Lately I have been thinking about the things we do in life to commemorate or to remember a period of time. There are many ways we remember these times; some choose writing about experiences, or photographing important memorable items and still others choose to create a memorial or select an artifact to serve as a constant reminder.
For my son, he has his scars. While cutting is not an abnormal response to dealing with deep routed pain, especially among teenagers, it was a startling and scary thing for me. I was never and am still not embarrassed by my son’s cutting, but it truly scared me because I was afraid he would severely hurt himself and that it would happen when he didn’t have anyone around to help him.
There was a part of me that truly understood what he was feeling from the standpoint of wanting the pain to go away. I wanted his pain to go away; I wanted my pain to go away too. The truth is I was in considerable pain as well. My heart broke seeing my son struggling, my heart broke for the relationship that he and I had that was disintegrating and I was exhausted from the roller coaster ride of facilities, insurance issues and the blame and stigma of the situation. Though let me be clear, I was never tired of my son.
During one of my son’s darker times, he used a hunting knife to carve a word on his bicep. Each letter is several inches high and wide. The word is not important and is his story to tell, but it was to me a serious cry out for help. It is the scar he chose, albeit indirectly, to remember. It serves as a reminder of that time in his life and not necessarily in a positive way at this point, though I hope he comes to see it as a marker for how far he has come.
During this same timeframe, I was also looking for a way to ease my pain. I had been doing quite a bit to honor myself with the almost daily yoga and running schedule and while it was serving my need for intense activity to counter the intense situation, I couldn’t help but feel as though I needed more intense and more painful things to counter my pain. Hey, we’re all human and we all have our breaking point. Instead of doing something destructive, however, I chose to go the route of a tattoo. In fact, a half sleeve designed around the Hindu deity Ganesha. For those not familiar with Ganesha, he is the elephant headed god known as the remover of obstacles, as well as lord of beginnings, patron of arts and science, and deva of intellect and wisdom. While my connection to Ganesha is not religious, I feel that the symbolism and meaning behind his story matched perfectly with my situation and the tattoo suited what I was trying to accomplish. It is the scar I chose, to remember.
This experience helped me to better understand the drivers behind cutting. Seeing through my own eyes allows me to have compassion at a deeper level for my son’s choice to cut and for others who choose to use cutting as a “release valve”, allowing for momentarily relief from deep pain and suffering.
For caregivers who are just discovering that a child or loved one has been cutting, please take some time to read up on this coping mechanism. What I have found personally is that there is much shame and guilt around cutting for those who choose to cut. Getting angry, demanding that they stop or even using guilt or shame to change the behavior is counter to the support that is needed. For those who are truly ready to change their behavior and are looking to adopt a healthier set of coping skills, one option is to learn about DBT or Dialectical Behavior Therapy. DBT combines standard cognitive-behavioral techniques for emotional regulation and reality-testing with concepts of distress tolerance, acceptance, and mindfulness awareness. (Definition from Wikipedia) I have found quite a few resources on line that may be helpful in gathering more information and determining if this is the right course of action; NAMI.org is a good place to start but there are many others.
What should be kept in mind is that there must be a readiness to find alternative coping skills. This is not something that can be forced, as it creates more guilt and shame, and it’s not something that needs to be “fixed”.
We all have “scars” that we choose.
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