Four Years of Freedom

I don’t really like to talk about self harm. Strangely enough I’d prefer to discuss pornography and the Church than talk about self harm.

Today, though, I get to celebrate four years of no self harm. So I’m going to talk about it. 

I have a difficult time being proud of that because there is always a little voice in the back of my head that tells me it is a dumb accomplishment. Every year I feel as if I’m able to conquer that voice just a little more and this year I’m shoving this blog post in its face because four years of no self harm is something to celebrate.

So if you haven’t figured it out yet, I used to be a self harmer. I had some dysfunctional family dynamics growing up that led to some unhealthy coping mechanisms. One was porn, which I’ve blogged about before, but another was self harm. Out of a place of utter desperation and frustration I used to cut myself. It is hard to even type that because it seems so irrational. Even as a former self harmer I have a difficult time explaining exactly why it helped. All I know is that it did. It was not healthy, but it got me through moments where I felt like I had no other choice.

There are a lot of stigmas surrounding self harm. The biggest one is that people self harm for attention. I hear a lot of people use this one when they see teenagers hurt themselves and it breaks my heart. Even if there is some truth, maybe it is time to give that hurting teenager positive attention, because if they need attention so badly that they resort to harming themselves then odds are there is a deeper issue.

Don’t just dismiss the deeper issue because someone is doing something for attention.

Another one is less of a stigma, more of an assumption. When I talk about self harm most people think it refers to cutting. In my case that is true. It is not, however, true in all cases. There are many other ways people hurt themselves and unfortunately a lot of them are easy to hide. Some people bruise themselves (“Oh, I just ran into a door”), others burn themselves (“Yeah, hurt myself baking again”), others pull out their hair, bang their heads into things, claw and pick at their skin, and a million other things that constitute self harm. Self harm is more than cutting.

So on the fourth anniversary of my sobriety, I wanted to bring attention to something that is very much a problem. I also wanted to share because I know there are strugglers out there who need to hear that they are not alone and that there is hope. I won’t lie and say that everything is perfect. There are moments where I feel like I am spiraling out of control and all I want to do is track down a knife and cope in my old unhealthy ways…but those days are few and far between, and thanks to the people in my life I don’t have to go through them alone anymore.

My biggest advice to anyone struggling, whether it is with self harm, pornography, or anything else that hinders your ability to find joy in life and brings you shame, is to reach out. Tell someone. E-mail a pastor anonymously, post it on an anonymous board, tell it to your dog, to your hamster, or if you’re brave tell it to a friend, an adult, a parent. The first step to learning how to cope in a healthy manner is this: Learn to cope with people, not alone.

As always, my e-mail inbox is open to anyone who needs to share:

Above all else I give thanks to God for being with me every step of the way. Here is to year five. 

Confessing a Struggle

1st John 1:9: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 

A friend of mine published an amazing book called Struggle Central. In it, he chronicles the various struggles he’s faced in his life so far. He does so boldly and through a series of “confessions” in which he explains his story and the work God has done in his life. God has redeemed my friend, and God has redeemed me. So I have a confession of my own to make:

My name is Katie, and I have struggled with an addiction to pornography for a very long time.

I say “have struggled” because even though I’ve found victory in it, it never ceases to be a struggle. People talking about it, spam links show up in my inbox, sites like tumblr where I can be browsing innocently and suddenly something appears and I have to scroll away as quickly as possible, and the general nature of today’s culture make it a difficult thing to stay away from.

There is no white-knuckling through a pornography addiction in the 21st century when thousands of hours of smut are just a click away.

This post makes me laugh because I was just telling a friend of mine yesterday that I felt like I was going to be called to write a blog post that I was not going to like writing…and I was sure right (as I sit here feeling convicted at 1am to write this). This confession makes me deeply uncomfortable, no matter how many times I’ve confessed it. I have even confessed it to a room full of my peers and professors during chapel, and writing it in this blog still makes me nervous. There is a dark part of me that winces whenever light is shone upon this particular issue, but I bring it up because I think it is important to start a dialogue about it.

For too long I have gone to churches where the pastor stands on a stage, tells the congregation that pornography is bad, and tells them they have to repent or else they are hurting themselves and everyone around them. The intent behind the meessage is good, but I think it is the method that scares people even more. As the church (to generalize, of course there are always exceptions) we have induced shame instead of creating an environment for healing. We’ve boxed up the issue and have put a big “just don’t do it” sticker on the front without actually addressing the contents of the box.

The church often fails to address the loneliness, the pain, the emptiness, the lust, and ultimately the hole that people are trying to fill when they view pornography.

It took me six years to confess it to someone because the shame I felt, magnified by the messages I was getting from the church, crippled me and kept me from speaking out. As an 18 year old I was scared out of my mind to confess that I struggled with pornography because all my life it had been made into the big bag wolf and I sure wasn’t going to admit to associating with a villain.

I felt scared instead of safe, alienated instead of welcome. Even to this day when I struggle, the old doubts pop into my head and the shame comes roaring out and I find myself pulling away and nursing the wound because admitting the struggle means admitting that I’ve somehow failed and that brings me shame.

I have a feeling I will write more on the topic as time goes on, because it is a topic I have long felt called to discuss. As a woman, as a Christian, and as a struggler I have a lot of personal experience with this particular vice and if my personal experience can bring someone healing, then I am all for sharing. It still scares me, it makes me nervous to wonder what my family will think, or what the friends I have never told will think, but I also think it is important to be open and honest so that others can feel comfortable being open and honest.

After all, it was my friend Tom’s honesty through his book that inspired me to write this post in the first place.

Feel free to post any thoughts you have in the comments below. I want to facilitate a discussion, not just preach at people. 

If you are interested in more from Thomas Mark Zuniga, author of Struggle Central, feel free to check out his blog.