“Crazy with a purpose…”

Self-directed violence (SDV) appears, to most people, as an “insane” behavior, an indication of some grievous psychiatric disorder.  If all you consider is the actual behavior then I suppose this makes sense.  But you would be wrong.  And that mistaken judgment, due to lack of understanding, could greatly hurt the person living with SDV in much deeper ways than any physical harm someone has done to themselves.

So now I might sound crazy too, right?  But here is what I have learned from my own journey and, most importantly, from listening to people from around much of the world for over 30 years…  SDV is a survival strategy, sometimes a very effective one, at least for the time being.  It serves a purpose often much more important than caring about the repercussions of what happens to the body.  And that is not “crazy.”  You do what you need to do to survive.  When you have other options you may or may not use them instead of SDV.  When survival begins to transform to healing you might not need SDV any longer.

In these weekly posts I will present brief accounts of learnings I have had, many thoughts and opinions, and likely some rants.  In the meantime I will begin to build this web site with more resources, especially the voices of people who have lived with SDV.  I encourage you to deeply listen to their words to understand what might be difficult to comprehend – that picking up a razor, a lighter, a hammer, to use on one’s own body has a purpose.  Actually, there are many purposes to SDV, and I will explore these.  For now please understand that you might not be understanding if you simply consider self-harm as crazy. It certainly might appear that way so let’s see it as “crazy with a purpose.”  And pursue a path of compassionate understanding.  Whether you are the person living with SDV or not there can certainly be no overabundance of compassionate understanding on this topic.  Right?

I want to write on and one, but promised to keep this short and begin loading more information as the weeks move on in this new year.  So let’s ponder… what is it that people who need SDV, at least for a while, are surviving?  There is a common denominator, a common human experience that we survivors share… to be discussed next week.

These three concepts…

This is my introduction to what I have learned, over the past 30 years, from listening to people who live with Self-Directed Violence (SDV).  I have taught classes on this topic that have lasted two days or more, and they are a detailed exploration of the following three points.  These are the ground upon which understanding and responding to people who live with self-injury, ourselves and others, stands. And yes, it is this simple:

There is always a reason that people self-injure.

That reason is rooted in the experience of trauma, often in childhood.

Taking the healing journey from trauma is taking the path to healing self-injury; they are not separate.

SDV serves a purpose for people or they wouldn’t do it.  People who no longer have that need no longer self-injure.  People who self-harm are neither crazy nor addicted.  They are survivors.  Self-injury is most often a tool of survival regardless of how destructive it may appear.  Healing is finding life beyond survival.  Although almost always a very arduous journey, it brings relief and comfort.  SDV becomes no longer necessary.  People often discover that life is more joyous than they could have imagined.  Pretty cool.




Full circle?

Today is the first day of a new year and a new decade.  As much as I’ve struggled questioning the value of this site I am officially done wondering.  I need this site.  If anyone else finds it useful, then more healing will come, and we will find each other. A widening circle of compassionate understanding is a radical and joyous thing.

The circle that seems to be coming around fully, however, is the one that began in 1988.  That was the first time a group of us gathered to talk about our lives as women who lived with “self-injury.”  The first meetings I organized, and the first issues of the newsletter The Cutting Edge, were for women as I did not yet understand this is not a gender issue but a trauma one.  The meeting space, whether the physical one or the one on paper, was critical to create as there were few, if any, safe places to go if you were a person who, in the words of psychiatrists, “self-mutilated.”

Psychiatry, the behavioral health care business, has not been a refuge.  I coped with my childhood horrors in many ways, one of them being self-directed violence (another was societal achievement, go figure).  But I barely survived the shaming, degrading, and very expensive “treatments” forced upon me that eventually brutalized the coping skills I had retained.  I escaped the hospitals and pills and labels as soon as I sorted out how harmful they were but it took years.  I left them behind and began this work.

