As a writer, you get to channel different people, take a walk in their shoes, and feel what they feel. Readers get to do this too, but it’s not the same as when you create life from ink and paper. They become more personal, like your children.
In my new novel, my main character Adara has issues. Unfortunately, many teens can relate to her. See, she’s a cutter. Her life is rough, filled with traumatic experiences including sexual abuse. Cutting the skin on her arms is one of the ways she copes with it. It’s unhealthy. A band-aid on a festering wound.
In my previous career as a middle school teacher, I mentored a fourteen-year-old girl. She came from a difficult home in a bad city neighborhood. Her birth parents were non-existent, and her grandmother who took up raising her had passed away, leaving the grandmother’s best friend to raise the girl. I don’t remember how, but I found out she was cutting herself. At twenty–four, fresh out of college, and just starting to adult, I wasn’t prepared for something like this. I never knew about self-injury and didn’t have a clue how to approach it.
This beautiful girl trusted me with her secret and I knew I had to help her. The difficult part was how. You might say, “Duh, tell her guardian.” It’s not that simple. If I tell her guardian and she doesn’t take it serious or respond well, I’ve ruined the girl’s trust for nothing. I could send her further down the wrong path. I consulted with my superior and they left it to me to tell her guardian. It’s not up to us to determine how to help her.
It went as I feared. Her guardian yelled at her in front of me, told her to stop the nonsense. There was no support, no counseling, no teaching better coping strategies. I failed her. My supervisors didn’t help me help her. I worked in that school for 2 years and I have no idea if we had a counseling office. I’m sure we did. Looking back, I should have been referred to them. Had them to guide me through this different situation.
I don’t know what happened to her. She blew me off after that and changed schools the next year.
Cutting is a self-feeding habit, difficult to overcome without help. It’s compulsive, an addiction. Your body learns that cutting brings relief, even if it’s only temporary. Cutting isn’t suicide, it’s a way to deal with strong emotions like frustration, shame, sadness, and anger. It’s a way to feel in control, although, eventually the cutting controls you.
You can’t tell a cutter to stop. It’s like you’re dealing with an alcoholic. Lectures and getting angry, even begging won’t work. All of that feeds into what had them cutting in the first place. If you know a cutter, let them know you care about them. That you are there for them and that they deserve to be happy and healthy. Seek out a professional.
Reflecting, I think Adara was born to help me deal with my guilt over my student. Maybe if I share my story, and it reaches cutters or people who know cutters, it can help. If more people are aware of this problem, then they can help a cutter get counseling and support, learn healthier coping strategies, or even get medication to help with their undiagnosed and untreated anxiety, depression, or OCD.
Maybe, through my readers, I can help. Through a character born from ink and paper, I can make up for where I failed.
Here are two great sites for more information:
Also, here’s help:
S.A.F.E. Alternative (Self-Abuse Finally End) Information line: 1-800-DONT CUT 1-800-366-8288
Email: email@example.com http://www.selfinjury.com