[This is a re-post from earlier this month, with some minor edits.]
TRIGGER WARNING: This post mentions various forms of self-harm. Please, my friend, do not read this if they are triggers for you.
My brother cuts…
…he also burns…
He has been living with me for a couple months now. He has no where else to go. He, his wife, and his family are going through the darkest valley they will probably ever go through.
There were things that were done that cannot be undone.
Selfishness and Me
One of my routines is to hang my bath towel from a rod in the shower.
Hear me out.
Hanging them up like this prevents the towels from smelling funky so quickly, such as they would when they are hung up against a door or draped over the shower’s curtain rod.
I noticed for about a week, that there was only one towel hanging in the shower – mine. I thought for some odd reason that my brother had been using mine and I just couldn’t understand it.
I was actually mad.
I thought it was disgusting and inconsiderate of him, though I imagined him explaining in his soft and compassionate voice, that he was doing so to save on the water bill since he had been living with me.
I’ve also been noticing brownish stains on his blankets and sheets. My brother is a recovered quadriplegic and so has to wear a bag to bed because he can’t always anticipate or control his body.
I casually got up the nerve after work one night, to ask him if he had been using a towel to dry off.
He replied quietly-
“No, I’ve been using a shirt. I didn’t want to get my blood on your nice towels. From the cutting.”
I let out a sigh coated with shame for my prejudice.
My next breath made me come to a realization I should have had sooner. He deserved compassion. He deserved the benefit of the doubt. He deserved grace. Things that were extended to me but which I in my selfishness, hadn’t extended to him.
Probably when he needed these things the most.
Shame on me.
I hung my head in disgrace.
I told him I have some darker towels that he can make his own and I placed them on his bed for him to use.
Now there’s two towels hanging in the shower again.
One of them will never dry from the tears, though the blood on it has done so several times over.
You hear them now, don’t you?
Yeah, those are crickets.
Bloodletting the Demons
My brother told me several years ago that he cuts. I always took it with a consoling ear. You know, never really imagining it as brutally as I saw it in the pictures last week.
I myself, did it once in high school – slashed my hand to ribbons because I felt so bad about being a failure in my girlfriend’s eyes. But I never was “addicted” to it. It was never the Specter I had to shamefully deal with.
My Specter is depression and suicidal tendencies – not to be confused with thoughts, or “ideations”, where one often thinks about suicide, but for the most part, will not follow through.
Through talking more and reading more and more about this condition my brother lives with, I knew he suffered from having little to no feelings of self worth. He was SOsosososo beaten down in life and couldn’t go any lower.
[Where do I take this pain of mine?]
And so he became consumed with bloodletting, because that set him free from feeling sub-human. Or at least justified that he was being punished for his sub-humanness. Mutilating himself with knives, drills, and flames.
[I run but it stays right by my side]
That makes him feel human again. It makes him feel worthy.
[So tear me open and pour me out]
He told me the specific ways that he punishes himself. Sometimes it’s with a blade. Other times it’s with flames. One time with a drill.
[There’s things inside that scream and shout]
And how he hid it from his family.
[And the pain still hates me]
He told me he tried to drill a hole in his leg. Felt the twirling drill bit against his skin. Starting to tear.
He said the cutting got so bad one night that he passed out and his kids found him and his wife had to take him to the emergency room. His children were crying and asking, “What’s wrong with daddy?”
[So hold me, until it sleeps]
I could only hang my head in disbelief at the inner turmoil he experiences on a regular basis.
I want to take it from him.
I want to experience it so he doesn’t have to.
I always looked up to him as the stalwart one. The wise one even though he is younger by two years. I always looked at myself as a messed up child. Never imaging my sibling brother was struggling with these demons gnashing beneath his skin.
Last Thursday night I wasn’t around and my brother went to town on himself.
I woke up to this text from him-
I really didn’t understand what he was saying and when I walked in the door he was sleeping on the couch. Nothing out of order than when I had left it the night before. I tried not to, but I woke him up when I came in the door. He just looked up at me and smiled, “what’s up, man?”
“Hey bud”, I responded and made sure all was okay with him.
No harm done. He was fine.
Then I got a text from his wife.
So my brother and I talked.
[Just like the curse, just like a stray]
It wasn’t until later that night when he showed me the texts he sent his wife.
[You feed it once and now it stays]
And the pictures.
[So tear me open but beware]
The pictures I wish I could unsee.
[There’s things inside without a care]
The bloody, dripping stripes across his upper arms, shoulder blades, and upper back muscles.
[And the dirt still stains me]
The bleeding slash marks across his thighs, sides, chest and abdomen. Specter’s raping claw marks on my brother’s poor, tortured soul.
[So wash me until I’m clean]
So. Many. Bleeding. Lines.
[I’ll tear me open, make you gone
No more can you hurt anyone]
I choked back tears of disbelief and my sorrow ran somewhere down past the deepest level of my soul as I forced myself to look at those pictures. The closest thing I had seen to what I was looking at was Jesus Christ in The Passion, after he had been scourged.
What do you say to your own brother whom you so horribly and wrongly judged?
That’s what I hope to uncover in this next section…
I’m not a self-harmer so I have a hard time relating to the aura that draws my brother to this form of self medication. These are the things I will try to keep in mind next time, when talking to my brother…
- Love first. Be compassionate and sympathetic as a default. You never know what demons have latched onto someone’s back. You probably can’t anticipate their struggle.
- “God’s scars are enough.” The next morning, before I left for work, I went to my brother’s room and softly kissed his forehead. I knew I would wake him. I wanted him to hear what I had to say. I knew he would appreciate it because he is such a devout man of faith. I kissed his shoulders where he mutilated himself the night before and whispered in his ear, “You don’t have to hurt yourself. His scars are enough.”
- So is His Grace. I’ve been encouraging my brother to accept God’s Grace. Over the past few years I’ve come to re-familiarize myself with a God totally opposite of the legalistic One whom so many are turned off by. And rightly so. No, this God, this Son, is the One who came to witness and live amongst prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers, and the poor. A Jesus who came to the ones who were hurting, suffering, and enduring life just like my brother and I. His Grace is a wonderful anchor point in my life. I hope my brother allows himself to accept It as well.
Do you survive with self harm? What are your anchor points? Do you have successful coping mechanisms you think might help others?
- Until It Sleeps lyrics property of Metallica