The Journey of Self-Injury

•March 5, 2013 • Leave a Comment

I am a cutter. I say that because I don’t believe there exists such a thing as an ex-cutter. Certainly one can quit cutting permanently, but I believe that it is very much like alcoholism — once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic. I have, in many ways, gained a large degree of mastery over self-injury, and I have, at times, gone years without cutting, and gone months without even thinking about it. Things that used to always trigger me, such as an accidental cut or scrape, most of the time do not anymore, and yet. . . there are times, especially under high-stress situations, that the urge to return to that type of coping comes on like a tsunami, rocking my world and washing away all my reasons for abstaining. Sometimes I am able to grab some deeply rooted sapling of belief, and sometimes I am overwhelmed by the current and give in to the compulsion to cope through bleeding. It is an ongoing battle to one degree or another.

I began cutting when I was 18, and it quickly became an obsession. It started out small and shallow, and, over time, became more frequent and more serious as all addictions are apt to. It got to the point in college that there was a period where I cut everyday. I always kept scalpels and razor blades on hand, and they were like a sort of security blanket for me, much like Linus clinging to his. I tried at times to stop, but it never lasted very long, and the cuts became deeper and more at a time, until, by the time I was out of college, I never cut without needing stitches which I sometimes got and sometimes didn’t.  Over the last 15 years, I have been stitched more times than I can keep track of. I have had double layers of stitches, staples, stitches and staples. I have had, at time, 100 stitches or more. I am serious when I cut. I did not do it for attention; I did it for me. There have been times no one knew other than my counselor and a close friend. I learned to hide the scars well. Over time, though, as I have learned new coping techniques and have received a significant amount of healing for the emotional wounds that the physical wounds ultimately expressed, I have learned not to be embarrassed by the old scars, and I have many. I am free to wear short-sleeves and capris  in summer and, if someone asks, I simply reply that they are relics of a past life. Recent scars, though, I continue to hide — the ones that have not yet faded to white, because I do not want people to know that it is still a current struggle though far, far less than it used to be. I cut first at 18, and now I am 40 — 22 years of taking emotion out on flesh, a long time.

I do not want to paint a picture of hopelessness. Indeed, there is great hope. Even though I, at times, still slip up, I am no longer dragged into a life-style of cutting. As I said previously, I have gone years without cutting, at times even not being able to imagine doing it again. Slipping up every now and again does not make me or anyone else struggling with this a failure. It simply indicates the depth and reality of this addiction. So, for anyone currently in the throes of acute cutting, there is hope for you, maybe not for this to be completely gone forever with a total absence of urges at times, but for a significant amount of healing and mastery. While, in one sense, I will always be a cutter, I am no longer a slave.

Pleasing or Trusting

•October 24, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Much of this is heavily influenced by the book, True Faced, by John Lynch, Bill Thrall, and Bruce McNicol.

Those who are followers of Jesus have essentially two mind-sets that determine how they relate to God.  They can either chose to live their lives trying to please God, or simply to trust Him.  Unfortunately, too many people live their lives trying hard to please God.  They strive and strive to do things “right.”  They work hard at not sinning and try to do things that they think God would like.  They live life according to the formula, “Less wrong behavior + more right behavior = godliness.” (John Lynch)  The problem with this formula is that it is based all on human effort, and in the end, one can never quite get it “right.”  It leads to exhaustion and despair and a feeling of never doing well enough to be close to God.

The flip side of this is living simply to trust God.  According to this view, all the work has already been done by Jesus.  God is already pleased with the believer.  There is nothing a believer can do to make God more pleased or less pleased with him/her.  The Bible says that we are a new creation that the old is gone and the new has come.  We are godly because Jesus made us godly.  The Bible also says that we are perfect — imagine that!

I know for me, this removed a huge burden.  I lived life for many years trying to please a god that never seemed pleased.  The more I tried, the more I failed, and I felt farther and farther away from Him.  When I grasped the truth that He is already pleased with me and nothing I can do can make Him like me any more or any less than He already does, it freed me to live life boldly without fear of making a “mistake.”  Do I mess up and sin?  Absolutely!  But, I am not a “sinner.”  I have been given a new identity.  I am already forgiven.  No matter how badly I mess up, there is grace that covers that.  Instead of seeing God on the other side of my ocean of sin that I am constantly trying to clean up so that I can get to Him, I see Him next to me working on my patterns of sin with me.  When I make bad choices and do things I shouldn’t, God doesn’t get angry with me.  He gently prods me and gets me back on the path.  I live without fear of retribution and punishment.  I live in the realm of grace.

Grace

•October 6, 2011 • 1 Comment

I haven’t written for over a year.  I periodically start writing, get distracted by other things and quit.  I’ve decided, though to make this a regular practice.  My dream job would be to be a public speaker, and what better place to develop ideas than in a blog.

The thing that has most been on my mind lately is the concept of grace.  I am unabashedly a Jesus follower.  I hesitate to use the moniker “Christian” because that is associated so often with close-minded, judgmental, self-righteous-type people.  It is my hope that I am none of those on a regular basis.  All of us fall into those categories at times be we Christians, Buddhists, atheists or whatever, unfortunately, but I do my best to follow Jesus example and love others regardless of any outward appearance.  That brings me back to the topic of grace.

