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.

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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For way too long, there’s been an idea that discipline has to make kids feel bad if it’s going to steer them away from bad choices. But my gosh we’ve been so wrong. 

The idea is a hangover from behaviourism, which built its ideas on studies done with animals. When they made animals scared of something, the animal stopped being drawn to that thing. It’s where the idea of punishment comes from - if we punish kids, they’ll feel scared or bad, and they’ll stop doing that thing. Sounds reasonable - except children aren’t animals. 

The big difference is that children have a frontal cortex (thinking brain) which animals and other mammals don’t have. 

All mammals have a feeling brain so they, like us, feel sad, scared, happy - but unlike us, they don’t feel shame. The reason animals stop doing things that make them feel bad is because on a primitive, instinctive level, that thing becomes associated with pain - so they stay away. There’s no deliberate decision making there. It’s raw instinct. 

With a thinking brain though, comes incredibly sophisticated capacities for complex emotions (shame), thinking about the past (learning, regret, guilt), the future (planning, anxiety), and developing theories about why things happen. When children are shamed, their theories can too easily build around ‘I get into trouble because I’m bad.’ 

Children don’t need to feel bad to do better. They do better when they know better, and when they feel calm and safe enough in their bodies to access their thinking brain. 

For this, they need our influence, but we won’t have that if they are in deep shame. Shame drives an internal collapse - a withdrawal from themselves, the world and us. For sure it might look like compliance, which is why the heady seduction with its powers - but we lose influence. We can’t teach them ways to do better when they are thinking the thing that has to change is who they are. They can change what they do - they can’t change who they are. 

Teaching (‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘How can you put this right?’) and modelling rather than punishing or shaming, is the best way to grow beautiful little humans into beautiful big ones.

#parenting
Sometimes needs will come into being like falling stars - gently fading in and fading out. Sometimes they will happen like meteors - crashing through the air with force and fury. But they won’t always look like needs. Often they will look like big, unreachable, unfathomable behaviour. 

If needs and feelings are too big for words, they will speak through behaviour. Behaviour is the language of needs and feelings, and it is always a call for us to come closer. Big feelings happen as a way to recruit support to help carry an emotional load that feels too big for our kids and teens. We can help with this load by being a strong, calm, loving presence, and making space for that feeling or need to be ‘heard’. 

When big behaviour or big feelings are happening, whenever you can be curious about the need behind it. There will always be a valid one. Meet them where they without needing them to be different. Breathe, validate, and be with, and you don’t need to do more than that. 

Part of building resilience is recognising that some days and some things are rubbish, and that sometimes those days and things 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. They can’t learn to manage big feelings unless they have big feelings. They can’t learn to read the needs behind their feelings if they don’t have the space to let those big feelings come back to small enough so the needs behind them can step forward. 

When their world has spikes, and when we give them a soft space to ‘be’, we ventilate their world. We help them find room for their out breath, and for influence, and for their wisdom to grow from their experiences and ours. In the end we have no choice. They will always be stronger and bigger and wiser and braver when they are with you, than when they are without. It’s just how it is.♥️
When kids or teens have big feelings, what they need more than anything is our strong, safe, loving presence. In those moments, it’s less about what we do in response to those big feelings, and more about who we are. Think of this like providing a shelter and gentle guidance for their distressed nervous system to help it find its way home, back to calm. 

Big feelings are the way the brain calls for support. It’s as though it’s saying, ‘This emotional load is too big for me to carry on my own. Can you help me carry it?’ 

Every time we meet them where they are, with a calm loving presence, we help those big feelings back to small enough. We help them carry the emotional load and build the emotional (neural) muscle for them to eventually be able to do it on their own. We strengthen the neural pathways between big feelings and calm, over and over, until that pathway is so clear and so strong, they can walk it on their own. 

Big beautiful neural pathways will let them do big, beautiful things - courage, resilience, independence, self regulation. Those pathways are only built through experience, so before children and teens can do any of this on their own, they’ll have to walk the pathway plenty of times with a strong, calm loving adult. Self-regulation only comes from many experiences of co-regulation. 

When they are calm and connected to us, then we can have the conversations that are growthful for them - ‘Can you help me understand what happened?’ ‘What can help you so this differently next time?’ ‘How can you put things right? Do you need my help to do that?’ We grow them by ‘doing with’ them♥️
Big feelings, and the big behaviour that comes from big feelings, are a sign of a distressed nervous system. Think of this like a burning building. The behaviour is the smoke. The fire is a distressed nervous system. It’s so tempting to respond directly to the behaviour (the smoke), but by doing this, we ignore the fire. Their behaviour and feelings in that moment are a call for support - for us to help that distressed brain and body find the way home. 

The most powerful language for any nervous system is another nervous system. They will catch our distress (as we will catch theirs) but they will also catch our calm. It can be tempting to move them to independence on this too quickly, but it just doesn’t work this way. Children can only learn to self-regulate with lots (and lots and lots) of experience co-regulating. 

This isn’t something that can be taught. It’s something that has to be experienced over and over. It’s like so many things - driving a car, playing the piano - we can talk all we want about ‘how’ but it’s not until we ‘do’ over and over that we get better at it. 

Self-regulation works the same way. It’s not until children have repeated experiences with an adult bringing them back to calm, that they develop the neural pathways to come back to calm on their own. 

An important part of this is making sure we are guiding that nervous system with tender, gentle hands and a steady heart. This is where our own self-regulation becomes important. Our nervous systems speak to each other every moment of every day. When our children or teens are distressed, we will start to feel that distress. It becomes a loop. We feel what they feel, they feel what we feel. Our own capacity to self-regulate is the circuit breaker. 

This can be so tough, but it can happen in microbreaks. A few strong steady breaths can calm our own nervous system, which we can then use to calm theirs. Breathe, and be with. It’s that simple, but so tough to do some days. When they come back to calm, then have those transformational chats - What happened? What can make it easier next time?

Who you are in the moment will always be more important than what you do.
How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting

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