Self Harm - World Awareness Day 1st March

I was a Christian. I was involved with a Church, my parents were Christians and I had a very happy home life.

 

By the age of 15 I was chronically bulimic. It had started as anorexia and quickly propelled itself into bulimia…. My need to eat was too great and I had learnt that bulimia was far easier to cover up to friends and family than anorexia and it still allowed me a good control over what I perceived to be a weight problem.

As a small child, maybe 5 or 6, I had been told I was ugly. I was told this by an adult. Later I was told he had a learning disability, but at such a small age I just heard the word ‘ugly’.

My eating disorders took hold in a powerful way. I had no control over what I ate. I would starve all day and binge/purge all evening. I needed to punish myself for being so ugly and inadequate as a person.

Despite this, I passed my GCSE’s and A-Levels and went off to University. I maintained a relationship (of sorts) with God and had been baptized at 16. I tried to kid myself that God saw me and happened to ignore all the self-abuse that was going on.

 

I attended university in South Wales in September 1997. I was hospitalized by May 1998 after a 3rd serious attempt on my life. By this point I was self-harming prolifically, I had become obsessed with time and would only consider eating if it were dark outside. I refused to leave my room during daylight hours and spent all day lying on my bed waiting for nightfall so I could go outside. The University didn’t seem to worry whether I attended lectures or not, and I had enough books and stuff in my room to submit enough assignments. I would self-harm by cutting myself and banging the bony bits of my arms and legs against the corner of my wardrobe. If I wasn’t hurting somewhere on my body then I wasn’t ‘happy’. I attended a great Church whilst I was at Uni, but would spend every service listening to the inner voice reminding me why I didn’t deserve to be there and why God probably didn’t love me.

I wound up in a psychiatric hospital, and that was my pattern for the next few years. They’d medicate me to the point of numbness, I’d be discharged, completely unable to work as I spent approximately 16 hours a day in a drug-induced sleep…. It seemed that the easiest way to manage my difficulties was to keep me unconscious. I’d reach a point where I’d want to wake up so I’d stop taking the drugs, not know how to live, spiral into a crisis and wind up back in hospital only to start all over again. I was self-harming everyday, drinking up to a litre of spirits a day and engaging in damaging relationships. God could not have been further off my radar. Yet I was a girl who had grown up with him.

To cut a very complex story short, I came out of a very abusive relationship. He was an alcoholic and I had my list of complicated difficulties. I had the option of either going down like a sinking stone like he did (he wound up in psychiatric care after we parted) or I could stand back and think about what it might be like to live.

I chose life.

It wasn’t easy and it’s still not without its challenges. I still had a string of worthless relationships, believing that I could find who I was in the arms of a guy who loved me less than I loved myself, before I had to take stock of life and rethink how things could be by just being me.

Everyday is a new day with a conscious decision to live rather than struggle, and I think it always will be. But repairing myself mentally did not repair my relationship with God. As far as I was concerned He had let me get ill so we had no time for one another anymore.

That all changed a few years ago. By this point I had married a guy I believed to be way out of my league and was expecting my beautiful son – 2 things my doctors had never believed I would live long enough to accomplish.

It started small. Little things. A gust of wind. A ray of sunshine. Feeling encouraged. A sense of warmth. A thought that maybe I’m an okay person.

After a while I knew I couldn’t explain these things away anymore. I had rustled up a whole host of explanations – I live by the coast in North Norfolk, which is beautiful, so of course I’d appreciate the drastic changes in weather, I had become a mother, which, despite crippling PND must have given me a sense of fulfillment.

But as time went on I had to acknowledge it was God, reminding me he was there. And in my own time, I chose to have that conversation with Him and work out what that meant. Not easy, but as I soon came to realize, quite necessary.

By this time I was on the advisory board for selfharm.co.uk – recruited solely for my personal experiences combined with the fact I work in a Medium Secure Hospital with in-patients who self-harmed on a regular basis.

My relationship with God progressed, as did selfharm.co.uk, and in what can only be described as perfect timing, the funding became available for me to take on the role of Project Director just as I was in a place secure enough in my spiritual and emotional journey to take it on.

In 2011 I’d be lying if I said life was easy, but the closer I venture towards God the more I see that ‘easy’ doesn’t actually mean anything. I still struggle with food, but rather than sink like a stone and wallow in my difficulties I am able to use the empathy it brings to understand others. I have days where I wonder why on earth God chooses to love and use me, but rather than use it as an excuse to give up I choose to make a stand and declare that God loves me because He made me – and He will love and use me regardless of what my worries are. It takes more than bulimia or self-doubt for God to step back and decide whether we have worth in Him. God’s love isn’t dependant on how I see myself – I have given that over to Him and trust that He will guide me according to His will. I know that God will use my weaknesses for the goodness of His Kingdom, and it’s because of that I rest easy that He has it all under control. If my struggles can be used to for the benefit of others in Christ, then all the negative moments are completely worth it.

Selfharm.co.uk has emerged from an organic belief that God is central in all things. Who am I to think otherwise?

 
 
 
Rachel Welch, 26/02/2013