Self-Harm Is Not A Joke

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By Mallory Ellington | Twitter: @malloryruth39

TRIGGER WARNING: Self-harm and suicide

Sometimes I forget that I used to hurt myself.

I forget about the deep internal pain that led me to inflict pain on my own flesh. But I did hurt myself, and honestly, I still sometimes think about hurting myself. It is simply a part of my story. Every now and again it comes up when people ask me about my tattoos or how I came to know Jesus. Then there are moments when I hear something and I cannot help but draw a pained breath as the tears begin to form.  

Most recently it happened during a chapel service. Normally, I would not have gone, but I had the day off from work and wanted to receive communion. I cannot tell you a single thing that pastor preached that day because, in one moment, it was all erased from my mind. All I remember was his words as he was wrapping his sermon up. He said he knew that he was taking a while, and that the audience probably wanted to “cut themselves.”

I could not move. I could not breathe. I was in shock and beginning to panic.

I was sitting next to a friend who immediately looked at me to say that what was uttered in that sacred space was anything but sacred. Then he asked if I was okay as he watched the tears well up in my eyes. I have no idea what I said. All I could do was go through the motions and walk up to receive communion. It was what I came for and, after that comment, I was not leaving without it.

Communion is the reminder of a body broken and bloodied for me. What a powerful image, what a gracious God. The flesh of God torn so my own flesh could remain whole. Those few moments felt ironic, but they were soaked in grace. God knew I would hurt myself, but he took on the pain anyways because he knew there would come a day when I would want to trade all my pain in for the joy he had to offer.  

Do they not realize these jokes are not funny? Do they not realize that I wish self-harm was not a part of who I am?

I thought I would be okay. I thought I would never be so deeply impacted by words. However I never thought they could make me feel so ill so quickly. I never realized I would be paralyzed by the words used to describe my own journey. Even though those words were said as a joke, it felt like that man was mocking me and everyone like me, by making a joke out of the desire to self-harm.

The experience made me realize that I do have a trigger word. For me, it is not just the word, but also the context that impacts how I will react. In a moment, a sacred space became tainted because of how one person made light of something serious. When people make jokes about self-harm or suicide, I feel my skin crawl and stomach churn. Those are the moments I want to scream and cry.

I am triggered by the lack of compassion and the ignorance of those who choose to make light of the darkest season of my life and the lives of many I know. Deep down I do not want to hurt myself. I get scared every time the thoughts bubble to the surface. I am deeply grateful for friends who love me dearly and are always there for me, but I also think about those who are alone in their journey. I wonder what they think when they hear such calloused remarks.

For the one who struggled to read this post, know that you are not alone in your pain and struggling. For the one with fading scars, may you know your strength. For the one wanting to comfort a friend, your presence is valuable and silence is okay. For the one who said the wrong thing, there is grace and forgiveness.

It is for you, my friends, that I pray—for the broken and in pain, the lonely and scared. As someone who has been there before, know that you are not alone in your journey. As you read these words imagine an outstretched hand offering to help you up and guide you on your way. I pray that along your journey you will find a community that loves and supports you. I pray for a deep peace to envelop you. And I pray that love and joy would be poured out in abundance over you.

We know that Jesus comes to “provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” (Isaiah 61:3, NIV)

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About Mallory:

My name is Mallory Ellington and I am currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Asbury Theological Seminary. I am a big fan of a quality dirty iced chai and an even bigger fan of enjoying it in the company of good friends. In my spare time I enjoy baking, cooking, reading, and dreaming up my tattoo sleeve.   

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