I was an addict, but of a different kind

Trigger warning: This post talks about self-harm. If this is an issue for you,
please be aware that this post may be triggering for you.

I self-harmed for five years in total. By that I mean that for five years of my life I was actively harming myself. There were years in between where I was in ‘remissdrink-428310_640ion’ but it’s like the old saying about alcoholics: “Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic; but not always a drunk.” I will always have the penchant to turn to self-harm. It is my weakness now.

In the years that I was actively self-harming, I cut, burnt, hit (tried to break bones) and poisoned myself. Mostly it was cutting though. Back when I started, not many people knew about self-harm. They thought it was attention seeking or suicide attempts. It was neither. There are many reasons people cut, but if someone is doing it, it needs to be taken seriously. I mostly self-harmed because I didn’t know how to deal with the emotional pain inside, and physical pain is easier to deal with.

I only found out much later that self-harm is extremely addictive.

Little did I know that each time I hurt myself, a very powerful chemical was being released into my brain. The endogenous opioid system is triggered, which regulates pain perception and levels of the body’s pain-relieving chemicals: endorphins, dynorphins and enkephalins. These are all opiates. The word endorphin was coined by combining the words morphine and endogenous (naturally occurring in the body). But the body’s opioids are eight to ten times stronger than morphine.

The physical release in the body when someone self-harms is like a drug addict getting a fix. After a while, the body craves it. Ergo, a self-harmer becomes an addict. Unfortunately, this was and still is not widely known, even among the medical profession.

When I would present to A&E with self-harm injuries, I was not treated well. I was told I was stupid, I was wasting their time, and was even made to wait hours and hours, even though I had an open vein. Very rareldoctor-563428_640y was I treated with compassion. I hated going there, but I knew I had
to have treatment or I could get infections. I just couldn’t stop.

It also didn’t help that I was on a
certain antidepressant that was making the impulsive and suicidal tendencies worse. I didn’t find that out until after being on it for two years. I knew my mind was not my own, and each time the doctors increased the medication, I got worse. In the end, after waking up in the hospital after a massive overdose, with no idea why I was there or how I got there, I knew I had to stop taking it.

This was just in my particular case, although the medication was known to increase impulsivity and suicidal tendencies. If you feel this is also happening to you, please talk to your doctor first before doing anything.

I am much better now, and have not self-harmed for years, but there are still times when it is a temptation. The only thing is – unlike an alcoholic – I can’t just remove all the bottles from my house. I had to learn to use sharp objects without associating them with self-harm again. The only way I did that is with practice. I can now use a box-cutter with no thoughts of cutting in my mind. The brain can be retrained!

This post has been long enough. I hope you all have a great week!

J.A. Gates