Learning From Scars
His blood — not ours — brings freedom from harmful habits.
by Shelbie Mae
For weeks I had tried to ignore the scars and open cuts on my sister’s arms and legs, but they stuck out like molehills burrowed into smooth grass. When a knock sounded on my bedroom door, I knew it was she.
“Go away!” I yelled at the door.
“Shelbie, can I please come in? I need to talk.”
I didn’t want to talk about her scars. Seeing them reminded me of how much I felt I had failed as a sister.
It broke my heart to see my sister scared and alone. It broke my heart even more to know that she wasn’t learning from my mistakes.
As we sat on my bed and shared about her emotional, physical, and spiritual hurts, my mind went back a few years before, when I had been the one hurting. Talking about her self-harm made the scars on my ankle burn.
Remember me? they seemed to whisper.
I grew up in a Christian family that went to church every week. My life was wonderful and filled with happiness. My parents never divorced. I never struggled with sexual, verbal, or physical abuse. I generally loved life.
But at ages fourteen and fifteen, I began to consider myself the “odd one out.” My body was big-boned and athletic, while other girls in my class were thin and petite.
In eighth grade I decided to change myself. To be desirable and fit in with other kids, I started restricting the food I ate. By the time my freshman year of high school rolled around, a monstrous eating disorder consumed my entire being and brought me close to death.
Exposure to cutting
In a psychiatric hospital for my eating disorder I saw people who cut themselves — my first exposure to the problem. One girl had so many cuts on her arms, she had begun to cut over the scars formed from elbow to wrist. I struggled not to stare.
I found out later that almost every teen or child in the adolescent unit of the hospital was a cutter. One girl came into the unit with big bandages on her wrists because she had tried to commit suicide. Another girl was put in solitary confinement because she took the wire out of her bra and cut herself at night when she was supposed to be sleeping.
At the time I didn’t think I would ever practice cutting myself, but the images were stored in the back of my mind.
A month later I was accepted into a program called Mercy Ministries to help me overcome my eating disorder. Faith-based, Mercy would give me the tools to give up the addiction controlling my life. I never imagined I would need to overcome not only my eating disorder but also the habit of cutting.
To enter the program, I needed to gain a few pounds to be a medically stable weight. In the mind of an anorexic, that is impossible. I had to have something else to control, since I couldn’t control my eating.
In those horrible days of trying to gain weight, I began to cut myself to gain back some control. Teens at the hospital had done it, so it must work.
I chose to cut on my ankle, where I could keep it a secret. It was summer, so everyone had cuts on their legs from whipping out on bikes or playing in the woods.
Release and shame
Cutting became like a drug addiction. I would go about my day when an urge suddenly hit — a need for release. My mind would get foggy and my breath would quicken. I strived for and craved control.
Cutting myself was an out-of-body experience, as though I wasn’t there. When I saw the blood, relief came over me. It didn’t hurt; I felt numb. It seemed my body would burst. When I cut, I felt a release.
Soon after cutting I would also suffer shame that I was hurting the body God had given me, but I couldn’t think of any other options. A day or two after each time I cut myself, shame returned when I was in the shower. Water made the wounds itch and reminded me of how out of control I really was. I was trying to gain control in my life, but losing it.
A few months into my second addiction I entered Mercy Ministries. The program helped me focus all my attention not on the problems in my life but on the God who could fix the problems.
Several months into my stay God gave me a revelation about the times I had cut myself. He seemed to say, “Shelbie, you don’t have to make yourself bleed, because I already bled for you.”
The realization struck me hard. God’s Son Jesus bled on the cross so I could live in freedom. When I cut myself, I distanced myself from the love God tried to show me.
One day while on the phone with my mom, I told her, through tears, about the cutting. She was surprised but continued to love me. Feeling better for telling the whole truth, I could move on with my life with scars on my ankle and a heart full of God’s love.
I left the program in six months and moved back home to complete high school. Since I had overcome my addictions in the program, I thought I could keep them at bay the rest of my life.
I was wrong. A few months later, the loss of control came back. Panicked, I tried to talk myself out of cutting but couldn’t overcome the urge. I succumbed and felt terrible afterward. How could I have fallen backward? I wondered. I thought I was done with self-destruction. I struggled with self-harm a few more times, each time feeling worse afterward.
Something snapped inside me the last time I cut myself. Deep down I knew I didn’t want that for my life. The switch inside of me turned off, and I gave up the bad habit once and for all.
Now four years later I sat on my bed, talking to my sister about her cutting problem. I didn’t know how to tell her to stop. She needed to discover the answer for herself. Everyone involved in this addiction must live their own story.
Only by the grace of God could I move forward with my life without my eating disorder and cutting. I now dedicate my time telling my story and trying to help those who still struggle. And I pray they will find the freedom I’ve found.
Cut: Mercy For Self-Harm,
by Nancy Alcorn
Beyond Cut: Real Stories, Real Freedom, by Nancy Alcorn
The Merciful Scar, by Rebecca
St. James and Nancy Rue