This I Believe – Coming Clean

Writing this essay was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do. It’s not hard because I’m a bad writer, or I struggle with English class, or I don’t have a topic to write about. This is hard because I’m not sure how to open up to people about one of the most personal aspects of my life. Rather than dancing around the topic, I’ll come right out and say it. I self-harm myself.

It’s hard to describe to someone who’s never cut before exactly what makes me do it or why it makes me feel better. However, I can tell you when it started and when it progressed to the point where I honestly couldn’t stop anymore.

When I started dating Mike, I was more than a little nervous. He was my first serious boyfriend, and I was only a freshman while he was a junior in high school already. I’d known him for about a year at that point. We went to the same church and attended youth group every Wednesday night. He was like a big brother to me and was immediately protective of me. I originally thought this heroism was sweet, his way of showing that he cared about our friendship and about my well-being. I didn’t realize that this was the first sign that something was terribly wrong with him.

The first time Mike hit me, I didn’t know what to think. We fought often, but I attributed that to the fact that we both were very opinionated and outgoing people. I knew he loved me, even when we fought, so I never thought of it as a major problem. This particular day, we had been arguing again. Looking back, I can’t even remember what the fight had been about. At one point in the fight, I told him I was going to walk home. My house was a short distance from his, and I was so upset that I had wanted to walk and clear my head rather than have him drive me home. When I started to gather my things and walk towards the door, he chased after me, begging me not to go and to stay so we could talk things out. I told him no, that I would call him later, and that I was leaving. I turned around to tell him goodbye, and he raised his hand to me. I flinched away, but he had stopped, so I thought maybe I had imagined it. I realized I was wrong when he again raised his fist to punch me in the arm. We both stood there, silent, for a moment before I ran out of the door. He followed me, apologizing and saying it would never happen again, that it was an accident, but I was already on the phone with a friend of mine, asking her to come get me.
Later that week, Mike brought me flowers and chocolate and begged for my forgiveness, saying it would never happen again and that he didn’t want to lose me. I trusted him, and so I believed him and accepted his apology. For a few weeks, things were peaceful. But then, once again, a fight broke out and he became violent again, this time pinning me to his bed when I tried to leave. He locked the door, jumped on top of me and held me down so that I couldn’t move or breathe. I was terrified. Finally, I gathered enough air in my lungs to let out a small scream, and he let me go, once again apologizing over and over again. I was scared, so I walked home. The next day, I woke up to flowers sitting on my bedside table. He had dropped them off while I was sleeping and my dad had put them on my table for me. Nobody suspected what was really going on in our relationship. I lied to people about the scars and bruises on my body. I told them that I had fallen down, that Mike and I had been fooling around and it had gotten a little rough, that my cat had scratched me, anything but the truth. When Mike pushed me off of a 6 foot tall ledge onto a parking lot full of broken glass, I told my parents that I had fallen down off of the curb in the parking lot at the mall. I could tell they were skeptical, but I stuck to my story until they finally dropped it.

At this point, I was terrified to leave him. However, on the other hand, I didn’t want to leave him even if I had the chance. When somebody you love hits you, you’re almost paralyzed in a way. You never thought in a million years that the person who says they loved you would hurt you so badly. By the time you manage to wrap your head around it, they’re apologizing and bring gifts and crying for you to take them back. It’s an endless cycle of lies and confusion.

When Mike joined the U.S Army, he didn’t tell me first. He lied and said he was going to his grandparents house for the weekend, when he was actually going with his grandpa to enlist. I was terrified. Looking back, I probably should have been happy. The Army gave me a way to date Mike at a distance. But it doesn’t work that way. When someone you love decides to join the service, it’s a terrifying experience. You’re filled with emotions ranging from overwhelming pride to overwhelming fear and everything else in between. I originally thought that Mike was going to be leaving for basic training seven months after enlisting, but they changed that at the last minute. He was going to be leaving in one month instead of seven. All the time that I thought I would have with him before he left was suddenly gone and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I felt like my world was crashing down around my feet while I sat by and was forced to watch, helpless.

