I thought of a way to do creative self-harm. I was flossing the other day–I’d been worried about my mouth health. It’d been a while since I flossed, and I decided to give it a try.
I talked kindly to myself, like–You can just floss part of your mouth, and then you can floss the rest another time. I’m proud of you for trying. Yay. Certainly, flossing half my mouth was better than flossing none. It was uncomfortable, and my mouth was sore the rest of the day, but I was glad I tried.
Afterward, I realized that flossing was helping and hurting myself at the same time, which felt like a creative, useful way to self-harm. I could inflict pain upon myself, but usefully.
Self-harm I think of as doing a dramatic thing to let off steam. When I self-harmed as a kid, it was out of intense frustration. There was no way for me to get out my feelings, and I didn’t think about it much, just turned myself upon myself.
I’ve self-harmed many ways over my lifetime. Sleeping with a horrible lumpy pillow for years–sleeping with abusive people in bad relationships. Staying in terrible jobs, rather than searching for something better. Intentional weight loss diets, wearing painful bras, hating on myself emotionally. Blaming myself for things that didn’t make sense to blame myself for.
Smoking was self-harm, for sure. I smoked cigarettes for eight years, from age 16 to age 24. It was a way to regulate my emotions. And I could measure how much I wanted to hurt myself by how much I smoked in a day.
A friend lately told me about the stress cycle. I asked her how she deals with anger. She told me how dealing with the specific stressor isn’t what’s most important, just to complete the stress cycle. Her ideas were based on a book Burnout by some sisters Nagoski. She told me ways to complete the stress cycle, like exercise, breathing, physical affection, laughter, crying, making something.
Oh yes, I do all of those things. Well, I want more laughter. But blogging on a daily basis, making visual art, making zines, cooking delicious veg food–I’m making stuff all day. I knew it was important for me to do that, but I didn’t know why.
I thought I just need to speak my truth. But we can do things multi-purpose.
pain with meaning
Maybe self-harm can complete the stress cycle also. Like getting a tattoo or piercing, to experience pain with meaning. Usually there’s great meaning in a tattoo. People honor someone who died, celebrate they met a goal, including making it to a certain age. Or people get a tattoo on chest scars after top surgery.
I’ve known some people who enjoyed cutting or burning themselves, which I think was self-care in the form of self-harm. They could let off steam with self-harm in order to avoid poor choices such as suicide or other real destruction.
Their self-harm often seemed like a ritual. An ex of mine had a kit, including razor blades and gauze to patch themself up afterward. It was intentional, thought out, and responsibly done. It seemed like there was a spiritual need being met by the blood loss and pain.
Being their own priest, meeting some needs I didn’t understand. It was mysterious. I didn’t like it and couldn’t relate. But I trusted them to do what they needed to do. Of course. The self-harm predated me, and probably postdated me also.
So yeah, I wanted to offer you the idea of flossing, if you need to self-harm. Dentists always told me if I flossed enough, my gums would toughen up, and it would no longer hurt. Well, they were lying or wrong. My gums are perpetually un-tough; my body is weird. Bodies vary.
Thank you for doing what you need to do in order to continue with your life’s work, including creative self-harm and all the complicated ways we handle stress and anger and the injustices that the world is full of, even more now, as society collapses.