My Recovery From Self-Injury (by Rebecca Lombardo)

My Recovery From Self-Injury

Recovery means many different things to many different people. It’s a very difficult and personal journey. Not everyone is strong enough to realize they need help, let alone know what to do once they get it.

You often hear people speaking about a place called “Rock Bottom.” The consensus is that to help yourself, you have to realize when you’ve hit the bottom. Some people take years to get to that point. Some people never get there. I’m grateful to say that I am one of those that beat the odds. I hit that bottom, and I hit it hard. The most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do was make my way back up.

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 19. I started taking medication at that time and still do at age 42. I’ve always been realistic about my condition. Having attempted to exist without medications, I know that they are a necessary evil. If I stop taking them, it doesn’t take long for me to fall into a deep, dark depression. If the physical symptoms of withdrawal don’t kill me first.

I’m logical enough to understand that I will never fully recover from bipolar disorder, and I’m OK with that. Some people have to take medication for the rest of their lives for diabetes or heart disease. So, I don’t burden myself with the thought of getting better. Don’t get me wrong, I am always trying to improve myself and the way that I feel, but I know that there is no cure for bipolar disorder.

In my late 20’s I made the mistake of thinking that I might not want to be around anymore. My depression was beginning to take over my life. Even relatively normal heartaches seem to affect me much greater than the average person. I was also experiencing migraines that started at the age of 12. The older I got, the worse they got.

I felt like I had lost complete control over my life, so I was going to try to kill myself. I was using an old razor, and when I didn’t receive the desired effect, I kept going. Eventually, I stopped thinking about dying and starting to experience what could only be described as calm. I had no idea that this was “a thing”. My mind just kept taking me back to the thought that I was such a failure at life, I couldn’t even commit suicide correctly.

Eventually, self-­injury became a huge part of my life. I had rituals, songs I played, an entire box of instruments, and a safe place to hide them. One night, I made a mistake and went too far. I couldn’t possibly confess to my parents what I was doing, so I did the only thing I thought I could. I called my then boyfriend who abused me, and asked him for help. He drove me to his sister’s house because she had once studied to be a medical assistant. Sitting at her dining room table, she stitched up my arm, with no sanitation and no numbing solution for the pain.

As I got a little older, self­-injury wasn’t necessarily as important to me, but it was always in the back of my mind. I was humiliated when I would date, and the guy would see my scars. I was covered with them.

In May of 2001, I officially started dating the man who would become my husband. He was extremely supportive, but just as confused as anyone else was. He didn’t understand that I was already beating myself up enough; I didn’t need him to get mad at me for the behavior. Eventually, we started working through it, and my urges were much less frequent. In fact, I went five years without an incident until 2013.

Despite the fact that self­-injury was no longer a big piece of my life, I still kept some instruments hidden in our house. When my life went into a full­on tailspin that June, it was the only thing I could think about. Truthfully, once I started again, I was so depressed that I didn’t care if I died. I just wanted the pain to stop. With each pass over my skin, I felt a myriad of emotions. Failure, fear, guilt, and even a small amount of relief. I couldn’t stop sobbing, and eventually I must have cried myself to sleep because I woke up some time later to my doorbell ringing. My husband had called my family from work and sent my dad and my sister over. At that point, I was the only one that knew I had also swallowed a full bottle of medication.

I was admitted to the hospital, and later I was committed by the state. It was the worst experience I have ever had in my entire life. It was a horrible, horrible facility. I played the game and was a model patient.

After four days, they let me out. Driving home with my husband, I swore I would never take another sharp instrument to my skin again. I pushed all of the past failures to the side. I focused on the here and now and started a clean slate. I developed my own coping skills, and I started writing. I wrote a lot. It began as a blog but has become a book. I am proud to say it was just released on August 21, 2015!

Don’t get me wrong, I still have urges. They may never go away. However, I know now how to put a voice to my feelings and communicate with my loved ones. This past June, I celebrated two years clean of self­-injury. What an enormous milestone for me. I’m so grateful to the people that stuck by me during this journey. Nothing about it has been easy, but I am a survivor. In fact, I’m a warrior.


