I just read a piece by Jess Zimmerman for The Archipelago that gave me a better understanding of cutters and reminded me of the ironic and addictive relationship between pain avoidance and pain infliction.
A former cutter herself, Zimmerman discusses self-injury promotion websites and her response to page banning and tagging censorship on Tumblr. She addresses the overall question: do online forums, where fellow cutters swap photos, stories and ideas, exasperate and perpetuate self-harm? Her answer: it makes no difference.
I know there are people out there who can’t understand the compulsion to cut yourself, much like there are people who can’t understand BDSM or Coprophilia, but you can’t argue that it doesn’t exist. Nowadays you can find an online community for virtually any proclivity you can think of; one of the freedoms and subsequent downfalls of the Internet. But self-harm is one sub-culture that, according to Zimmerman, was doing just fine on its own. Unlike other personal interests that require interacting with or watching others, cutters don’t need anything but themselves and their weapon of choice, so the number of people into self-injury would most likely remain status quo without the help of an online community.
But even Zimmerman acknowledges the competitive edge—pun intended—the Internet provides for the cutter culture. It creates something we in the recovery community call “compare and despair, “ allowing people who already hate themselves to look at photos of other people who hate themselves and obsess on how much better or worse off they are. This helps build shame, an emotion that drives so many addictions and self-destructive behavior and I can only assume leads to more cutting. Also, as a girl who runs one of the biggest self-harm blogs points out, physically seeing the damage that others have done to their own bodies can trigger cutters and make them want to cut themselves more. Just like with any addiction, something flips the switch and you find yourself powerless not to act out.
Since I am not, nor have I ever been, a cutter, I can’t say with any certainty what it’s like to be one. But I am an alcoholic who has battled self-hatred and depression for the last 15 years; I can strongly relate to the desire to want to hurt myself—not because I want to die but because I want to feel anything other than what I am feeling. It’s the same reason I want to drink, get high, text that guy who is married. It’s the same struggle to get out of self that drives me to countless Amazon purchases, ice cream pint domination or Candy Crush-playing weekends. Not only is cocaine addictive but so is the self-harm in doing it also (and the shame the next day of having done it). This point is missed by so many who focus on addiction being purely physical; in my opinion, it’s actually mostly emotional and psychological. Which is yet another reason why some online self-injury forums actually make a big difference: the ones that encourage recovery and offer support help the ones who struggle understand that they are not alone and that there is a way to heal. Quite literally. While there’s no 12-step program specifically for cutters, many do attend and find help in a program called Emotions Anonymous. And look, if that name sounds ridiculous to you, just be grateful you’re not someone who needs it.