Self Harm in Sobriety
Need help? Call our 24/7 helpline. 855-933-3480

Self Harm in Sobriety


This post was originally published on May 22, 2014.

I was once very naïve. I didn’t know that when I removed narcotics, benzodiazepines and liquor, I would run back to my pre-toxic tools to deal with life and feelings: bulimia and cutting.

Much has already been written about bulimia, far less about cutting. And I want to tell the truth about where it comes from and how much it hurts. I want to share what happens when your veins tell you they should be torn apart in exchange for some cheap, temporary peace. I want people to know that self-harm is an addiction to pain, a coping mechanism just like heroin, cocaine and vodka and that no matter how guilty and shameful you feel, when the high wears off, you just cannot stop.

I was in my early 20s when I cut myself for the first time. I hated myself so much that focusing on the physical pain of the knife helped me to temporarily bury the emotional hurt and self-loathing. But my history with physically hurting my body actually started earlier, when I was 10 and would get my toenail infected over and over again by cutting it too deep.

Before the real cutting began in my 20s, I’d been punching my hips and what I saw as my too-fat legs. But this wasn’t enough to make up for the shame of being me. The self-hatred and desire for death would call so loud at times that I needed something else: the IKEA knife.

The first cut is like the first high. It will never be the same again, yet you’ll keep chasing the lie until reaching your bottom. That’s why one day, hurrying toward a farther destination, I decided to go down on my wrists, vertically, deep and with my eyes shut. I wanted to see if I had the courage to put an end to the misery.

I never saw so much blood. And yet I am here writing. After that, I kept hiding and lying. Drugs took over and so did alcohol. I stopped cutting because although my new friends were more expensive, I delusionally believed their course of action was the most desirable cure to all my problems.

When I got sober, I had not cut in a very long time. I don’t exactly recall a day, as I have only gotten into birthdays and counting with sobriety, but I can say with confidence that it had been approximately four years. But somehow, when everything had to change with sobriety, I did it again. Admitting I was powerless forced me to become painfully aware; I felt vulnerable, like I was basically a child again, as I learned how to park my car without swallowing 15 Xanax to regulate my breathing and to walk out the door without the paranoia of LAPD helicopters after me.

I took the drugs away but the sick voice remained.

That’s why, on a frightening night of sober life, I cut again—and the following one, too, until I realized that reopening wounds wasn’t helping. I hated it as much as I hated getting loaded when I couldn’t stop. I thought I could control what was wrong in me and that it would cease the craving for worse and that it would allow me to cry the hurt away when I had to stay in it.

When my arm screamed for heroin to calm the too overwhelming feelings of life, I grabbed a knife. When the mirror haunted me with an unreal image of a body I still struggle to love and accept and I wished for the rush of the endless and awful cocaine binges that ruined my life more than anything else, I hit the knife again.

I knew that the pain of a bleeding wound would get me high; it was somewhat tangible and more real to my eyes than the internal ache. When a panic attack paralyzed me in traffic and I couldn’t eat Xanax like candy anymore, I had to cut my arm to breathe and be present again.

Then one day I was at the gym and, as usual, I couldn’t wear a t-shirt since my arms were a mess of healing wounds. I was sweating and couldn’t take it anymore; I was a 31-year old sober woman and I didn’t deserve this. A solution had been offered to me throughout sobriety; why couldn’t it work with cutting and my other issues? So I literally kneeled down in the bathroom of the Hollywood Y, took a deep breath and begged for help. I didn’t know what else to do, but I knew I didn’t have to go through that hell alone.

In sobriety, every time I don’t use the tools I am offered, I end up choosing the least negative coping mechanism—always a violent one on myself. For me, this is a daily workout of the mind and heart.

So I started telling the truth. I am far from perfect and I have to ask for help every day as soon as I wake up in the morning. Then I do it again as required. When 20 times is not enough, I do it 25, or 96. And it’s thanks to this that I have not cut since that day at the Y and am slowly making peace with my many scars and with legs that are okay. Though I did cover one scar with a tattoo, I have kept the others as a reminder of who I was and never want to be again.

“Life doesn’t get better,” a dear friend told me once. “Life is life, but you will get better at dealing with it.”

I rarely speak in quotes but this I feel deeply. Self-injury, just like eating disorders, alcoholism and addiction, will always be a voice in my head; louder at times, whispering during others. It is up to me to remember that I have the remote to turn the volume down.

Any Questions? Call Now To Speak to a Rehab Specialist
(855) 933-3480

About Author

Alice Carbone Tench is a writer and journalist based in Los Angeles. A former translator and interpreter from Turin, Italy, Alice moved to Los Angeles in 2010 and worked as a journalist and foreign correspondent for several Italian magazines, among which Vanity Fair, the Italian news agency ANSA and the online magazine Fine Dining Lovers. In 2011 she started a blog, Wonderland Mag, to share the American experience with her Italian friends, but the blog soon became something more, the source material for a book. Her debut novel, The Sex Girl, was published by Rare Bird Books in July, 2015. The book is currently out of print. From 2013 to 2015 she hosted the interview podcast Coffee with Alice. Today, Wonderland Mag has evolved into a candid portrait of Alice’s life: Stories of healing, of being a woman in today’s America, stories of food, love, and of how to dust off after a storm, to move forward stronger than before. Alice is currently working on her second book, a collection of essays from this blog titled Making Sense of Reality. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, keyboard player Benmont Tench and their daughter, Catherine Gabriella Winter.