Please note that not every quote below specifically deals with self-injury. Some of the quotes contained imagery (such as scars or using the body as a tool for speaking) and/or sentiments that simply reminded me of self-injury, and that is why I included them. There are also self-injury-related quotes and poems on my self-injury page.
I don’t feel anything at first: no relief, no comfort. Just the panic coiling inside me, vibrating in my chest. I slash again and again, flesh opening up to expose little white bubbles of fat, until dark blood wells up to cover them and spills over my arm in wide, curling arcs, thin and hot. I barely feel the pain—just the air rushing into my lungs, the thoughts slowing down. The panic drains away, and I sag in relief. Cheryl Rainfield, Scars
I know how to stop the shadows now; how to keep them from coming into my art. I know how to keep myself safe. All I have to do is cut. Cut until it all bleeds away. ditto
There’s no pain when I cut, just the easing of fear inside me. The pain comes after, when I’m finished. But it’s a fast, clean pain that shuts down everything I need it to. ditto
The only thing that keeps me from cutting my arm
Cross hatch, warm bath, Holiday Inn after dark
Signs and wonders: water stain writing the wall
Daniels message; blood of the moon on us all
Sufjan Stevens, The Only Thing
Theres blood on that blade
Fuck me, Im falling apart
Sufjan Stevens, No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross
All I know is that the cutting made me feel safe. It was proof. Thoughts and words, captured where I could see them and track them. The truth, stinging, on my skin, in a freakish shorthand. Gillian Flynn, Sharp Objects
I wanted to just look at the knives I once used on myself. I wasn’t going to cut, just allow myself that sharp pressure. I could already feel the knifepoint gently pressing against the plump pads of my fngertips, that delicate tension right before the cut. ditto
He opened the cabinet door gingerly and took out his straight razor. He held
it up and looked at it.
The handle has expanded. He told himself that quickly as the blade appeared to fall out of the handle willfully. It made him shiver to see it flop out like that and glitter in the light from the cabinet light fixture.
He stared in repelled fascination at the bright steel. He touched the blade edge. So sharp, he thought. The slightest touch would sever flesh. What a hideous thing it was.
Richard Matheson, Mad House
Too much. Too much. Too fucking much. I couldn’t hold all the emotion in my
body. The pressure was mounting. I needed release. I needed to let it all out.
My pink plastic razor sat on the edge of the bathroom sink. I clenched my fist around it.
Tearing at my sleeve, I pulled the blade around my exposed skin. The anger, the sadness, the confusion—it all roared in my ears as I bit into my flesh.
A pearl of purple blood bloomed on my arm. It rolled across my skin, extending into a trickle, a small river. It looked like a jeweled necklace, bright and precious in the bathroom light.
At the sight of my blood, my tears slowed. I felt a warmth toward the bleeding girl sitting on the toilet.
“Poor Leahchke,” I whispered. The sticky trail of blood dripped over my elbow and hit the grimy tiles in red splatters. I put a Band-Aid on the cut and went to do my homework.
The cutting gave me such release, I returned to it again and again in the days that followed, until it became a regular habit. The relief I found in cutting my skin helped me cope as I lived my split life of religion and college, modesty and loneliness, hope and memory. And thanks to my long sleeves, no one saw the railroad of bloody tracks that made their way up and down my arms.
–Leah Vincent, Cut Me Loose: Sin and Salvation after My Ultra-Orthodox Girlhood
The pain was too big. My razor lay on the top shelf of my medicine cabinet. I grabbed at it, desperate for its sweet release. The blade went smoothly across my arm, slicing cleanly. Limp with relief, I stood in the shower and watched the streams of blood drip off my body to the bottom of the tub, where they mixed with the water in marbled red currents that spun around the drain. –ditto
Cutting had become a regular ritual, like an evening prayer, a release from
the day. I eyed my arm, seeking unbroken skin for the bite. My gaze drifted
south, over the crusty railroad of scars, to the smooth expanse of my lower
Go for it, a voice in my head whispered. Why not? My emotions felt so flat it seemed like nothing to watch my hand bring the razor down into my wrist, to watch the blade glint like a bracelet on my hand. I pressed the sharp edge into my skin, releasing a drop of blood.
... [P]ain generated or sustained by the mind needs the body mainly in order to give suffering a location. David Morris, The Culture of Pain
An unknown alphabet suggests itself with each new string of crimson beads. Her own personal language. Come to save her. –Charles Gatewood and David Aaron Clark, True Blood
does not breed
Charles Gatewood and David Aaron Clark, True Blood
My head was full of wild ambitious urges to hurt myself. I tasted the ambrosia of maddened impulse. I wanted my interior pain out in my body somehow. I wanted this vague pain to be specific. That’s how I explain it. Charles Baxter, The Feast of Love
For the first time in months, I felt together. Sharp. In hurting myself, I
had at last found a way to release the pressure.
But it was more than that. I was now different. I felt different. I’d discovered a way to control my feelings. Just because self-mutilation wasn’t deemed an acceptable coping mechanism didn’t mean I was going to stop doing it. Victoria Leatham, Bloodletting: A Memoir of Secrets, Self-Harm, and Survival
Some days, it was enough just to know that I had a packet of blades in the house. They were a cold, very sharp, security blanket. ditto
The day I’d first cut myself, a switch in my head had been flicked. Instead of feeling horror, I felt nothing, and although I no longer wanted to hurt myself, my episodes of self-harm still felt normal for me in a way. I’d sometimes forget it still shocked other people. ditto
I came to understand that my problem had ceased to be about cutting long ago. My real problem was about not cutting. If I had given in to myself, if I still used a razor blade, I wouldn’t have been tormented. ditto
Each scar’s a cipher
rimmed with old barbs and landmines
protecting its truth.
