Browsing the archives for the punching bag tag

Being a Dad through Self-Injury

family, Life as it is, Love, Spiritual Journey, Vulnerability

All I had to do was type that title, and I felt fear. So I will face those feelings and tell you that I am going to touch on my journey as a father of a child who self-injured herself repeatedly. Whether you call it cutting or self-mutilation or whatever, I am talking about when you find your child or teen is hurting themselves.

Play with Me

I was looking through some old notes and journals from years ago, and I found an entry from five years ago this month:

My daughter cut herself again Wednesday, getting suspended by her school for bringing the knife to school, and getting busted for the cutting. Lots of emotions around this including ones of guilt, or that it is my fault for being so fucked up emotionally.

But one impulse is the Warrior impulse. She is in danger, I must protect her. But there is no tangible entity for me to attack. The Warrior is frustrated. I want to turn it off, the emotions are painful. But this is a good impulse, it comes from the right part of me, and trying to deal with it without trying to crush it has been hard.

My punching bag got a big workout last night. A recent acquisition, done in part to give me a safe outlet for my emotions. And yet when I was done, I was just hanging onto the bag, praying, and I remember hugging the bag as if it was my higher power.

That was my world back then, and I have made many mistakes since then and I have learned many things, and so in hoping to help someone else going through this same situation, here are some of the things I have learned. I am unable to tell my daughter’s story, all I can do is tell my own as a parent.

It’s not a short story, so I will probably have to just list my mistakes and what I got right. We are talking about a story that started a half-dozen years ago at least and still continues today. It was a progressive problem moving from scratches to cuts to needing stitches to an incidents requiring a surgeon to put her back together.

Here’s a summary of some of my mistakes:

  • Treated it like it was all her problem instead of working on family system and my part in it
  • Thinking I caused it, that I could control it, or at least cure it
  • Let “her not cutting” become one of the biggest goals for myself
  • Accepted unacceptable and abusive behavior towards me under the foolish notion that I could endure it and at least she wasn’t cutting herself

Here’s some of what I did correctly:

  • Set consequences requiring medical attention each time as it allowed natural consequences to take place
  • Refused to be ashamed or treat any of this as a secret – keeping communication open
  • Attended parenting support classes for troubled teams
  • Created a “care team” of her doctor, school nurse, and psychologist – getting them talking to each other
  • Learned the three C’s – I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it, and i can’t cure it
  • Got my daughter into local “Alternate Peer Groups”
  • Let her suffer consequences; while loving her and holding her hand as much as possible

There’s a song that was a big part of this journey for both my daughter and myself and we would often listen to it together. In her longer runs of trying to turn away from this behavior, she would often walk around singing it to give herself courage. Here are some of the words (and here is a blip.fm playlist with it).

Hero (Red Pill Remix)
Superchick

No one talks to her, she feels so alone
Shes in too much pain to survive on her own
The hurt she can’t handle overflows to a knife
She writes on her arm, wants to give up her life
Each day she goes on is a day that she is brave,
Fighting the lie that giving up is the way,
Each moment of courage her own life she saves
When she throws the pills out a hero is made

This is one of those blog entries that was hard to write, but I kept thinking about where I was years ago and how alone and cut off I felt. I mean I had to be a failure as a dad to not protect my daughter, right? And now years later I can turn to the frightened father I was and say,

“You are not a failure for having a daughter go through this, and as long as you can keep loving her (no matter how much you hate what she does to herself), you are doing well. The only way you can fail is to stop caring.

But you do have to get some distance from it, you have to demonstrate self-care in the face of self-destruction. You have to enforce rules and let consequences be what they are – even if it hurts. If she chooses the consequences, you must respect her decision. But as long as you keep loving her, she will see you over there and it will help her.”

Yeah, that’s what I need to tell any dad going through this. I shared that image above of me holding onto my punching bag, like my higher power. Ultimately I had to let him take care of my daughter and trust in that care. Its something I am still working on every day.

My daughter called while I was writing this, and she encouraged me – even reminded me that I mentioned writing something for other parents long ago. She also told me that she has not self-injured for over six months now – one of the longest stretches of time she has ever put together day by day. I say that in part so you can help celebrate, and also in part because it’s a daily victory.

22 Comments