My teenage years could be summed up in the scars which adorn my body.
I can feel them when I fold my arms. I see them in the mirror every time I take off my shirt. There’s a reason why I prefer to wear jeans instead of shorts. I look down and see exactly where and how I slashed my left arm open in the bathtub, the way the lines start thin on one side and become thicker toward the other. The story continues in the white dots flanking alongside two of them, telling of how my arm was sewn back together. Another scar, near the bigger of the two, tells its own story of a morning before school. I remember resting the box cutter against my arm and flicking it downward, watching for the first time as my skin split open. Another scar on top of my forearm stands as witness to a week spent scratching myself with a blade I had removed from a pencil sharpener. The stories could continue on for pages.
Each scar contains a memory, some of which still cause me to cringe upon remembering. Admittedly, some memories are clearer than others, while some I no longer remember at all; for the most part, though, I’m still able to recall when, how, and even why most of them came to be. Each scar had its own reason for coming to be; some were placed out of boredom while others were conceived in depression or anger. Each stands as a reminder of a life once lived, loathed, and nearly ended. Each scar reminds me who I used to be.
That was the label given to me during my junior year of high school by the powers that were in what seemed a pitiful, if concerted, effort to objectify my need for help. Dangerous, Unpredictable, Unstable, and Untrustworthy were other names I frequently heard used to fill in the blank after “Ben is…” I was surrounded by teachers, counselors, a therapist, and a social worker. Each had their own two cents to throw in about what I should or shouldn’t be doing and who I should or shouldn’t be spending time around. Ironically, it was in the company of those I was told not to be around where I found acceptance while those who were put in place to help me didn’t seem to want to be around any more than I wanted them around.
The school board placed me under continuous supervision after finding razor blades in my backpack so they could make sure I wouldn’t hurt myself “or others”. This meant I couldn’t be anywhere on school grounds alone. I had to go straight to the office every morning upon my arrival at school, where I would sit and wait for a teacher to come and escort me to my first class. At the end of each class, while all the students filed out of the room, I had to wait for that same teacher to come and escort me to my next period. I was told it was for “protection.” When I inquired, “Whose?”, they said “Ours.” When I asked, “From whom?”, I was told, “From you.” Shortly after, I was expelled because I was labeled as a liability.
Cutter: that is what they called me.
It was in the isolation of my bedroom that the depression grew deeper and the cutting more frequent. I developed a staunch preference for jeans and dark shirts because they hid fresh wounds. I became an avid internet-dweller as well, and it was during this time that my penchant for online forums came into being. I developed “online” friendships with people all over the world (some of whom I still talk to today) and spent a lot of time talking to people from behind a keyboard. Since I wasn’t going to school, I spent several hours a day playing guitar while my dad was at work, and my musical abilities grew. If I wasn’t playing guitar or tooling around on forums, I was writing and publishing short stories, poems, and songs.
I had plenty of positive, constructive outlets through which I could vent emotions, yet the cutting continued. There was plenty to keep myself occupied with and people from multiple time zones to talk to at any time I wanted, but I still spent the vast majority of my time trapped in self-loathing. Ironically, it was a place I came to feel comfortable in, with walls that I built myself and carefully maintained. I spent so much time in my room that it felt like a prison and I had to get out. I spent so much time in my mind that it felt like a casket, one I didn’t want to leave because it had a nice pillow. At one point, the lines between abstract and concrete blurred, I lost all sense of time, and I didn’t even leave my room; simply going to the kitchen became a frightening endeavor, and the back yard exhausted my energy.
I had cut myself off from the real world.
Eventually, thanks to my dad and my therapist, I was somewhat forced to get out. This presented itself in the form of a job. Still, the cutting continued and it was during the summer of 2008 that the two most prominent scars on my arm came to be while I laid in a bathtub. I only attempted suicide one time; I couldn’t bring myself to do it again. I couldn’t even bring myself to cut again after that. It took a long time to forget what the inside of my arm looks like, but I still remember watching my blood literally pour out. It was a very gruesome experience, and one that I will spare you the disgusting details of. Nevertheless, my days of self-mutilation were over.
I began to change after that. Christ began to slowly work in my heart, gradually drawing me toward salvation. It wouldn’t be for another six or seven months that I’d finally respond to that prompting, but when I did, my thinking began to transform. I was still primarily focused on negativity like I was before, but this time I began to see an alternative to what I was doing. I knew I didn’t have to stay stuck in the same cycle; I could choose to pray and ask God for help. This simple knowledge would save my life on numerous dark occasions during subsequent years. To some it may seem like a crutch, and frankly, it was.
It still is.
I’m not ashamed to admit that there are times when I have to use Jesus as a crutch. I’m not perfect; I fall down, and I need help getting back up. To say anything different would be a downright lie. Sometimes I sustain an injury and I need help walking afterward until it heals; sometimes, I need a crutch. And it’s during those times that I’m reminded how blessed and loved I am that the King of the universe would want to be that crutch for me. It’s just as humbling as it is helpful, but that’s what my Father does for His kids (1 John 3:1).