Finally on my way to yes
I bump into
all the places
where I said no
to my life
all the untended wounds
the red and purple scars
those hieroglyphs of pain
carved into my skin, my bones,
those coded messages
that send me down
the wrong street
again and again
where I find them
the old wounds
the old misdirections
and I lift them
one by one
close to my heart
and I say holy
Pesha Gertler, “The Healing Time”
Blood transforms the warm bath water
and, in it, I see weakly
that this was a mistake.
The razor’s cut is not deep, nevertheless
the blood rushes out happily in the warm
water as if kin to it, the same
a new person
transformed with an icy
sense of error
I go to the sink and turn on cold water
which is not friendly to blood.
The cut is deeper than imagined.
Splashes on the pale gold tile,
bright red bursts like sunlight,
like exclamation points—Another Error!
I wrap a small towel around my wrist.
A small towel indicates a small error.
the towel’s gold is tarnished.
There is an innocent joy in the blood’s
flow that the towel and I cannot absorb.
These spurts, worth twenty dollars a pint
on the market, sense themselves unmarketable now.
Another towel wrapped tight in terror
slows everything down. On a blue velvet
love seat from which love has wandered I
sit waiting. I am an angel with an alert
backbone. I am purified from the business
–Joyce Carol Oates, “Passing an Afternoon”
Damaged people are dangerous. They know they can survive. –Josephine Hart, Damage
Better to inflict pain on myself than to let other people do it. –Tracy Thompson, The Beast: A Reckoning with Depression
Alone, she took hot baths and sat exhausted in the steaming water, wondering at her perpetual exhaustion. All that winter she noticed the limp, languid weight of her arms, her veins bulging slightly with the pressure of her extreme weariness … one day in January she drew a razor blade lightly across the inside of her arm, near the elbow, to see what would happen. –Joyce Carol Oates, “The Lady with the Pet Dog”
She promised herself this: when she got back home, when she was alone, she would draw the razor more deeply across her arm. –ditto
The fever was in her, in the pit of her belly. She would rush home and strike
a razor across the inside of her arm and free that pressure, that fever.
The impatient bulging of the veins: an ordeal over. –ditto
I wrote you a poem on my wrists. I used a razor as a pen and I signed my name in blood. But you wouldn’t read it. –written by Molly Ringwald’s character in Surviving
In idle moments, I still slide my fingers under the sleeves of my shirt and trace the raised white nubs of scars that track my arms from years and years of cutting. How did I learn to stop cutting and collapsing, and can I somehow transmit this ability to others? –(?)
What does it take to inflict that upon oneself? Is it desperation? Or a perverse courage? Or is it some wild abandon (whatever the opposite may be of the self-possession we modern men so value) which alone permits full vent to fury, to cut and slash and strike blood? My mind flinches from the thought. I cannot get my imagined fingers to pick up the razor, to bare my arm. And yet she did it. Stacia laid open her soft white skin and watched the hot blood well up and overflow the wound. The salty tang is in my mouth, as if, with a kiss, I could seal the lips of those cut edges. I must not torment myself with these thoughts. –(?)
I did not, you see, want to kill myself. Not at that time, anyway. But I wanted to know that if need be, if the desperation got so terribly bad, I could inflict harm on my body. And I could. Knowing this gave me a sense of peace and power, so I started cutting up my legs all the time. Hiding the scars from my mother became a sport of its own. I collected razor blades, I bought a Swiss army knife, I became fascinated with the different kinds of sharp edges and the different cutting sensations they produced. I tried out different shapes—squares, triangles, pentagons, even an awkwardly carved heart, with a stab wound at its center, wanting to see if it hurt the way a real broken heart could hurt. I was amazed and pleased to find that it didn’t. –Elizabeth Wurtzel, Prozac Nation
To deliberately hurt yourself is too counterintuitive. It’s not as if I’ve never been self-destructive before, but it was always in the context of trying to make life more bearable, to make living through some sad moment more tolerable. But a deliberate overdose is not part of a night out or a party: It is self-destruction for its own sake, and it is consequently the purest and most deliberate act of hatred I have ever committed. –ditto
We have all made attempts to take our lives, or to tell without words, some with a knife or a razor dividing the flesh, making the invisible somehow visible...making themselves, and all they’ve been through, disappear. –Linda Katherine Cutting, Memory Slips
Here’s me opening my wrists
before breakfast, Christmas day,
and here’s you asking if it hurt.
Here’s where I choose between mea culpa
and Why the hell should I tell you?
–Michael Donaghy, “Acts of Contrition”
I was forever staring at the tender blue veins along the inside of my wrists, fragile twigs trapped under ice. –Maud Casey, “A Better Place to Live”
I hurt myself today
to see if I could feel.
I hurt myself, you said
to try to make him feel.
So I hurt myself again
to see if he’d see me.
I hurt myself again
and no, he never could see me.
–Tori Amos, in her version of Nine Inch Nails’s “Hurt”
A scar is what happens when the word is made flesh. –Leonard Cohen, The Favorite Game
My death from the wrists,
two name tags,
blood worn like a corsage
one on the left and one on the right.
