Self-Inflicted Violence: creating a menu of options for coping, even for living with grief and joy and fear and love…

May 30th, 2013

These past 2 months have been a wild ride, and I wasn’t on a horse very much. Life brought experiences that were deeply moving and difficult. Opportunities for growth were everywhere, and I found myself struggling and finding myself at the same time.

Meet my nephew (I have a family that adopted me as an adult, so now I have an extended network of beloved relations created by choice). This is Conor and his daughter Selena. Beautiful. This beautiful child changed his life for the better, exponentially. She made his life much happier than he had known it could be. And his life was a short one. We lost him on April 5th, nine days after a car accident he’d been in on his way to work.

Obviously it has been a brutally hard time for many, especially his mother and twin sister, Erin. We all coped in many ways: often we bonded together and hugged, some prayed, some kept vigil, some kept a whole circle of people in touch. And many of us coped with our more harmful ways. Some went back to smoking, or smoked a lot, some drank, some raged, some spaced out… The day before the accident I was a sober vegan. The day after I was a junk foodaholic when not drinking. I also hugged and helped and wept and tended to those I love. We all have gotten insight into how we cope, and are slowly healing ourselves piece by piece as we adjust to a different world without Conor. Actually I was surprised that the two of us in the family who have lived with SIV did not turn to cutting or burning. I guess it just didn’t seem necessary, though we would have understood each other if we would have. Perhaps that is why we didn’t need to?

While trying to deal with the loss of Conor I had a second challenge. The friend with whom I had rescued our three horses decided to pursue things differently. Ultimately she took Pocket, the first horse we rescued together, to a different farm and I took sole responsibility for Harriett and Cloudd (see earlier posts if interested). I knew I could not afford both horses and was overwhelmed and felt so helpless… and I could not easily find a home as both of them have special challenges…

Hmmm… Helplessness and overwhelm, aren’t those just the classic triggers that so many of us struggle with? I wasn’t sure how to cope but in this situation I had many more options, didn’t I? What a different experience… I coped by creating options, asking for advice, asking for help, looking for answers… and I got some great advice, much help and encouragement, and an offer to work off the board for one of the horses. I am a farm hand and just grinning. And one of the greatest celebrations is that Erin, Conor’s sister, cherishes my horses and they have brought her not only comfort but laughter as well even in the hardest of times.

I’m writing all this as a way to think about the intense but various ways I coped in my most recent challenging times. It has been helpful not to judge myself too harshly for the ways I wish I hadn’t, the eating and drinking, but yet I have a newfound sense of compassion for myself as well. Healing is never perfect nor linear, is it?

So, how have you been? Has your healing been rocky or smooth, expansive or survival, supported or lonely?

SIV: Dignity, anyone?

March 7th, 2013

I spent most of the past week in New York City traveling to various boroughs with several passionate and fun colleagues.  We provided trainings on trauma-informed care, and suggestions on how to reduce restraint and seclusion, to various agencies.  Most of our time was spent in residential children’s facilities.  The beliefs and attitudes we encountered varied greatly from agency to agency and person to person.  I came home deeply touched by some of the people I met and sad and worried about others.

My portion of the trainings was to lecture on the concept that what the mental health system labels as symptoms are actually adaptations to childhood traumatic experiences.  My charge was to teach the clinicians that what they were trained to see as illnesses and symptoms have trauma as the basic reason for their existence.  My point was that, rather than being smitten by illness, people adapt to what has happened to them.  As self-injury is a great concern to most providers, and one of the behaviors that ends up with people being locked away and tied down, SIV was a primary focus of my training.  I did not have much time for my sessions, so I thought long and hard about how to prioritize what I wanted people to learn.

When I heard one of the facility directors begin his introduction of our training by first addressing his employees as those who do “such heroic work with very severely disturbed children…” I knew the most important message I wanted to give.  A change of perspective was my greatest gift to offer.

So everywhere we traveled I decided to emphasize that perhaps instead of working with severe pathology, the staff was spending their time with powerful, courageous survivors.  And while their work has enormous challenges, it is also a privilege to be part of creating a healing environment for courageous children coping as best as they can with the horrors of their histories.  While the people who worked with the kids acknowledged that all of their histories had stories of horrible loss, abuse, and/or cruelty, they hadn’t recognized how strong the children are.  The perceived them to be ill or broken, especially those who lived with SIV.

