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

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?

13 Responses to “SIV: What if we knew how many of us there really are?”

  1. Tracy Says:

    I feel bad about my scars as it’s obvious what they are…I used to look at them to relive the relief I felt when cutting, I cannot get relief from that now, i’m too aware that I do not deserve to be hurt, especially by me…Yes, people are strange about any differences, whether it is scars or disabilities. We have a long long long long long long long long long long :-) way to go with relating, communicating, understanding…But thank you Ruta for consistently being there to help others understand. It makes a big difference.

  2. Ruta Mazelis Says:

    I am sad that any of us are in the situation where we need to turn to SIV to get through huge struggles. At the same time I know that the self-injury was not about hurting myself, more about surviving the pain at the time. The pain was from being hurt by others, it felt so overwhelming for such a long time. For quite a while the SIV got me through when I was wanting to be dead. So, in that, regard, I don’t think so much about how I hurt myself with the SIV but how it was a way to get through when I didn’t know any others. It was such an intense time and I am so grateful to have gotten to the life I am living now.

    It’s been interesting for me lately, as a friend’s rescue dog bit me in the face. The bite left tooth marks and happened right before I left for a trip where I am teaching about SIV. I got very self-conscious about the marks on my face, even though they had nothing to do with SIV. Just having people give my face a second look made me feel vulnerable again, even though I had gotten used to my other scars from the years of SIV. Always learning…

  3. T Says:

    It’s a beautiful and terrifying thought to consider being open about self-injury. I can’t imagine being bold enough to wear shorts and expose the legs covered in scars. I am a teacher and a seminary student and I can’t fathom being able to be honest with my colleagues and classmates about my history and struggle. But if I could, if I could be honesty about who I am and where I’ve come from, I am fairly certain I would be better at what I do because I wouldn’t be filtering everything through a veil of fearful secrecy. I don’t foresee it in the near future, but I hope for the day when I, and others who share the scars, will be able to live openly and without fear because of what we’ve experienced and struggled with. I long for a day when I can be open and real, when I can be entirely myself in the world with others who are doing the same.

  4. Ruta Mazelis Says:

    Thanks for your words, T, I really hope that this space helps provide us with a small corner of our own to be open and real in. What you helped me realize is how much energy it takes to keep a secret. When I teach mental health professionals about SIV I often do not talk about myself. I do if it feels right as the training goes on, but I also believe that in some groups I would be invalidated if it was known that I “was one.” But one of my colleauges told me, a few years ago, that I needed to focus on my use of pronouns!

    I am fortunate. It is rare not to have one’s career at risk if SIV becomes known. I work to use my privilege in my teaching. Thanks for teaching me and I hope this space has given you a moment’s peace.

  5. Jackie Says:

    I have lived with SIV for some years now but only recently starting learning about it. I have turned to SIV to get through rough times, the scars from the burns are a reminder of each moment. But each time the need is greater and the burns are more extensive. Reading this site has helped me understand a little more and see that I am not alone and wonder how many of us are out there.

  6. Michael Lang Says:

    Ruta, thank you and all who post here. You’ve provided such a unique and supportive place for people to speak. We know about the pain that lies below the surface through places like this … we know about the remnants and the secrecy that people carry (as in the magnificent post by T, above) … we know how hard it is, still, to feel there will even be a chance of being accepted, being understood. I hope all can find support in the meantime, but if anything, it is the work of you and posters here that will lead the way to the day that T envisions.
    Ruta, I notice you have a twitter feed (think that is you). You’ve commented before on feeling computer-challenged … do you have plans to feed the world more through your “tweets”?
    Best to everyone here!

  7. Shan L Says:

    Ruta, after a long time I finally have the words to say something. I have lived with SIV for 12 years I started in my thirties and quit last Christmas. I am not ashamed of my scars, they are mine, they tell a story about me and who I am. The scars no one sees but me are the ones that make me feel shame. They are the scars given to me by my abusers. Working with my therapist and psychdoc I have learned a lot over the past couple of years. But my understanding of SIV started with your newsletter. Thank You. I have come out about my scars just like I do about my sexual orientation…so far everyone seems to acccept that SIV is just another quirk of mine. I live in a pretty hot city so there is no way I could not go around without wearing shorts and t-shirts. At first I was nervous and anxious about showing my scars off but one day I say the hell with it this is me. And since then its short sleeves and shorts and sandals. I hope others can find the confidence to feel comfortable in their own self and to continue to grow. Peace. S.

  8. Ruta Mazelis Says:

    Dear Michael, thanks for affirming that this is a place of some comfort and refuge. I’ve begun a whole series of posts for the blog but haven’t finished any of them. Now I’m eager to do that and hear the thoughts of others… I cherish this safe corner of the world.

    I may of may not have a twitter feed!? Sometimes my friends have encouraged my to join the tech age so I know I am on facebook, perhaps other sites. I rarely check any of that as I only have dial-up access and am not patient enough to wait for pages to load. But I am glad that you find my words helpful and am inspired. I hope more of us can share here as time goes on. Peace…

  9. Megan Says:

    If you haven’t heard of her yet, I suggest you all acquaint yourselves with a young female singer named Demi Lovato. She is only 18 years old now. Many people know her from Disney Channel but what they don’t know is that she self-harmed. Last year she left tour to go to a treatment facility to deal with issues of depression, bipolar disorder, cutting, anorexia and bulimia. Instead of hiding behind her fears, she came out with the truth and has helped so many that struggle with similar illnesses. If you search her 20/20 interview or recent interview on Ryan Seacrest she talks about all these issues. Right now she’s actually number one on her charts because she sang a song called “Skyscraper” which deals with her struggles. She recorded it a year ago before her treatment so you can actually hear the damage in her vocal cords from her purging. I thought it was interesting how you said you wondered what it would be like if those that healed came out, well Demi has helped thousands so far. I know, because I speak to them every day.

  10. Sammie Styons Says:

    The thing is once you get down and out its so hard to get back out of the hole.

  11. Ruta Mazelis Says:

    Me too, Sammie. I remember at the hardest times that the hole felt so deep I wasn’t sure there was anything else. Felt like the SIV was cutting a way out and I don’t know how to explain that any better. Life now just seems wider. Pain is still there, fear and struggle and anger. But they aren’t as powerful and there is a whole lot of it balanced out by simple joys and beauties. Phone call from a friend, the art that is nature, the animals in my life and the people that understand what I’ve been through… I also get so much out of this work of finding people who can understand this conversation, first in the newsletter, then this web site and blog. Thanks for writing. You helped me remeber how it is actually small and simple things that have built the ladder out of the hole. I offer it to you….

  12. Emma Says:

    SIV is my way of coping, and when I am not around people I think well if they can’t understand that I am better off without them, yet if someone happens to sees my scars I wilt down to nothing and feel such intense shame. I find comfort in the fact that there are others out there who know what it feels like.

    Take Care

  13. Gia Ellington Says:

    Myself, I haven’t personally experience SIV. But I understand and know a few individuals that have. There are all kinds of demons, and for myself it was living in hell. As an adult today, I thank God, family,friends,support groups and counseling. Until one understands their self, it is a battle 24/7/

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