–Anne Sexton, “Menstruation at Forty”
The plain fact of it was that I was miserable—though my misery wasn’t so much sadness as it was a shrieking unease, a gnawing despair, which I had been trying that morning to cut out of myself. –Caroline Kettlewell, Skin Game
I was trying to cut myself. I wanted to cut for the cut itself, for the delicate severing of capillaries, the transgression of veins. I needed to cut the way your lungs scream for air when you swim the length of the pool underwater in one breath. It was a craving so organic it seemed to have arisen from the skin itself. Imagining the sticky-slick scarlet trails of my own blood soothed me. –ditto
…I needed to kill something in me, this awful feeling like worms tunneling along my nerves. So when I discovered the razor blade, cutting, if you’ll believe me, was my gesture of hope. … All the chaos, the sound and fury, the uncertainty and confusion and despair—all of it evaporated in an instant, and I was for that moment grounded, coherent, whole. Here is the irreducible self. I drew the line in the sand, marked my body as mine, its flesh and its blood under my command. –ditto
On a trip to West Virginia once, I stopped at the place billed as the official headwater of the Potomac—a paltry spurt of water burbling up into a trickle of a stream choked by winter leaves. In the end, if we could ever really pursue the question why to its [self-injury’s] true headwaters, we might find it is often no more than this: a beginning so trifling that it hardly bears notice. The flip of a switch. The flash of a neurotransmission. Maybe there was always something amiss, like a bulb planted and forgotten that blooms when the season is right. –ditto
You might imagine that a person would resort to self-mutilation only under extremes of duress, but once I’d crossed that line the first time, taken that fateful step off the precipice, then almost any reason was a good enough reason, almost any provocation enough. Cutting was my all-purpose solution. My scars ought to be a charm bracelet of mnemonics, each a permanent reminder of its precipitating event, but maybe the most disturbing thing I can say about the history of my cutting is that for the most part I can’t even remember the whens and the whys behind those wounds. It didn’t take much to make me cut. Frustration, humiliation, insecurity, guilt, remorse, loneliness—I cut ’em all out. They were like a poison, caustic and destructive, as though lye had been siphoned into my veins. The only way I could survive them, I thought, was to keep draining them from my blood. –ditto
It didn’t occur to me that there was something decidedly odd in finding a box of razor blades aesthetically appealing. I wonder if a heroin addict loves the elegant simplicity of the needle, if a drinker romances the curve and shape of the bottle. –ditto
I had to know it now, how this blade would sing its own clean note upon my skin. Only once, I said to myself. Then only once more, because yes, how fine was the swift flicker of its passage! The perfect congress of skin and blade, and the elegant, industrial-age precision of the cut. Like the letting-go of a long-held breath, like the first deep draught of cool water on a parched throat. –ditto
I know that cutting was my defense against an internal chaos, against a sense of the world gone out of control. What I can’t tell you is where that chaos came from, what exact balance of factors blew up the maelstrom of my mind. Maybe what drove me to cut doesn’t have any cause I can name. Maybe it oozed up from nowhere, from within my blood, my cells, my very DNA. –ditto
I cut with painstaking, deliberate slowness and a mounting sense of—excitement? Anticipation? Expecting to cross, at last, some final threshold, to realize some permanent escape. A blood sacrifice substantive enough to articulate the depth and breadth and conviction of my despair. –ditto
Once again, I wanted to kill something in myself, wanted to bleed it out until I was left with the bare, clean baseline, the absolute zero from which point I could rebuild a better version of myself. –ditto
I started cutting because at a particular point in my life I ran afoul
of a certain unique set of circumstances for which neither experience
nor my own emotional constitution had equipped me. I can’t say what
precise conjunction of factors led me to choose self-mutilation as my
recourse, nor can I say how my life might have been different if any one
of these factors had been otherwise. All I can say is that my skin
itself seemed to cry out for an absolution in blood.
I kept cutting, because it worked. When I cut, I felt better for a while. When I cut, my life no longer overwhelmed me. I felt too keenly the threat of chaos, of how things can get away from you in a thousand ways… Entropy keeps eating at the ramparts, and I cut to try to shore them up. –ditto
When I stopped cutting, it was only because I could afford to, because my need for it had apparently run its natural course, like the fever the body mounts to fight off an infection, that subsides when the danger is past. –ditto
How many cuts could I count? How many could I place in time and context? I
had to admit that I couldn’t remember the occasion of almost any of them, their
catalysts, whether epic or mundane, completely obscured by time. So many moments
of supposedly unendurable pain, now utterly forgotten. You start to think, Maybe
I don’t need this anymore. Maybe I never did.
I stopped cutting because I always could have stopped cutting; that’s the plain and inelegant truth. No matter how compelling the urge, the act itself was always a choice. I had no power over the urge, but the act itself was always a choice. I had no power over the flood tide of emotions that drove me to that brink, but I had the power to decide whether or not to step over. Eventually I decided not to.
