Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Cyber Launch Party Day 13: The Ballad of a Scar

Welcome to Day 13 of the Ballads of Suburbia Cyber Launch Party! For all of the details on the party including guests, the daily contests and the grand prize drawing be sure to read the information at the beginning of Day 1's blog.

Today's Winner:
Each day I am announcing the winner of the contest that was posted one week earlier. Today's winner gets Invisible Touch from Kelly Parra! And that winner is... Diana Dang from blogger! I will email you for your address shortly! Remember to enter last week's contests! Each contests lasts one week!

Today I thought I'd share another ballad. It is my blog and I can't help taking control every now and then. As I mentioned in my last blog about the origins of Ballads of Suburbia, this book deals with a lot of issues that affected me personally. I want to speak to some of them during this party. So today's ballad is...

The Ballad of a Scar: Stephanie Kuehnert

In Ballads of Suburbia, the characters introduce their ballads with song lyrics. While I definitely have some lyrics that suit the topic I'm about to write about ("Cut my skin, it makes me human/scorn your mind, just feel the pain/When you're looking at pain, you're looking at truth/Nothing like pain to make us all the same"- The Gits), this photo really sums up my battle with self-injury best. But I'll explain it later. This is called the Ballad of a Scar because I want to start with the first scar...

The first time I cut myself it was on accident. Sort of. It happened in seventh grade. I was upset about a combination of things. My best friend and I were fighting. And I had a crush on a boy. A really nerdy boy. I was ashamed of my crush. I couldn't tell anyone about it because I feared being made fun of for liking this guy. He wasn't traditionally cute. He was a mega-nerd. But really so was I. Yet, I knew I was supposed to be aiming higher. I should just remain friends with this boy. Only sorta kinda friends. Like I should make fun of him with my friends. Even though that made me feel terrible. And worse, the nerdy boy, was pursuing someone else. I was such a hideous loser not even this boy would like me. I was trying to aim higher than him and he was trying to aim higher than me. And did I mention my best friend was being a total bitch? She kept trying to one-up me in gymnastics until finally I decided I just didn't want to do gymnastics anymore, so I quit and focused my energy on stage crew instead. She was mad at me about that. She was always mad at me that year. Her grandma had cancer and she was taking all her emotions out on me, though I didn't get that at the time. All I got was that most everyone else in school was mean to me and now my supposed best friend was being mean too and I had this crush on this boy. Ugh. The angst of being 12.

So I was taking it out the sets we were dismantling and I accidently snagged the top of my left forearm on a nail. I cried out just a little bit and tears welled up. I got pissed like I still do to this day when I accidentally stub my toe or something. But being pissed felt good. The pain in my arm felt good. It felt like I'd opened up and released some of that pent up horribleness. So instead of going to tell the stage crew manager that I'd hurt myself like I was supposed to do, I glanced around to make sure no one was looking and I ripped my arm across the nail again. Then I sighed, satisfied.

Later I would freak out a little, worried that I might get tetnus or lockjaw or some terrible ailment you get when cutting yourself on rusty metal. But I didn't tell anyone because A. being hospitalized with some terrible ailment would help me to escape school for a few days and B. probably nothing would happen and if I told, people might somehow deduce that I liked cutting myself and it wasn't right to like cutting myself, but it provided a release in away that nothing else did and I wanted to do it again.

I wrote in my journal about that first cut and all my conflicted feelings about it. I even drew a picture of where it was on my arm, pleased with the fact that I would always have a scar to remind me of how I'd felt that day. Like I needed that as a badge of survival. That scar was tiny so it faded, though I could point out to you exactly where it was. I can almost still feel it, like the way my ankle that I've sprained too many times aches in the rain, a phantom ache.

I wish I had the entry to share, but I was so worried about my friends finding out about that secret crush, I threw the journal away. When I looked for it, in hopes that I was remembering wrong, that I'd actually kept that journal, I found my eighth grade journal, which was filled with references to early cutting and other self-abuse. "I got so upset, I cut twice on my wrist and once on my ankle." "In the library today, X and I scratched up our wrists with sandpaper." Instead of carving the initials of boys I liked in trees, I scratched them into my skin with a safety pin. Unrequited love hurt and I made myself feel it.

Sandpaper, scissors, safety pins those were the weapons of choice in eighth grade as I struggled with more bullying and the best friend moving away and a series of other friendships that fell apart.