So what I asked them to offer the children was a sense of dignity.  Not only respect for what they have survived and are coping with, but a climate of dignity, of pride.  Including for the children who are still bleeding or burned or bruised, for they are the strong survivors by their very existence.

We have our scars, how do we see them?  Are we ashamed?  What do they represent to us?  I thought of the incredible prose, poetry, and artwork I published in The Cutting Edge.  There were several poems that came in over the years that had the same title, “Battle Scars.”  They gave me a perspective I still cherish about my own scars, that they are the reminders left from wounds received in a battle hard fought.  A battle that was a fight for survival, coping with what felt unbearable, while finding the courage to dare to learn to live.  What a dignified struggle, to not be dead yet in spite of tremendous adversity.  There is no shame in coping.  The important thing is to recognize what the battle is and how strong we really are.

So, those are my recent adventures and thought.  What I’d like to know is what you would teach about SIV if we could have traveled to those places together?

Thank you Maggie, Tracy and Vicki – I’m finding my way home

February 20th, 2013

In the last 48 hours you three have rocked my world, and my first need is to thank you.  Maggie, you wrote to Sidran to ask if the blog had moved or if there were plans to bring it back to life.  You were hoping it was still alive.  Tracy, my friend and colleague, walked me through surrendering the shame I felt about having neglected the blog for so long.  And Vicki, my friend and partner in horse rescue adventures, you called me to ask when I was going to get myself writing again as you and the girls at work like to read what I have to say…

I feel wanted and needed and my heart feels full.  That warmth has shoved the shame right out of my gut and given me the desire to “come home.”  There are at least a half dozen partial blog posts filed away in this computer.  Why didn’t I finish them?  I have so much I want to write about, to share with you, and to learn from you…  But the words kept being shelved.

Yeah, I’ve been busy this past year.  Teaching and consulting work has been there and I have enjoyed it immensely.  But it doesn’t keep me connected like this can.  And the passion in my heart for rescuing animals that others see as unhealable has required great effort as well.  The “vicious” dogs that I brought home are all snoring as I write.  The cats are watching the bird feeders outside the window.  The horses, no longer so thin you don’t want to look at them, nor lame, are waiting for a delivery of carrot chunks later.  And they have changed me greatly in this past year, since I’ve been away from you.  And now I realize that maybe that’s a good thing.

I glanced at the last two blog posts - the overwhelmingly long ones.   I’ve learned my lesson.  It is not likely useful for me to rant on and on to you when I get so frustrated.  Or it might be.  I hope you’ll let me know.  I think I needed a break, after all these years, from the reality that many people who live with self-injury remain, still, terribly judged,  mistreated, and misunderstood.  In spite of the fact that no one I’ve ever met has lived a life without some form of self-harm, when people turn to cutting, burning, punching or other forms of self-inflicted violence, cruel things happen to them.  Many of us still get shamed, blamed, or ignored.  Others get institutionalized and tied down or drugged against their will.  Still, it is happening now, to someone, as I write.  Others lose access to the supports they want if their SIV is discovered or if they refuse to “stop it.”

I think I let myself get worn down by how slowly systems and some people change when it comes to understanding SIV, trauma, healing connections, all that we know in our bones is helpful for healing from the need to cut, burn, punch ourselves, whatever it is….  I forgot, until I heard from the three women I mentioned earlier, and until I thought about what I have been doing the past year with the horses, that it is not up to any of us, but especially me, to “change the world.”  It is up to us to do what feels like the right thing, to tend to what is in front of us, and that is enough.

I cannot change the whole biopsychiatric industry and burn all the restraints.  I cannot keep all the wounded people and animals from being treated cruelly.  But I can help myself, I can reach out to others who ask for my help, and I can accept help.  I can tend the animals that I have given a home to.   I can return to tending the blog and the web site that hold my work of several decades and feel their rebirth, again.  What a good day it is.

I’m off to find the carrots, then look at the comments on the old posts, and settle in with those unfinished posts that I had set aside.  It’s a great day for me.  Thank you Maggie, Tracy, and Vicki.
And, for those interested (as I tend to teach more and more about the healing power of animals), here is a picture of the no longer starved, barely able to walk, latest rescued horse, Cloud.  He has gained nearly 300 pounds.  No longer staggering or dragging his hooves, we play together by going for rides.  His trot and canter are still quite rough, and my bouncing on his back makes both of us laugh.  And he has learned to give kisses… for a carrot.