Stopping, however, was not at all the same thing as ending the desire. Even now, I still sometimes ache with a fierce, organic need for cutting’s seductive, minimalist simplicity. I expect that I will always be the kind of person who is too much aware of the boundlessness of chaos; it’s like having an unfortunate sixth sense, alive to the teeming, invisible undercurrents of anarchy streaming past us as every moment. I don’t say it makes me stronger, or more interesting, or gives me character; it’s just a part of my fabric of self. –ditto
[Self-injury] very much affects the way I view myself. I think it’s a very poor reflection of my character because it’s kind of a bizarre, whacked-out thing to do. And if I was normal and sane and wasn’t such a freak, I wouldn’t do it. It makes me feel very bizarre—very much separate from other people. And I don’t want to create the illusion that I want to be normal, because “normal” to me sounds really boring. But, I would like to be a little less abnormal. [Less abnormal] would mean that I could spend my time and energy and efforts worrying about normal things like a job offer, job interviews, and buying a new couch, you know, quote-unquote “normal” worries, not things like “I can’t do the dishes because I can’t pick up the glass, because if I pick it up I’ll cut myself.” That just seems to be a little extreme. –Meredith, in Jane Wegscheider Hyman’s Women Living with Self-Injury
It serves a lot of functions in my life. I use it as a way to punish myself, I use it as a way to medicate myself, I use it for the tension release when things get too strong or too built up. –ditto
When I’m done, after this big huge buildup, then there’s an overwhelming feeling of calmness, an overwhelming sense of peace. –ditto
It isn’t the cut necessarily that is important to me, it is seeing my blood. ... That’s why I don’t like to burn myself: there’s no blood. The cut is important but only in terms of how deep it is and how much it bleeds. I guess [bleeding] is like purging to me, it’s very cleansing in some sort of way. –ditto
Told I talked too much
made too much noise
I took up a silent hobby—
–S. Marie, “Do Not Disturb”
(Note: You can purchase her wonderful book of poems here.)
to be excised.
–S. Marie, “Blood”
and the outside.
do I still
tear it open?
–S. Marie, “Skin”
do the weeping
Blood is very gratifying—I don’t really know [why]. I guess because it’s very
real: blood is what makes me alive—I am alive, I am like other
people. There’s something very—I don’t want to say “cathartic,” but maybe it
is—about letting blood come out of you. It’s like, “Ah, this is relief.” It’s
also something to watch, something to occupy my attention, you know; manipulating
my blood once it’s out of my body helps me to focus and calm down. [So, for
all those reasons, cutting is] preferable to other things.
I definitely like blood: seeing my blood, playing with my blood, and all those sort of gruesome, disgusting things I can do. I started with the breaking of the fingers because it was something that I had learned. I didn’t know that I could cut myself: I was still young and hadn’t figured it out. So, I achieved something better when I found out that I could cut myself...I’d say I was probably around twelve or thirteen. That isn’t to say that I stopped doing other things, but I started to realize that cutting was much more fun...It was like, “Oh, this is really what I wanted.”
I enjoy watching my blood flow. A lot of times I would cut myself and watch the path that it traveled over my body as it left, and collect it in a bucket. I would touch it; get it on my fingers, feel its consistency—this is kind of disgusting—it’s kind of a weird texture, sticky. Sometimes I would get worried that it wasn’t real because you don’t expect blood to be sticky. I would play around with it and then start to worry that it wasn’t real, that I wasn’t real again. Then I would have to cut more to make sure that it was actually blood. So sometimes it wasn’t all that helpful. [Sometimes I would have to taste it.] I wouldn’t consume great quantities of it, but I had to make sure that it wasn’t fake or it wasn’t just red-colored water. I worried that maybe I wasn’t real, so I decided to use whatever methods I had to make sure that I was real. I liked playing with my blood. I would use it like it was finger paint. I was mesmerized by it. –Sarah O, in Jane Wegscheider Hyman’s Women Living with Self-Injury
...I start to get mad at myself, and the more I get mad at myself, the more I feel like I need to cut my body—the more my body actually hurts for a release. Instead of shaking and being so angry I could punch something else, I turn it around and I start to ache to hurt myself. –ditto
I certainly didn’t tell anyone; I didn’t advertise that I was doing this, but I didn’t necessarily also make sure no one could see that I was injured. In fact, I felt proud of it; I felt good about it. It was like a battle scar: [it] proved [that I had been] grievously wounded and survived. [When I hid my scars, I did so because] I didn’t want anyone to think I was a basket case or a mental case and to look down on me or to pity me or to stop hanging out with me—leave me because they couldn’t handle me… –Helena, in Jane Wegscheider Hyman’s Women Living with Self-Injury
…I was trying to get equilibrium from two extremes: either I was so upset that I had to cut myself to relieve it, or I was so numb that I had to cut myself to get back to being there. –ditto
I no longer do the active thing, [but] I suspect that I have carried the behavior over and channeled it into other behaviors. When I feel depressed or angry with myself or numb or in a great deal of pain, I do other things that are more passive but I think are self-injurious. So, I no longer take knives and cut myself or take sticks and beat myself...Now if I’m feeling those same ways, I may have a compulsion to cut myself, but I don’t. Instead I don’t consciously do something, but I think that I might sit in such way that I know is going to give me a sore back later, or just ignore my body telling me to do something else. I might eat poorly [or] keep myself up so I get little sleep. ... I’m not always as vigilant as I could be about getting the medical care that I need…I don’t think I get exactly the same thing out of [these passive ways] as I did when I was cutting myself or hitting myself…but [I] think about those things as possibly alternative ways—that I haven’t given up the desire to punish myself, I just have given up the overt behavior. –ditto
As I watched the blood I was like, “Wow! I am alive.” I was fixated on it and decided I wanted to take photographs of it. So, I took photographs of my foot as it bled, and eventually the blood coagulated and stayed on my foot. –ditto