I see grace defined most often as favor being shown to one that one does not deserve.  God is the perfect example of grace.  He loves me despite my behavior.  There is nothing I can do to change his love for me.  It doesn’t matter what I do or do not do — he is crazy about me all the time.  He doesn’t like all of my behaviors, not so much because they offend him, but because they ultimately hurt me or others.  When I behave in ways that are contrary to his nature of love, he gently leads me back.

If I truly believe that God loves me regardless of what I do or do not do, then I am free to love others in the same way.  Jesus said that if we hate someone, it is the same as murder, and if we are jealous and want what our neighbor has, it is the same as adultery.  All of us have done both at some point or other which makes us all, as Christian psychologist, Dan Allender puts it, murderers and whores.  Isn’t that awesome news?  I love it.  It puts us all on equal footing.  There is no person any better or worse than I am.  Knowing that allows me to freely love everyone because I am freely loved.  Isn’t that beautiful?

I have much more to say about this but I will save it for other posts.

Oh, the horror the horror

•March 22, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Does anyone else feel, at times, overwhelmed by the amount of sorrow in the world? I think about the hundreds of young men and women being maimed, killed, emotionally and psychologically scarred fighting in a questionable war. Those psychological scars will last a lifetime and affect every relationship. And the civilians — kids growing up with the bloody stains of violence on their souls, people watching their husbands, wives, children, friends getting maimed and killed because of a conflict in which they are caught in the middle. This has nothing to do with whether you are for or against the war; the statistics and damage are still the same.

In the Congo, women and children are raped multiple times, maimed and killed by warring factions.

In Haiti, people are still dying everyday due to disease, lack of shelter, food, and clean water.

In Chile, over 2 million people were affected by the recent earthquake.

The Earth is groaning as in the pains of childbirth.

All over the world children are forced into slavery to make our clothes, grow and harvest our food, and mine for our symbols of opulence, not to mention the thousands of children owned and forced into prostitution.

Millions of people all over the world are dying of starvation while we grow obese on our excess.

Within our own boarders children are starving, growing up with deadened souls due to death and violence in their every-day world, and are abused by parents, foster parents, and even “pillars” of the church. In our country, thousands are homeless, dying of starvation and disease, some because of addictions, some because of circumstances, and some because of mental illness that they don’t have the money or cognitive ability to treat.

This list barely even touches the vastness of the horror in our world — a world that was not created for violence, pain, and bloodshed.

The only thing that keeps my soul from being utterly crushed is the knowledge that this will not last forever. I long for the day Jesus comes and once and for all ends the tyranny of sin. It is sin that creates such sorrow. It is a cruel master indeed.

In the words of John, “Come Lord Jesus!”

Just Thinking

•January 11, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Outside my windows the world is white and frozen, but I am warm sitting here on my couch under a blanket with one dog curled up between my legs and the other dog stretched out on the floor.  Yes, we are cozy here in our little house, but my mind turns to the homeless stranded under the wide-open sky, freezing.  Yes, there are some who have chosen that lifestyle, and there are some who have ended up there because of addictions.  Funny how we tend to judge them and make ourselves feel better and more righteous somehow by telling ourselves that we would have more sense than that, and we would clean ourselves up and get a job.  Hm.  Would we?  See, without knowing these people’s pasts, without knowing where they came from and how they ended up as they are, we can’t say what we would do if we were in their shoes.  I guess to make us feel better we look at them as less than human perhaps more animal than man or woman, but they were children once also full of hope and promise and future.  What child says when asked what they want to be when grown up says they want to be homeless?  What has happened along the way that put them in the situation they are in?  Did they have choices that they made that ultimately led them down this path?  Certainly.  Can we condemn them for making the choices they did?  Well, we could, but that would be hypocritical.  Have we ever made bad choices?  Undoubtedly. 

I don’t think people make bad choices purposefully.  There are all kinds of factors that go into the choices that we make — experience, intelligence, ability to forsee outcomes,  just to name a few, and the truth is, we are not all equal in these abilities.  Not only organic factors influence this, the parents we have, how we are raised, the area we grew up in, all these things contribute to our ability to make decisions.  Not everyone in life has the same resources.

Another thing that needs to be considered is the number of developmentally disabled and mentally ill people who are out on the streets.  More and more budget cuts force more and more facilities that care for these people to close their doors.  They simply do not have the money to stay open.  This often results with people who cannot maintain jobs, or even people who can with medication, ending up on the street because they have no other resources.  What good is it if medication can keep one stable if there is no way for that person to get it?  Drugs are expensive.  If I had to pay for my drugs out-of-pocket, it would cost me almost $3000 a month.   There would be no way.

I guess all I am saying here is that we take so much for granted and look down on people and situations we don’t understand.  Perhaps looking with compassion and looking for ways to help would be a better approach.  After all, there but by the grace of God go I.

