Cutting out the pain
A few weeks ago, one of our girls was in pain and was cutting herself with a razor when she, (thankfully) thought to call her mentor. Another girl in our program has a left forearm covered in so many cross hatched scars her skin feels like a coarse linen when I touched them.. The scars were fine and almost delicate but their hardness told me the cuts had been deep, sliced at a consistent length and even spacing revealed careful forethought and planning. These cuts were not accidents. They were executed carefully, intentionally and were tainted with a strange affection.
To be clear, the scars we often find on our girls are not the kind of tribal scarring that some body artists practice in lieu of tattooing or piercing. Our girls did not cut themselves in order to be trendy or fashionable, they are not decorating themselves to prove a point, be different nor make any kind of statement. Their scars are memorials to survival and to pain endured, not to pain inflicted. And they often serve as testament to incredible suffering endured alone.
As disturbing as their scars may be to me, I’ve learned to be grateful for these outward signs, if for nothing else than the mere fact that they remind us of how much our girls have endured.
Many of our youth are suffering and have suffered silently and alone. Their pain is often unbearable. While self-mutilation is not a practical solution, many resort to it for immediate short term relief.
Why girls cut
We see cutting scars on many of our girls, typically on the arms or wrists, sometimes on the legs and on occasion on their bellies. In every case the girl expressed similar sentiments to what one girl put so simply. “When I cut myself and feel better..it doesn’t really hurt that much and it takes my mind off other things and afterwards I feel good.” Another told me, “After I was raped, I felt dead inside, and numb all over for a long time. When I cut myself I could feel again. My blood felt warm on my skin so I knew I was alive.”
The more I speak with girls who have cut themselves, the more I realize that teenagers can be emotional volcanoes. When they feel something they FEEL it right down to their core. Many of our kids are suffering inside and without an appropriate outlet, a pressure value of sorts, the pain becomes too much to bear. They literally feel like they are tearing apart from the inside out.
Cutting then becomes a metaphor for releasing pain and/or alleviating internal emotional pressure. And the physical benefits of rushing endorphins as their bodies react to the trauma add a physical sense of relief. Attention can be an added bonus but it’s rarely the motivation.
Surfing to cut the cutting
In all cases I know of, the cuttings were done alone and the intention was not to get attention but to alleviate pain. A rare few casually displayed them as a cry for help or attention. Most are embarrassed by the scars. More than anything, it reminds me to pause, take a moment and check: Are we noticing the pain of someone right in front of us? Is there a scar in the making? Can we put a pressure value on this?
I’ve asked the girls who have cut, “Does surfing really help?” the responses were a resounding “yes”. One girl summed it up nicely, “When I surf, I feel so good, so alive, so free…I don’t know what it is but the water, the sun, the rush, the cool people make me feel safe…all together I just forget all my problems and feel good.”
I’ve come to learn that the pain of cutting is nothing compared to whatever our kids were going through on the inside when they cut themselves…and thank god, they didn’t cut to kill. They are still here. They have survived. I am thrilled that we are showing them ways to alleviate and process pain, that doesn’t involve blood and razors. All we need is some good old fashioned salt water, a stick, some stoke, and yes, there may be a few unintentional reef scars, but that’s a different blog…
stay stoked, cut loose and catch some h20!