My Recovery From Self-Injury

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.

2 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

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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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Anxiety shows up to check that you’re okay, not to tell you that you’re not. It’s your brain’s way of saying, ‘Not sure - there might be some trouble here, but there might not be, but just in case you should be ready for it if it comes, which it might not – but just in case you’d better be ready to run or fight – but it might be totally fine.’ Brains can be so confusing sometimes! 

You have a brain that is strong, healthy and hardworking. It’s magnificent and it’s doing a brilliant job of doing exactly what brains are meant to do – keep you alive. 

Your brain is fabulous, but it needs you to be the boss. Here’s how. When you feel anxious, ask yourself two questions:

- ‘Do I feel like this because I’m in danger or because there’s something brave or important I need to do?’

- Then, ‘Is this a time for me to be safe (sometimes it might be) or is this a time for me to be brave?

And remember, you will always have ‘brave’ in you, and anxiety doesn’t change that a bit.♥️

#positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #parenting #childanxiety #heywarrior #heywarriorbook
The temptation to fix their big feelings can be seismic. Often this is connected to needing to ease our own discomfort at their discomfort, which is so very normal.

Big feelings in them are meant to raise (sometimes big) feelings in us. This is all a healthy part of the attachment system. It happens to mobilise us to respond to their distress, or to protect them if their distress is in response to danger.

Emotion is energy in motion. We don’t want to bury it, stop it, smother it, and we don’t need to fix it. What we need to do is make a safe passage for it to move through them. 

Think of emotion like a river. Our job is to hold the ground strong and steady at the banks so the river can move safely, without bursting the banks.

However hard that river is racing, they need to know we can be with the river (the emotion), be with them, and handle it. This might feel or look like you aren’t doing anything, but actually it’s everything.

The safety that comes from you being the strong, steady presence that can lovingly contain their big feelings will let the emotional energy move through them and bring the brain back to calm.

Eventually, when they have lots of experience of us doing this with them, they will learn to do it for themselves, but that will take time and experience. The experience happens every time you hold them steady through their feelings. 

This doesn’t mean ignoring big behaviour. For them, this can feel too much like bursting through the banks, which won’t feel safe. Sometimes you might need to recall the boundary and let them know where the edges are, while at the same time letting them see that you can handle the big of the feeling. Its about loving and leading all at once. ‘It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to use those words at me.’

Ultimately, big feelings are a call for support. Sometimes support looks like breathing and being with. Sometimes it looks like showing them you can hold the boundary, even when they feel like they’re about to burst through it. And if they’re using spicy words to get us to back off, it might look like respecting their need for space but staying in reaching distance, ‘Ok, I’m right here whenever you need.’♥️
We all need certain things to feel safe enough to put ourselves into the world. Kids with anxiety have magic in them, every one of them, but until they have a felt sense of safety, it will often stay hidden.

‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what they feel. At school, they might have the safest, most loving teacher in the safest, most loving school. This doesn’t mean they will feel enough relational safety straight away that will make it easier for them to do hard things. They can still do those hard things, but those things are going to feel bigger for a while. This is where they’ll need us and their other anchor adult to be patient, gentle, and persistent.

Children aren’t meant to feel safe with and take the lead from every adult. It’s not the adult’s role that makes the difference, but their relationship with the child.

Children are no different to us. Just because an adult tells them they’ll be okay, it doesn’t mean they’ll feel it or believe it. What they need is to be given time to actually experience the person as being safe, supportive and ready to catch them.

Relationship is key. The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains in our way. When we feel someone really caring about us, we’re more likely to open up to their influence
and learn from them.

But we have to be patient. Even for teachers with big hearts and who undertand the importance of attachment relationships, it can take time.

Any adult at school can play an important part in helping a child feel safe – as long as that adult is loving, warm, and willing to do the work to connect with that child. It might be the librarian, the counsellor, the office person, a teacher aide. It doesn’t matter who, as long as it is someone who can be available for that child at dropoff or when feelings get big during the day and do little check-ins along the way.

A teacher, or any important adult can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
There is a beautiful ‘everythingness’ in all of us. The key to living well is being able to live flexibly and more deliberately between our edges.

So often though, the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ we inhale in childhood and as we grow, lead us to abandon some of those precious, needed parts of us. ‘Don’t be angry/ selfish/ shy/ rude. She’s not a maths person.’ ‘Don’t argue.’ Ugh.

Let’s make sure our children don’t cancel parts of themselves. They are everything, but not always all at once. They can be anxious and brave. Strong and soft. Angry and calm. Big and small. Generous and self-ish. Some things they will find hard, and they can do hard things. None of these are wrong ways to be. What trips us up is rigidity, and only ever responding from one side of who we can be.

We all have extremes or parts we favour. This is what makes up the beautiful, complex, individuality of us. We don’t need to change this, but the more we can open our children to the possibility in them, the more options they will have in responding to challenges, the everyday, people, and the world. 

We can do this by validating their ‘is’ without needing them to be different for a while in the moment, and also speaking to the other parts of them when we can. 

‘Yes maths is hard, and I know you can do hard things. How can I help?’

‘I can see how anxious you feel. That’s so okay. I also know you have brave in you.’

‘I love your ‘big’ and the way you make us laugh. You light up the room.’ And then at other times: ‘It can be hard being in a room with new people can’t it. It’s okay to be quiet. I could see you taking it all in.’

‘It’s okay to want space from people. Sometimes you just want your things and yourself for yourself, hey. I feel like that sometimes too. I love the way you know when you need this.’ And then at other times, ‘You looked like you loved being with your friends today. I loved watching you share.’

The are everything, but not all at once. Our job is to help them live flexibly and more deliberately between the full range of who they are and who they can be: anxious/brave; kind/self-ish; focussed inward/outward; angry/calm. This will take time, and there is no hurry.♥️

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