PoH: Healing & Recovery from Self Harm
What a beautiful thing it is to stand at the beginning of a new month.
As a way to kick off the last month of summer, and pay homage to another 31 day cycle of grace and mercy, I thought it would be a great time to start off a new series here on the blog called "Paths of Hope".
PoH is a series I've wanted to start for a while. The thought behind this series stems from a desire in me to further discussions centered around healing and recovery. I feel like so many of us have various stories of recovery, and they're often the most emotionally compelling and lovely traces of the Lord's hand in our lives.
In addition to being the 1st of a new month, today also marks a significant point in my life. Today marks 50 consecutive days without cutting. This isn't a blowing of my own horn, but it's a small victory. And in the battle against various kinds of addictions and negative coping mechanisms, small victories are a sweet, wonderful thing.
I've shared my story on being diagnosed with PDD (Persistent Depressive Disorder) here, so I'm not going to delve back into many of those details and/or timelines. But depression and anxiety (anxiety in particular) have played heavily into my struggles with self harm. As other brothers and sisters in the Lord know, self harm can quickly become an addiction and a dominant coping mechanism when allowed to fester and grow stronger in secret. My first real step in recovery came from confessing my sin and struggle to a sister in Christ, and from there, the Lord's healing was brought not only through the Word but through the love of the women in my church family.
As the first post in a series that will deal with recovery & healing in all forms (not just mental health or addiction or self harm), I want to list a few of the things that I've learned (and now share with women I know who are battling the urge to self harm) in order to promote conversation, raise awareness and bring light to a problem too often soaked in secrecy.
1. Self harm is serious, but it holds no power over you as a child of God.
Is your battle with cutting or burning or skin-picking a serious issue? Absolutely. You are hurting and coping with emotional turmoil in a way that puts you in physical danger. But you are not so far off the metaphorical reservation that Jesus can't reach you and draw you back. His eyes see everything and His arms extend to all corners of the earth, and no lies from Satan about the quick release and fast-dying peace born of self harming can rip you out of the Father's grip. (See scriptures references at the bottom of this post for specific words on this fear)
2. Openness and honesty are KEY.
How many people are aware that you self harm? In my journey, for quite a while, it was no one. Not even my husband. And I firmly believe that my soul was tormented most by lies during that time of absolute secrecy. Where there is silence, there is a lack of accountability and loving rebuke. As as people who struggle with self injury, we cannot afford a lack of either. Find just ONE person to open up to. Make sure it's someone with strong faith in the Lord and someone you can trust to hold you to a plan of action in your recovery.
If this chosen individual feels led by the Lord to bring your struggle to another church elder (or to a parent if you're not yet an adult), ask the Lord for humility and understand that they are doing what they're doing out of LOVE.
When you talk about your struggle, be as honest as you can. The person you open up to only knows what you tell them, so try your hardest to be transparent. Do you self harm daily? What are your chosen instruments and where do you have them around your living space? Have you ever self harmed to an extent that your wounds required medical attention? All of this information will aid your friend/mentor in assessing exactly what steps need to be taken and whether or not other members of the body need to be brought in.
3. Relapse is not a dirty word.
It happens. With everything in me, I wish to God that it didn't. Wouldn't it be nice if recovery were simply a straight incline? But it's not. And the Lord knows that.
When you relapse (and, sweet friend, you will.) remember that God is quick to forgive and that His love is relentless. Too often, we feel a rush of peace and calm after cutting (or self harming in whichever way you've turned to) and soon after we crash into a pit of guilt and despair. I've done it again, our mind chants, why can't I just be strong enough to say no? Sometimes, if the crash is hard enough, we question the point of recovery at all. I know in my worst moments, when I've cut repeatedly in short periods of time, it was that initial thought of "why bother?" when my relapse first hit. Without fervent prayer and raw accountability, it's easy for relapses to spin out of control before we've realized it.
Call on your accountability when the relapse happens! Let them know what's happened. Let them know what thoughts and environmental factors led up to your relapse. If you're on medication to aid in your mental health, be honest as to whether or not you've been consistent in taking your medications. And again: ask the Lord for humility and a teachable spirit.
4. Allow your faith to be strengthened by the victories (big or small)!
Today, August 1st, marks 50 days without cutting. The first thing I did? Text my small group (they are phenomenal) and let them know the victory, allow them to share in the joy with me, and thank them again for their support, accountability and love!
In the same way that relapses hit us hard, victories should hit us harder. Have you gone a week without turning to self harm? Celebrate! Have you reached a point in your life where you've found other positive coping mechanisms? Delight in God's faithfulness!
Your accountability system is there to celebrate with you in these small victories. Share them and allow each step to further strengthen your faith.
When I realize how faithful God has been to me during this struggle, it reignites my desire to serve Him further through my commitment to recovery.
When we read in Matthew the story of Jesus in the wilderness, face-to-face with Satan and his temptations, there is an excellent piece of wisdom for self harmers:
"During that time the devil came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread." But Jesus told him, "No! The Scriptures say, "People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." (Matt. 4:3-4)
What is Christ's first retort in response to Satan's temptation? He recites the Scriptures. Two more times, when Satan takes him to the holy city of Jerusalem and then to the peak of a high mountain, Jesus responds in the same way: "No, the Scriptures say..."
I don't think this is "just the way Jesus talked". I think it's an illustration of how we're to respond to temptation. It's a blueprint, like so many other chapters of scripture, for the path to take in the midst of the battle against sin.
When we are tempted to self harm, let us respond this way:
"No. The Scriptures say, “Don’t you know that your body is a temple that belongs to the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit, whom you received from God, lives in you. You don’t belong to yourselves. You were bought for a price. So bring glory to God in the way you use your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
"No. The Scriptures say, "The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know your name trust you, O Lord, because you have never deserted those who seek your help.” (Psalm 9:9-10)
"No. The Scriptures say, “So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7)
Say it out loud in the midst of those waves of temptation! Don't be afraid of sounding crazy. The fight against self harm is a fight against Satan and his lies. Fight with everything. Call out to God for strength and resolve! Cling to what you know is true even when it doesn't feel true. The God listening to our pleas for help is so much stronger than the Liar calling to us from the sidelines.
How mighty is He who shields us.
To close out this post and the first post of the Paths of Hope series, I'd like to call out with a sincere heart to those of you reading these words with the physical and emotional scars of self harm keeping you in a blanket of shame and hopelessness:
The Lord is good. His love is fervent and unending. Your body was handcrafted with care and much thought. Although it is just a vessel and will someday fade, it's still a beautiful piece of craftsmanship and a means through which you can bring glory and honor to your Maker. Allow it to heal and be used in the way it was designed to be used. Thank God for it, and know that your scars can tell a story of redemption.
What a cherished soul you are, my friend. I pray that you are strong in this battle and resilient in the face of relapse. I pray that your community is filled with the Spirit and knit together with a shared love of the Word.
If you need someone to talk to, or would like to further explore the road to healing and recovery, please don't hesitate to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit the Self Harm resource page here.
May you walk into this new month with the armor of God around you and His peace in your heart!