I want to write about how feeling stronger is allowing me to see the pain I was in for most of my life. I had no idea. I thought I was “too sensitive,” defective in some way, a coward that I couldn’t deal better with difficulties. That I was hurt by being teased and couldn’t follow Mother’s advice to “ignore them.” That imagining I was struggling with something really big instead of trivial details was “making myself look important.” But the truth is, I wasn’t struggling with ordinary fear and sadness, I was facing severe depression and terror.
When I was writing the story of self-mutilation for my Journey monologue, I had real trouble feeling and understanding my motivation. I know I was in a lot of pain, that I felt I was wrong to be in. It was my fault I hurt so much, Daddy even told me I “wanted to be miserable,” there was no reason or excuse for my pain, so cutting myself at least gave me a real reason for hurting. I also hated myself and wanted to hurt myself.
My role model for cutting myself was Deborah Blau in “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden.” The first time I read it I couldn’t put it down. I was amazed that here was someone that felt like I did. Deborah cut and burned herself many times. I was surprised when it hurt to cut myself, because Deborah had never said it hurt. There was a time, when she was healing, she tried to burn herself and a reflex pulled her hand away. I didn’t understand at the time, but of course she was dissociated when she cut herself without pain. I read that book over and over again. In my copy there are many passages that are underlined, and some splashes of blood.
The first time Deborah cut herself, she did it at home and let the blood run into a basin. Her horrified parents took her to psychiatrists and finally put her into a hospital. Her therapist told her mother that she was interested in the fact that Deborah kept the blood in a basin. “She didn’t want to let it get too far away.” Dr. Fried explained that cutting herself was not a failed suicide attempt, but a cry for help.
Another interesting thing, that I’m seeing only now, is that Deborah’s story happens during World War II. At one point she concludes that she must be the enemy they were fighting, and she steps on some broken glass to embody her identity as “the enemy.” I did not put together the fact that during the time I was cutting myself the Vietnam War was going on. I put them together in my monologue for Journey. I knew that I identified with the soldiers, especially the ones with PTSD, but of course that was just me trying to make myself important, asking for special treatment. It never occurred to me that cutting myself might be the wound I suffered in a dirty war, where the older generation sent the younger out to fight for no good reason, and failed to give them the support they needed. They came back to people who were not glad to see them but uncomfortable. It still makes me angry that soldiers come back from war and don’t have adequate help for either their physical wounds or their psychological ones. I remember one time thinking that soldiers were awarded the “Purple Heart” when they had been wounded in foreign wars. I thought there should be a medal for those of us who were wounded in domestic wars: the war of men against women, and the war of parents against children.
I never talked about cutting myself to a therapist before I did Journey into Courage because I was ashamed. Then I read, in The Courage to Heal, that self-mutilation was one consequence of sexual abuse. That made me feel like it was an honorable wound, not a stupid one. It allowed me to be part of Journey. And it inspired me to start working on the sexual abuse issue. That never got anywhere, and it wasn’t until I stopped denying that I had been traumatized, that I was able to finally get down to the real issue.