I have struggled with self-harm, depression, and self-worth my entire life. Make no mistake about it, self-harm is an addiction. If it’s not taken seriously then it can lead to drug addictions like meth, heroin, and even suicide.
If you are addicted, or a parent, friend, partner of someone hurting themselves, know, you’re not alone. If you need immediate support for self-harm, The Crisis Text Line and Self-Injury Outreach & Support are just two of several resources available.
HIGH RISKS FOR LGBT COMMUNITY
Today, I’m proud to say that I’m an LGBTQ+ person living in recovery from self-harm, drug and alcohol addiction. However, the road to recovery has taught me many hard truths. One is that there is a higher risk of addiction, mental health, self-harm and suicide faced by the LGBTQ+ community than the general population. Additionally, it's harder for LGBTQ+ individuals to get the help they need.
According to Mental Health America, an estimated 44 million people in our country live with mental health conditions. My LGBT peers and I are three times as likely to experience conditions, like self-harm, meth addiction, anxiety disorder and depression due to experiencing traumatic events such as sexual assault, family rejection, and discrimination.
PAIN AND THE BRAIN
Physical pain is much easier to deal with than emotional pain. It's just how the brain functions.
The way the human brain developed is based on the need to be apart of a family, a group of friends...a community. One that works together to thrive, not just survive. We all crave socialization and attention. And when we feel lonely and cut-off from people, our brain releases cortisol, the alert chemical that we release when we fall and scrape our knee. This response mechanism makes us feel emotional pain when we are alone for too long.
This kind of pain is what we have come to know as loneliness and can lead to depression. Which can then lead to self-mutilation (cutting) and drug abuse (alcohol, meth, heroin). It is one of the root causes of other types of mental illnesses.
Once loneliness sets in, the mind can get stuck in a specific thought pattern. While another part of the brain is constantly trying to figure out a way to stop this pain.
When people don't have a community or support group to reach out to, we naturally try to fix the pain with various methods. From alcohol to prescription and street drugs, to sex, codependent relations, eating disorders, self-harm and gambling. All of these addictions are types of self-harm used to cope with mental agony.
SELF-HARM OFTEN STARTS YOUNG
Did you know that LGBT youth are two to four times as likely to cut, hit or bruise ourselves?
That’s at least twice as likely than heterosexual and cisgender youth. Drugs, alcohol, and self-harm are all ways to escape daily challenges. Anyone in recovery can relate to this. However, when you’re transgender, gay, or anyone else outside of the hetero-cis reality—some challenges can be traumatic. Trauma survivors may turn to self-harm as a distraction from their experiences.
According to a study referenced on Childhood Trauma Recovery, “84% of individuals who self-harmed reported that childhood trauma had contributed to their condition.”
Healing Place, an online mental health resource, states that “each year, 1 in 5 females and 1 in 7 males engage in self-injury.” Sources note that the average age that individuals begin to engage in self-harm activities is in adolescent years. Typically that age is around 14. However, self-harm can be a part of the growing pains teens experience. For some, it can be a phase, one that can be outgrown as the pressures of adolescence become more tolerable.
SELF-HARM AT ANY AGE
Many people continue to participate in forms of self-harm into their twenties. There are also individuals who, at any age, without access to their drug of choice, will pursue physical pain as a release from the emotional pain. Luckily, it is possible for people to find a means to end their habit to inflict injury upon themselves.
If you notice the signs of self-harm, mental health and addiction with a loved one, please reach out to professionals to find the help they need. Inspire Recovery is an addiction recovery and mental health facility that might be able to help. The center is specifically for LGBTQ+ folks, which is very important when it comes to alcohol, meth or any other addiction recovery. Call today to find out more.
Your loved one is hurting and the opportunity to heal and live a fulfilling life is possible. If nowhere else, starting with 12 step meetings can help any person begin their healing journey.
