It was going to be a long day at work. I was thankful to have a job. After all, I'd been jobless for a couple of weeks a few months back, and buying groceries had been my fear. My car had just broken down and I had to borrow money from my grandma and uncle for a new used car. I felt like a failure. Now, thanks to them, I was back on my feet.
I pulled myself out of my bed and into the living room, polluted with pizza boxes and empty cans of soda. I turned on the TV to the one of four channels I received that had any clear signal (I was proud to have an antenna) and watched the news at noon before I had to go in for a long night shift. I decided to check my phone for any sign of life from my girlfriend who had gone out the night before partying without me. She never invited me, nor did she want me to go. I thought she was cheating, but in the back of my mind, I blocked it for fear of losing the one source of stable drama in my life.
I had gotten to the point nothing felt real. The dull roar of the TV, the routine of feelings of guilt, shame, and abandonment--they were pulling me out of my body. I didn't know who I was. I just lived this routine for fear that if I didn't, I would cease to exist, and that's by far a scarier outcome. Suddenly, fear found me.
I went to the living room, sat down on the sofa I'd just purchased from a coworker, and found my sewing shears. I curled up to the side of the sofa and started to sob. I held the smallest edge of the scissors next to my skin for a few minutes before I finally dragged it over the fleshiest part of my arms. Small lines of red, life-affirming stuff leaked out over my forearm. I suddenly realized I was a real person, living a real life, but more importantly I could feel something.
I finished dressing myself for the work day and hauled off to work. I spent two hours "on the phones" (I worked in a call center) before I got my smoke break. It's easy to avoid people when you don't see them, but when you want to smoke, it's a 10x10 patio and everyone gathers in one location. I had my sleeve tucked up far enough by the way I was holding my cigarette to expose my arms on this February evening, and a coworker (who had no filter, but I cared for him anyway!) grabbed my arm and inquired about what had happened to me.
"Girl, have you gotten into an accident with a barbed wire fence?" He asked with such enthusiasm that his demeanor didn't lose a beat.
My face went white. I'm sure he saw me lose color in my face and back off from his questioning and take it a little more seriously. I didn't know how to respond. I'd never been questioned before. No one had ever noticed. Not my girlfriend (who was going out and doing her own thing), not my mother (who had her own issues), and not my friends (who were very few and far between, because my girlfriend didn't really like me to have any). I was clearly at a loss of words on how to handle his inquiry given his lack of delicacy on how he addressed it.
"No, I..." was all I had to say before he released my wrist back to me and I was allowed another drag of my cigarette.
"Oh, you're a cutter." He kept puffing. "I know a few of those."
Suddenly, I felt relieved and ashamed. The guilt feelings returned that someone had noticed, but that someone understood. "I guess." I just kept puffing on my cigarette, hoping I'd keep my street cred with him, like nothing was wrong.
"We all have our things," he said, showing me his cigarette in his right hand.
I finished my cigarette and went inside. I cried on my desk, feeling the shame, rejection, and isolation of a thousand years weigh on me like a ton of bricks. I wasn't functional anymore. I was able to feel, but I was feeling it all at once. I slipped a thumbtack from my wall under my desk and across my arm for a brief feeling of relief. My tears dried up. Suddenly, the focus of energy was back onto my daily living and surviving, not my feelings of worthlessness.
It was when I bled through my sleeves a few days later that my manager approached me about not being able to work appropriately. My performance was deteriorating rapidly, which was shocking for me. She offered me time off of work and treatment through employee assistance. Embarrassed, but appreciative, I cried the whole way out of work.
It was later on in the day that I felt as if they didn't want me, my girlfriend didn't want me, and my own family didn't want me anymore, I was pretty pointless as a person. Why should I go on living?
It was a call to employee assistance at three in the morning that set me on the path to healing what could have been healed at the time. I was set up with a therapist in the area for the next day. I was referred to an intensive program for a few days that stepped up medications with therapy and given a long-term program to help manage distress. I managed to get as well as I could in a short time to be back to as functional as I could be.
I still cut, but I cut less. I still felt worthless and empty, but I could tell I was feeling it. I still noticed feelings of guilt, shame, and feeling left out, but at least I was okay with being angry about it. I was starting to speak out about it and know it was okay. It was a process.
Three months after therapy progress, my girlfriend went out and partied without me again. This time, I wasn't having any of it. I sat in my car on the way over to her house and cut "FUCK YOU" into my arm with my sewing shears. I quickly put my "Hello Kitty" arm warmers over it, stormed off into the house, and slammed the door. There she sat, drunk, on the couch. I screamed. I hollered. I let her know it was not right to leave me alone while she went out and saw other girls. I stood up for myself for the first time. She told me that I was nothing, I was crazy, and I should be thankful to have her.
"Nobody would put up with the things I've put up with. You're lucky to have me. Would anyone else put up with THIS?" She pointed at me, standing with my arm on the wall, the other in a fist.
"Fuck you." I cried. I got back into my car and bawled. She found me, hugged me, and apologized to a certain degree. I threw her out of the car and called that filterless coworker. We met at an IHOP at one in the morning and sat until noon the next day talking.
When he saw my arms, still sadly weeping out of my arm warmers, he asked me why. He questioned me. He didn't have a problem with the hard questions. He was better than my therapist. He told me something I'd never heard from anyone before--they were a beautiful part of my story. He didn't want me to keep hurting myself, but one day I'd look back and realize that they would make me who I am.
Today, my arms are littered with the past. Each paper-like rip reminds me of the voice I had but the isolation I felt. They remind me of hundreds of tears, of the little girl crying on the floor for something she couldn't define. Being directionless, hopeless, and helpless is no way to go through life, and people take advantage of those who can't help themselves. They remind me to never sacrifice myself to someone else's idea of me. I need to form my own.
Part three, Coming Soon!