“Experts see painful cutting addiction spreading to urban girls”

February 29th, 2012

“Experts see painful cutting addiction spreading to urban girls”
Posted on the website of KHOU11 news in Houston (www.khou.com) was an article with the above title. I became aware of it from a post to the listserv that has been discussing self-injury. I read the article, was not surprised to be disappointed by it, then wrote my comments to the list serv. That was a few days ago. This morning I realized that this blog would be a very interesting place for this as well…
Here are my thoughts, roughly stated, on this piece. I sure would be interested in yours. And perhaps some of you might even find it interesting to let the author know your thoughts as well? Anyway, here’s what I wrote:
That article is nothing new, in my experience. Actually, it seemed more pathetic than most. It ends, interestingly, by telling parents to pay more attention to their kids, AFTER mentioning that a lot of the youth (in this article, there is no mention of boys, much less men) who cut have histories of abuse…. duh? So, parents who are likely to have been involved in the traumatic events of the child’s life should now “pay more attention.” I can see the inevitable recommendations such as scanning your kid’s body at night… and eliminating the SIV at all costs as the focus is only about stopping behavior, not much on understanding how it serves, really.

I don’t think the language is just short-sighted, I think the implications are far more damaging. Just because you weren’t asking doesn’t mean that people weren’t self-injuring. And who actually feels safe to disclose? And what is the context, esp. when you consider the class/race/culture of who is being asked vs. who is doing the asking. This misperception about who lives with SIV (please just accept that I use the acronym of a term that many here have reactions to) has been going on for a very long time. I teach that I have not ever met anyone who needed SIV that did not have a history of some form of trauma. Traumatic events are not limited to white middle class girls, therefore neither is the concept that some traumatized folks who find SIV as a means of coping just might be male, poor or rich, old, patient or therapist…. The initial, and still often quoted, research that perpetuated this was by psychiatrist Armando Favazza, who wrote Bodies Under Siege (a book in which the content is put in chapters named by parts of the body - I tell people if they hate what I am teaching they will love Favazza’s work, sigh… we were at a meeting once where he introduced himself as “the father of self-mutilation” - I wondered if I should be “granny”?). Favazza was on the Oprah show over 20 years ago and asked the audience members to write and fill out a questionnaire about their cutting. He got a lot of replies and wrote his first paper. So, who are the cutters? Who watched Oprah? That crap is still cited….

They are missing so many people with these comments. And are very demeaning in their language as well as ideas. To say “it’s like anorexia” is vicious. There are no people involved, it’s not about human suffering, just labels, and a sense of diminishment. And the idea that cutting is so dangerous. My God, how many people have we lost from anorexia? That is not true for people living with SIV. It’s just that it really really scares people.

I have done various interviews over the years and the reporters are often surprised at this other info compared to what “experts” say. On occasion there have been some good articles and people have written in and taught that the experts are truly misguided (I think that is true because of the misinformation in the clinical literature). Radio shows have worked better when people are given the chance to call in or e-mail live… I remember one show when a listener wrote in that she started banging her head at age 2, and that it was a time her brother was molesting her. The idea of children beginning to self-injure at a young age is NOT new. But it is not in these clinicians’ experience so they don’t look, consider, listen… those that have not been taught any different perpetuate harm.

Uh oh, I’m going on and on…. I just thought that maybe we were further along than this.
I hope that some on this list might write to the reporter to give them a different perspective from different experts…. what do you say?

Also, I received a question about my thoughts regarding the use of the word “addiction” in that article and want to write my opinion here and see what you all think…

I think addiction and coping get confused. I can see many sides to the word “addiction” and I know sometimes people believe SIV is an addiction. To me some of this depends on how you define addiction - if you see people as becoming addicted as a way of coping with trauma, it stands some chance of making sense. If you see addiction in the pure disease model (it’s a brain disease, what I was taught to teach when I worked as an addictions counselor many years ago) it does not. I think the term can get overused and watered down. I’m personally not comfortable with applying it to SIV.