By junior year of high school, I was carrying a razor blade in my wallet and burning myself with matches or cigarettes. I'd move from unrequited love to a series of relationships that were terrible for me. Boys that loved drugs more than me or had commitment issues (or both) and then that abusive relationship. I really lost all control after that. I carved SLUT into my upper arm. I slashed up my stomach and inner thighs. I put cigarettes out on my legs.

This brings us to the point when the photo was taken. A period when I tried (unsuccessfully) to stop cutting. One of my best friends snapped that pic of my arm toward the end of junior year when I was putting together a 'zine about working through the wreckage of the abuse. I scrawled that word in black Sharpie on my arm over my scars. In the zine I included a diagram of how my arm looked beneath the words:
I tried to be strong, I tried to be a survivor, but I kept ending up angry or sobbing or both in a puddle of my own blood. I hated what I was doing to myself, but at the same time I couldn't stop. I wouldn't until my early 20s.

A lot of you are probably wondering why? Why the hell would you do that to yourself? I tried to illustrate why fictionally in Ballads of Suburbia, but to get inside of Kara's head, I had to go back inside of my own. I looked through those old zines and diary entries and found these explanations:

"My scars tell my truest stories."

"Cutting and burning myself is a release of tension, I do it to let the inner pain out. It is unhealthy, but at the time (and sometimes still) it was hard for me to voice my depression or pain, mutilation was one of the few ways I could express emotion."

"And I scar this body to make it mine because I don't understand this smooth pale skin, I don't know who it belongs to, I have no identity, but I refuse to live my life that way. I am a stranger in a strange body so I make this body mine. I tear into it with my confusion, it is not clean smooth pale cuz I am not clean smooth pale, I am torn, I am covered with random red ridges from trying to open up my insides to let out the pictures and stories stolen lost lost sucked inside a blackhole and I try to set them free, desperate attempts scratch scratch, at least these memories are permanently etched into me. at least I adapt this body to make it something I can feel somewhat comfortable in, if I only knew what comfortable meant to me."

"I was taught to trust no one, no one wanted to hear about my feelings, self mutilation was the only thing that soothed them."

"I wrote out the tales in quick slashing motions, thinking if I did it fast enough maybe someone (me?) would understand. I carved stories into the outercasing of my soul, on the most sensitive part where no one would see, I told them for me, to try to understand."

"I wanted to tear myself to pieces to make me clean, make me me, start all over again."

"Self mutilation is my addiction and I don't know when or if I'll ever completely stop. It's something I've felt ashamed about for years, so many people act like I'm crazy, "how could you do that?" and then there are some people who seem to think one does it because it is cool or fun. It's not. It's painful (mentally), it makes me angry, and it makes me feel like shit. But my scars are not ugly, they are me, they are what makes this body mine, they tell a story, a story I can only seem to tell written in my own blood."

"I carve lines into my skin hoping that instead of bleeding, light will shine through my skin like a lantern and illuminate all the thoughts and feelings that I can't seem to put into words."

"Self mutilation is not suicide, it is not my pleading for death, but rather my way to stay alive inside by purging repressed and masked feelings somehow. I crawl and scratch my way back to life and maybe someday I won't have to bleed to express feeling. Just trust me on one thing, I will survive."

I did survive. And to do so, I had to learn how to turn those feelings into words. The more I focused on writing, the less I cut. Until finally I just didn't anymore. Strangely enough I don't remember the last cut. There were many times when I consciously told myself this will be the last time, but then I'd lose control. Eventually in my early twenties when I went back to school for writing and seriously went into the therapy, it just stopped.

Does the urge come back? Sure. Especially when I was writing Ballads and going down those dark roads. But I've learned to fight my way through the ugly emotions and come up with something positive. This blog entry, it's ugly, it was hard to write, but I hope that it will be something positive. I hope it will create a sense of hope for those that do injure themselves, motivate them to find their way of healthy expression. And I hope it will create a sense of understanding for everyone else. Because I don't hide my scars. Many of them are there, quite visible between the two tattoos on my left forearm. They are not badges of honor nor are they memories like I once thought they would be. They are simply a painful truth.

Today's Contest:
It feels slightly weird to ask for comments on this, so if you are too uncomfortable to say what you are thinking feel free to just ask to be entered in the contest.

