I Felt Dead Inside

Cutting myself helped me release the bad feelings inside. So why did I always feel worse afterward?
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Two weeks before the end of my sophomore year, I noticed a teacher's gaze linger on my arms just a second too long. I panicked as I imagined what he was thinking. How on earth did her arm get that way? Could it have been an accident?

Before he could ask, I chuckled and told him the scratches came from one of my family's cats. He bought the story, even though my nervous laughter was half an octave too high.

I was usually more careful—wearing long sleeves to cover my arms, changing for gym in a corner so the other girls wouldn't see the marks on my stomach—but today I'd carelessly worn a short-sleeved shirt and almost got caught. That was one of several times my secret could have come to light. But somehow, I made it to graduation without anyone finding out the truth: I was a cutter.

I grew up in church and Christian school, and until I was 13, my childlike faith was unshakeable. I won contests for memorizing Scripture verses and lived for the approval I got at church.

At the same time, I had a difficult time at home. My mom was often busy, and my dad, who wasn't a Christian then, was usually yelling at me—when he wasn't ignoring me. I spent my childhood trying to fill the hole that loneliness left inside.

I was depressed. I was full of emotions I couldn't handle alone. But since I got straight As, was rarely in trouble and didn't seem to need close friends, no one noticed how bad I was hurting. Late one August night when I was 13, I sat in my mom's home office watching TV. As scene after scene of smiling, laughing people flashed across the screen, I felt overwhelmed. I'd had another rotten day, and the heaviness in my heart was as inescapable as the Alabama humidity.

… I couldn't stop the bleeding. I didn't want to die. I only wanted to stop hurting, and cutting relieved my inner pain for a few moments.

I rummaged through Mom's desk drawers and found a small, sharp knife. My glasses fogged over with tears. My mind raced, full of unwelcome thoughts that finally caught up with me.

What's wrong with me?

The world around me seemed still, peaceful. Crickets chirped contentedly in the summer night.

Why can't I have any of that peace?

The soft rumble of the TV's laugh track echoed off the walls.

Why am I so alone?

I gasped, choking back sobs in the sauna-thick air and drew the knife across my arm.

Cutting seemed at first to give me a release for my feelings. It made me feel like I was in control. But like any addiction, the cutting began to control me. For the first few minutes, I'd feel better. Then the shame I felt afterward for hurting myself caused even worse pain than the hurt I'd tried to escape. Years passed, and I couldn't stop.

One night, everything changed.

I sat on the balcony of my apartment and looked into the April night. The clear sky was filled with stars and the scent of spring—of life—wafted along in the air. But I felt dead inside.

Already drunk, I went inside and mixed another drink. I found a kitchen knife and was reckless.

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