Yet the cutting continued.
Wait, what? But, the cutting had ended, right? Ben, you’re not making any sense here.Though I wasn’t cutting myself physically, I was doing so in other ways. I would look at my scars and say things like, “If I wasn’t so stupid, I wouldn’t have these scars. If I had done it right the first time, I wouldn’t be alive to see where I was sewn back together.” I traded razors for damaging relationships, broken pieces of glass for the bottles they came from, doubt for drugs, and dove deeper into self-loathing. I wasn’t cutting myself physically, but I was still a cutter at heart. The only difference was that I had traded immediate, short-term self-harm for progressive, long-term self-harm. Though I knew of better alternatives, I was still convinced of the idea that what I was doing was all I deserved. I longed for better, but I couldn’t bring myself to accept anything more than what was right in front of me.
This “cutter” mentality, as I’ll call it, blinded me to anything beyond a moment in time. I clung desperately to anything and everything that I could immediately take hold of. I felt like my life was spinning out of control. To an extent, it was; to another extent, it had always been spinning out of control and I was finally realizing it. I can’t pinpoint exactly when things began to change, because the truth is that coming out of the “cutter” mentality was a long, slow, and painful process. I had listened to stories of people who had virtually “changed overnight”, as if something clicked in their sleep and they woke up with a totally new outlook on life. All these stories told me was, “If so many people are experiencing this, what’s so wrong with me that I can’t break out of this?” It all made me feel worthless.
I wasn’t cutting anymore, but I was still a cutter.
Even today, it can be difficult. There are times where I have to slow down, get away from everything and everyone, stop, and listen for that still small voice that speaks light into my darkness. There are still times where I have to humble myself and listen to God reminding me that I am His child. There are still times where I want to cut myself off. I’m not sure if this desire is fed by my introversion or the desire feeds my introversion, but I do know that if I’m not careful, I can get trapped in a cycle where both become true simultaneously; at that point, it takes somebody stepping in and pulling me out. This actually happened just last semester. It took pneumonia to slow me down enough for two good friends to intervene.
I don’t think I’m alone in this. The cutter mentality is something that I think a lot of people struggle with. There are some that I can see it in just as clearly as I can see my face in a mirror. It’s one thing to know what the Bible says about how God sees us, but it’s another thing entirely to believe it. I confess that my number one struggle is believing that the words recorded in Scripture which speak of who I am in Christ are actually true. Even as a fourth-semester advanced Greek student who is able to dissect the original texts and see what the English language is incapable of expressing (which, by the way, blows my mind every single time), there are times where it feels like nothing more than words on a page. Just like my past sometimes feels like nothing more than scars on my arm.
It’s true: my past could be summed up in the scars which adorn my body.
It very well could be, but that’s not the end of the story. Yes, there are scars on my body that speak of a life once lived, loathed, and nearly ended, but that’s not all that they speak of. They speak of a kind of grace which can only come from God. Anyone who has heard my testimony has heard me say this: Jesus found me in a bathtub full of my own blood. And it’s true; that’s the day when He started to stir in my heart. But Jesus isn’t the only one who found me there; it was my dad who pulled me out of the tub and took me to the hospital. I can’t even imagine what that felt like; how much more does Jesus agonize over us while interceding on our behalf to God?
When I look at old photos of myself, I scarcely recognize who I’m looking at; not because of what I looked like, but because of who I was. I’m sure many of you can relate. Who I am is nothing like who I was, and that is by the grace of God. If you’re like me and find yourself sometimes stuck in that “cutter” mentality that says “I don’t deserve anything more than this,” then I have 20 things that have been shared with me which I would like to share with you.
6. You are justified and redeemed by Jesus Christ. (Romans 3:24)
8. You are chosen to be holy and blameless before God. (Ephesians 1:4)
10. You have been set free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:2)
11. You are redeemed and forgiven by the grace of God. (Ephesians 1:7)
12. You are a member of Christ’s body and a partake of His promise. (Ephesians 3:6)
13. You have wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption in Christ. (1Corinthians 1:30)
18. You are one who overcomes in Christ. (1 John 5:4)
I am not who I used to be, and if you are in Christ, neither are you. I may have to remind myself of this on an almost-daily basis, and I may sometimes need other people to step in and remind me of it, but it is true nonetheless. There will always be the voice from my past which whispers names that I used to be labeled with: “Cutter, unstable, unpredictable, untrustworthy, untrustworthy, dangerous, depressed…” The list could go on. I can choose to listen to that voice, or I can choose to listen to the only Voice that really matters, which speaks names like, “Loved, Worthwhile, Made New, Redeemed, Chosen, Complete, Accepted, Free, Heir, Partaker, Righteous, Friend, Son, Forgiven…”
I know which voice I choose to listen to.
What about you?