SELF-HARM IS AN ADDICTION
Physical pain is much easier for the mind to cope with than emotional pain. When someone cuts or hits themselves it releases chemicals in the brain that is simpler for it to understand than the emotional pain that the person is dealing with.
The more someone actively self-harms the more a person becomes physically dependent on it. Before they know it they are spiraling into one of the most dangerous addictions out there.
For me, and many people like me who struggle with addiction and depression—the more I went on with hurting myself, the more extreme forms of physical pain I craved.
THE POTENTIAL OF SUICIDE
The addiction comes from the release one experiences when they self-harm. Adrenaline is pumping, emotional pain is being numbed, and there is a big dopamine release. The person engaged in these activities has control at that exact moment. Compared to the people, circumstances, and events that can't be controlled. Through forms of self-abuse, they might feel like they can handle the challenges that they’re not processing in healthy ways.
Consequently, becoming addicted to the rush of self-harm can eventually lead someone to thoughts about experiencing the ultimate pain—which is death.
A study by Cornell University from 2012 showed that “independent of other risk factors, people who had self-injured were nearly three times as likely to attempt or consider suicide, while those with a history of five or more instances of self-injury were four times more likely to do so.”
Suicide attempts are often the result of long-term self-harm leading into a built-up desire and eventually the courage to attempt self-caused death.
TAKE SELF-HARM SERIOUSLY
Self-harm is one of the most brutal and deadly forms of addiction that there is.
If you know someone who is actively self-harming, please alert someone you trust who is close to them or a professional. A plan needs to be created to bring in professional support as soon as possible. However, be cautious. If you shame someone who is self-harming they might do something more extreme. Or, they might do all they can to convince you their fine and “stopped cutting” but hide their habits.
Remember that this is an extremely sensitive matter. A suicide attempt is possible and could come at any time. This addiction is on the same level as heroin addiction. Similar to a heroin overdose, death could potentially come unexpectedly.
SELF-HARM AND THE 12 STEPS OF RECOVERY
Let's take a look at how the 12 steps can play an important role in recovering from self-harm and suicidal behavior.
People self-harm for many different reasons but the ultimate source is some kind of loneliness. 12 step groups provide the recovering self-harm addict with a fellowship of people who have been through and are going through similar issues and struggles.
Even if there is not a readily available 12 step group for recovery from self-harm, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) can be a valid place of recovery for the person who is committing acts of self-harm. Chronic self-harm is a form of addiction. Those who self-harm will often be able to relate to similarities and dark places that the other people's addictions took them to.
ADDITIONAL 12 STEP PROGRAMS
Other 12 step programs that can support someone who does not have access to a self-harm group are Adult Children of Alcoholics/Dysfunctional Families (ACA or ACoA), Sex and Love Addiction (SALA) or Codependents Anonymous (CoDa).
12 step meetings can also be attended online and over the phone. These resources are invaluable for the individual who lives in a rural area. As well as, those unable to leave their home due to a disability, phobia or other challenges.
Remote 12 step groups also increase the attendance of those who prefer to stay in the comfort of their home. However, recovery is about getting out of your comfort zone. If we are always choosing what makes us feel safe and comfortable than we are not willing to do the work required to recover.
IT’S OK TO ASK FOR HELP
Many of the people who self-harm can not afford a therapist, if they could then they might not be self-harming. However, one-on-one therapy is a significant part of getting to the root cause of any addictive behavior.
Research shows that group therapy is also an important part of the healing process. At Inspire Recovery, the groups that I attended were instrumental in me feeling comfortable attending and sharing at 12 step meetings. Some groups were art-based, while others taught about controlling my emotions and how to cope when I got cravings.
If you’re LGBT, be sure to ask a treatment center about their programs and therapies. Ask how they consider the comfort of gay, trans or gender non-conforming people is prioritized. You might need to be at an LGBT-centered treatment center if you’re going to heal the root causes of your addictions.
