**Trigger Warning: mentions of self-harm, death, and suicide

 

IMPORTANT THINGS I LEARNED BEFORE I PROBABLY SHOULD’VE BEEN LEARNING THEM

The first thing that I ever learned as an infant was how to keep myself from choking.

Reason being: I refused to eat bite sized pieces of anything. I wanted to rip fruit from the seed with my infantile, underdeveloped teeth and rejected meat unless my mom put the slab of beef, pork, or lamb on my highchair, bone, if applicable, attached. Cheerios? Hell no Give me an adult meal and no fork, thank you. When my grandmother first came to visit me, she was appalled until she watched me slap my own back and continue on eating like I wasn’t a baby, but a competitive eater with sauce or blood dripping down my chin. I loved my food rare or raw, which only made it a tad more gruesome and alarming.

But I never choked.

The next thing I learned was how to save money. I learned that store-brand orange juice is 37 cents cheaper and still just as good. I learned that white lies aren’t so harmful because it’s better not to tell dad that you need new clothes and simply buy them instead, let him explode all at once each month, try to hide the fact that you’re growing, learn not to feel so guilty when mom takes the blame when you know it was you begging for that shirt, learn to love the words “you’ll grow into it,” fall in love with two pairs of sweatpants and trade them off, learn to ignore the comments asking if you own anything else because you don’t need to if it makes dad angry at your mom–it isn’t worth that because a peaceful night is priceless, learn to laugh at the surprise on that one day when you were 13 and wore that old pair of jeans in the back of your closet because mom was sick and couldn’t do laundry.

But I never choked.

I learned my pain is not the worst, and will never be. My hospital visits, my crying on Winnie the Pooh beanbag chairs screaming “Will I always feel like this?,” my sleeping on slanted beds and migraines and my burning throat became a splinter at the sight of her. The girl a couple grades above me. The one with the dark brown hair who lost one and a half lungs to a bad inhaler and sounds like she already met God. I can’t remember her name now but I never felt pain when I saw her in the waiting room.

But I never choked.

I learned from the nice police officer who visited us in middle school that your boyfriend can’t sexually assault you. If you’re dating him, then him stealing first kisses, grabbing you by the waist, and dry humping you in the townhouse basement when you squirmed away to the sound of your friend’s birthday party upstairs is considered dating troubles. I called the “nice” police officer and had to apologize for wasting his time because I didn’t recognize that my relationship was immune to the word “no,” I didn’t realize my willingness to hold his hand gave him permission to struggle with my training bra; I learned what rape did to someone the next school year when a girl in gym class told me the same boy lured her to his home. I learned sympathy doesn’t break popularity ranks when I asked to sit next to her at lunch and was denied. I thought I would never let it happen to me and learned later that it wasn’t going to be a matter of “letting it” because it wasn’t my choice.

But I never choked.

I learned that cutting yourself is difficult with nail clippers when there isn’t anything sharper in reach. I learned that sometimes your blood looks orange when you’re sick, and that missing your period because you starved yourself is not a goal, but an illness. I learned that if your mother finds out, she may force feed you cereal and Bible quotes, trying to fix your stomach, not knowing that it isn’t broken, but simply tired. I learned donuts have never tasted so good until you give up self-loathing.

But I never choked.

I learned the only way to get over your father calling you “worthless” and meaning it is when he apologizes for it on a hospital bed after having a stroke, and even then, it may take some time. I learned the only teacher you have that is going to make an attempt to understand why your homework is overdue is the one in the wheelchair because he wasn’t always in that seat and he knows what it’s like to feel unable to stand. He knows the difference between you passing out in the corner of the classroom after driving your father to the ER to cough up blood and the student with the Blink-182 tattoo sleeping after watching Adult Swim down the hall from his healthy parents last night.

But I never choked

I learned the difference between walking and marching for change; I learned that Title IX is a fancy way of saying fuck your trauma. I learned that PTSD isn’t just for soldiers and even if I never saw war to get it, that doesn’t mean I’m not fighting. I learned how to swallow worry and drink it down with cold sweats. I learned what the fuck a cold sweat was. I learned how to lie to a psychiatrist and pretend so well you almost believe you’re healing yourself until you look in the mirror and realize how fake it all is. I would wonder why my hair wasn’t greyer and how I still had all my teeth. I learned how to live.

But I never choked.

 

~

 

SCARS

Brandi was the last resort friend with a reputation preceded by the tears in her jeans that ran just an inch too high up her thigh, shirts that pushed dress code buttons and left gaps in the ones straining to keep the tissues of her push-up bra in place. Brandi taught me biting is fair game when you’re fighting, and not to trust the friend that bites you. Brandi drew my blood, but left scars in less easily healed places. She drew blood with what came out of her mouth, rather than the skin her teeth latched to.

The first time I cut, Brandi told me that I couldn’t be serious about hurting myself until the scars were vertical.

That’s how you know someone’s in trouble: when the lines on their wrist are less like morbid bracelets and more like a parody of veins.

The second time I hurt myself I whispered “don’t be a pussy about it,” and made sure that shit was a vertical line. “You don’t cut yourself to feel the pain,” I said. “I cut to die.”

I wanted someone to know what I was capable of; I didn’t even wear those gothic fingerless gloves that made me feel like I was hiding something. I tucked my hair behind my ear when it was already resting there; I pretended to look embarrassed. I held that wrist with my other hand. I raised my left hand when the teacher called on me that day because I wanted the world to know I was serious.

In making my statement that I wasn’t doing this for attention, I begged for attention.

My neon pants said “notice me.” The downward gaze said “but don’t talk to me unless you’re actually going to help.” I was motherfucking sick of youth group leaders and homeschooled snobs saying they’d “pray for me,” washing their hands clean with the smile: problem solved. Maybe I was dirty to them, but you have to get your hands dirty to help someone who has spent the days wading through bullshit.

My large, broken-heart choker necklace shouted that I was already halfway to strangling myself. My attitude became the stereotype for the quiet girl in the movies that is screaming internally for human interaction. Prove her wrong that you’re just another “friend” that hates the sound of rain when it sleeps. You won’t stay for the bad weather, so why bother? In my town, it is flooding.

You do not cut to see the blood, to feel the pain, the force that cry upward. You cut to die. I cut to die.

I wish I knew then that it was okay to ask for help.

But more importantly, I wish I knew then that it was okay if someone refuses help.

It’s not okay that they leave you drowning. It’s not okay that they don’t give a reason and expect you to know why the relationship you grew died. It’s not okay when they’ll teach you the difference between laughing with and laughing at by accusing and pointing fingers. It’s not okay that they say, “You’ll go to hell.” It’s not okay when they wish you there. It’s not okay that they tell you to speed up the process and cut a little deeper.

But it’s okay, because you’ll be okay.

 

Ali Zagame, the author

 

This is part 1 of 2 in a poetry selection written by the extremely talented Ali Zagame. You can find more poetry (and some music!) from Ali on her website, Facebook, and Bandcamp. Be sure to check in next week for part 2, and give lots of love to Ali in the comments!

Always remember you are not alone.

You are loved.

Sandra

Want to submit to this site and share your story, art, or article related to mental health? Email wemustbebroken@gmail.com

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