Up for grabs today is a signed copy of Ballads of Suburbia and a copy of the last zine I did when I was 17 that dealt with some of these issues.

As usual, you'll earn additional entries by blogging/tweeting/etc about this blog or the cyber launch party. Just note your additional entries in your comment. Winner will be chosen at random on Wednesday, August 5th.

Tomorrow's Guest:

Tomorrow, Lauren Baratz-Logsted, author of Crazy Beautiful among other fabulous books will be guest-blogging. So please come back to see what she has to say!


little miss gnomide said...

"I scar this body to make it mine..."

This makes sense.

My bf in high school used safety pins to scratch shapes, like hearts or crosses, into her legs and then colored them in with a pen. I was concerned for her, but didn't really realize how bad it was. She showed how fucked up she felt. I kept it all inside.

Now, I guess we do it in a more healty way? We get tattoos. We use pain to mark ourselves, to make our bodies our own. To claim our skin as our own.

I get it.

By the way, I'm more than halfway through the book and it's nearly brought me to tears several times. It's beautiful.

Anonymous said...

It is so brave of you to delve into your history of cutting. I still suffer from the occasional urge to do it ( I started when I was 14). i could never talk about it to may parents or friends because honestly, who expects a black girl to cut herself? My parents saw the scars and chose to ignore them. It's really nice to hear someone be frank about their experiences with romaticing them or condemning those who are still struggling.
Thanks Stephanie, you honesty means more than you will ever know.

Punk Rock Girl said...

I never understood the phenomenon of cutting oneself (I hate getting cuts) until I was an adult, in a job I had grown to despise. At meetings with the boss people, I had escalated from doodling nooses and sinking ships on my notepad to ripping off my own cuticles or picking at scabs until I bled. I was appalled and mystified until one day I realized it was because I really needed for someone in that room to bleed. Not healthy. Got out of that job; never felt that way again. It would be awful to feel that way all the time and not have an escape on the horizon. You have explained the feelings so well that I finally do understand.

Bianca said...

It takes a LOT of courage to tell your story with cutting. When I was little I used to watch a lot of talk shows that talked about all these disorders and I always thought "Ha, well my parents will never have to worry about that I'm so much more smarter than that." Up until 7th grade I really didn't know what all of that stuff was, then I met a friend and she told me that she had an eating disorder and she cut. 7th grade was a horrible and really emotional time for me. I didn't cut. I honestly couldn't do that, I don't think because I don't think I would want to see blood or whatever...however when I'm mad I do find myself scratching myself. Not enough to bleed but to leave red spots. For that time being I do understand that it takes your mind off of things.

Thank you for sharing your story!

Annika said...

I heard a wonderful quote once: "You don't have a soul. You are soul. You have a body." I don't know who said it or what the context was, but it's so lovely and it honestly helps me to understand where people who cut are coming from.

Just Your Typical Book Blog said...

I admire how open and honest you can be in your blogs. In high school, a good friend of mine use to cut and crave things into her arm. I never understood it and it's a subject we've never discussed. With your book and this, it does kind of open my eyes of reasons why she might have done it.

(Don't need to be entered in the contest, just wanted to add a comment.)


Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Gwen, yeah, I think about my addiction to tattoos and my cutting and how they correlate. It does seem a healthier way to claim my skin as my own.

Anonymous, sending hugs and light your way. I've been there. You sound like a strong girl and I'm glad my honesty could help.

Punk Rock Girl, man I had a job like that too, coulda driven me back to the cutting place. It's good to get out of those situations. Glad my blog shed a bit of light on why ppl cut.

Bianca, why is middle school so hard for girls. It's just not write, I hear so many girls say that 7th or 8th grade was terrible. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and feelings.

Annika, that is a beautiful quote.

Amber, I'm glad my blog and Ballads could help you understand a bit more about your friend. Thanks for commenting!

donnas said...

Its very inspirational that you are willing to shar this much on your blog. I really hope that it can help others.

Megan said...

Thank you for sharing your story. Actually, I was on the train ride home from work just a couple of hours ago and read the part in Ballads about Kara's battle and it really hit home.