Systems of support aid the individual to continue to commit to abstaining from their drug or addicted behavior of choice. This is what is also good about the design of working the 12 steps with a sponsor. You get that one-on-one attention that is needed, even if you don’t want it.
IT WORKS IF YOU WORK IT
The fellowship of 12 step groups gives the individual a way to relate to people and helps them to form a bond that can begin to fulfill their emotional needs.
A 12 step group provides them with a form of group therapy that they normally could not financially afford because 12 step groups are free.
The one-on-one work with a sponsor provides them with a free peer counselor of sorts who is qualified to lead them through the therapeutic recovery process of the 12 steps. This allows people to continue to form a friendship with their sponsor and potentially other people in their fellowship. Once completing the 12 steps, the person who has been freely given the support they so deeply needed is now in the position to sponsor others.
This is a healing process that is withstanding the test of time and completely changing the lives of people who previously felt helpless and hopefully. All of these actions can lead to them having a support system and staying connected to people who are willing to take the time to help others to recover from the addiction that is self-harm.
MY EXPERIENCE WITH SELF-HARM AND 12 STEP MEETINGS
From my own experience to the person who is struggling with self-harm, I want to go over how 12 step meetings have helped me on a personal level.
People in 12 step groups have been there for me in ways that people who have never struggled with depression, self-harm and addiction could ever have helped me. Its been much easier for me to listen to someone give me advise who has been through self-harm and cutting—or a similar form of self-harm, such as alcoholism or drug addiction—than it ever has been for me to take advise from someone who hasn't experienced the tremendous pain and loneliness that I have.
FINDING FELLOWSHIP IS A PART OF HEALING
Whenever I go to a 12 step meeting, no matter where I am, I know that there will always be someone there that I can relate to. 12 step groups have saved my life, in more ways than one. Even if you can't find a 12 step meeting for depression or self-harm I encourage you to go to an AA or an NA meeting. Pick up a white chip and start trying to not self-harm.
The way I did it was that every time I would cut or self-harm I would go and pick up a white chip at a meeting. I would view the self-harm I did as a relapse and talk to my sponsor and start the process of the 12 steps again. I am going to list a modified version of the 12 steps below, for recovery from self-harm.
TO ALL WHO ARE SUFFERING
I hope this article reaches the person looking for encouragement to stop harming yourself and get the help you deserve. I know that life can be too much to bear and self-harming feels like a way to fix your problems. I promise you there’s a better solution and it starts with getting out of isolation and into a 12 step meeting or some other form of therapy and support.
I know personally that a lot of people have a hard time committing to a 12 step program. Try and see past the initial uncomfortable feelings. Listening to other people’s hardships can be difficult. Sharing openly can be painful. Even the language in the recovery books can be a barrier for some. However, even if religion isn’t your thing you can replace any references to God or “him” to a higher power of your understanding.
Begin to have faith that your life can and will get better. Share what you’re struggling with at meetings or with a sponsor and begin to make a conscious shift from feeling alone, afraid, unloved, unworthy or any other feelings that keep you from living the life you deserve.
12 STEPS TO SELF-HARM RECOVERY
- We admitted that we were powerless over Self Harming, that our lives had become unmanageable.
- Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity
- Made the decision to turn our lives and our will over to our Higher Power as we understand them.
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- Admitted to our Higher Power, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of what had gone wrong.
- Became entirely ready for our Higher Power to change our lives for the better, and planned out a course of action with our sponsor to do so.
- Humbly asked our Higher Power to remove our depression. And took a course of action to be more positive every day.
- Made a list of all the people our Self Harming, and depression had hurt and began to make amends to them all.
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except for when to do so would bring harm to themselves, others, or myself.
- Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
- Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with our Higher Power as we understood Them, praying and meditating with the goal to carry out their will and to be better people.
- Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, and having had our lives improved. We started to carry this message to others who self-harmed and were depressed and began to practice these principles in all of our affairs.