It was a time of unquestionable belief in this “disease” model of what is “mental illness.”  Diagnoses were strewn about as if they were real, genetic theories were being promoted as if one’s DNA at birth would dictate a person’s future.  And “experts” became very comfortable with making decisions about people from the pages of a book called the “DSM” and then prescribing “treatments” meant to control their patients’ behavior.

If you lived with self-directed violence (SDV) and got caught up in the system you were in for a world of hurt.  Not all of us survived the attempts to dominate us, to force us to change behaviors without even understanding why they felt necessary. Of course this is not news.  In the late 1980s and early 1990s we needed a way to find each other safely and create our own ways to healing.  And in time pockets of support and understanding opened up as more people became aware that those who receive psychiatric labels are people coping with the impact of unhealed trauma.  And that the answer was in support and empowerment and collaboration.  I had, in the 1990s and up until a few years ago, the incredible privilege of bringing my perspective, my vision to the table in many places.  I worked under Republican and Democratic administrations.  I was a part of research, policy development and trauma-informed care implementation groups.  The system as whole still sucked but there were cracks there and they were widening and many more people had the opportunity to heal.

OK, Ruta, are these the rambling of a geezer reflecting on her work?  Yes and no.  Yes I am reflecting on the beginning of my journey.  But I am not rambling.  I am sitting here in cold recognition that the current climate in the US government and the psychiatric industry is back to the place when I first began this work.  Understanding trauma and how people adapt and cope, and how healing requires partnership, compassion and empowerment… yes those principles exist in various place but the light is getting dimmer.  It is getting cold again.  The current governmental and psychiatric industry manipulations are shifting back to the ideas that people labeled with “diagnoses” from the now much heavier version of the DSM need to be controlled.  The statistics about us are being skewed to portray us as violent when in truth it is the opposite.  There are widening numbers of people encouraging force of “treatment” as if that wasn’t an oxymoron.  There is a strong push to build more institutions, those places with locked doors, powerful brain destroying drugs and ropes to tie you down with (they are called restraints and are billable).  The idea of force as a solution is back in full force.  Pharmaceutical industry power has increased even more than before, hard to believe it could.

And I’m just now starting to piece this together.  It feels like it did 30 years ago and it is becoming horrific again.  I need a place to come to and vent.  I need a place to be present, so if someone wants a safe place to come they will find one.  I need to provide a place with the intention of creating a community that can shelter it’s individuals while striving to bring truth to power.  Yup, those old slogans are rising back up.  Might need to make a few t-shirts.  And tie-dye, of course.  I don’t want to hear about more people locked away again, drugged, demeaned, disempowered, gutted. Not without having something I can do about it.  And that is to write this and keep building this web site for those who need it.  So far I know that I do.  I’ll sleep better tonight.  I am welcoming myself home.

“Seek professional help…”

“You do WHAT???”  “You Cut yourself?  Burn yourself?  Punch yourself?”  “YOU NEED PROFESSIONAL HELP!”

Does anyone disagree that the above sentences are the most common responses heard when self-injury is uncovered or disclosed?  Self-directed violence (SDV) is upsetting to many, we can understand why.  I don’t expect most people to initially want to understand the purposes SDV serves.  When people are faced with what they do not understand, and are frightened and/or repulsed, they want to make the problem “go away.”  And it seems easiest to send us off to the “professional.”

If “professional” means the expert, then let’s consider who is expert.  There are persons with degrees, licenses, and advanced education in biopsychiatric beliefs that are most often empowered to be the professionals we are sent to.  There are stacks of books and journal articles that theorize about the disorders that cause SDV, and just as many varied treatment approaches to reduce or eliminate this “symptom” or “pathological behavior.” We will explore many of these in the weeks to come.