There was a chunk of clinical writing some years back that “cutters” are addicts, addicted to endogenous opioids. The theory is that cutting caused a release of endorphins and that is why people look so much “calmer” or “stoned” after they cut. To me they look relieved. Made me wonder why I wasn’t ecstatic about paper cuts… really, is it endorphins or profanity that are released most often when someone gets a paper cut? It is my belief that when someone is considering SIV they are in a stressed state, therefore they are having many physical/chemical reactions that normally come with fight/flight/freeze. Besides all the well known release of adrenalin and all that there is also a release of endorphins. Makes sense because if you are going to need to fight or flee it would be best not to be sensitive to pain, right? So the endogenous opioids are already there as part of the stress response, before the SIV. I think that is a factor (along with dissociation) in why many people who live with SIV do not feel much or any pain when they self-injure.
I think there is more comfort for most people in seeing all these behaviors, addictions, pathologies as some sort of illnesses - the avoidance of discomfort is very human and the recognition of trauma, it’s brutality on so many, even themselves…. well, lots of people would rather not get so messy and rather see people as broken brains… With that perspective I don’t know if it matters what labels are used, some just seem less harmful than others. I suppose you’d be better off labeled a “cutting addict” than a “borderline”?

I’ve been toying with the idea of writing a book about what I’ve learned and believe about all this. Those of you who know me know that I can’t focus much at all, or sit for long without falling asleep, so this is quite a question for me. I have asked for some people’s opinions about the potential worth of my taking on the task and want to ask the members of the listserv if you think it would be useful… Careful, as, if you support the idea, you might be asked to be a proofreader. Ideas? All I know is that my chapter titles won’t be body parts!

Ruta

“Slapped Upside the Head”

January 24th, 2012

This topic comes from my thinking about recent posts on a list serv that I am on (yes, I am learning a bit about technology).  The people on the list are mental health and other professionals as well as trauma survivors, many of whom work in a professional capacity in some way.  The list is designed for people to share resources on trauma and trauma-informed care.

As often happens when the topic of self-harm comes up, the conversation became intense rather quickly.  At first I twinged when a doctor that I respect, who has done groundbreaking work addressing the impact of childhood traumas, used the word “cutter” to describe people living with SIV.  We weren’t people who sometimes cut, we were simply being described as “cutters.”  Rarely has that served anyone.  Yet this type of labeling happens often, whether in the mental health system, public conversations and articles and even amongst people who themselves self-injure.

The conversation got most intense for me when the posts about the term “self-inflicted violence” (SIV) got going.  People, mostly consumers (!), got really pissed at the term.  The term I began using over 20 years ago.  Some of these are people I know and respect, yet I felt myself whirling about accusations that people who live with SIV are not violent, that what we do to ourselves is not about violence but about coping and self-soothing and many of the other things that we already know….  It was as if the reason behind the action should mean the action itself is not violent.

I argued that the term SIV does not imply motive, it is only descriptive.  Of course violence is uncomfortable.  Of course sometimes I used SIV to prevent being violent towards another person.  SIV helped me survive so much profound pain and distress and disconnection… and it is still violent behavior.  My SIV was violence as an act of self-defense.  I prefer nonviolence.  For a long time I found a deep need for violence in the form of SIV.  I am relieved that I was not violent towards another person.  Besides myself.  I was violent with myself.  Physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually.  Like many abuse survivors, I am not alone with that.  Now I am no longer physically violent and that is a relief.  I am working daily on the other ways I am still cruel to myself.  Life has never been better.

We all have the right to do with our lives as we will, for the most part.  We do not have the right to harm others (except in self-defense).  Some of the ways we bring harm are not illegal, nor necessarily violent.  I can call you an asshole, tell you that you are worthless.  That may or may not impact you.  It will likely hurt you if you are my child.  What if I say the same words to myself?  How many of us are actually comfortable with the way we “speak” to ourselves?

But I digress.  What really got me in my gut were the words a colleague that I consider a friend wrote.  In her post she wrote that if a psychiatrist used that term (SIV) with her, she’d have to slap him upside the head.  I sat back and said “wow.”  Being so upset at the use of the term to want to be violent upon the person who used it.  Of course this is a response to the great harm still done in the mainstream mental health industry as people are labeled and categorized and disempowered or blatantly hurt in many ways.  Many of the cruelest acts in the name of psychiatry happen to people who live with SIV.
But to threaten violence?  It was a great comment, as it took thinking about all of this to a whole new level.  I hope.

If I slapped you “upside the head” would that be an act of violence?   Would it matter why?
If I slapped myself upside the head would that be an act of violence?  Would it matter why?
What is the meaning of a knife in the hands of an assailant?  Of a surgeon?  Of an abuse survivor needing to cope?

