This has been a long series. I am gearing toward wrapping it up pretty soon, but first, one of the things I thought was extremely important to do was throw out some ideas of healthy replacements for self-harm.
Let me tell you a secret: I bite my nails. I’m an adult and I bite my nails, and it’s so hard to kick the habit just because there’s nothing to replace nail-biting. Now, while self-harm is not a habit, it’s a reaction to emotions that need to be channeled. And when we take away the thing we channel emotions into, unless we replace it with something else, not returning to it is going to be so much more challenging.
So go ahead and make a plan—what are you going to do next time you’re triggered? How are you going to handle your emotions? I don’t mean bottle yourself up…that’s not going to solve anything. I want to know how you’re going to RESOLVE the emotions that are triggering you. And by resolve, I mean process and come to peace with.
Like this: “Yeah, that thing sucks. But you know what? I’m going to be okay. Maybe not at this time, but eventually I will be. And that’s great! Someday is going to be better than today! Shit happens, but that doesn’t mean I’m shitty or that my life is shitty or that everything else that happens is going to be shitty. Shit just happens sometimes.”
But here’s the deal: you can’t just say this to yourself and be okay. For some reason, people seem to need a physical way to walk themselves through their emotional journeys. Maybe it’s inconvenient sometimes, but I’ve learned to appreciate that God made His plan for our lives a time for learning and processing and growing.
I grew up believing that somehow my goal was to become perfect as early on in my life as possible. THEN—and only then—would God use me as His Vessel. I honestly thought that after that, for the rest of my life, I would walk the walk and talk the talk and do exactly what Jesus would do.
I gave that belief up a while ago, though, after I realized that God didn’t want me to just kick my nail-biting habit and get it together already. He wants me to figure out why I do it and whether it’s a good idea to keep on doing it and, if not, how to stop. Somehow, to God, the process of our lives seems to be more important than the results.
In the hopes that you will allow yourself the same grace through your journey to recovery, here are 6 healthy alternatives to self-harm.
This seems weird to suggest but this is my #1 go-to whenever I am triggered or angry and feel like I might do something rash. This is probably the most effective thing to do for those who get the urge to inflict pain on themselves. I recommend doing this as part of a process through which to settle with your emotions—it’s not the only thing you should do.
I have a stretch routine I do to keep my body strong. It’s a combination of yoga and standard ballet warm-up stretches I can do sitting down on an empty space in my bedroom that stretch my core and leg-muscles. Anyone who stretches knows that feeling a healthy amount of pain during a stretch strengthens their bodies and is necessary to build muscles. As long as you are not pushing your body too far, this is not damaging to the body and still produces a certain amount of pain that—if you absolutely have to—you can concentrate on.
This is like the above, but more general. If you’re triggered or angry, go running, or go to the gym. Push yourself as fast and as far as you need to—the worst that will happen (unless you run for a very, very long time) is you’ll suffer a few cramps.
The great thing about this is how healthy it actually is for your body. By exercising after being triggered, you’re taking care of yourself rather than cutting or bruising your skin. You’re involving yourself in your own healing-process. You’re also potentially giving yourself a chance to think and tire your body for a good night’s sleep.
Especially for those with a heart for dance, this is so good for you. I expect, however, that you already do this whenever you’re emotional, because dance is an art-form that is so clearly an expression of feeling through which you can communicate and vent.
For those who sing or play an instrument, this is something you can do. Write a song about how you feel. Record it, share it, talk about it. Compose music that sounds like your heart, or tells your story. God has given us so many different ways to express and heal ourselves inside and out, and music is absolutely one of those ways. Music doesn’t have to be a performance. Sometimes, the best way to make music is to make it for you.
Write a poem, tell a story. Tell your story. Journal the events to think them through to better understand them, or—better yet—write about the events to someone else. I’ve found that it’s always easiest to write anything when I’m writing it for an audience, even just one person.
The gift of writing is such a privilege. Many people I’ve spoken with have told me they’re just not comfortable with the way they write, that it’s work and not fun. If this is you, writing just isn’t your thing, so go find what that thing is. But for those who can process by writing out exactly what’s happened to them, you’re in a really good—even optimal—position to process your feelings, because you’re already thinking about solutions just by staring at your problem.
I had a wonderful art teacher who I love, who’s absolutely changed the way I view my artistic abilities (or lack thereof). I’m still not perfect at it, but it’s something I can express myself through, be it painting, drawing, playing with clay, or making paper collages out of words and pictures cut out of magazines. If you’re gifted in this area, or if you WISH you were (just like I do) then go for it. See what sorts of stories you can tell with striking shapes and vivid, haunting colors. Draw a feeling or paint a prayer; tell a story with a picture.
Whatever it is you do, use it to help you express and process and understand and resolve. Self-harm IS NOT the only way—there are other beautiful ways to channel what you feel. Make your self-harm recovery inspiring instead of nightmarish. God has given us powerful tools to heal ourselves with. We are not helpless. We have the ability to make ourselves better, healthier people. It’s not going to happen overnight, but that’s okay.
Remember, life isn’t a cakewalk, but it’s not quicksand. It’s just a long, bumpy road. You’ve got this.
To be continued.