Publicly Acceptable Self-Harm

It’s happening all around you…but do you see it?

Starr Schrenker
Oct 4 · 5 min read
Photo by José Martín Ramírez C on Unsplash

Publicly acceptable self-harm?

What does that even mean???

Who condones this shit???

Maybe you…and you don’t even realize it.

Publicly acceptable self-harm is real.

However, as long as you “look” normal, you can be overlooked when it comes to this particular self-injurious behavior.

Why am I talking about this now?

Most people don’t know, but I have been addicted to self-harm for the majority of my life. I remember using it to “manage” my emotions as far back as 10 years old. Yeah…pushing 35 years of that crap now…

Though I’ve always felt as if I was never “enough,” my emotions were always “too much.” As I got older, those intense emotions got even harder to manage, and my self harm escalated. Some days I couldn’t even function from the onslaught of emotions that were too big and too scary.

What did I do when my emotions became unbearable? I’d numb them any way I could.

Desperate times, desperate measures and all that.

I continued with self-harm acts well into my late 30s. Going in and out of various therapies over the years didn’t help me address my real struggles because I wasn’t honest with myself or my therapist.

I wasn’t ready.

After my second daughter was born, I knew I couldn’t continue the way I had for so long. Giving up habits — even the worst of them — is crazy hard. I needed help…and I needed to be honest about how bad things had gotten.

Once I committed to doing the work and actual, regular treatment with a skilled therapist, I made a contract with her that I wouldn’t hurt myself. She was someone I knew I needed to work with, and this was in her agreement to work with me.

I was honest with her and myself for the first time.

At that point, I stopped performing the physical acts that left scars or would be obvious to other people. I’d like to say I quit harming all together, but I was desperate for “relief” and found another way.

A “socially acceptable” way to hurt myself…

Eating.

Specifically, disordered eating. You know…emotional eating and bingeing.

And it worked to dam the emotional floods that still came on regularly.

Did abusing food really work?

No.

At the time, it was easier than facing the hard stuff and feeling the emotions. I didn’t even realize it was making literally everything that much harder for me.

Why did I continue for so long?

Well, for me, it helped numb the hurt and took the place of facing emotional issues. It also helped build up a physical barrier against pain…and love. It kept me “safe.”

What’s so wrong with food?

Food, though life-giving, can easily turn into an addiction on its own. Especially when it is used in ways other than nourishment. Overeating and under-eating are both forms of food abuse. “Dieting” makes food the enemy you can’t live without. Much like dysfunctional relationships and prescription pills.

But, food is a source of pleasure. There is research that shows how food and eating can actually trigger chemicals in your brain that result in pleasurable feelings. It’s hard to change what feels so good! And, honestly, who really wants to deny the good feelings when there is so much bad happening in our world most days?

Just like every other way we invent to punish ourselves, even food can become too much of a good thing.

People don’t necessarily judge you for buying food or eating it. We all eat!

They do, however, judge you for being fat. Then, it’s an issue. But, until you tip society’s scales (pun kind of intended), your self-harm is pretty much off everyone’s radar.

Society won’t even bat an eye toward food issues except to criticize the fact that you aren’t the “right” size…but that’s your fault, of course.

And that’s a conversation for another day…

What am I doing about this — and what can you do?

If you’re numbing or distracting from your life by using and abusing food, it is just as detrimental physically and psychologically as too much alcohol, drugs or even physical self-harm.

As a result of my addiction and food abuse, I am suffering the consequences. Compounded by being in my mid-40s, I’m sure.

Food as punishment does not bring pleasure. It brings self-loathing and negative health effects.

My physical health isn’t great.

I’m uncomfortable in my skin most days.

I’m battling a heap of limiting beliefs in therapy and my work with my nutritionist helps me see my not-so-helpful automatic thoughts.

If I’m so aware of these things, you’re probably wondering why I continue down this destructive path. I can’t say that I don’t know because that would be a lie. There are still so many things I’m not ready to feel or face.

Number 1 on that list is myself and the conditions of my body. It’s a daunting task to take steps to undo decades of abuse.

It scares me.

Even after being in therapy regularly for over 7 years, I still struggle.

But, recognizing what I’ve been doing has opened up a tiny ray of light at the end of this dark tunnel. Asking and receiving help has given me strength in ways I didn’t know were possible.

My mental health is the strongest it has ever been, and I feel good things happening every day. Even with the fear, I still have hope.

And I still try. Every. Single. Day.

I’m beyond blessed with my support system. Not just family and friends, but my nutritionist is constantly showing me new ways to look at things I’ve been afraid to face. All while eating food and living life.

Just know that if you have an addiction or suffer from self-harm in any of its forms, you aren’t alone. We can fight this battle together.

There really is hope for us all.

Starr Schrenker

Written by

Stay engaged. Have hope. Find me on IG: @starrwdesigns

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