Healing is always an option…

I have reread Tanya’s words from last week’s post- they have inspired much reflection and a wave of gratitude for my wise friend and colleague.  This past week has given me the opportunity to do some thinking as I’ve been flattened by a flu bug.  Not much reading, no writing, lots of reflecting…  I am a very fortunate person.  My life’s most brutal challenges were early on, healing from them over the past decades has brought me more joy than I could have imagined.  There were hard times along the way, there is still much work to be done, but I have gone far enough down this path of healing to trust it.

I want to share with you one piece of writing that has inspired me repeatedly over the years.  Whenever I begin to feel uncertain about taking on the challenges in front of me I consider Darlene’s words.  Can there be more challenging circumstances in which to keep the flame of healing alive?  We can heal.  Anywhere.  As long as we have breath, we can heal.

I am a 40 year-old woman recovering from SIV.  Since coming here (to prison) with a life sentence in 1997 I’ve grown beyond the need to self-injure, though the impulse still arises in highly stressful or painful circumstances. The healing I’ve found was self-motivated, not due to being treated while property of the Department of Corrections.  Their method of dealing with inmates who self-harm is not much different than some outside ones.  Inmates who hurt themselves are punished for it be being stripped and confined for up to 3 weeks in a small bare cell.  Of course this is done under the guise of protecting that inmate from themselves.  As far as actual counseling, the mental health staff are understaffed and are responsible for so many inmates on each of their caseloads that appointments are only monthly and often cut short after 15-30 minutes.  Furthermore, the turnover rate for those counselors is high, therefore once any form of communication lines are opened between an inmate and counselor, that counselor moves on and is replaced by another, leaving the inmate to start all over again with a complete stranger.  It’s a vicious cycle with no solution other than the ones we find ourselves.

I found strength by forming my own support group consisting of people who were doing positive things for themselves. Some of those had self-harmed in the past and found other ways to deal with life.  As I grew I began reaching out to people who were actively harming themselves, passing on what I had learned.  I also took steps to begin healing from my past trauma, sexual abuse issues.  I believe my healing there, the self-forgiveness I found, were the biggest achievements in no longer having the need to harm myself.

                                                                                                         Darlene Dixon


Thank you Darlene.  Again and again.

The Definition of Healing

I have been thinking a lot about healing lately.  I have a tremendous gift in that I get to work with a dear friend this year on an emerging project out of New York. As we travel together, we talk about our own ever changing, constantly painful and often enlightening pathways to healing.  I am always reminded that the journey is not linear;  that healing is work and that that work is often as exhausting and lonely as it is necessary.  The definition of healing is to become sound or healthy; to alleviate a person’s distress or anguish; to correct or put right.  The assumption in this is that there was a wound or injury to be corrected.  That healing comes only after hurt.

When a physical injury happens, the body forms scar tissue while healing.  Our magnificent biosystem knows that the injury cannot happen again and over compensates by reinforcing the area against further harm.  If our skin is cut, we have a scar.  If a bone is broken, extra bone grows back.  Our bodies know that the area must be protected.  This is not in question; there is no discussion or thought it just happens.

What then happens to our mind when the hurt is not as obvious?  How will our brain respond and protect us from ever being hurt again?  It will reinforce just as our body does.  Our brain will protect us from the pain that needs to be corrected.  But is that healing?  And what happens when we need to remove the scar because the protective shield we have put in place is actually preventing more than just further injury?

As people who have survived incomprehensible pain, we have reinforced and protected even the most intimate parts of ourselves.  We have corrected the wrongs by creating barriers to ensure that we are not hurt again.  We are brilliant in our abilities to self-care in ways that are misunderstood and diagnosed and treated but they also keep us safe and make us whole.  Until they don’t.

I cut my leg on a piece of glass as a child.  My body formed a large scar on my left thigh as a result of the wound to ensure that I could not be hurt there again.  But as I grew and my body changed, that scar has moved and changed and now is it is an ever-tightening piece of skin that causes me discomfort from time-to-time.  The scar, which was formed to correct an injury is now causing me a different pain.

My healing is not linear.  As I grow and change, some of the scars I have formed to protect my emotional pain are starting to cause me discomfort.  They have protected me and prevented re-injury and for that I am grateful and humbled by the masterful way my mind and body took care of me even when I didn’t know it was happening.  But now, I must look at some of these and do the hard work of peeling away these barriers.  I must do the exhausting work of finding new healing.  I don’t know where the process will take me and I can’t ensure that I don’t get new wounds.  But I know I must allow myself the gift of vulnerability.  And I am grateful for all of you for the support needed to try.

written by my beloved friend and brilliant colleague, Tanya Stevens, whom I hope we will hear from often..


It has always come down to… the trauma.

The poem we were gifted with in last week’s post described many of the reasons people turn to Self-Directed Violence (SDV).  Again, please recognize that what appears to be blatant self-destruction is actually an act of self-preservation.  How to understand this?  You cannot understand if you do not recognize that there is one common denominator in the lives of people who turn to razors or lighters or their own fists for resolution.  That common ground is a wide and deep one.  It is the experience of unhealed trauma, oftentimes from one’s childhood.

I use a very wide definition of the word “trauma.”  For today’s post I’ll introduce this one:

Trauma results from an event or a series of events or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically and/or emotionally harmful or life threatening, and which has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning or physical, social, emotional and spiritual well-being.
(SAMHSA, December 2012)

(SAMHSA stands for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a federal agency)

Traumatic experiences are overwhelming.  They can be single incidents or ongoing.  They can be the result of human actions, or mother nature’s.  They can be obvious or hidden.  Much will be said about trauma and how it leads some of the survivors to turn to SDV to manage it’s repercussions.  I suggest that when you read the prose and poetry of people who have lived with SDV you listen for the voice of trauma in that person’s life.  In my experience it always speaks, it is always there.  It is our common denominator.

