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Recovery from cutting

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Akita asks:

I quit cutting a couple months ago, and I still find it really hard to control myself. I also sometimes find it hard to be happy. What can I do besides therapy to get better?

Heather Corinna replies:

First of all, congratulations to you for being so strong. Self-injury can be a very tough habit to break, and I hope you've given yourself mad props for even being willing to try, let alone to succeed!

Often, self-injury has a lot to do with trying to find a way to cope with trauma and with stress. So, because it's often a situational -- rather than chemical -- response, if you can indentify the things that are causing you pain and suffering -- and which cutting helped alleviate -- and do what you can to either manage or be rid of those things, that's a biggie. For instance, if you're in an abusive home, either getting into a healthier living situation or getting help/counseling for your family to try and stop abuse will be helpful: if you're in an abusive romantic relationship, work towards getting out of it. If you have body image issues, getting some support for those and working through those will likely help. If you're feeling very isolated, doing what you can to make new friends and find social venues will usually be helpful.

Too, you might want to find a healthier substitute. For instance, some of why cutting can feel so therapeutic is because our responses to pain trigger hormones in our bodies that can make us feel better, strange as that may sound. So -- and this will sound strange, too -- you might want to consider a new exercise to manufacture that adrenaline and endorphin for yourself in a healthier way. I'd personally suggest maybe looking into a martial art: when you also don't feel emotionally strong, those arts are a great form of exercise that not only get your blood pumping and the endorphins going, but can make you feel emotionally more capable and strong, too. But if that doesn't appeal, you might just hop on your bike, or take walks or jogs. You might also want to add other substitutes: things like keeping a journal, doing some creative work when you're feeling upset, or even just stepping outside and letting yourself yell can work.

Ultimately, though, you may want to consider some form of counseling or therapy (and also bear in mind that even my advice is largely anecdotal: I was a cutter myself in my early teens, and I've read a lot on the subject, but I am not a qualified therapist on the issue). Understand that that can come in many forms. For instance, if you've a barrier -- be it emotional or financial -- to one-on-one therapy with a psychiatrist or psychologist, you might look around your school or area and see if there are any support groups for self-injurers. Those are often more informal, and can offer great support, especially since you can talk to other people who understand exactly how you're feeling and why you cut. I know it can be scary to look into therapy of any kind, especially iof you feel ashamed about cutting at all, but if you can get there in time, it might be a big help.

Remember, too, to give yourself some slack and some room to recover over time. Working through any sort of ongoing behaviour that's become habitual takes time, and it's normal for everyone to fall back now and then. So, if you do find you fall back and cut, don't beat yourself up about it: just reaffirm your commitment to stop, pick yourself up and start again. Recovery takes time, but you've already taken the biggest and the hardest step, so it's very likely thaat in relatively short order, you'll find yourself past this and feeling stronger with each day.

written 26 Aug 2007 . updated 03 Jan 2013

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