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Self-harm: the road to recovery
by TeenHelp December 4th 2015, 04:30 PM

Self-harm: the road to recovery
By Cassie (Cassado)

The road to recovery from self-harm is both a challenging and rewarding one. A lot of people struggle with different aspects, such as finding and sticking to alternatives, reaching out for help, and relapse. Recovery from self-harm is something that you have to want for yourself and yourself only. It can be tempting to recover for other people, but you have to be wanting and willing to do this for yourself. It's a lot of work and it isn't always easy. You can try recovering even if you do not want to, but you will make more long lasting progress if you are truly ready to recover.

Deciding to recover
Some people have a big moment that makes them want to stop self-harming. Their self-harm may become severe or even life threatening, for instance. A big and frightening incident could make them decide to stop self-harming. For others, it could be something that builds up over time. You know you're ready to recover when you want to self-harm to just "get it over with", or when you're ready for a positive change. While recovering for other people can be tempting, it's not the best idea. Recovery is your journey and it has to be done for yourself and yourself only.

Being scared to recover
A lot of people are scared to recover at one point or another and that is completely normal. Recovery is a huge step and it is more than okay to be afraid of it. Struggles or feelings can become a comfort to people, and leaving their comfort zones can induce anxiety. People's identities also tend to get wrapped up in their self-harm. They'll see self-harm as who they are when that is not the truth. To help counteract this, get a sheet of paper, write your name in the center, and draw a circle around it. Next, fill the page up with writing or pictures that show who you are without your mental health struggles. You might write that you're a good listener or that you like animals, for example. Consider writing a list of reasons to recover as well. The following includes a few reasons why people choose to recover:
  • You deserve to treat your body kindly.
  • You won't have to hide fresh injuries or scars.
  • You won't have to change your wardrobe to hide wounds.
  • You won't have to hide paraphernalia.
  • You won't have to worry about infections.
  • You won't have to spend money on tools and first aid.
  • You won't have to lie to friends and family.

Finding alternatives
Anything healthy that keeps you from self-harming, like a hobby, is a good alternative. Finding alternatives can be hard, but just remember that different alternatives work for different people and their lifestyles. It might help to identify your triggers and how they make you feel. If one of your triggers is arguing, for example, think about how arguing makes you feel. Maybe it makes you feel angry. Once you know what your triggers are, try to avoid them, or cope with them in healthier ways when they arise. It helps to make your alternatives specific to how you feel. You might avoid arguing by excusing yourself from the room, or by telling the person that you would like to cool down before the conversation is continued. When arguments do happen, however, you might consider doing something to help release your anger, such as taking a jog or punching a pillow. The following is a list of alternatives to use for specific feelings:
  • Anger: Anger is a dangerous emotion for a lot of people. Alternatives that are physical are well suited for feelings of anger. Exercise is a good way of helping anger. Exercise releases endorphins which will make you feel a little better. It's a way to get the release you're looking for without self-harm. You could also scream into a pillow, stomp your feet, punch a pillow or a punching bag, or listen to angry music.
  • Anxiety: Anxiety can physically affect different areas of the body and cause a lot of discomfort for people. If you're anxious, you can try breathing exercises. Inhale and exhale slowly, and imagine releasing the anxiety inducing thoughts while exhaling. In addition to breathing exercises, try listening to guided imagery/meditation, positive affirmations, or nature sounds. You may find apps like the free version of iSleep Easy to benefit you. YouTube also has a lot of videos to help with anxiety. Adult coloring books are a popular tool to help calm you. You can purchase some on Amazon or at your local craft store. An app called Colorfy has plenty of pictures to color. Consider asking someone for a hug, or wrapping a blanket around you to feel more secure.
  • Numbness: If you're feeling numb or dissociative, try to ground yourself. Pay close attention to your five senses. You might want to hold putty or a stress ball in your hands to keep busy. You could listen to music, eat a mint, or smell some perfume. Listen to the sound of yourself shuffling cards. You can also hold an ice cube or take cold/warm showers in effort to help yourself feel again.
  • Sadness: If you're feeling sad, try to do things that put a smile on your face. Go on YouTube and watch funny animal videos, or call up a friend for a cheery conversation. Take a walk for a change of scenery and for some vitamin D from the sun. Have some chocolate or a favorite food to improve your mood. Paint your nails, or take a warm candlelit bath.