After Mike left for Basic Training, I was torn apart. I didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning, let alone go to school and have to face everybody staring at me and telling me that they knew how I felt. Every time somebody said those words, “I know how you feel,” I wanted to hit them. How could they know how I felt? None of them knew what it was like to lose somebody like that. I felt like I had done something wrong to chase him away. I knew I was being ridiculous, but that’s how it works when somebody hits you. They manipulate you and confuse you. They use you. I was no different than any of the other countless girls in the world who get physically and emotionally abused by their spouse or partner.

When Mike came back to visit between Basic Training and his eighteen-week Advanced Individual Training, I was more than excited. He was coming home over Christmas, my birthday, and New Years. However, this is when the worst time he hit me came. We were driving to his aunt’s house. I had just given blood for the first time and had almost passed out due to my blood pressure dropping so low. I had been on an I.V for almost 2 hours and had been at the blood center with Mike for over 4 hours. Needless to say, I wasn’t in the best physical condition. We started arguing on our way to his aunt’s house for dinner. It was snowing heavily and there was already a good six inches of snow on the ground. We pulled into a gas station near his aunt’s house. I was terrified that he was going to hit me, so I started the short walk to his aunt’s house while he went inside to pay. He saw me on the side of the road, pulled over, and forced me into the car. With no seatbelts on, he swerved for a deer and we crashed into a massive snow bank. I hit my head on the dash board and he hit his on the steering wheel. We were a little battered, but overall fine. He then turned to me and blamed me for getting into the accident. He pushed my head against the side of the truck hard, giving me a large bump on the side of my head. He punched me in the arm that I had donated with until I was seeing spots. After what seemed like a lifetime, his dad came with his truck to pull us out of the ditch and bring us to his aunt’s house to relax and eat. After dinner, Mike and I went into the basement to watch a movie. He was pretending like nothing had happened, so I figured that maybe it was over and we were ok. I was very wrong. Mike set up the movie, asked me to come lie on the bed with him, and began taking my clothes off. I asked him what he was doing, and he told me that I owed him. He said I was going to have sex with him to make up for all of the fighting and for “being a baby.” He forced me onto the bed, pulled my clothes off, and got on top of me. I was terrified. I began to cry as he tried to quiet me down. When it was clear I wasn’t going to be quiet, he gave up, got mad at me, slapped me across the face, and began to play the movie. After that, he acted like nothing had ever happened. A few days later, he went away again and it was months before I would see him again.

I finally turned to cutting to ease the pain. I had cut before when I had to change schools right before high school, but it had never been something I did very frequently until now. After I cut, it’s like a weight has been lifted off of my shoulders. When I started cutting, it was just a few small marks, barely breaking the skin, but throughout high school it got worse. I was dealing with problems kids my age shouldn’t have to go through: an abusive boyfriend, lack of close friends or family members, a few close friends joining the military, a boyfriend joining the army without telling me first, emotional and verbal abuse at home, and gossip and rumors spread around my school about me. Cutting became my escape. With my eyes down, and long sleeves covering my wrists, I hid from everyone. Solitude became safer than interacting with the world. I was holding my own personal masquerade ball where I clung to my mask as if my life depended on it.

Eventually, cutting wasn’t enough. I was burning myself and not eating or sleeping. At first, I hid the marks and scars. It was my dirty little secret. I would go through an endless cycle of making promises to myself that I would stop this time, just to end up breaking them a few days later. I felt like a disappointment, a failure. Honestly, sometimes I still do.

Although today I don’t cut nearly as much as I used to, I still have rough days where I’ll slip. I have days where I’m so happy I can’t imagine ever cutting again and days where I can hardly drag myself out of bed in the morning. I live my life moment by moment most days.

Many people have looked at me and judged me. I suppose I’ve brought that on myself. But this is what I believe: I shouldn’t have to hide anymore because my past does not define my future. Just because I may have some scars and I may be unsure, that does not mean that I will be destined to fail. Going to college is going to be my fresh start. I will hide no longer. I will be ashamed no longer. Everyone is fighting their own battle, just because my battle happens to be with self-harm and abuse doesn’t mean I should have to be embarrassed by my scars. I believe that I can overcome my challenges and come out on the other side stronger than I started. And so, this is me. This is who I am, with my scars and my tears, with no more secrets, and with an open heart, looking for new friends, a fresh start, and a better tomorrow.

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