I gave myself a rare treat tonight; a nice hot bath. As a mother of 4 (and counting) taking a bath is an indulgance I don’t often get to enjoy. I was listening to an audio book of the gospel of John, when I noticed the marks all over my body.
First, I looked at my tattoos. I tend to not see my tattoos, really see them, because I have had them for so long since a young age. They kind of just look like my skin to me. But tonight I noticed them and thought about the journey I have been on, each one meant something to me at the time. I used to hide my tattoos with long sleeves and high collared shirts after becoming a Christian, but now I usually don’t hide them. It’s not something I can change, and it brings up conversations with people who might otherwise not have talked to me. Many of my tattoos represent a previous belief system.
Similar to a previous belief system, my scars represent a previous way of life and thinking as well. My eyes moved from my tattoos to the countless white scars covering my left forearm, all around it, every inch.
They used to be bright red, but have now faded into a pale white. They form ridges and valleys, layer upon layer upon layer; 10 years of self injury. I looked at the tiny white dots surrounding some of them, scars from the stitches I was given for the worst of them. I turned my arm over and recalled being 14 years old, 16 years old; I still remember the places and the objects I used. Burns and cuts alter my body forever.
My heart felt sorrowful. I felt compassion and sadness towards my former self. I was only 11 years old the first time I took something sharp and used it against myself for relief. I was 21 the last time I did it.
Now, I can’t fathom hurting myself intentionally. The very idea is horrifying, but this was far from the case when I was younger. The pain was so deep, so profound, and I lacked the ability to cope with it.
I began to think of the reasons why I once found it acceptable, even irresistible, to hurt myself; and then God gave me words against those reasons. Truth sets us free. I want to expose the twisted thinking behind my self-injury to the light of the gospel. I hope it helps those still struggling, and gives insight to those who have not.
1.) I self-injured because I preferred the physical pain over the emotional pain. I didn’t think I could handle the severity of my depression. I ran from the emotions that hurt me by deflecting it.
Psalm 147:3 “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds”
Psalm 23:4 “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me…
He is with us in our pain. He does not leave us alone in it. Even in the valley of death, we can find his comfort and love with us. He may not remove the suffering or circumstance, but he never makes us walk it alone. We have his help!
2 Cor 1:3-4 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Yeshua Messiah), the Father of compassion and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we may comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves received from God”
When we are comforted by God, we can then extend that comfort to those who find themselves in the same situations we once faced. I can talk to people who have endured mental illness and addiction and abuse, because I have been there. I have experienced his comfort in that, and help others with it now. This is part of how God uses what was meant as evil for good.
2.) I self-injured because I believed that I deserved to be hurt. I hated myself, and I punished myself.
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life”
Romans 5:8 “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”
Zeph 3:17 “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing”
Romans 8: 37-39 “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Yeshua Messiah)”
1 John 4:9 “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him”
There are SO many bible verses about God’s love for us that I could not possibly list them all. We have been saved by grace, there is NO reason to punish yourself for real or imagined sins. We are called his children, do we want our children to hate or hurt themselves? Of course not! In fact it would grieve us terribly if they did, just as it grieves our Father in heaven when we do. Knowing and accepting and believing in His LOVE for us heals self-hate. How can we hate ourselves when we are made in His image and loved so very much by him?
3.) I felt at times like I was detached from reality, and hurting my body felt like a reminder of what was real
Phil 4:8 “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things”
The scriptures point us to the greater reality, beyond the things of this world. We are not merely flesh and blood, but also spirit. We can focus our mind on the things above, on what is true. That is the reality that I seek to remember now.
Finally, what can we tell people who believe but are hurting themselves? First of all, start with compassion and understanding. Gal 6:2 “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you fulfill the law of Christ(Messiah)”
Remind them of how loved they are. Remind them that they will never be forsaken. Remind them that they are forgiven. Remind them that our Savior himself is very familiar with pain, he can relate to those who are suffering because he suffered so much. Isaiah 53:3 “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain…”
Explain that our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, and we are not our own. Our body and our life is a gift from God to be cherished. Weep with those who weep, mourn with those who mourn. Do not let your brother or sister be in pain all alone. Come alongside them, and don’t minimize their pain.
Lastly, I want to remind Christians that mental illness is a serious thing. We are physical, emotional, and spiritual beings. Some people will take medication to help them on their path of healing, some will not. Too often well meaning believers encourage others to stop taking their medication, this can be a dangerous thing to do. The withdrawal process alone can cause serious psychological and physical issues. Please do not offer advice on these matters unless you are very knowledgeable on the subject, and only when the person themselves wants that help. There are varied ways to health and healing, taking medication does not mean one doesn’t have faith in God anymore than using a wheelchair means you don’t believe you can be healed.
I hope my experience can be helpful, and I am open to other suggestions from those of you are in recovery or helping people in recovery.