We were talking the other day about the weight of our emotions. I was telling two friends about my ideas of something I call our self-destructive response disorder. Some could say this is a model of self-harm. Some could say this is what happens with alcohol or substance abuse disorders. And me, I like to explain that this is what happens when the emotions get too thick. This is a reaction. This is what happens when life turns in ways that we struggle to understand. Thus, we respond.
I will offer my explanation as it relates to me. However, please understand that by reporting the details of my past, I ask that you relate instead of compare. If you are looking to understand more about others who struggle with this, perhaps my notes will be helpful to you.
I have seen times in my life where self-harm was a direct response to life beyond my understanding. There was too much happening at once. I couldn’t think straight. I was unhappy. I had this sense of constant doom as if something was always about to be wrong.
My reactions and my responses were purely out of frustration. However, in some cases when the pain inside made no sense, I reacted so the pain would materialize in ways that I could understand.
I knew how much a chair weighed. I could tell you about the weight of a television. I could tell you about the weight of a dumbbell because these were physically understandable things.
But what about the weight of emotion?
What about the pain or the weight of discomfort or insecurity? There’s no number to this. Instead, this is more numberless. These things do not come with a physical measure or a visual measure that we can see or understand. All we can do is feel.
In my case, I couldn’t understand why I was unhappy. I couldn’t understand why I felt so awkward and socially uncomfortable. I knew what loss felt like. I knew about the pain from heartache. I knew about the pain from my mistakes, which seemed to be endless at the time. I was uncomfortable about my looks and the shape of my body. It seemed as though no matter how hard I tried, nothing could stop me from getting in my own way. Nothing could calm my thoughts. Nothing could slow me down or help me, except for the obvious quick fixes. But none of them ever lasted very long.
My mental or emotional discomfort was due to the congestion of my thinking. My thoughts were to the point that I began to think irrationally. But worse, I began to react irrationally. Hence, this is why I call drinking, substance or personal abuse of any kind a self-destructive response disorder.
I was led by my anger and my frustrations. And although on the surface I knew what was not helpful or in my best interest, I still needed the fix.
I moved ahead and found that I was subconsciously painting myself in a corner. Even the momentary reliefs came with too much of a price. But ah, price or not, at least there was a moment of reprieve. This is what leads to self-destructive behaviors. This is the part of the mind that assumes, “The hell with it! I’m going to fail anyway,” so we act accordingly. Or, at least I acted accordingly. I subconsciously quit before I even started.
There were times when my frustration grew to such a height that I picked fights. I started arguments. I reacted both harshly and cruelly and sometimes preemptively. And why?
Well, the answer is simple. I was reacting to my surroundings in a self-destructive way because I was unhappy. I was uncomfortable and unable to stop the momentum of my emotions. Therefore, I responded.
There are parents who’ve asked me about cutting. They explained that their children were cutting themselves to purge the pain. They wanted to know why.
I explained about the weight of our emotions. I explained about the physical representation of pain, which makes sense. However, emotional pain does not make sense. Personal despair and heartache can seem unending. However, a visual understanding of pain becomes an understandable gesture. The fact that we see blood or notice the cut; finally, painful or not, at least something makes sense.
“But I don’t get it. Why would you hurt yourself if you’re in so much pain?”
My best explanation is now that there is a physical transaction, the blade and the blood are understandable, which allows for a moment of ease. Ease is comfort, even if this comes in uncomfortable ways, at least it’s understandable.
I suppose this is why my journaling became so important to me. This is why I come to a place each morning, with a purpose, to rid myself of the harmful thoughts that spin around. I had to learn how to replace thought with action. Otherwise, I found myself feeling the pains and discomforts of life that never made sense to me.
I explained to the parents that I used to struggle with self-harm, which goes far beyond the physical aspect of cutting. Self-harm is a reaction. This was my response. However, I never had anyone who could truly help me. I never had someone show me there was a different way to materialize and understand my thinking. Put simply, I never really understood there were other choices that could help me.
I had people tell me what to do. I had people tell me how to feel and what to think. I had all the advice in the world, but I never had anything that could help me with the congestion in my head.
It wasn’t until I was able to purge my thoughts or set them free. This is when I felt at least a semblance of relief. Once I started to relieve my thinking, I found ways that I could relieve myself. I didn’t have to fight anymore. I didn’t have to feel as if I needed to jump out of my own skin.
Drugs and alcohol would only placate this for a short while. Other quick fixes only proved to work the same way. Instead, I needed something that worked on a long-term basis. Otherwise, the frustrations grew back. The pain becomes recognizable and the anticipation that more pain is coming is enough to tilt the thought machine.
I had to find new methods of distraction to replace my thoughts. I had to train myself. I had to practice. And for the record, this wasn’t something that only happened in my youth. This happened in my adulthood.
This happened when I was struggling in my life and living in what seemed to be the wrong world. I had surrendered and made a trade. I gave up on my dreams because I thought they were unreachable and that, at best, all I could ever be was average.
There is so much below the surface level of consciousness. It was my reaction to this which, at one point, was me destructively responding to all of my assumptions. I was reacting to thoughts and feelings that were too heavy for me to understand.
Perhaps the relief came when I realized that I had to mindfully resolve this. Otherwise, I would never feel better. Or at minimum, I had to address my thinking to settle the internal errors. This way, I could think freely without judging or constantly persecuting myself.
Now, I use the word “Tilt” when I talk about the thought machine. I realize this might need some explaining. I say this because first, I am not as young anymore and I forget that some people never played a pinball machine.
Sometimes in a pinball game, people get angry or aggressive. The pressure builds along with the frustration and the player gets so mad or intense that they shake the machine. This is when the machine goes into “Tilt” mode and shuts down to protect itself from damage.
Sometimes . . .
We put so much pressure on ourselves that we put ourselves in tilt mode. All we want is peace. All we want is to understand. So, we grab whatever makes sense. Even if the ends do not justify the means or make sense at all, the mind just wants to understand.
Sometimes the explanation is simple. Sometimes the answers are too complex. Sometimes the answer is this is life. And sometimes, no matter what the answer is, we still want to find accountability. We want to understand our discomforts and as long as we feel discomfort, we are always going to look for a way to purge or materialize this until we find relief.
It’s interesting to me though. People are quick to mention cutting when they talk about self-harm. But cutting is only one way. There are countless more. There are the career suicides that I often see. The worst thing about self-harm is that other people in our life often feel the pain too. We might not realize this, but this doesn’t mean it’s not true.