Yet what of the person who struggles with SDV themselves?  What is their expertise?  What can someone who has “lived experience” offer another?  The reason The Cutting Edge newsletter was created so many years ago was to create a safe space for people living with self-injury to express themselves and bear witness to others sharing similar experiences.  It is these people who gave me the wisdom and hope that I share today.  And so, throughout the remainder of this week, I will be posting some of their words to bring them to life here, to share their expertise…

And if the web site is temporarily muddled please be patient with me.  I have already inadvertently deleted this post several times!  My skills are improving, but still laughable.  In the meantime, I am very interested in your thoughts about who the experts are when it comes to understanding self-harm.

Lastly, a few words from one of the experts in my life:

After a storm there are puddles left.
After a fire there are ashes left.
After SIV there are scars left.
How do you deal with them?
Do you hide them?
Do you wear them fiercely as warrior marks? Not caring who sees them?
Do you make them yours?
…”Oh I took part in a Sun Dance ceremony during my native days”
Do you make them others?
…”Oh I lived in Africa and was scarred to make my pale skin strong”
Do you lie?
…”Oh it was a car accident a few years ago”
Do you tell a partial truth?
…”Oh it happened so long ago I don’t remember”
Do you tell the whole truth?
…”Oh I’m a self-mutilator”
How do you decide who gets to know and who needs to stay in the dark?
Do you have days when you don’t see them? And days when that is all you see?
Do you have days they shame you? And days they empower you?
Do you have the perfect lie to tell children?
…”Oh when I was a little girl, no one told me not to play with matches”
Do you ever look at them as if they were a puzzle and think:
…”Oh if I just fill in this space here, it will all make sense”
Do you?
I do.



Please check back to the web site for more unless I accidentally blow it up!

All the best,



Shortest poem ever published…

I hurt so much

I bleed.

                               Robin et al

Thinking about this, the first post of the year, I considered writing about some of the most powerful resources I have found over the years for people living with self-directed violence (SDV).  In some ways, over the past decades there has been an increase in the understanding of why people self-harm.  Yet upon reflection I feel sorrow that progress has been achingly slow and uneven.  Isn’t that is why I’ve rebirthed this site?  Yes.

After digging through my stacks of books and articles I decided to publish the six most powerful teaching words I have found.  It’s been many years since this short poem was published in “The Cutting Edge,” yet those words summarize the meaning of SDV.  They remind us all that there is always a purpose to a behavior that many perceive to be only harmful, perhaps insane or manipulative.  This poem is profound because of its simplicity, clarity, and power.  The purpose is to survive the pain in the moment.  The “hurt” is the challenge, much more than the means used to manage it, and in this blog I will ask us to consider all the various forms of suffering that bring people to the need for SDV.  Whether you have ever lifted a knife, razor, match or fist to yourself or not, I’ll bet you understand pain.  Therefore we can find a way to understand, and support, each other.  I feel like I am coming home.

This poem is in the file “TCE 59 it is about the pain” on this website.  This is the newsletter I hand out first to people as it feels powerful to me.  Oh, and that issue contains information about resources as well.  But we’ll get to that here as well, soon…

Many conversations to come and I am eager for your ideas, interests, and thoughts,


Holidays… some merry, some not so much…

The creating of this web site has been a slow and inconsistent process, yet I am writing to celebrate progress.  With the coming of a new year, it feels like an opportune time to let you know that this site will be expanded and added to on a weekly basis as of 2019.

That said, I recognize that this is often a challenging time of year for many people and therefore wanted to post at least a few words now.  It has been 30 years since I first began creating safe places for people living with the need for self-injury, first actual gatherings, then The Cutting Edge newsletter, and now this web site.  This work has been a privilege and my heart is full at the thought of now freeing up the time and energy to return here with passion.  I am looking forward to 2019.

Moving forward, I wanted to throw out a simple quote that has guided my efforts over the years.  It is from the wise Yoda:

Around the survivors a perimeter create.

May you feel safe here, may you feel understood, may you know that you are not alone.  If your life does not feel like a beautiful adventure yet, then please hang on, it just might evolve… it has for me.  If you are struggling, please do whatever you need to survive. Please return here and help create this space to be one of comfort and safety, hope and inspiration.

Best to all,