It definitely feels like a compulsion, definitely feels like, “Do it, do it, do it, do it, do it.” And I am like, “No, no, no, no—yes!” This is not the kind of thing that you can just call anybody up and say, “I’m thinking about hurting myself,” because one of two things will happen: they will think that you are bananas and will not be able to deal with you, or think you are trying to commit suicide, which is a very different thing, and will call the police. So you have to be very picky. –ditto
I feel that having stopped makes it okay to tell other people. … It is not something that I’m proud of but also it isn’t something that I’m particularly ashamed of. I would certainly conceal it from prospective employers, but it isn’t something that I feel I must hide at all costs from everyone. –ditto
I don’t know why [I was able to stop the cutting and hitting]. Would it be great if I did? If I could bottle that I’d give it away free. I don’t have enough sense of a time when it stopped or the reason. It wasn’t like one day I decided I’m not going to do this anymore. –ditto
I couldn’t have stopped before I stopped…I was in a place where I needed that coping mechanism. I wasn’t doing anything where I was going to die and I wasn’t hurting anybody else. It wasn’t good for me, but I did it and people do plenty of things that are bad for them. –ditto
This is a coping mechanism for me. Will I return to it? I certainly hope not. But I have not experienced the greatest tragedies of life. I’ve certainly experienced some of the really nasty ones, but who knows what’s out there waiting for me, for any of us. And as long as I know that this coping mechanism does make me feel better in the short term, it’s technically on the table, and I’d like for it not to be on the table. –ditto
When I’m dying to pick up a razor blade—like it is so far in my body that I can taste it I want to do it so bad—if I get through one of those times without doing it, then I get the strength to say, “Remember you got through that time without it.” –Barbara, in Jane Wegscheider Hyman’s Women Living with Self-Injury
There was a rightness about it. I felt like, “Oh good, now I am getting to be real about what is going on. Now, I get to mark physically what’s going on emotionally.” –ditto
And you know what? It felt so good. It made me feel light, free. ... I suppose I should feel ashamed, or disappointed in myself. It’s like a relapse into old, familiar, self-destructive blackness. I had been doing so well, and now I’m back to where I started from. But wrist-slashing is a kind of anchor for me, a sense of safety and security, even though I know it means I’m not well. It’s like a person returning to a mental institution that she spent a considerable amount of time in. It’s good to be out, she knows it’s the right thing. But it’s terrifying when people deem you mentally healthy, because that’s how you appear, when you know you’re not. And returning to the asylum means returning to safety and familiarity. It’s a sense of liberation, for it enables you to return to what you’ve always been, rather than being imprisoned in the social constructs of the outside world, where you must build a new (and sometimes false) life for yourself. Wrist-slashing is me. It is the reaffirmation that something is wrong with me, when other people and I start mistakenly believing that I’m okay. It’s a significant part of my identity. Apart from making me feel good in a “hooray, I’m back!” sort of way, it also enabled me to bleed the hurt and anger I feel towards [him] out of my system. It enabled me to simultaneously become purer than him (for he has been dirtied in my eyes) and tainted like him. –JLB, March 10, 1995
We couldn’t imagine the emptiness of a creature who put a razor to her wrists and opened her veins, the emptiness and the calm. –Jeffery Eugenides, The Virgin Suicides
“You’re supposed to slit your wrists, plural.” I hold out my other arm, which is clean and smooth. “Second, it’s your wrists, not your whole arm. This is no suicide, so don’t you go saying it is. I’m not silly girl, and I’m not going to bleed to death over a fool.” –(?)
I’m sure it’s connected with self-loathing. You mark yourself because you feel you can’t make a mark anywhere else. –(?)
A darkness sprouts in my stomach. A pain grows like a plant, and when I’m 12, 13, I decide to find the plant, grasping for its roots with a razor blade. Stocked solid with the romance of the teenage years, I pranced on the lawn of my school, showing off the fresh gashes. –(?)
For a second nothing happened, and she wondered if she had a dull blade. Then a drop of blood drew a line down the pink flesh of her inner arm, dripping off her bent elbow into the clear water. It was interesting to watch how the red dissipated when it hit the water, how quickly her blood was lost. Maybe when she was through bleeding, her body would dissolve, too; it would be as if she had never been. She started to push the blade deeper. –(?)
Beneath the thin white tape you can make out the stitches real well. They start at the base of my palm and go halfway up to the elbow, jagging first to the right and then to the left, like a road you’d see on a map and stay away from, just knowing it would make you carsick. –(?)
I’m looking down at those same wrists and everything seems so bad, just so bad, even though nothing has happened to me in that hour to make me feel that way, that I just want to...I mean I see my wrists, they look so white, I can see the blue veins, it would be so easy, so easy to cut them open. –(?)
It’s kind of like letting out a sigh. I get a peaceful feeling and a kind of self-satisfaction at having hurt myself. –(?)
I wasn’t trying to die; I just wanted to cut through the fog. –(?)
Words lost their meanings. Colours faded or blurred. He had difficulty recognizing
everyday objects. Sometimes he was unsure of who he was. There were days when
William was certain that he was simply disappearing, fragmenting, and disintegrating
until he was nothing but dry sand, trickling away between the floorboards.
Except when the cravings came. They licked him with their flame tongues and whispered of ecstasy. Their power overwhelmed him. He had no hope of resisting them, nor any wish to do so. They were the closest he came to hope. When the cravings began to burn inside him the frozen darkness thawed a little. In their flickering light he could finally sense the shape of a man, of someone who, despite everything, was still alive.
William’s breath came quickly and his heart sucked at this chest. His head felt empty, a balloon attached to his body only by a string so that he seemed to observe its movements from a great distance. But his skin was frantic with dread and anticipation. ... Beneath the loose fabric of his shirt the skin on the soft underside of his arm prickled and burned.
