At the beginning of December, I reached a large milestone, a milestone I’d never reached before. I managed to not self harm for a whole two years. For me, that’s a massive achievement. I started to self harm in September 2002 when I was 14 years old and although I can’t remember the exact date I last self harmed, it was around the beginning of December 2010.
A lot of people who reach a milestone in their quest to stop self harming will use the line “If I can stop, so can you!” I used this line too when I reached my two-year milestone but I realised, it’s all well and good to encourage others to stop self harming but if you don’t actually say how to stop, the encouragement is like a chocolate fire guard. This is why I’ve written this guide. It’s not how I stopped but it’s a guide I think I could have used. It’s a guide for self harmers by a (now ex!) self harmer.
This is designed for those who self harm on at least a daily basis. It can be amended for those who self harm less often by extending the “checkpoints”.
The first stage is to wait until you are in a place that is strong for YOU. I don’t care about your friend who can go through hell with a smile on their face. It’s YOU I’m helping here! So when you are in a place that for YOU is strong, make sure you have a busy few days ahead of you. Self harm is an addiction, like most other drugs. Trying to stop any addiction on a quiet weekend is NOT a good idea.
So when you are strong and have a busy few days ahead, get rid of as many of your self harm implements as you can. You don’t want your old implements to trigger you. When you are stopping self harm, the weirdest things will trigger you. Keep yourself safe but at the same time, try and learn how to successfully work through your triggers without self harming. Buy a notebook before you start, writing things down can really help. What you write is private to you. You don’t have to ever read what you’ve written and certainly don’t post sensitive things on the Internet unless you are certain it won’t upset you. Prefix anything remotely triggering with a Trigger Warning or TW.
When you decide to begin your new start, make a note of the date in your notebook. You want to know your “birthday” so you can celebrate anniversaries in the future. Start at midnight and if possible, have a lie in on your first morning. That way you will go longer without thinking of self harm.
When you wake up, if you don’t have a certain time to do things (for example if you start on a Saturday and can spend the day doing what you like) take your time doing what you need to do. Take a leisurely bath or shower, spend an extra few moments doing your hair or make up or spend a little extra time on something you enjoy doing. Then, go out somewhere. It can be shopping, a walk, a bike ride, a trip to the library, going out for something to eat. Getting out of the house and doing something you want to do can be exhilarating. If you do have umpteen commitments, then this is also great. Whatever it is you do on your first day, KEEP BUSY. This is vital.
It may be a good idea to take self harm “aids” around with you. These are things like an elastic band or hair band around your wrist. This is like your “nicotine patch.” It can be anything you like, such as an ice cube in your hand, drawing on yourself with a red pen or any of the self harm alternatives that you have no doubt been shown at some point. For those who haven’t been shown any of these alternatives, one list is here: http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/PDF/Self-harm%20Distractions%20and%20Alternatives%20FINAL.pdf
It might be an idea to find something useful before your new start. That way, when temptation comes, you’ve already got help to overcome it. However, with these alternatives, try not to break your skin or leave a mark that is still visible a few hours later.
One alternative I used that isn’t listed in the link above was to use the room temperature to my advantage. On a hot day I would hug a hot water bottle. This would make me so hot that all I could think about was a way to cool down. On a cold day, I would hug a bag full of ice. Again, this would fill my mind with thoughts of “I need to warm up!” However, on any day regardless of temperature, throw a small bag of ice down the back of your t-shirt or top and leave it there for as long as you can tolerate it. I can guarantee that it will take any self harm urge away for AT LEAST a few seconds! It may come back again but at least you’ll get a break from the urge!
After the first 12 hours is up, celebrate the fact that you have gone 12 hours without harming. It doesn’t matter if you’ve gone longer than this before or if 12 hours doesn’t feel like much of an achievement. 12 hours IS an achievement. Why? Because I say so! I don’t care if you woke up at 1 pm and have gone more than 12 hours without self harming because you were asleep. It’s an achievement because I say it’s an achievement!
After you have gone 12 hours without self harming (and providing you have been awake for at least an hour in this time), you may self harm ONCE in the next 12 hours. And I mean ONCE. However, if you make it to the 24 hour mark without self harming at all, you must treat yourself to something. If you don’t make it to the 24 hour mark, you can’t treat yourself to something. You must have incentives to not self harm so remind yourself that if you make the 24 hour mark without self harming you can treat yourself to something. The treat can be anything from a square of chocolate to buying yourself that video game you want or those shoes that you must have.
