“Mommy, have you ever cut yourself?”
My eyes flash up from the paper heart I am cutting, and I stare at the blonde head in front of me. I know what she means. I know she’s just wanting a recount of a slip I’ve made, a time when I needed a bandaid on my pointer finger from scissors gone astray. I look at this innocent beauty of mine and wonder how I will ever explain it all.
I am back in our old apartment, standing in the kitchen with a knife in one hand and blood running down my leg.
And I don’t tell her.
I don’t tell her how that first cut wasn’t enough. I don’t tell her how I cut again, deeper, and yet all the thoughts that just won’t stop swirling are still there, so I cut again. But it is still not enough. I want it all to stop–all the questions, all the doubts, all the insecurities, all the hurt. I cut a third time and finally feel the dull pain in my leg begin to replace the pain that had taken up residence everywhere else.
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I don’t tell her about the disbelief and mild reprimand in the doctor’s eyes as he staples my leg back together or the shocked questions of the police officer who has been called to watch over me. I don’t tell her about the ambulance ride to the hospital or the surprise and the pain and the love in her daddy’s eyes when he visits me at the psych hospital for the second time that year.
I don’t tell her that this was supposed to be one of the happiest years of my life. That I wasn’t supposed to celebrate my first year of marriage like this.
I don’t tell her about all the supposed-tos and not-enoughs I have battled for years—long before I decided to take a knife to my skin to try to fight them off.
I don’t tell her this wasn’t the first time I injured myself, nor would it be the last. I don’t tell her I think about cutting almost daily, that it lingers in the back of my mind as some kind of perverse option to gain control of my life and my thoughts and my feelings that far too often feel out of my control.
I don’t tell her the tattoo on my right wrist came shortly after this hospital stay, and the word inscribed there means everything. That the hours of therapy, the multitude of worksheets completed, and the medications tried have all somehow been aimed at finding hope. Finding something to cling to and depend on.
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I don’t tell her how much the fighting and the striving is worth it. How even though this world can bring such pain and darkness, it also brings invaluable beauty and joy. I don’t tell her I see this light in her sparkling blue eyes and hear it in the nursery rhymes she sings, that I feel it every time she snuggles next to me and drifts to sleep.
I don’t tell her I am terrified she will one day experience pain like I have, that somehow the depression and the anxiety and the self-injury will find its way to her precious core.
I don’t tell her that someday we will learn together how to navigate the sensitivity I already see spilling out of her. That the ability to feel All. The. Things. can be such a gift. That having that sensitivity has fueled some of my most difficult moments, but it has also brought a truly rich experience to this human existence, one I would not trade.
I don’t tell her I still feel profound shame, that even I don’t fully understand the cutting. And what’s more, that this hurting of myself is something I crave at times. That it is so hard to talk about, to share with even those closest to me. I don’t tell her how much I want to reclaim the narrative–how I want to replace that shame with understanding and strength. How it is easier for me to offer empathy to anyone else, everyone else, than it is to speak kindly to myself.
I don’t tell her that this work of self-acceptance is excruciating but also of critical importance. And that I will fight with all I have to help her claim it for herself.
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I don’t tell her. And when I hear her sweet voice calling to me again, “Mommy? Mommy! Have you ever cut yourself?” I simply smile, “Yes. Yes, I have.”
“Will you tell me about it?” She looks at me with those curious, clever, kind eyes, and I finally answer her, “Someday.”