... The blade of his knife quivered as he held it up to the light. ... Carefully William wiped the steel with a large clean rag. Holding it close to his face he stroked the ball of his thumb over the blade to test its sharpness. Abruptly the cravings rose in him again, this time with such intensity that the hairs on his arms and neck pulled taut away from the skin. His fingers tingled. Clamping the knife between his teeth he folded the rag in half and then in half again and laid the pad of fabric across his lap. Then he unbuttoned the cuff of his shirt and rolled his sleeve to above the elbow. His fingertips skated lightly over the underside of his forearm but he did not look down. It distracted him to see it. It muddied the purity of the first moments. There was always a time, afterwards, when he felt completely purged, whole, happy even. For a while it was possible to persuade himself that he would never come back, that it was over, finished with. But there was always a part of him that knew that it would never stop.
It was time. He was ready. He slid the shutter on the lantern.
The darkness closed over him. It no longer mattered if his eyes were open or closed but he closed them all the same. Behind his eyelids, no longer connected to the movements of his own fingers or the ghost of his white-tipped nose, he separated from himself. In the darkness he could feel the quickening of life within him. Up there in the unending press and clamour of the city its light grew faint, its circle of heat so infinitesimal that it was possible to believe it had been quite snuffed out. But under and away, in the darkness, beneath the wheels and the hooves and the hobnails, knee-deep in the effluvia of the largest city on earth, his spirit found freedom. Here, where there was no life, no warmth, nothing but the sickening stink of shit, somehow here it found its own oxygen so that it might reignite and brand its living form on to the frozen surrender of his flesh. Here it mutinied. It forced itself to be heard. William May was not dead! He had only to purge the blood in his veins, the air in his lungs, ridding them of the black putrefactions that poisoned them, infecting all that they touched. If he could only flush away the filth, the poison, and establish in its place a spring of sweet clean blood, sweet clean air, that would bring with it health and life...
Dreamily William raised the knife. Gripping its bone handle, he cut into the flesh of his arm.
The ecstasy exploded within him. William wanted to laugh, to cry, to scream out loud. At this perfect moment of climax he occupied himself once more. He was whole. The relief was exquisite. He cut again, deeper this time, and felt himself filled with a calm that was at once peaceful and exultant. Blood gushed from the long gashes, spilling on to the rag on his lap. He smeared it across his skin. It was warm, real, wonderful. On impulse he held his arm up to his mouth and licked it. It tasted beautiful. He licked again. The pain was on the outside now, held safely where he would manage it. It was real at last, defined. Something he could hold on to, something he could control. The disintegrating sand of his self no longer slipped from his fingers. Instead its particles began to pull together, asserting themselves back into a solid whole. Inside his head the shadowy twilight darkened and tightened to reveal at its centre a single vivid pinprick of light. The muscles in his thighs tautened as his feet pressed against the jagged brick floor. He felt strong, clear-headed. He cut one last time, the pain singing out from his flesh in triumph. The blood filled the palm of his hand and he clasped it so that it ran between his fingers. He wanted to cry out with the sheer joy of it. I’m alive! he wanted to shout until the darkness echoed and the bricks shivered in their sockets with the categorical certainty of it. I, William Henry May of 8 York Street, S., am alive! –Clare Clark, The Great Stink
Something was welling up inside him, clenching at his heart like a fist. Biting
his lip he placed the razor shakily on the washstand and reached for the soap,
fixing his eyes on the rising foam as the brush swirled round and round inside
the cup. But the pressure inside him didn’t stop. It swelled between each of
the knobs of his spine, pressing out between his ribs. It felt as though he
might explode at any moment. His hands jerked and his eyes burned, his eyelids
scouring them as though they were lined with sand. Frightened, he gripped the
edges of the porcelain basin of water, trying to force the feelings back, but
on and on they came, stronger and stronger. He could not calm down. The pressure
swelled in his head, forcing itself against the fragile cap of his skull. It
roared in his ears, filling his throat and nostrils till he could barely breathe.
William dug his fingernails hard into his wrist, leaving white half-moons in
the flesh, but he felt nothing, nothing but the blackness that he could not
hold back. Desperately he hurled the soap-cup across the room. He saw it smash
against the wall but he heard nothing. And then distantly, as though he were
suspended above his own body, he watched his hand reach out for the razor. The
pressure inside him was different already, its clotted darkness streaked with
a growing sense of purpose. Very slowly, his hand not quite steady, he drew
the blade down his unsoaped cheek, pressing it quite deliberately into the flesh
until it sliced into the skin.