Health Care Reform

•January 10, 2010 • 4 Comments

Health care reform is currently a pop-a-vein-in-your-forhead issue in the U.S. with both sides adamantly refusing to compromise with the other.  Whether you are for or against a government-run healthcare option or not, I think most people agree that SOMETHING has to be done about our current situation.  Those that wish to keep the status-quo are completely out-of-touch with what is happening to the average American.

One of the big concerns I hear from the opponents of a government-sponsored option is the possibility of the rationing of healthcare.  What they are not considering is that insurance companies have been rationing health care for years.  Over just the last few years I have personally known many people whose insurance companies, not their doctors determined what medicine they took.  It doesn’t matter that the doctor knows the patient and knows what works and what doesn’t.  The insurance companies could not care less about the patient.  All they care about is making money.  Also, I’ve seen many insurance companies make the claim that patients can take whatever medicine a doctor prescribes, but the company will make the co-pays of certain drugs, particularly new, or non-generic, so high that they are effectively prohibited because of cost.   Unfortunately, something that insurance companies don’t acknowledge, that both doctors and patients know is generic drugs do not always work the same way as the name brand.  A generic drug has the same active ingredient as the name brand, but the rest of the make-up of the pill is not necessarily or even often the same.  These other ingredients can affect the way the drug is metabolized by the body.  A good example of this is lamotrigine, brand name Lamictal.  There are two companies that manufacture a “generic” of Lamictal — Dr. Reddy’s Lab, and Teva.  Dr. Reddy’s brand is manufactured in India, and Teva in the U.S.  Dr. Reddy’s brand is generally cheaper for pharmacies to get, so it is the more common of the generics.  The problem is, Dr. Reddy’s brand does not work, at least in mental-health use.  I have heard of many people who were stable for a significant period of time on Lamictal crashing after starting that form of the generic, while those taking the Teva generic did not.  I had a close friend that experienced that as well.  She had been doing well for quite some time, then suddenly started becoming more and more unstable.  I asked her what her lamotrigine looked like, and it was Reddy’s brand.  After she was switched to the name brand or Teva depending on which the pharmacy could get in, she automatically started improving.  Fortunately for her, her insurance company allows her to take the name brand, but at a higher price.I have also known cancer patients who were denied possibly life-saving treatments, because the insurance companies refused to pay for them.  Some died because of it.  Operations, medicines, physical and mental therapy, all are rationed  by insurance companies.

And, don’t get me started on parity in mental health.  Mental health care is often far less covered by insurance than physical care.  However, mental health involves the physical as much as the emotional.  I know people whose insurance allows them 15 counseling visits a year.  A Year!!!!!  That is ridiculous!  There have been times when I’ve been in crisis that I’ve seen my therapist 3 times in a week!  Fifteen visits in a year is worthless.  Often times hospital stays due to mental illness are more restricted than “physical” illness.   I start popping a vein in my forehead over this issue when I start talking about it.

So far, all I’ve been addressing are those who are lucky enough to have insurance.  What about the countless people who are self-employed or work part-time,  or work at jobs that do not provide health insurance?  For the most part, these people are screwed, especially if they suffer from any kind of chronic illness.  I have a friend whose husband is a lawyer.  He is self-employed.  He has fibromyalgia, and their son has had some mental issues.  It took my friend months to find a company who would even consider taking them, and when the company did make them an offer, the monthly premiums were about $2000/month, and their deductible, the out-of-pocket money they had to spend before insurance would cover anything, was $15, 000.  They had to take it because they had no other option.  Her husband’s meds alone would have been over $2000/month without coverage. 

I understand the concerns about government-sponsored health care.  It would be run by the same, rich, out-of-touch people who are already owned by the drug companies and big insurance companies.  I have a lot of the same concerns.  I only know that the system we have now is inhumane.  I’m not sure how to fix it; I only know that something has to change.

Pain and Joy

•December 12, 2009 • 1 Comment

What is it that makes us humans want to compare ourselves to others in almost every way? We do this so often with pain as a way to minimize our own so that we don’t have to work through our own “stuff.” I did that for years, and I still find myself running back to that familiar way to cope. I can’t stay there anymore, however. I have learned that all that really does is prolong my own pain. It is like going on a jouney to the best place imaginable but the only way there is to cross a chasm. I can peer down into my canyon and think to myself that mine is not as deep as someone else’s and stop my journey there sitting with my legs dangling over the edge. Sure there are deeper canyons and more shallow ones, but really that doesn’t matter because it is my chasm alone that I have to cross. The road to joy is through the valley of the shadow of death. Sorrow and joy are inextricably tied together. When I think of joy, I think of happiness, but really, that is not what joy is. It is like in the book, Hind’s Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard. In order to reach the High Places and be transformed, Much Afraid had to travel on a long, arduous journey accompanied by her traveling companions, Sorrow and Suffering. Those are not the traveling companions I would pick! But, they are the ones given her by the Shepard. Yes, the route to joy runs squarely though pain, but the “joy” that we experience without the pain is a mockery of the gift God has made available to us.