These are questions that need many conversations.
The term “self-inflicted violence” is a strong and painful one.  So is what it describes.  And the most pain and turmoil come from what drives the need for the SIV to begin with.  This is all hard.  Judgment is not helpful, not from within or from others.  The word “violence” is descriptive, not judgmental, but many react to the word as if it implies immediate, profoundly negative, judgment.

It has taken great self-compassion to kindly accept the violences I have done to myself.  After all, they were acts of self-preservation at the time.  I am relieved that I was not violent towards others, and there were times SIV gave me the out to avoid that.  When options are limited and distress is severe, life is narrow and survival is a priority.  Without compassion and understanding, from self and others, it is even more difficult to risk change and expansion.  I hope that language, while we struggle with it, does not become a barrier to that process.

I wonder if the intensity of the conversation on the list serv has anything to do with the distance many survivors of violence keep between themselves and those who perpetrate violence.  Those of us who have needed self-directed violence to cope with our woundedness often bring great discomfort to others.  I wonder if being “associated” with the violent other, the “bad guy” is what is so triggering.  If that is so, then how will people heal from violence of any form?  How separate do we need to keep ourselves from each other?   I don’t write that lightly, I think it is an interesting question.

This post was a long time in writing as it brought out many questions in my mind.  It has been a rich, and not easy, time of growth and learning.  If any of you are still reading these posts, I’d be eager to hear your thoughts…

In the meantime I’m just glad that I don’t slap myself upside the head any more!

SIV: Do I have to be “for it” if I’m not “against it”?

November 9th, 2011

I was recently told, because I am not much of a web surfer (I only have dial-up access to the internet where I live) that there has been attention given in the mainstream press to “pro-cutting” websites.  You can guess most of the conversations centered on “How can someone promote that!” and “What can we do to stop this, it will make people want to do it” and “What is wrong with people, putting pictures of their cuts on the internet?!”

Sigh.  No, I’m not for promoting SIV.  But I’m not for bashing it either.  Why can’t people understand that it’s simple: if you trash people for something that is helpful to them (not only hurtful), if you withdraw yourself from them because of their SIV…. people will need to find others who understand.  That is why I started The Cutting Edge:  A newsletter for people living with self-inflicted violence in 1990.  1990!  For 18 years the newsletter, and now the web site has been intended to be a place where people can begin to understand SIV (their own and that of others) in a compassionate, nonjudgmental way.  Everyone wants to have a tribe, no? 

I remember when I was still smoking that people would tell me how bad smoking was for me, and that it was a waste of money, and all the other purely logical reasons not to smoke…   My smoking friends would understand better, but we did know that we were hurting ourselves and each other.  One of my dearest friends told me “Please don’t be so hard on yourself… it must help in some way and you will stop when it is time.  Please be good to yourself” And I did.  I think the same is true for living with SIV.
How come it is so hard for people to get the shame, blame and judgment out of this?
What do those of you who know the web think and feel?  Please teach me.  Thanks.

SIV: Another lesson from the animals…

July 20th, 2011

No, not another post about my horses!  This recent lesson came from a dog, not even one of mine.  I’ve been thinking about what I wrote in the last post, about how different our world might be if we were all aware of who amongst us has lived with Self-Inflicted Violence (SIV).  Well, at first I thought it was just a thoughtful question for me.  You see, though I am quite scarred, the scars are mostly faded and I’ve gotten quite used to them.  Sometimes I get a bit awkward when meeting new people, but not often.  When asked about them I choose to either make a joke or reply seriously about why my scars are there.  I’ve come a long long way on this journey of needing, then leaving, SIV.

I got quite an awakening two months ago.  I was on my way to spend four days traveling.  I was very excited as I had been hired to facilitate discussions on the film “between the lines” and do some teaching about SIV.  I think the world of the film and always appreciate having the opportunity to teach.  I’ve been consulting and teaching for many years and no longer feel as tense or uncertain as I used to.  I believe in what I am saying and carry the words of many of you in my heart when I speak.  It’s all good.

