, were not so typical of a “cutter” in that they were intentionally aimed at the arteries in my arm. At night I would find a secluded place and pray to God for forgiveness for what I was about to do. Then I’d wince with pain as I sliced through my skin with whatever sharp object I could find. A couple times I successfully struck the big artery and it was in those moments I feared and longed for someone to find me. It was painfully like the Avril Lavigne song I’m With You.
The first time I struck the artery was in my college dorm. Strangely enough, I didn’t have a roommate that semester. Nonetheless I had accepted a dinner invitation from some friends. When I didn’t show up, they called me to see what the hold up was. I let the machine take the call as I lay on the floor striking violently and somewhat pathologically at my wrist with a kitchen knife. Then a thin fountain of red liquid squirted out from my veins. I stared in shock at what I had just done – what I was actually capable of – and thought maybe this was the right time to die.
What did I have left to live for anyway? I was nearly twenty-four years old, I’d been involuntarily hospitalized a year before while studying abroad in France and had been repatriated to the US early in a shroud of stigma and emotional pain. There was no way I could ever fulfill my dreams of living in an under-developed nation as a missionary or humanitarian. There was no way I could escape myself other than denying myself the right to live.
Upon further prayer and reflection, I decided to call a friend of mine – an international student from Cyprus who was living in the same building as me. I timidly dialed his number and politely asked if he would stop by my room. There wasn’t the slightest hint in my voice of urgency or desperation. When he knocked, I told him to come in as I stood over the sink with my open wound spewing blood in all directions.
“Please don’t freak out,” I pleaded, as if my words would somehow blind him to my actions.
To my surprise, my friend from Cyprus had served his obligatory two years in his country’s military and had been trained as a kind of orderly during his service. From the moment he saw me, his first-aid training instinctively kicked in and he worked quickly to stop the bleeding.
He then gazed at me with a combination of sadness and perplexity . “Why? Why do you want to kill yourself?”
I froze. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know why.
I’d always been a sensitive and emotional person too. But for some reason I couldn’t shed a tear that night. If I hadn’t been bleeding on the outside, my friend would have never known how much my heart bled on the inside.
For the next few years, suicide attempts and self-injury plagued me. It was like my open wounds conveyed the message words alone were unable to. I once came straight out to an old friend who’d been accusing me of selfishness and manipulation, scratched a superficial cut on my wrist, and shoved it in her face crying, “You can’t fix my emotional pain? Then fix this!”
My self-injury years had me hospital-bound at least once a year for about six years. During that time I tried to live a “normal” life. I finished college. I worked at a bookstore coffee shop where I had wonderful report with my regulars as I endeavored to remember their names and greet them by name as much as possible.
The scars on my arm began to multiply and occasionally required sutures. I even took to stabbing myself sometimes with a sort of Romeo and Juliet romanticism. I wasn’t immune to the pain nor did I enjoy it. But the wounds never had the precision or severity to really kill me. Often I would come to work or school injured, feeling both physical and emotional pain, but too afraid and ashamed to confide in anyone. TWLOHA didn’t exist back then – at least I wasn’t aware of its existence.
Returning to my dream, I realized the young, blonde girl was me. Of course, I’m a redhead but when I wrote fictional adventures for myself and my friends to escape into, I would always disguise myself as a blonde so no one would know it was me. This, of course, began in fourth grade when, after seeing Disney’s The Little Mermaid featuring a fiery redhead, I’d written and illustrated a picture book as a class project called The Girl Who Wanted to be a Mermaid. Truth was, that little-girl version of me wanted to be the mermaid, floating on the waves and singing sweet ballads to sailors sailing by.
In my dream, I showed the blonde girl my multitudes of disgusting scars protruding mercilessly from my left arm. I no longer wear long sleeves to cover my painful past because these scars not only symbolize pain – they symbolize healing. I once thought I’d ultimately succeed in killing myself before the age of thirty and so I never made too many big plans for my life. But when I turned thirty in 2010, I joyously threw myself a party in celebration of a new chapter in my existence.
I think my message to the younger generations, then, is this: Yes, there’s going to be pain and loneliness in life – but keep living. You never know what God may have in store for you unless you give life a chance.