Battling Self Harm, My Parents Saved My Life

I stood in front of the bathroom mirror blow-drying my hair. I was floating around inside my brain, reliving the numerous painful moments that had occurred in the last few weeks.

It had all started with the incredibly adorable and immature Aaron. I had never had a real boyfriend before him and quickly became addicted to his attention. Like any normal young teenagers, we were both hormonal and over-dramatic. I should have known how unstable that cocktail of emotions would become. But I was desperately and insanely, in love with this sweet sandy-haired boy.

My parents saved me from self harm.

I flipped my hair and continued to dry. Thinking about him was giving me butterflies, but my feelings toward him were becoming clouded with despair. We had been dragging each other farther into depression though we didn’t realize it at the time.

I was out of control. The night before I had been getting ready to take a bath. Knowing that I was going to be in the water and the clean-up would be easy, I had brought one of my blades with me. I had gotten very good at taking apart cheap disposable razors and had hidden the little blades all over my room.

I had been cutting more and more often. In the beginning, my self harm had only been sporadic when I was really sad, but lately, my emotions had been spiraling into a frenzy of depression. That night in the bathtub, I had gone too far and the bath water had gone red. I got out, swallowed my pride, and asked my mom for help.

[More about self/injury and cutting here.]

She was a nurse and kept gauze and thick bandages on hand. That moment was one of only a few times that I had seen her cry and it had made me hate myself more. Her eyes were clouded with worry and confusion. She didn’t understand me, no one did. Not even Aaron. He had been cutting too.

When we had started dating we were both very into the “Emo” lifestyle because we could identify with the pain and suffering. We were drowning ourselves in a sea of black eyeliner and dark music. We would always agree that we would quit, but whenever one of us slipped up the other would as well and the cycle continued.

I had spent many nights sitting on the floor of my closet trying to figure out how to pull myself together and the only thing that ever made sense was to cut. This was all running through my head as I brushed my hair and surveyed my handiwork. For a millisecond, I was almost pleased. Red was a good color on me.

I opened the bathroom door to find my dad leaning against the banister, waiting for me. He had tears in his eyes and immediately wrapped me up in a big, safe hug. My mom had called him. Dad and I had not spoken much in the last year due to the fact that he lived six hours away and I was a moody teenager.

“Hi, Daddy.” I looked into his face and tried to give him a genuine smile. I hadn’t really realized how much I had needed that hug.

“Let’s go have a chat” he whispered in a shaky voice. I followed him down the stairs. My mom and step mom were talking quietly at the table but stopped upon seeing me. I was beginning to feel cornered. I hugged Miss Kelly and sat down at the head of the table. I couldn’t help fidgeting, I have always had issues with confrontation.

“Do you know why we’re here, sweetie?” I could tell that Miss Kelly was trying to keep her tone light and unthreatening.

“The cutting?” I lowered my eyes to the table. I was feeling self-conscious because of the tank top I was wearing. None of the healing wounds on my arms were covered. I scratched nervously at the gauze wrapping my thigh under my pants.

“Yes. Your mom called us last night in tears because she thinks we are going to lose you.” Mom and Dad were silent. I glanced up, all three of their faces were pale and worried. Mom was scanning my face. She was trying to read my emotions, which was useless, I was pretty numb at that moment. Dad had a few tears rolling down his cheeks. His gaze was focused on a deep slice in my bicep from two or three days before.

“Honey, we need you to tell us what is going on with you. What can we do to help?” I still would not look at them, but I managed to answer.

“I’m not trying to kill myself. I know that’s what you think.” I sighed, wishing Aaron could be there to face this with me. Dad broke into my wandering thoughts.

“We need you to know that it doesn’t have to be this way. Where did my happy little bookworm go? I can remember it like it was yesterday and your face is the same, but that light in your eyes is gone. We are here because we want you to be happy. Don’t you want to be happy again?”

The tears welled up in the corners of my eyes. I could remember that girl too. The happy, little girl who was always lost in a fairytale, dreaming of the adventures she would have when she grew up. That girl seemed like a stranger now. When had things changed? When had I lost touch with myself? What do I say? They wanted an answer.