Rebecca LombardoAbout the Author: Rebecca Lombardo

 At 42 years of age and happily married for 14 years, Rebecca can finally say that she is on her way to reaching her dream. Not only does she hope to help people that are struggling with depression, she hopes to help them realize that you are never too old to find your voice.

Connect with Rebecca via email , or on Facebook or on TwitterYou can find out more about Rebecca’s book, It’s Not Your Journey by heading over to her website.

3 Comments

Anita LaFollette, MFT

I love that you have spoken out. I will use this for my clients so that they too can see the disease is not absolutely hopeless. Thank you

Reply
Rebecca McGranahan

Rebecca,
My name is Rebecca also snd like you I am 45 with bipolar disorder and a history of severe depression and suicide attempts. Every single person in my life wrote me off as dead and gave up on me but like you I am a warrior and still here living. I am back in school at age 45 finishing my psych degree, have an amazing supportive boyfriend, have reestablished ties and forgiven those who gave up on me and take my meds every day as I also realized that as much as we want to believe it there is no cure for bipolar. Living without the meds is debilitating even though living with them feels like a punishment for something I didn’t do. I don’t have a counselor but I am trying my best to improve myself every day and keep on track so I never fall back down into that scary abyss that anyone with bipolar is familiar with. I’m so proud of you for telling your story and inspiring others with mental illness to share theirs. There is such a stigma attached to being mentally ill. So much shame go along with the diagnosis. I know. Thank you for your courage. Your story was inspiring and I truly wish you all the best in your life’s persists and happiness…from one warrior to another.
Rebecca

Reply
Robert Hammel

Wonderful words Rebecca thank you. As more and more strong people like yourself come forward and talk about their own stories, it educates others about this type of mental suffering and hopefully the stigma lessens just a little bit as people gain some understanding.

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Today was an ending and a beginning. My darling girl finished year 12. The final year at school is tough enough, but this year was seismic. Our teens have moved through this year with the most outstanding courage and grace and strength, and now it is time for them to rest and play. My gosh they deserve it. 

It is true that this is a time of celebration, but it can also be an intense time of self-reflection for our teens. (I can remember the same feelings when my gorgeous boy finished so many years ago!) My daughter has described it as, ‘I feel as though I’ve outgrown myself but my new self isn’t ready yet.’ This just makes so much sense. 

There is a beautifully fertile void that is waiting for whatever comes next for each of them, but that void is still a void. At different times it might feel exciting, overwhelming, or brutal in its emptiness.

We also have to remember that this is a time of letting go, and there might be grief that comes with that. Before they can grab on to their next big adventure, they have to let go of the guard rails. This means gently adjusting their hold on the world they have known for the last 12+ years, with its places and routines and people that have felt like home on so many days. There will be redirects and shiftings, and through it all the things that need to stay will stay, and the things that need to adjust will adjust. 