If you do self harm, make sure it is done in a safe way. If you cut, make sure what you use is clean. Ensure that whatever area you self harm on is also clean. Keep all cuts/burns or other types of wounds clean and if you need medical attention, seek it straight away. If you are worried about a cut, burn or any other wound, get medical attention immediately. If a wound becomes infected, seek medical help immediately. You probably know the routine. But I’m saying it anyway. Any self harm you do needs to be done in a safe way. I can’t state this enough.
In your first evening, use the front part of your notebook as a diary. Write down the date and, if you want, the time. Write down how your day has been in as little or as much detail as you like. Write down the things that triggered you and make a mental note to try and steer clear of these. In the back of your notebook, make a list of all the things that helped you with self harm urges, for example “When I was triggered, I used my elastic band on my wrist to help me fight off the urges. I then went to the bathroom, splashed some cold water on my face and told myself in the mirror that I CAN stop self harming.”
In the back part of your notebook, don’t write down any triggers. Use the front part of your notebook for that. You won’t look at the front part of your notebook until you’ve made it to at least three months of stopping self harm. You might not even look at the front part ever again! The front part is the place where you vent your feelings, let out your frustrations and write down your triggers. The back part of your notebook is where you write the things that helped you to not self harm. Look at the back part of your notebook whenever you need help to fight a strong self harm urge. Keep writing in your notebook in this manner every evening but if you forget to do it, don’t beat yourself up about it. The notebook isn’t crucial. It’s just another aid, another “nicotine patch” to help you!
Once you reach the 24 hour “checkpoint” congratulate yourself. If you used your self harm allowance, do NOT feel bad. You may not be able to treat yourself but you can be proud of the fact that you’ve stopped self harming for a day. Ok, you may say you haven’t stopped self harming because you self harmed once but ask yourself this: How many times would you have self harmed today? Would it have been more than once? If the answer is yes then you have STOPPED self harming. The word ‘stop’ isn’t necessarily a permanent thing. You’ve STOPPED yourself from harming however many times that day and instead only harmed once. That IS an achievement to be proud of!
Once the 24 hours are over, if you haven’t self harmed, you may NOT carry your self harm allowance from the previous day over to the next! It’s a case of use it or lose it but please do your best to lose the allowance rather than use it!
The next period lasts for 72 hours. You may self harm ONCE in these 72 hours. Keep yourself as busy as possible in these 72 hours. Keep writing in the notebook every evening or as often as you like. Triggers in the front, things that helped in the back. If you reach 72 hours without using your self harm allowance, you must treat yourself to something. Again, it can be big or small but you need to treat yourself to something! If you do use your self harm allowance, again, DON’T beat yourself up! Think of how many times you would have self harmed and tell yourself that once in 72 hours is nothing!
Once you reach the 72 hour checkpoint, congratulate yourself for having stopped self harming for four days. It is an achievement so don’t tell yourself that four days is nothing. It IS something! I say so!
The next period is again 72 hours and again you may self harm ONCE in this period. However, all self harming must be at least 12 hours apart. No self harming at five minutes to midnight and then again at five minutes past. 12 hours apart MINIMUM. Again, keep writing in your notebook and use your aids to help you overcome your self harm urges. Read through the back part of your notebook to find out how you’ve overcome previous self harm urges so you can use the same methods again. Use whatever is necessary to help you reach your goal!
When you reach this 72 hour checkpoint, congratulate yourself on a whole week without self harming! Even if you’ve used all three of your allowances, you’ve still stopped self harming for a week! You’re doing really well! If you haven’t used your allowance from the last 72 hours, you must treat yourself again. You need incentives to self harm as little as possible and I don’t care how big or small the treats are. You deserve them and as long as these treats aren’t harmful, they are ok!
If at any point you self harm too many times and don’t reach a checkpoint, you must go back to the start of that checkpoint. So if you complete the first 72 hour period but not the second one, go back to the start of the second 72 hour period. You can still say that you’ve stopped self harming for four days and you’ve only lost the day(s) where you had a little setback. You can attempt a checkpoint as many times as you like. However, if you begin self harming frequently again, make your way to a place that is strong for you and start the guide again.