“Yes.” I said, but I didn’t know if it was even possible to happy again. “I don’t know how.”
They began to talk, each interjecting an idea, but I was only half-listening. I was thinking about Aaron again. What if I get better but he doesn’t? What if I don’t get better? What if I feel this way forever?

“Honey?” They were looking at me. I didn’t hear whatever they had said, I was falling back into numbness. I could hardly comprehend the concept of NOT feeling like I was drowning all the time.

“Sorry. What?” I was still staring at the tabletop.

“We all think you should take a week away from everything and come back to North Dakota with us.” I was completely taken aback. Leave school? My friends? Aaron?! I couldn’t choke back the tears and they began collecting in a quiet little puddle on the table in front of me.

“I don’t want to go.”

“Honey,” mom reached over and squeezed my hand. “You may not understand now how taking some time away will help, but we all think that you need to give it a try. We are terrified that if things get worse, you will never be able to have the normal, happy life that you deserve.” I took a moment to try to picture myself happy, I couldn’t.

“Ok, mom.” It was all I could think to say.

The next hour I walked around in a daze. I packed a bag, called Aaron to tell him what was happening, and hugged my mom. We began our six-hour drive to Dad’s. I buried myself in my iPod and watched the world pass by my window. It’s strange that you can look into the eyes of a stranger, in the next car on the road, knowing that they have no idea how much your pain is tearing you apart and you have no idea if theirs is doing the same. The trees became less and less dense. As we crossed the border into North Dakota, my heart sank a little. My memories of my father’s community were not great, but I was not there to see anyone. Apparently I was supposed to take this week to rest.

“Think about what you want your life to be.” That was what mom had said when she hugged me goodbye. What did that even mean?

It had been 3 days now of “rest”. I was feeling very odd. My numbness had subsided and I had spent an entire night crying over Aaron. I had realized how toxic we were for each other. My parents had spoken to Aaron’s before we had left. They had all agreed that we should stay away from each other for a few weeks.

I was livid, at first. They couldn’t tell me who to be with! Or who to love! Later, I realized they were right. If I had any chance of getting out of this hole, it would only happen without Aaron. That epiphany had caused such a strange mixture of anger and hope in me. Hope was something I had forgotten how to feel. The surge of emotions had exhausted me.

Miss Kelly must have noticed. The next morning as I was staring at a blank page in my journal trying to muster the brainpower to write, I looked up and she was smiling down at me. She had one arm full of snacks and the other gripping a stack of DVDs.

“Come on, let’s have a girl’s day.” I followed to her bedroom where my younger sister was snuggled down into the middle of the bed waiting for us. I crawled in as Miss Kelly popped in the DVD. Settling into that giant, cloud-like bed as the Disney introduction played on the TV made me feel small. I felt something take hold of me, it was the bookworm.

I could feel that sweet little girl I used to be peeking out through my pain. I glanced over to my family. They were giggling with their hands full of popcorn and for the first time in a long time, I was happy. Genuinely happy. I could almost feel my heart glowing. In that moment, I knew that someday I would be as happy as they were.

It wasn’t until I was an adult, with a family of my own, that I saw that entire situation for what it was. My parents had saved me……from myself. The hardest kind of saving there is. They could have done what many parents do, sit back and hope it’s just a phase. All three of them made the decision to actively help me through it even though they didn’t understand it. They couldn’t have known then how much their hard work would pay off and my heart will forever overflow with the gratitude that I wish had shown them at the time.

Photo credit: Shanon Wise


The Teen Brain

Lisa Damour Guides Parents Through Teen Turbulence in “Untangled”

Johnson GirlsChelsea Johnson is a stay-at-home wife and mom with a passion for writing. She works full-time, from home, as a freelance writer and also runs a blog that focuses on RV living with young kids. She and her family love travel, adventure, kitties, and each other. Follow her on  Facebook and Instagram.

About Grown and Flown

Mary Dell Harrington and Lisa (Endlich) Heffernan are the co-founders of Grown and Flown the #1 site for parents of teens, college students and young adults, reaching millions of parents every month. They are writers (Lisa is a New York Times bestselling author), moms, wives and friends. They started the Grown and Flown Parents Facebook Group and are co-authors of Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults (Flatiron Books) now in paperback.

Read more posts by Grown and Flown

Don't miss out!
Want more like this? Get updates about parenting teens and young adults straight to your inbox.