**TW: talks extensively about alcoholism and other forms of SH. Please proceed only if you are comfortable with the subject matter.**
My illness or, more specifically, the way I cope with my illness, has often been referred to as some form of addiction. But I’m not addicted to drugs, or alcohol. My ‘addiction’ is self harm. For some reason, I’ve always resisted this ‘label’…I’ve never wanted to be bracketed with a heroin user, or someone who needs a half litre of vodka for breakfast. However, a recent documentary by Louis Theroux has made me reconsider my attitude.
Feeling bored, and a little agitated, last night I scrolled through the BBC iPlayer until I came across this:
It’s described in the blurb as a documentary thus:
“Louis spends time at the specialist liver centre at King’s College Hospital, London. He meets patients in the grips of alcohol addiction struggling to find a way out.”
One subject of the programme, a young man named Joe, had a strikingly similar story to my own. He was young, intelligent, charming, likeable…but he had a self-destruct button that he would press when things weren’t running as smoothly as he’d like. The parallels between his life and mine were hard-hitting, shocking and tear-jerking. Louis visited him in hospital, several days into a controlled detox, where we found him frail and emotional in bed, unable to express himself. I’m sure I was in a similar state each time I was admitted to hospital after an overdose although (as also pointed out by Joe later in the programme) my memories are all a bit unclear and surreal. A Nurse from the Alcohol Liaison Service spoke to Louis about Joe and his situation. She described Joe’s ambivalence, his neglect for his own safety, his not being suicidal, but nevertheless engaging in suicidal behaviour, the tiny piece of him that wanted to live, and his feeble grip on hope for the future. This is exactly how I would describe my own thinking patterns, my own reasoning, my own behaviour. Further into the programme, we see Joe in the grips of a relapse, screaming for help, but fighting against the people invested in trying to give that help. I’ve also been in this deep, dark hole, the ladder there, waiting for me, but unable to put my foot on the first rung, terrified of recovery as much as the emptiness and despair that is chronic mental illness.
Although hopefully (and I say this very tentatively) behind me, there have been times where my own behaviours have been equally as dangerous as those of someone in the throes of alcoholism or drug use. I’ve been using extreme SH as a coping tool for the last ten years. Sometimes I cut/burn myself, sometimes bad enough to require suturing or treatment by Tissue Viability Nurses. I’ve starved myself to the brink of death, binged, purged until I vomit blood. I’ve overdosed on paracetamol every single day for weeks, months even, at a time. No matter what I did, how far I pushed my body, I was never satisfied, I would always push that little bit further. In my mind, I would do these things for the same reason as Joe, and the other patients featured in the programme. I wanted to escape from reality, from the cruelly derailed express train that was/still is my life…simply put, as the title of the documentary would suggest, I was looking for oblivion.