Having to start the guide again does NOT mean that you’ve failed. It simply means you started struggling again but you are striving to get yourself back to a stronger place where you will defeat your self harm monsters. Don’t ever feel like a failure for wanting to improve yourself. You may not have got to the place you wanted to be on the first try but you’re a million miles ahead of where you would have been had you not even tried. Be proud of yourself for what you have achieved!
The next period is a week. This may sound scary but you can do it! You’ve already done a week so why not another week? You are allowed to self harm ONCE in this period but again you must treat yourself if you reach the checkpoint without using your allowance! Keep using your aids and writing in your notebook, triggers in the front, things that helped you in the back. Refer to the back of the notebook whenever you are struggling!
After you’ve completed this week, congratulate yourself on stopping self harming for a fortnight. It’s a big achievement!
The next period lasts until the one-month anniversary of your “birthday” – the day you stopped self harming. At most this will be 2 weeks and 3 days and again, it might sound scary but remind yourself that you’ve already done a fortnight so another 2 and a bit weeks can be done! You may self harm ONCE in this period and again treat yourself if you don’t use this allowance. Keep using your aids and writing in your notebook, referring to the back of it if you need to.
When you reach your one-month anniversary, celebrate in a way that is big for you! It can be any celebration you like and as private as you like, but make sure you congratulate yourself on this milestone!
From here on, the periods will be one calendar month long. So if you stopped self harming on the 14th, each of the periods will last until the 14th of each month. You are allowed to self harm ONCE in each period and as always, treat yourself if you don’t use your allowance. Keep writing in your notebook if you wish and referring to the back of it if necessary.
When you reach the three-month checkpoint, you may start looking in the front but ONLY if you feel strong enough. It is not necessary to ever read the front part of your notebook. It is just a place for you to vent.
Whenever you reach your “first birthday” you must have a party. It can be a quiet party of course but you must celebrate this day, your first birthday since you stopped self harming. Once you reach your first birthday, you can start planning the periods your way. If you have found the one calendar month periods useful and don’t wish to extend them, continue like this. However, whatever length the periods you have chosen are, you are only allowed to self harm ONCE during it and as always, you must treat yourself if you don’t use your allowance.
You may wish to set yourself a challenge but do NOT push yourself too hard. The periods must be a minimum of one calendar month long and a maximum of two calendar months long. You could try and go for six weeks or use your own personal milestones as the length of the periods. For example, instead of one calendar month, you could end the period on your pet’s birthday which is 5 weeks away. Or any other length of your choosing.
Once you have made it to a year, you’ll have found that you have fewer marks on your body now you aren’t harming and your scars are fading. If possible, show the area you used to harm on. By this I mean that if you harmed your arms, wear tops or shirts that show your arms (unless you have visible scars here that you are self-conscious about). This way, you will have a method of persuading yourself not to self harm “If I self harm, I won’t be able to wear that top again.”
I mainly harmed my upper arms and shoulders and although I have many still-visible scars on them, I wear sleeveless pyjama tops. This way, my parents would see if I self harmed. I would feel incredibly guilty if my parents found another self-inflicted wound. Obviously, if you harm in a private area or if your parents/partner/children aren’t aware that you have self harmed and you have still-visible scars, this may not be a good idea!
If you don’t self harm as often as every day, you can extend the periods in this guide but DON’T overdo it! Maybe double the periods but the rules are still the same: you are only allowed to self harm ONCE in each period and you must treat yourself if you don’t use your allowance!
Keep using these methods for as long as you need to. If you find after a year that you feel strong and wish to use your own methods, that is fine! My only wish is to help people kick self harm’s backside.
I would love to know if you decide to use this guide! Let me know on Twitter: @SchizophrenicGB and I’ll offer encouragement and advice as often I can! Remember, I used to self harm so I know what you’re going through in that respect. I may have self harmed for different reasons but I know the difficulties of going “cold turkey” from self harming. I tried unsuccessfully several times to stop self harming before December 2010.
And remember, if you are unable to stop self harming on your first attempt, DON’T beat yourself up about it! Like I said before, don’t ever feel like a failure for wanting to improve yourself. You may not have got to the place you wanted to be on the first try but you’re a million miles ahead of where you would have been had you not even tried. Be proud of yourself for what you have achieved!