It was not going to be as easy as I thought, thanks to a St. Bernard named Padre.  I have three dogs that I kennel when I travel.  My dogs are familiar with this idea of going to “camp,” are tended to by friends, and I often go in and out of the place.  So when I went to drop off the dogs, there were no humans in the kennel.  But there was Padre.  A beautiful rescued St. Bernard whom, unbeknownst to us, had decided that his role in this new kind world was to work as the protector of the kennel.  He didn’t hear me open the door, but was lying inside the first room of the kennel.  When I stepped in he woke up and decided to do his job….
So, the next day I am driving to the airport feeling very vulnerable about the dog bite marks on my face.  They are fresh.  I am lucky that he has a lousy bite, but few could ignore the two rows of teeth marks on my cheek.

It had been a long time since I felt so vulnerable about a wound on my body.  I wondered how the people sitting next to me on the plane would react.  And the people who had hired me to do the work.  And those working in the restaurants and hotel.  And the folks in the audiences…. 

I ended up talking to the audiences about how it felt to be reminded of the vulnerability of living with wounds and scars.  I had the chance to remember my earlier, raw, surviving life and appreciate the journey I have been on.  It was a time of reflection, something I hadn’t bothered to do for a long time.  It meant a lot to me to sit with the memories, think of those who had touched my heart and soul along the way, and feel grateful.

My face is healing.  There might be a scar or two left.  They will join the others, self-inflicted and otherwise. 

Thanks Padre.  Didn’t think I would be saying that!

SIV: What if we knew how many of us there really are?

May 4th, 2011

As I’ve spent a lot of time sitting on airplanes lately, I’ve had many opportunities to sit with my thoughts as well as fellow passengers.  I‘ve been thinking about what Erin wrote in her comment on the last post.  She wrote about the pity she sees on friends’ faces when they notice some of her scars.  And she said how lately she feels like SIV (Self-Inflicted Violence), or the coming out about it, is furthering the gap between herself and other people.  It made me remember how quickly SIV, including scars, can create distance between people.
The wounds and scars of SIV that are made visible to others can either alienate us or bring us closer together.  Learning about the SIV of someone you care about can be confusing, frightening, repelling, or people might feel pity or want to avoid the issue entirely.  For some people SIV is taken as a sign of severe mental illness.  For others, especially the young, SIV is often perceived as “pathetic attention-seeking”.  Perhaps this would change if the public, and the mental health community, had exposure to people who have healed from the need for SIV.  People whose scars are old and faded.
What if those of us who are scarred  ”came out?”   How would it change how we feel about ourselves as well as how others feel about us?  Would it increase understanding amongst most people or not?  Over the 18 years of The Cutting Edge newsletter I had the privilege to listen to many people who lived with SIV.  Most of them kept their SIV secret.  The newsletter traveled to many countries and I learned about SIV in the lives of a great variety of people.  Women, men, girls, boys, poor, rich, people with doctorates, people who struggled to read, people of many races and cultures, all ages, many different abilities and interests……….  What we all had in common was the need for SIV.  We were in pain, struggling, and the connection we created through the newsletter brought us into community with each other.  With such stigma and misunderstanding in the larger world, the newsletter was a place of refuge for many of us.  It was rare to have a space where you could be honest, feel understood, and give compassion to others you felt a common bond with.  It was a rare place where your voice could be heard.  Unfortunately it is still rare for people to have a safe place where they can feel accepted and understood about their self-injury.
I’ve taught many workshops and classes on the topic of SIV over the past dozen years or more.  At first I was surprised how often, when teaching mental health or substance abuse professionals, someone in the class would find me and privately let me know of their struggle with SIV.  They had almost always kept this secret and feared for their careers and professional certifications should the SIV become known.  These are valid fears.  How sad, terribly sad, that those who were charged with helping others feel so threatened.  Where is their safe place to explore and heal?
What if we realized that the therapist, the doctor, the cashier at the store, the firefighter, the veterinarian, the man who picks up garbage, the professor, the teacher, the car mechanic, the cook in the kitchen, the corrections officer, the nurse, the artist, the farmer, the people that intersect with our own lives….  are scarred from SIV?  I’ve known people in all these roles who have lived with SIV.  There are many more.  What if all could be open about this?  How would life change?