It started for me with my dad yelling at me about something (I don't remember what it was about now that I look back). I was so upset. I saw a sewing needle on my bedside table and went over the cat scratch on my arm very lightly. Then it progressed to box cutters and taking apart shaving razors. I withdrew into myself, especially in college and it escalated. I started dating my boyfriend who helped me through a lot of hard times, especially an abortion. Writing has helped a lot too. I have kept online journals for years as an outlet. But I am realizing to get past my demons, I need to learn how to verbalize and talk them out instead of shutting down. I am slowly getting better at that. It helps to hear other peoples stories, they give hope to those who feel hopeless. Thanks again, Stephanie.

Kristen said...

This really was moving and close to my heart. I think I won't say more than that, but sometimes you need to hear something like that again, to realize how far you've come yourself from those days. :)

My sister just opened up to me about this, about what I went through and what she's going through (she's 14) and it really sort of broke my heart and then warmed it. Because if she can talk to me about these things.. then maybe.. just maybe...she might have a better time of it than me.


BrittLit said...

It does take a lot of courage to admit that you cut yourself or used to cut yourself. People rarely understand and it makes you feel ugly letting them in. I can understand this, I used to cut because nothing could show how deep my pain was. I couldn't talk to anyone because I couldn't understand how I felt. All I knew was how much my life hurt, everything hurt, except cutting. It was like freedom. Also, everyone assume you're "high risk" or suicidal when really it's something you need to do at that point. It would be nice if there was another outlet that worked as well, but until you are ready to stop you really just can't. Ballads definitely made me revisit some of my darker periods, and while I read it I cried. It made me feel good though, now I have claimed myself and I can choose not to cut.

Thank you for sharing.

Llehn said...

Thank you for sharing so honestly about your experience Stephanie and for helping me understand it.


WordVore Prod said...

It takes a lot of courage to narrate such a hard story. I now admire and respect you a thousand times more or your strength and resilience. I'm so glad you stood up to the pain and sufferings, held your head up high and walked away towards life.


So Many Books, So Little Time said...

You are seriously brave and clearly very strong Stephanie. Thanks for sharing.

runningforfiction said...

when i was in sixth grade and people cut themselves, it made them cool. a lot of my friends did it, and i did it once or twice. but i felt wrong. i was happy then. so i stopped.
i did it again in seventh grade when things just got really horrible.
and now, i've just graduated from eighth grade, and eighth grade sucked. i could've cut myself. i wanted to. but, like you do, i wrote it out, and i never did it.

i blogged about this and i twittered (tweeted?)
thank you.

runningforamsterdam @ hotmail . com

Anonymous said...

This entry is not participating in the Contest, because I am not from the U.S. I've been reading this blog for some time now, and have wanted to comment in several entries, but I figured, since I can't participate...

Anyway, today I just can't help myself.

I started cutting when I was 10, and did it all the way to 23.

Before that, whenever I was upset, I would lock myself in a closet and tear paper into tiny tiny bits.

After 10, that just wasn't enough.

Razors, meat knifes, glass... And later putting my arms over the stove, candles, and simply banging my head against the wall till it cracked...

I did it till my arms, chest and thighs were full of scars. Till my sister checked for new marks every time she saw me (we lived in different cities). Till my mom sat me down with a dermatologist and a shrink to explain "the consequences of"...

I continued, though. I just hid the wounds deeper, in places they wouldn't check.

And mind you, I live in a country were self-mutilation is really NOT cool. Even going to a psychologist is frowned upon.

It was a release. It was like crying- only better. It was something to do, a "solution" to my angst. It was releasing the pain, because it was so frustrating to have it pent up inside me and not being able to do anything about it. It was something to do.

The last time I did it I was 23. It was a few weeks before I started dating my soon to be husband.

I stopped when I fell in love and when somebody started loving me.

Mostly, because after a while I actually started loving myself too.

I started realizing it was o.k to feel the things I felt. It was ok to feel pain. It was o.k to be me.

I still feel the urge, though. I believe self-mutilation is an addiction, and it is something I will have to live with for the rest of my life. Everytime I feel overwhelmed I want to do it.

But I resist, because now I realize it won't solve anything. That talking about what I feel is much better than hurting myself. That I don't want to have to explain to my children one day were I got those wounds.

Thanks for sharing your story.

I don't do it. I resist. Yet everytime something

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Donnas, Lesley, WordVore Prods, So Many Books..., thanks for your kind words about my honesty :)

Megan, I am glad you are learning to verbalize your demons instead of shutting down. That is definitely what it takes to heal. Stay strong.