Another thing to consider when choosing alternatives is what you're looking for in self-harm. What do you like the most about self-harm? Perhaps it's the sight, the release, or the feeling of it. You can get those same things in healthier ways. You can do artwork in red paint, or you can write positive things on yourself in red marker. You can also exercise to release the chemicals that self-harm does, or you can hold an ice cube to your body to get a similar sensation.

Some alternatives will help you pass the time. For example, the fifteen minute game. Promise yourself that if you still want to self-harm in fifteen (or more) minutes, that you can. Distract yourself and when that fifteen minutes is up, add another fifteen minutes and so on. The goal is to eventually immerse yourself in something and lose track of time. Crack a glow stick and tell yourself that you can't self-harm until it is no longer glowing. Glow sticks last up to eight hours and they can last longer if you put them in the freezer.

Once you have some alternatives, think about making an alternative box. An alternative box is a box you can use to keep your alternatives in. All you need is an old shoe box. Decorate it so that you'll want to open it up when you're struggling. Making this box can be an alternative in itself.

Consider moving tools to a different area of your home. Put them into another room so you will face multiple distractions when you go get them. If you can't do that, keep them in an area that is hard to get to, like the top of your closet. Consider telling yourself "I want to hurt myself" instead of "I want to [insert method of self-harm]". Doing this will allow you to acknowledge that self-harm is a harmful behavior. If there's a certain room you self-harm in, try to make it a safer place.

While distractions are useful, remember they are only temporary. Over time, you will need to find activities that help replace self-harm completely. Doing this will help you to avoid coping with your feelings in other unhealthy ways.

Fighting urges
The most important thing to remember when fighting self-harm urges is to remember that they will pass in time. No matter how intense or long they are, they are temporary. As time goes on, they will not be as frequent or as intense as they used to be. You will become stronger for every urge you beat. In addition, every alternative you try is a learning experience. You will soon figure out which alternatives work for you and which do not. Sometimes self-harm urges will vary with intensity but that doesn't mean you're spiraling downward or all urges will be as bad. Consider preparing yourself so you have alternatives and coping skills put in place before you get triggered; this way, you are less likely to be caught off guard.

What if my alternatives aren't working?
Self-harm alternatives can sometimes be similar to an exercise routine. If you've been doing the same exercise routine for a while, your body may adjust and stop showing results. Alternatives are very individualized and they can work the same way. If you find this happening, try some new ones and see what happens.

If you've tried every alternative you can and things are still too intense, you need more support. When you feel like this, you should talk to a professional or someone else you trust, or call a hotline.

Goal setting
Setting goals and tracking progress is helpful for some, but it is not for everyone. Some people enjoy reaching their goals and having something to look forward to, but others find goals to be stressful because they are held over their heads. Consider starting with small goals, such as going a week without self-harm, and gradually increasing those goals. You can also give yourself a reward so you have something to look forward to. For every week you don't self-harm, you could buy some new music, for example. If you're interested in tracking your progress, consider posting in the self-harm free thread.

How open you are about your goals is completely up to you. You're more than welcome to share your successes with other people, but you can also keep them to yourself if you don't feel comfortable sharing. This choice is a personal decision, so do what you feel is best for you.

Slip-ups are part of recovery and it will happen from time to time. It's easier said than done, but try not to beat yourself up over a slip-up. You can't be expected to go from frequently using an unhealthy behavior to not using it ever again. Slipping up does not take any of your previous progress away. If anything, it shows how strong you've been and it shows that you can go just as long again, if not longer, without self-harming. What is most important about slipping up is how you respond to it. Try to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and continue on your journey.

Reaching out
Part of recovery is allowing other people to help you. This is something that is challenging for a lot of people because they aren't used to asking for help. You can talk to anyone you trust. It could be a friend, parent, teacher, or counselor. If you want to talk to someone in person, consider asking them to talk so you can plan ahead of time. They are unlikely to forget your request, and they will probably bring it up. You can write down what you'd like to tell them and say it to them, or you can hand them the note and allow them to read it. If you're too nervous to talk to someone, you can hand them a note or communicate electronically. You could also receive support anonymously through hotlines or through TeenHelp. Write down different ways you can receive support and utilize those when you're struggling.

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