Healing Self-Inflicted Violence: It helps to be RICH

March 23rd, 2011

When I started The Cutting Edge newsletter in 1990 it was to stay in touch with other people, those I had met when I first began creating spaces for people to talk about living with Self-Inflicted Violence (SIV).  I had instinctively known that finding others who lived with self-injury would bring me hope and understanding, qualities that were rarely given by those who didn’t struggle in the same way.  Eighteen years later we created the web site, then this blog, and I kept writing about the power of relationship to heal.  Many of the posts to this blog have emphasized this, even recent writings about the power of relationships with nonhuman animals.  Yet I recently realized that I haven’t written about one crucial relationship, the one we have with our very “self.”  That is what I want to begin to explore in this post.  I’ll be interested to learn what you think about this…

One of the many joys of working for the Sidran Institute is a commitment that we share to “practice what we teach.”  The basic beliefs of our work come from Risking Connection, the manuals and training that address how trauma impacts people and how to promote healing.  While the information and experiences provided in these trainings and manuals is extensive, we do have a “shortcut” way of getting to the point of what it is all about.  We use the acronym “RICH relationships” to simply remind ourselves of what the ground of healing looks and feels like.  “R” stands for respect, “I” for information, “C” for connection, and “H” for hope.  These principles are the base of healing relationships.  My work has, for several decades, been focused on creating space that promotes connection and hope, provides information to those who live with SIV and those who care about them, based on mutual respect.  So I’ve written often and repeatedly about how to do this in the context of our relationships with one another.

Yet I missed something!  I forgot to apply these principles to the relationship I have with my self.  It has taken me some time to question myself about my attitudes about who I am, what I do/don’t do, what I believe about myself….  While I often think about creating hope for others and for our relationships with each other, I rarely have thought about my own hopes, and where I draw personal hope from.  The same is true for respect.  Do I respect myself?  As much as I do my friends?  How do I know what it is to feel respect for myself?  How do I see my journey with SIV through the lens of respect?  If I was my own best friend would I be treating myself any differently?

Am I connected with myself?  I know when I feel connected to another person, do I know when I feel the same with the person I am?  I often catch myself paying much more attention to the feelings and conversations of others and not notice my own.  Not all that “rich” of a relationship, is that?

So that’s my beginning of this conversation and exploration.  How do you feel about yourself?  Your life with SIV?  Do you respect yourself?  Have hope for yourself?  Feel connected to your “self”?  What do you believe about yourself?  An inquiring mind wants to know….

Healing from SIV: It helps to have friends, and horses…

March 17th, 2011

So I had believed that this part of my life, focused on teaching about trauma, self-injury, and healing, had ended.  No formal good-bye, still taking on work, but letting go in my heart and spirit.  I had thought, after over 20 years of this work, that we had accomplished at least part of the goal of changing awareness about the roots of self-injury and how to create opportunities for healing   So I started moving in a different direction.  My life this past year became quite focused on horses and I have been challenged, inspired, and deeply moved by that journey.  One of my last posts was about Pocket, the horse that a friend and I rescued, who has deeply changed both of our lives this past year.  Now there is another, second, horse in my life.  Harriett arrived in a circuitous way after the death of a friend who used to tend to her.  It’s been a busy time.  Let’s just say that I’ve become quite good with a shovel.

Yet now I am so glad that I didn’t dismantle this blog, nor the web site.  Couldn’t make myself do it and am grateful that it is still here, like a trusted friend.   I get to come back and start writing again.  I offer you fresh eyes, renewed enthusiasm, and a tender heart.

Why?  Two reasons.  First of all, I’ve been made keenly aware that there is still a great deal of misunderstanding and pain about SIV in our society, including the mental health community.  While there are pockets of sanctuary, there are still many people truly suffering from being judged, misunderstood, controlled, pathologized and mistreated.  Many are greatly harmed by this.  There is still much work to be done.  I tend to be an optimist at heart but now sit in the reality that I was overly hopeful about the evolution of understanding about SIV.   I am not ready to walk away yet, I just didn’t know it.

Second, a beloved friend, a young woman I cherish and respect, let me know that she and her family are in turmoil because she is cutting.  Of course I am sad that she needs SIV for now.  I love her and her family.  So we have begun talking and having adventures, planning and scheming.  We have two powerful forces in our lives: SIV and horses.  I have my journey to share about healing from the need for SIV, while she has her healing path to create.  We both find light and excitement, peace and comfort when we are around the horses.  These two passions, one so painful, the other so joyful, have brought us together.

And the journey has led here.  We want to share our journey on this blog, and invite you to return here to expand our small circle of healing.  I have been brought back to the roots of what is most important to me – people I care about, our passions, and the journeys we can share together.  It feels like coming home to a place that is familiar, but new as well.  I am eager to start the conversations.  More soon….