I realized this as I began to listen to women who self injure when I first organized safe places for us to meet in the late 1980s (yes, that long ago!). From those gatherings I began the newsletter, The Cutting Edge: A Newsletter for Women Living with Self-Inflicted Violence.  Having been a counselor in both mental health and substance abuse programs I had believed what the psychiatrists had said – that those who are “cutters” are typically young, white, middle class girls and women.  Therefore the newsletter was written for women.  Not long after The Cutting Edge began to travel to various parts of the world (ultimately it had subscribers on 5 continents) I began to learn more about the people who found it useful. Yes there were women, some of whom were white, and some were young.  I also began to hear from the women of color, from the elders, and from men and boys.  And I quickly learned how wrong the presumptions were.  The people who lived with self-injury were people as varied as any could be. As they shared with me and each other it became very clear to me that there was only one commonality and it was trauma.  Not race, gender, age, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, ability, education, or location on this planet.  This was enlightening and inspiring. Why?  Because I know we can heal from many of the repercussions of trauma.  And that is as hopeful as it gets.

This is very different from traditional biopsychiatric theories about people who self-injure.  Don’t expect much hope for healing there.  It is the world of pseudoscience, and it’s treatment of people who live with SDV is most often misguided at the least, typically brutal.  There are individual clinicians and some agencies that create healing environments, yet they remain rare.  I will introduce you to some of these compassionate people in future posts.  And we will explore the hurtful beliefs and “treatments” as well.  Because we can, here.  This is a safe place to be, just like those initial gatherings.  And as for the newsletter?  It didn’t take long to change, actually it took one beautiful letter from a young man, for the title to change to The Cutting Edge: A Newsletter for People Who Live with Self-Inflicted Violence.


… the purpose…

Last week I wrote that while people who live with Self-Directed Violence (SDV) are often perceived as “sick,” “disturbed,” “manipulative,” or just plain “crazy,” (future posts will discuss what the behavioral health profession calls us)… we are not.  There is always a critical reason people have for their self-harm; it always serves a purpose.  Ironically, SDV can prevent death from suicide, this will be discussed in the future as well.  There is so much I want to write, but I promised myself these posts would be brief and not chapters.  So…

My intention for writing today was to discuss the common ground that people who live with SDV stand upon.  But then I started sifting through the stacks of paper I have on most flat surfaces in my cabin.  Papers with the written voices of people who have taught me so very much over the past decades.  And I decided to bring one of those voices to you today.  This writing expresses much of what I had wanted to say, but my words come in sentences and lists.  Macabre wrote the following with brilliant, expressive eloquence.  I hope you sit with these words.  If they resonate with you, I hope you feel understood.  If they confuse you, hang in there, until next week…


Why We Cut/Why We Don’t

We cut when the pressure inside the body is so great that if we don’t let it out we will explode.  When it feels like a tire that has been over-inflated and there is no release valve, so we cut.  When the other resources to let that pressure out feel like they are not going to do the trick.  When the pressure makes the head feel like a balloon that is ready to burst.  We cut.

We cut when the pain is so bad that nothing external can mask it. When the most potent pain medication will fail us. When it seems as if the entire world is feeling joy and the pain we feel touches the very core of our soul.  When the numbing and dissociation don’t work because we have begun our healing journey and are not as adept at using those tools.  We cut.

We cut when the level of frustration is so great and we have nowhere to vent it.  When we become like a lost child in a maze, and we cannot find our way out.  When we keep bumping into walls, and the final wall has a small blade to cut open a door to let us out.  We cut.

We cut when we are scared.  Scared that the secrets we told in therapy will cause death to the ones our perpetrators said they would, and we would be responsible.  When we are scared that maybe we are really evil and bad as they said, and there is no way out.  Scared that we will never get better.  Scared that we will end up in the hospital because we are unable to cope.  Scared that all these bad feelings will chase our therapist away, and she is the only one who has been there for us.  Then we will be left alone.  We cut.

We cut when we are angry that we have been robbed of a good portion of our lives because our perpetrators took that from us.  Angry that we did not have a peaceful happy childhood.  Angry that we have no happy memories of childhood.  Angry that the ones who hurt us appear to be leading happier lives than us.  We cut.

We cut when the voices of our perpetrators tell us to cut and we cannot screen out the sound.  When they tell us that we are bad and evil and we have committed the number one sin, we told.  We cut.

We cut to see if we are real.  When the fog we live in is so dense that it must mean we are not in and of this world.  When the numbness is so great that only a being who is not real could be feeling less.  When seeing our blood is the only thing that will convince us that we do in fact really exist.  We cut.

We cut when the tools we learned in therapy to not cut do not quite feel like they would work to quiet all of the above.

We do not cut to hurt others.  We do not cut to get revenge.  We do not cut to get attention.  We do not cut because we have exhausted all other healthy reasons not to cut and cutting is our only alternative.  Sometimes those healthy alternatives escape us when we reach that level of despair.

We are not perfect.  We do not know all the answers.  We do not always do it right.  We are trying to do it differently, but sometimes the messages from inside are stronger that we are and we cut.  One day there will come a time when cutting is not an option for us, but for now, as we continue on our healing journey, the pain is more than we can bear.  We cut.


Not crazy.  Not manipulative.  Surviving.  Healing.

Consider reading this again.  Slowly.  Out loud.  A powerful healing voice has given us a gift.

“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,