beautiful monsters: Coping

May 14, 2003


The usual warning thingee; this post mentions abuse and self-harm. Nothing very graphic. Viewer discretion advised nonetheless.

With all the psychiatric labels that have been thrown at me, the institutions that I have failed to survive within, the people who have called me hopeless, manipulative, an emotional screwballÖ itís easy to think of myself as a complete and utter mess. And most of the time I do. I hate myself, more than anything. But recently I have been trying to face some of the things that have happened in my past. And itís really hard, and Iíve been having sleepless nights and ghastly nightmares, Iíve been feeling physically sick and emotionally exhausted. But at the same time, it feels as though pieces of my life are falling into place, like a jigsaw that finally makes sense.

Iím not screwed up. Some awful things happened to me, and I coped with them however I could. And sometimes I still use those extreme coping mechanisms, because theyíve worked in the past, and theyíre familiar.

People, children, have some ingenious ways of coping with the impossible and the unbearable. Iíve just been reading First Person Plural; My Life as a Multiple by Cameron West. Itís a memoir about life with Dissociative Identity Disorder. Itís pretty intense, but well worth reading if youíre in a safe space. Camís multiple personalities developed as a result of repeated sexual abuse that occurred when he was a child. Most of his alters didnít emerge until later in life, probably when he was strong enough to deal with what had happened to him. The abuse was too painful for one person to bear, so he compartmentalised the pain. His alters endured the pain for him, and kept secrets that werenít safe to share.

I found it really hard reading Camís story; it stirred up so many emotions. Iíve never been through anything as extreme as his experiences, but I still found I could relate to a lot of what he was going through.

Then there was the pain. A breaking and entering where even the senses are torn apart. The act of rape on an eight-year-old body is a matter of the needle giving because the camel canít. The child gives, because the body can and the mind of the violator canít.
- Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Sexual abuse doesnít make sense. It canít be happening. And because a child canít make it stop she has to change herself so the world will make sense again.

I remember feeling as though I split apart. I was up in the corner of the room, looking back at the two figures on the bed. I was so far away.

For a few years I forgot that anything had happened. At the same time, it was as though I was reliving the experience over and over with different guys. Each time it was like I drifted away and the little girl was there, and she still didnít know how to make it stop. So it just kept happening, again and again and again. I thought I was such a dirty worthless slut.

Forgetting is a good way of coping when it gets too much. Blocking it out, drifting away, going numb. But sometimes that leaves huge gaps in my past, dark spaces in my memory. Sometimes I drift away and I donít know how to get back.

Sometimes I eat to cope. I guess it is a way of controlling my body. Protecting myself. If Iím fat then no one will be attracted to me and nothing bad will happen. Other times I panic and starve myself for a few days because I think that if no one wants to have sex with me then no one will care about me, no one will show me affection.

Cutting has always helped more than anything else. It brings me back when I am numb, but it also numbs me when feelings get too intense. It eases tension and calms me. It is a way to take control of the pain, and to redefine the boundaries of my body. Itís way of punishing myself. Itís a way of communicating my pain.

I find myself wanting to cut, just to get through this time. I know it will help. I know it will ease the pain. I also know that it upsets the people around me. I donít know if that is a good enough reason to stop me.

I donít know if I care.

Posted by Fionnaigh at May 14, 2003 11:48 PM

I've never seen you looking fat, and I care about you no matter what you look like (without wanting sex).

You certainly shouldn't stop cutting just because it upsets people. But I suspect it isn't the cutting itself that upsets a lot of people, but that you feel bad enough to need to do it. They want you to stop feeling bad, not simply to stop cutting. The cutting itself is only somewhat disturbing because of the permanence; if it healed without a scar, it wouldn't be an issue at all (for me, at least).

Posted by: darth sappho at May 15, 2003 09:49 AM

darth sappho, why is the permanence of scars an issue for you? How would you feel about breaking bones instead of cutting? Are you looking at it from the perspective of the cutter (ie, she has these scars for the rest of her life, bar laser surgery), or of the rest of the world (ie, always seeing these scars), or some other perspective again?

Those questions might sound aggressive, but are not meant as such; I just don't understand your point of view and would like to.

Posted by: Jamie at May 15, 2003 03:19 PM

It's only a very minor issue, and I'm looking at it from the cutter's perspective; the rest of the world can go hang. It's on a similar level to being concerned about someone getting a spur-of-the-moment tattoo done while drunk. Breaking bones would be much worse; the short term consequences are vastly more serious, even if they might heal with no visible sign.

Posted by: darth sappho at May 15, 2003 03:40 PM

Thanks for explaining, darth sappho.

One of the things that pleased me about cutting was that there would be scars that would be there no matter what I thought about them in the future.

Really, the cutting is always going to have happened, whether there are scars or not. Scars do serve as reminders and reinforcers of old attitudes, though, and I can understand why some people who used to cut have gone to some lengths to remove them.

Posted by: Jamie at May 15, 2003 04:06 PM