The cut was shallow but it worked with the perfect predictability of a valve on a steam engine. The release was exquisite. As the blood flowed out so too did the terrible blackness. The rush of the blood soothed him, purged him. And it showed him that he was alive. He felt elated but at the same time quite calm. –ditto
Two weeks. And then once more the pressure began to rise. This time William cut his thigh with a meat knife. The wound was much deeper and afterwards William was unable to recollect even the faintest detail of the cutting. The lapse of memory troubled him but not nearly so much as the prospect of not cutting. The next time it was his other thigh, and then his arms. Each time there were blackouts. He learned not to fear them but to rejoice instead in that moment of perfect ecstasy when he came back to himself in a glorious scarlet scream of blood. –ditto
The intensity of the cravings frightened and disgusted him but he could not smother them. They were stronger by far than he. They swelled and strengthened within him until they occupied him completely, obliterating all sense and feeling except this, his flesh on fire and screaming for the knife. And, as much as he dreaded them, he longed for them. –ditto
Now the blackness gripped him, forcing its elbows into his chest, twisting his guts into knots. It prised open his arms, pushing rods of blackness along his fingers that pressed upwards with such hot insistence from beneath the restrictions of his filthy fingernails that William ripped at them frantically with his teeth. The taste of blood in his mouth lit such a flare of anticipation through his belly that he was certain he would scream. –ditto
His hands no longer trembled. The knife was steady. He cut. For one eternal suspended moment his heart was perfectly still, caught in the perfect beauty of ecstasy, and then it burst. The blood sang out from his arm, clear and triumphant. Exultantly, William thrust the knife aloft, his fist clenched around the handle. The blackness hovered for a moment, like a scream echoing on the air, and then it was gone. Once more William was himself. He was free. –ditto
Reflexively he stroked the underside of his forearm, tracing the lines beneath the thin cotton of his sleeve. There were no open cuts there, nothing but fading scars and clean pink lines marking where the last of the scabs had peeled away. The cravings came less and less often these days. ... He had not cut in almost a month. He hardly dared to hope it but in the back of his mind he thought that perhaps the last time had purged him finally of the blackness in his blood. That time the intensity of the experience had transported him beyond any place he had been before and in the exquisite ecstasy of relief he had abandoned himself completely. –ditto
He felt only the desperate, deafening need to cut. His right hand clenched
in the darkness, every fiber of muscle in his fingers and palms screaming for
the familiar weight of the knife. The cravings overran him, a monstrous, murderous
army driving battalion after savage battalion into his skull and between his
ribs to lay him waste and commandeer the very marrow of his bones. Every inch
of his skin was alive with them, every tiny filament of hair blazing as though
... The cravings came faster and thicker, faster and thicker, peeling away the skin from his heart, filling his lungs until every breath was an agony and his chest quivered like a shell ready to explode. ... His whole body was screaming now, his fouled blood a thick black acid, eating away at flesh and bone. –ditto
He fell against the kitchen door, his fingers scrabbling the raw pine, his wild eyes raking the dresser for the knife, for any knife. The dresser had a glass panel, he could break that if he had to, or there was the shattered edge of a plate, a dish. Something sharp, anything sharp. A cleaver glinted on the scrubbed table. A cleaver! He flung himself at the table, hauling himself up with his undamaged arm and stretching, stretching out with each of his fingers until at last they touched the cool, smooth metal of the blade. William could feel the certainty of ecstasy opening up within him, a brilliant pinprick of perfect light. Triumphantly he snatched up the heavy knife, holding it aloft. Each of his fingers pressed themselves ardently against its handle as he slid down against the table leg and pressed his lips to the blade. His breath bloomed in a brief cloud on the cold metal. Then, with delicate precision, he brought it down and sliced open the flesh of his naked thigh. –ditto
Discarded on his desk was a knife of the kind used for cutting newspapers. Its silver blade flickered, a slice of perfect light in the blind blackness. It was blunt but one edge of the blade was serrated so that if you bore down on it hard enough and sawed with sufficient savagery... –ditto
The body says what words cannot. –Martha Graham
I hold the blade in trembling hands
Prepare to make it, but—
Just then the phone rang,
I never had the nerve to make the final cut.
–Pink Floyd, “The Final Cut”
That’s why on the back of a brown paper bag
he tried another poem
And he called it “Absolutely Nothing”
Because that’s what it was really all about,
And he gave himself an A
and a slash on each damned wrist,
And hung it on the bathroom door
because this time he didn’t think
he could reach the kitchen.
[Note: This poem also appeared—uncredited—in the book The Perks of Being a Wallflower. But that isn’t where it originated. I first saw fragments of the poem around 1989 in a book on teen suicide. It was written by an actual unidentified teen who committed suicide.]
Almost all my life I’ve been frightened and afraid,
I’ve been best friends with a razor blade
with the fissure on my wrist
I’ve felt the sharp edge of a knife
its bitter blade deep inside me.
I felt white, drained of blood, cared for, purified. Peaceful. –Margaret Atwood, Cat’s Eye [the narrator just slit her wrist]
A decade of cutting away
dead flesh, cauterizing
old scars ripped open over and over
and still it is not enough.
–Adrienne Rich, “Toward the Solstice”
And I am still alive—what though, my damnation is eternal. A man who deliberately mutilates himself is truly damned, is he not? I believe that I am in hell, therefore I am. –Arthur Rimbaud, A Season in Hell
These feelings were manifested in “delicate cutting,” snipping the safety guards off Bic razors and scoring a furious lattice work of red threads on her arms. It is what girls and women do when they are trying to teach themselves the physical lesson “Never, ever allow yourself to be this unhappy again.” –from an article on Shirley Manson
How will you know I am hurting,
If you cannot see my pain?
To wear it on my body
Tells what words cannot explain.