To my darling girl, your loved incredible friends, and the teens who make our world what it is - you are the beautiful  thinkers, the big feelers, the creators, the change makers, and the ones who will craft and grow a better world. However you might feel now, the lights are waiting to shine for you and because of you. The world beyond school is opening its arms to you. That opening might happen quickly, or gently, or smoothly or chaotically, but it will happen. This world needs every one of you - your voices, your spirits, your fire, your softness, your strength and your power. You are world-ready, and we are so glad you are here xxx
When our kids or teens are in high emotion, their words might sound anxious, angry, inconsolable, jealous, defiant. As messy as the words might be, they have a good reason for being there. Big feelings surge as a way to influence the environment to meet a need. Of course, sometimes the fallout from this can be nuclear.
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Wherever there is a big emotion, there will always be an important need behind it - safety, comfort, attention, food, rest, connection. The need will always be valid, even if the way they’re going about meeting it is a little rough. As with so many difficult parenting moments, there will be gold in the middle of the mess if we know where to look. 
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There will be times for shaping the behaviour into a healthier response, but in the middle of a big feeling is not one of those times. Big feelings are NOT a sign of dysfunction, bad kids or bad parenting. They are a part of being human, and they bring rich opportunities for wisdom, learning and growth. .
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Parenting isn’t about stopping the emotional storms, but about moving through the storm and reaching the other side in a way that preserves the opportunity for our kids and teens to learn and grow from the experience - and they will always learn best from experience. 
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To calm a big feeling, name what you see, ‘I can see you’re disappointed. I know how much you wanted that’, or, ‘I can see this feels big for you,’ or, ‘You’re angry at me about .. aren’t you. I understand that. I would be mad too if I had to […],’ or ‘It sounds like today has been a really hard day.’ 
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When we connect with the emotion, we help soothe the nervous system. The emotion has done its job, found support, and can start to ease. 
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When they ‘let go’ they’re letting us in on their deepest and most honest emotional selves. We don’t need to change that. What we need to do is meet them where they and gently guide them from there. When they feel seen and understood, their trust in us and their connection to us will deepen, opening the way for our influence.
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When they are at that line, deciding whether to retreat to safety or move forward into brave, there will be a part of them that will know they have what it takes to be brave. It might be pale, or quiet, or a little tumbled by the noise from anxiety, but it will be there. And it will be magical. Our job as their flight crew is to clear the way for this magical part of them to rise. ‘I can see this feels scary for you - and I know you can do this.’ 
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When our kids or teens are struggling, it can be hard to know what they need. It can also be hard for them to say. It can be this way for all of us - we don't always know what we need from the people around us. It might be space, or distraction, or silence, or maybe acknowledging and being there is enough. Sometimes we might need to know that the people we love aren't taking our need for space, or our confusion or anger or sadness personally, and that they are still there within reach.
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What can be easier is thinking about what other people might need. Asking this when they are calm can invite a different perspective and can give you some insight into what they need to hear when they are going through similar. Don't worry if you just get a shrug, or a disheartened, 'I don't know'. They don't need to know, and neither do we. The question in itself might be enough to open a new way through any sense of 'stuckness' or helplessness they might be feeling.
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Give them space to talk but you don’t need to fix anything. You’ll want to, but the answers are in them, not us. Sometimes the answer will be to feel it out, or push for change, or feel the futility of it all so the feeling can let go, knowing it’s done it’s job - it’s recruited support, or raised awareness that something isn’t right.

Sometimes the feelings might be seismic but the words might be gone for a while. That’s okay too. Do they want to start with whatever words are there? Or talk about something else? Or go for a walk with you? Watch a movie with you? Or do a spontaneous, unnecessary drive thru with you just because you can - no words, no need to explain - just you and them and car music for the next 20 minutes. 

The more you can validate what they’re feeling (maybe, ‘Today was big for you wasn’t it’) and give them space to feel, the more they can feel the feeling, understand the need that’s fuelling it, and experiment with ways to deal with it. Sometimes, ‘dealing with it’ might mean acknowledging that there is something that feels big or important and a little out of reach right now, and feeling the fullness and futility of that. 

Part of building resilience is recognising that some days are rubbish, and that sometimes those days last for longer than they should, but we get through. First we feel floored, then we feel stuck, then we shift because the only choices we have we have are to stay down or move, even when moving hurts. Then, eventually we adjust - either ourselves, the problem, or to a new ‘is’. But the learning comes from experience.

I wish our kids never felt pain, but we don’t get to decide that. We don’t get to decide how our children grow, but we do get to decide how much space and support we give them for this growth. We can love them through it but we can’t love them out of it. I wish we could but we can’t.

So instead of feeling the need to silence their pain, make space for it. In the end we have no choice. Sometimes all the love in the world won’t be enough to put the wrong things right, but it can help them feel held while they move through the pain enough to find their out breath, and the strength that comes with that.♥️

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