Kristen, I think you are right, if your sister is talking to you that is really really important. She can get through this as long as she opens up, especially since you sound so understanding.

Brittlit, I love that last part of what you said, "I've claimed myself and I can choose not to cut." It sounds like you and I have a lot in common.

Runningfor fiction, Good for you that you have been working through things with writing and words. Stay strong and keep doing that!

Anonymous, thanks so much for being so honest and brave to share your story. I am so glad that you have worked through your pain and have learned to accept your feelings and also to love yourself. That is so, so, so important and so true. I couldn't stop cutting either until I learned to love and believe in myself. Congratulations on your upcoming wedding too. Also, you are welcome to enter this contest. The overseas shipping issue is only for the grandprize, so feel free to leave a comment with an email address to enter.

To everyone who wishes to remain anonymous in their comment but still wants to enter the contest, feel free to either leave one anonymous comment and later come back and leave a generic, "nice post, please enter me, here is my contact" comment. OR feel free to email me at stephanie at stephaniekuehnert dot com and say I am one of your anonymous commentors, but here is my email address to enter your contest. I won't know which anonymous person you are so your story remains anonymous.

Bridget said...

Just posted on Win A Book for you, Stephanie!

a flight of minds said...

I have never cut, nor do I know anyone well who cuts, and I can frankly say I'm thankful for that. But I can see how hard it is and I admire your courage and strength to speak up about it. And to write about such intense and close emotions is both mindboggling and admirable. Thanks for sharing your story.

Oh, and I linked about this contest in my sidebar.

Alex (& Lauren) at aflightofminds(at)hotmail(dot)com

Authorness said...

Dear Steph, thanks for sharing an amazing post. You poured your heart out in this and in BALLADS. I do understand the relief that cutting brings. Sometimes it's almost like letting a demon out, if that makes sense.

x V

Alexa Young said...

Oh, Stephanie. I am now physically aching for all that you went through. I just had no idea. I'm so glad you made it through, a strong, wise and brilliant survivor. XO

Breanna said...

Wow. That's pretty much all I have to say, wow. Lol. It's crazy to think that people get so caught up in cutting and feeling the pain. It makes sense to me, though I've never done it. I can't stand the sight of blood so I'd probably end up fainting or puking very quickly.

But wow, this post almost brought me to tears. I'm so sorry you went through all of that!


marina said...

i'm glad you came out of it. especially after fight a battle like that for so long. but something i've always wondered that no one can answer for me is this: is it more damaging to physically hurt yourself and break down parts of your body or to mentally hurt yourself and torture yourself with thoughts and never let them out? either way, they're both a terrible thing, i just wanna know which is worse.
i'm a very curious person.


throuthehaze said...

I have never really understood how someone could want to cut themselves. My boyfriend has a lot of problems and cuts when he gets upset as a way to calm himself down. I talk with him about it and he goes to therapy. He doesnt do it as often anymore but it is still an issue that hopefully he will work through. I appreciate your honesty about this. I dont think a lot of people would be able to put themselves out there like that

throuthehaze at gmail dot com

Lori T said...


Thank you so much for sharing this...one of my daugthers has battled with cutting for years and still has her moments. I can still remember the day when I got a call from the school letting me know that they thought this may be an issue. I had always felt that I had a good relationship with my kids and I was shocked and so upset and mostly just hurting for her.
Again, thank you so much for sharing this!

Anonymous said...

You are very courageous for being able to share this with us.

I linked this on my sidebar.

elnice said...

This is a tough topic. Please enter me.

Alexa said...

I'm glad that you were strong enough to share your story with.

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Thanks for all the additional comments you guys. And all the people who shared their stories are incredibly strong.

Raelena, I am glad you listen to your boyfriend when he needs to talk and that he is going to therapy, those are the ways I worked through my cutting. As you read in the blog, a lot of it was about bleeding because I couldn't find the words.

Lori, it sounds like you are a great mom, facing this with your daughter.

Marina, I think both things are bad, but I think if you keep things bottled up inside, it eventually effects every part of you. Having gone through what I went through as a teen and keeping a lot of it bottled up, I know this. It led not only to cutting but also substance abuse and even without that stuff, keeping things bottled up led to ulcers. SO I think whehter people are physically or mentally harming themselves, they need to seek help and let things out. By the way, it was cool meeting your sister the other night!