I have hurt myself, sometimes quite seriously, many times. It is difficult to rank serious self-harm and suicidal events because one must take into account both the physical and psychological damage. But while there is a good deal of subjectivity involved, there is no question that what I did to myself last week ranks up there as among the most serious in my lifetime.
Physical damage is what most use to rank such events because it is quantifiable. Like many others, I have taken dozens of overdoses over the years. Two of them were objectively different from all the rest. They were the ones which were especially calculated. They involved taking many times the lethal dose. And they were preceded by taking sedatives so that I would not be able to change my mind and go to anyone for help afterwards. Those were obviously serious physically and I was lucky to have survived them many years ago.
Hurting myself in the present often involves recreating past abuse. This has gone on for years, is often an instinctive response, and is something I am ashamed of. It has been damaging because I have perpetuated the abuse done to me and has led to all sorts of problems. What makes it difficult is that most of the problems are psychological and comparatively easier to hide.
As I have healed, the more I appreciate the extent of the psychological damage of this kind of self harm. To put it into some context, long ago when my psyche was much more separated, these self harm events were more isolated. While it undoubtedly caused psychological damage, hurt aspects of me had little or no understanding of where their distress was coming from.
Without question, increased awareness and internal communication—whatever level one dissociates—are necessary components to healing and tools to help keep us safe. But there are no guarantees of safety. When safety is breached, the increased awareness leads to a totally different perspective of the effects of self abuse.
What happened last week was arguably, for me by my own scale, the most serious event of its kind ever by many measures. To call it self harm or self abuse is not even adequate. Self harm was the terminology I used a decade ago. Self abuse is the terminology I began using a few years ago. What happened last week was a psychological suicide attempt. I think it is important for me to be as precise as possible and not cloak what happened with more sanitized terminology.
A couple days ago, I did an analysis of both the events and feelings which has led me to label what happened in such a unambiguous way. While a lot of the actual events are lost or in flashes, I have enough information to know that what happened was in a totally different class from past events. I also have hard data, which was able to give me a perspective that is much clearer than any similar event before.
But the saddest piece comes not from the actual harmful events. Not from what was done to my body or done to my psyche.
The plan from the night before was to be admitted to the hospital, where I am now. I had become too unstable, too fragmented, and too much at risk. I told my therapist I needed some time to tie up some loose ends at work and do some last minute preparations.I was supposed to be in hospital admissions by 6 pm. That was the agreement I made.
It turned out that I was not grounded enough to be trusted with such an agreement or such an amount of time on my own.
I know there was internal conflict about getting hurt that day. That conflict usually is what keeps me safe. But there was very little sense of reality and no sense of ground. And, so, "safety" and "getting hurt" existed as their own isolated parallel threads. That dynamic of polar opposites existing simultaneously increased the safety risk manyfold.
At one point, I was at a tibetan arts store to get my wife, who is into yoga, a Christmas gift. Amidst all the confusion and fragmentation, at 1:45 pm I wrote these words in my journal: "Healing. Went to the tibetan store for a present. Big shift now towards safety. But confusion and conflict too." That nearly led to a change of course to not get hurt. But it was not enough.
At the store, I also searched for a gift for my therapist, my "healing guide". I thoroughly explored the shop and what I found for her was a compassion stone. It is a small stone from India with the "Om mani padme hum" mantra on compassion in Tibetan script . This is sad because it is proof that there were enormous coexisting efforts to be safe and also to be hurt.
While it certainly feels like my "gift" to my therapist is tainted, I hope we can take from this something positive.
This stone, then, obviously has critical significance. It perhaps should sit in my therapist's office, or be accessible to us. We should use it as a reminder of how the desperate effort to be safe and compassionate was destroyed—within minutes.
For me, that stone will probably be my most important icon in the world. It is something tangible from that horrible day. It will mean more to me than the medical records I have from the major overdoses. More than poems I have written from long ago about sad events and abuse. More than any art work I have made. Even more than records I have from the Catholic Church.
That stone represents the fact that I made a choice. That stone embodied all of my hope. It embodied all of my compassion. And I, and I alone, made the choice to destroy all of that.
I will never forget that.
And now I have to pick up the pieces and recreate what I have destroyed.