Like quitting anything addictive, giving up self-harm (unfortunately) isn’t usually a quick process. The desire to harm probably won’t dissipate after using a few alternatives. And other than just the desire, it is very common for individuals to relapse. There can be many triggers to a relapse and also many things to learn from it, but most importantly self-harm relapses do not mean you have failed.
If you wanted to quit self-injury then why did you slip up? If there is any self-harm topic that I personally know the best it would be relapse. And in my own personal life there have been a vast array of triggers that have gotten me off track. I have only dealt with some of the many. I will go through a few triggers that I have either been through personally or understand why it could be a trigger.
- Dramatic events: About a year and a half ago one of my best friends passed away. I had been self-harming for a while up until this point. At first I was in shock. I didn’t want to acknowledge any pain yet so I didn’t feel the need to self-harm. After few weeks the event and all its consequences started to catch up with me. Having that built up (as well as the natural toll any event like that takes on an individual) caused such great tension and depression that it was difficult to even imagine options other than self-harm. And although it may have helped initially, overall I was upset with myself for starting back up. Other dramatic events could be bad break ups. For me, every rejection comes with my own questioning of my self-worth. This can lead to anger towards myself and with that harm. Any other events, such as natural disasters, violence, or abuse can have similar effects.
- Stress: Having work to do can be a good thing. With enough work I can keep focused and my thoughts won’t drift into dark territories. On the other hand, too much work can be exceedingly frightening. Fear of deadlines, unsatisfactory work, or the consequences of such can make the workload even tougher than it was. And once you build up all this stress it’s hard to shake it off and just keep plowing through. It may seem necessary to release some of the tension through self-harm to be able to get back to your work. It may sound silly, but at times I’ve actually found it to help. With its many drawbacks, of course.
- Depression: Even without clinical depression, everyone has their fair share of blue moods. It can be hard to get out of these moods. Wanting to “snap out” of these moods or the potential endorphin release can make self-harm sound appealing.
- Loss of hope: If you do relapse, that event may be a trigger in and of itself. The (false) idea that “you’re not going to get better” can make you lose sight of recovery.
Relapsing isn’t pretty stuff. It can be extremely upsetting to have worked so hard to quit just to find yourself back in a sadly familiar rut. A very common thought is that it should be time to give up. Or that relapsing is a sign of being unable to improve or not having strong enough will power. As guilty as I am myself for having similar thoughts, they are horrendously incorrect.
If you are making an honest effort to quit, that’s admirable itself! Despite the emotional toll of self-injury, it can become a habit. Although we can adapt to change, it can be uncomfortable to make that first step out of a comfort zone, even if that comfort is hurting. If you have at least honestly considered quitting, didn’t self-harm when you felt the desire, or used an alternative, you have already taken a step out of this comfort zone. And for something of this nature, trying should always be admired.
Recovery is really about the journey. Even if you fully break away from the desire, recovery isn’t just over. You don’t just reach a certain point and you’re done with it forever. Some people may never think of self-harm ever again, but others may reconsider it years later. It isn’t about being “done”, it’s about becoming stronger and learning to cope without the destructive behavior, whether it’s self-harm, drugs, alcohol, or anything related. Although this sounds a bit frightening, in another sense slip-ups don’t sound nearly as drastic. Recovery is a path you take. You may trip over a few rocks or veer away for some time, but it’s still a continuous path. It’s going to be there forever. Some days may be foggy and it will be hard to find. But if you keep a sense of where you are or get direction from certain people, you can find it again.
As I said before, once you relapse it can be hard to get back on track. As upset as you may be, you need to remind yourself that it isn’t the end. Relapses are very common and you aren’t a weak person because you gave in. Dwelling on the disappointment will only hold you back. Look at what triggered you to relapse and try to avoid those situations or react differently next time. You have probably accomplished so much already that the relapse is comparison isn’t that big of a deal. A relapse can occur after one week or one year. What matters is how much self-harm you have avoided already and how much more you can avoid. You can’t be free from imperfections, but you can learn from your mistakes and improve how you manage things.
A relapse is merely a pothole on the road to self-harm recovery, not a dead end. Don’t lose hope.
All the topics I have written on up till now have been based off of ideas from a recent school report of mine. These were the main components I wished to address, but I still have every intention of keeping this blog up. Hopefully I can find other self-harm ideas I didn’t mention before, elaborate on news events or scientific advances, or perhaps even take requests from my readers. If not, I have a few small ideas that I might be able to form into posts.
Thanks for staying with me thus far. It has really meant a lot!
The Empathetic Activist