When everything feels like a movie, you bleed just to know you’re alive. –Goo Goo Dolls, “Iris”
these are the screams within
these are the life streams bleeding from skin
–Patrick Jones, “The Eloquence in Screaming”
There were also the razor marks on her wrists and forearms, half a dozen per arm, not very deep, not very convincing really, just a lame, hapless attempt at hurting herself. There hadn’t even been that much blood and nobody at the hospital had been at all surprised. These scars, for some reason, he didn’t mind. Maybe they even appealed to him. They showed that she was weak and in need of him. – Geoff Nicholson, Bleeding London
The body can’t distinguish between cleansing and punishing for the body is ignorant, and mute besides. –Joyce Carol Oates, “Death Mother”
Have you ever felt the need to slit your wrist, let all feelings of guilt and depression bleed out, then sew yourself up to be happy again? –Heather Hubbard
I find cutting myself attractive … I find it sexual. –Richey Edwards
I am an architect—they call me a butcher. –ditto
When I cut myself I feel so much better. All the little things that might have been annoying me suddenly seem so trivial, because I’m concentrating on the pain. –ditto
Self-abuse is anti-social, aggression still natural. –ditto
I eat and I dress and I wash and I can still say thank you. Puking, shaking, sinking, I still stand for old ladies, can’t shout, can’t scream, I hurt myself to get the pain out. –Manic Street Preachers, “Yes”
Such beautiful dignity in self-abuse. –Manic Street Preachers, “4 Stone 7lb”
One really ought to be afraid of self-torture. But it tempted me. It begged. The dark place that my mind was fast becoming blends, in my memory, with the dark womb of church: the chant, the fugue of prayer, the strange erotic energy that carving a very small cross into my thigh with a nail had brought. –Marya Hornbacher, Wasted
I have scars all over my arms that were not there in 1993, which means some sadness came alive as my body did, and I, mute, etched it into my skin. It also means that we do not keep razors in my house. –ditto
I told my father about her. I remember his face, worried, mortified; he
said: My God. Self-mutilation. And he shook his head. I just don’t
understand that, he said.
I understood so well, in fact, that I would begin to do that very thing a few years down the road. After my eating disorder was “over,” I would go in blind search for something else with which to tear myself apart. I found a razor blade worked quite well. In Lowe House, what this girl was doing to herself made perfect sense to me. It seemed to me that only our means were different; our ends were very much the same. Carving away at the body to—symbolically and literally—carve up an imperfect soul. –ditto
The fellowship of those who bear the mark of pain: who are the members of this Fellowship? Those who have learnt by experience what physical pain and bodily anguish mean, belong together all the world over; they are united by a secret bond. –Albert Schweitzer.
There’s a certain window of time in the middle of the night out in Middle America where there’s no bar open and nothing on TV. If you don’t want to do too many drugs, you have to start bodily mutilation. –Ani DiFranco
Mutilation is the badge that can never be taken off, and sets us apart from all others. Pain is important to the bonding—a physical horror that bonds us ever tighter to all those who have partaken. The intensity of the experience helps to widen the gulf between us and those who have not shared. –Clive Barker, Pinhead
Scars are souvenirs you never lose. –Goo Goo Dolls, “Name”
And with tears of blood he cleansed the hand,
The hand that held the steel:
For only blood can wipe out blood,
And only tears can heal.
–Oscar Wilde, “The Ballad of Reading Gaol”
Wisdom is scar tissue in disguise. –(?)
A scar nobly got is a good livery of honor. –William Shakespeare
Scar tissue … It’s like a slipcover. It shields and disguises what’s beneath. That’s why we grow it; we have something to hide. –Susanna Kaysen, Girl, Interrupted
A wound is just a highway to a new and enlightened kind of confidence, basically. Damage is one of the things in emotional aesthetics that makes something great, like all the scars on a tree or a banged-up coffee cup or whatever. Everything you go through is marking your soul. –kd lang
I hurt myself today
to see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
the only thing that’s real.
–Nine Inch Nails, “Hurt”
The choice we cannot make
is the one we must make.
Rend the tissue;
spread the wound.
No salve or bandage.
Point to the scar
and tell the story.
–Don Reeser, “617-262-4000”
I have spent nights with matches and knives,
leaning over ledges only two flights up.
Cutting my heart, burning my soul, nothing left to hold.
Nothing left but the blood and the fire.
–Indigo Girls, “Blood and Fire”
The great art of life is sensation, to feel that we exist, even in pain. –Lord Byron
All in all, I’d say,
The world is strangling…
And the moon,
under its dark hood,
falls out of the sky each night,
with its hungry red mouth
to suck at my scars.
–Anne Sexton, “As it was Written”
…the function of mutilative cutting, for example, is to decrease tension or other intense affect, diminish a sense of alienation, or terminate dissociation (“I bleed, therefore I am”). –Alan L. Berman
The most dramatic use of self-destructive behavior as a way of staying alive is self-mutilation, the most common form of which is wrist-cutting…some wrist-cutters suffer from low self-esteem, intense guilt, and an inability to express themselves verbally…Their tension builds, their anger turns inward, and they punish themselves by repeatedly cutting their wrists—or arms, legs, neck, face, or abdomen. Despite such violence, most cutters say that they feel not pain but catharsis. This is the affirmation described by Ellen Parker, a 32-year-old hospital worker who has been periodically cutting her wrists ever since she was an adolescent…The way she found…to relieve the pressure…was to cut her wrists, deep enough to bleed but not deep enough to require medical attention. Two decades later, despite years of therapy, Ellen still keeps a lot of her feelings inside. About once a month, when she feels especially depressed, she goes home and makes four or five cuts in her arm, from her wrist toward her elbow, about three or four inches long. After washing and bandaging the cuts, she usually has a glass of wine and listens to music before it’s time for bed. Ellen doesn’t think of these incidents—her “ritual” as she calls it—as suicide attempts. She has no intention of dying, and she knows the cuts are superficial. “It’s kind of like letting out a sigh. I get a peaceful feeling and a kind of self-satisfaction at having hurt myself.” –George Howe Colt, The Enigma of Suicide [I have included this because it was one of the very first references to self-injury I spotted in a non-psychiatry text—I was thrilled to stumble upon it years ago!]