Brutal starts, beautiful outcomes. Kellan and Larissa: 5 & 7 years later.
Originally posted, July 2009
A week ago I was sitting at the edge of the pool holding Larissa and watching the other kids swim when I caught a glimpse of a silvery thread on my arm. I thought it was maybe a stray hair that had settled there until I tried to brush it away and it wouldn’t budge. It was then that I noticed there was more than one. As I laid my eyes closer to my arm to get a better look I suddenly realized what those barely-there lines were. They were the shadows of my former scars; I was startled to see them. Maybe it was the angle of the light, maybe it was the contrast of the white of them against my summer-tanned skin. Or maybe it was just my imagination. Because just as suddenly as the lines appeared, they disappeared and I couldn‘t see them anymore no matter how hard I looked. Seeing those lines made me realize it’s been a long time since that “Very Bad Time™ and for that I’m very grateful. I basked there in the sun, surrounded by light, counting my blessings.
For anyone who didn’t know me then, the story (sort of):
Something went wrong with my body’s wiring when I was pregnant with Kellan – a massive disruption in communications that caused me to plunge into a suffocating depression. As an added side effect to the oppressive sadness, the irrationally dark thoughts, and the crushing anxiety was the clear and insistent directive to cut myself.
The one thing I remember so clearly from that point in my life was feeling so incredibly furious. The anger inside of me literally burned, as if someone had ignited my internal furnace. I was so intensely angry; angry at the anxiety, angry at everyone else’s inability to understand what I was going through, angry at the circumstances…but more importantly angry at myself, for not being able to control any of what was happening. The anger built up inside of me so that it literally felt like it was stretching the limits of what my skin could bear. It was like a boil or a blister that needed to be lanced and ultimately I was in so much pain that the only thing that could bring me relief, oddly enough, was more pain. So I began to cut.
At first I made thin, tentative scratches on my arm with benign objects like safety pins, raising welts but never blood. I would score the tender skin of my inner forearms over and over again making tally marks – a count of every bad thing and every bad feeling that was making me so angry. I never understood the old fashioned use of the word “sore” to describe angry until that moment in my life when “sore” began to make perfect sense. The word embodied everything I imagined my anger to be and it defined everything that it was. And after the welts were made, I’d admire the tracks on my arm and bask in the warm afterglow of the initial pain. To someone without an addiction – to a person who has never cut – it is difficult to describe or explain how causing yourself pain somehow heals you. How it temporarily lifts the veil of sadness – fills your lungs with sweet, breathable air – makes your mind calm and quiet and peaceful for a change. It was for those very reasons that my cutting continued; escalated, became more frequent. And contrary to what most people assumed, I didn’t want to kill myself. It was the exact opposite: I wanted to feel alive.
Instead of pins the weapon of choice soon became razorblades pulled from the innocuous pink plastic housings of my Daisy shavers. The real cutting began. As with any other addiction, mine would speak to me constantly throughout the day. I would glance at the thin strip of metal tucked into the base of my nightable lamp and I could hear it talk: “Only 2 more hours until the kids go to bed and we can be together again.” Cutting aroused in me the same desire that one gets from a lover. As soon as my children were down for the night I would get comfortable with the blade and look forward to our coupling. All the day’s pain would soon be gone. I would hold my breath against the initial bite of the sharp edge as it drew down my skin. At first that pain would register as a warning – “STOP! You are hurting yourself!” – but before my mind could make sense of that message, the droplets of blood would blossom along the seam of the cut, bright as a row of poppies, and interrupt my brain’s regularly scheduled programming. Seeing blood signaled relief and as it ran warm down my arm, such did the relief run through my body. Anyone watching my face would have seen on it the same strange, dreamy expression that an addict gets shortly after injecting their drug of choice. Later, after the cutting, if I ever encountered an anxious moment, all I had to do is peer down at the scabbed lines on my arms for reassurance. The cuts were my comfort, as long as they were visible. When the lines would fade, my angst would return and I would have to cut again. I started keeping blades in my purse, in my pocket, in the cupholder of my car.
Long story short: I cut, I cried, I called out for help, and the best people in the world at the best outpatient nuthouse in the world carried me back across the border into sanity and helped me stand up straight on the other side. Two months after my discharge, the baby whose gestation had so compromised my body, emerged. He was a beautiful boy. A happy boy. A baby who smiled and rarely cried. Maybe it was all the in-utero exposure to Zoloft or maybe he was just glad to get out of the dark. I like to think it was because he knew we both needed a happy ending.
For a year after this lovely boy’s birth, my arms continued to carry a reminder of the road we’d traveled together. For a year after his birth the sight of the scars reminded me of how fragile I still was. For a year the scars spoke to me and said, “You know how good this used to feel.” For a year I was careful. For a year I avoided looking down. After that year, the scars all but faded, and with them went all the accompanying thoughts. But I knew I was an addict and that an addiction can never be cured, only healed.
Nearly two years after that experience I endured a subsequent pregnancy with my now-baby daughter where at 14 weeks gestation we were faced with the news that she had a potentially lethal defect called a cystic hygroma. We lived for 48 hours wondering if after all the results were in if we’d have to choose to end her life. Even though we never had to make that choice, her life and health were still in limbo. We still had to roll the dice and pray that somehow we’d be lucky enough to be granted another happy ending. During that time life felt hard. Sometimes I felt angry and anxious and overwhelmed. Sometimes I was resentful. Sometimes I hated my body. Sometimes I got sad. Never did I think about cutting myself. I could have fallen so far, but I didn’t. I survived and so did she and all it took was sweat and tears but not a single drop of blood.
I’m submitting this post (written in July of 2009) to Momastery’s “Messy, Beautiful Warriors” Project. For more information (and how you can participate too, click on the link below).