A few months ago, V2H took on a new intern, Nathan Smoker. Nathan is from Montrose, PA and is 18 years old. His family and I have some great history sharing time together at Temple Baptist Church in Morehead City, NC. His dad was my youth pastor and and his mom was like my surrogate mom in so many ways.
I met Nathan a few years ago as his family and I reconnected through Youtube of all things. After our reconnection, we decided for Nathan to come and spend a few weeks with me since he was into videography and we were hosting a day camp where he could help us out. We had a great time having him and all seemed great as he returned home from his two weeks of mission and service experiences.
But when Nathan got back home after that summer his life began a downward spiral into depression and loneliness. School, friends and even church seemed to offer no real answers for him. The silent depression flooded his soul and his family quickly lost touch with him as he settled into some hidden habits of cutting and self harm. He did some drugs and inhalants but found his greatest satisfaction in cutting himself.
Through some miraculous events and intervention by God, family and friends, Nathan is doing much better now and is using his story to bring hope to others like him. Here is a conversation about cutting and more of his story.
GL: When did you first start cutting?
NS: The first time I cut was towards the beginning of my 10th grade year in high school. It was a late night and I was dealing with my depression and I just didn’t know how else to cope with all the chaotic feelings. I had scratched my arms before but it just wasn’t working for me and I wanted to take it a step further so I took a sewing needle and used it to cut.
GL: Why did you cut?
NS: There are a few reasons why but the biggest reason is that I really wanted to see blood. I remember thinking things like “I hate myself and I deserve to bleed” That’s how it started out… but it didn’t take long until those thoughts started turning into “I need to cut to feel better. I need to see blood to feel better.”
GL: What were some of the things you used to cut and inflict harm on yourself?
NS: I mostly used a sewing needle that I would tuck into the side of my shoe but I’ve also used razors, a screw driver, and a pair of scissors.
GL: What circumstances or situations lead you to become a cutter?
NS: I had been dealing with depression all year and I was feeling very alone. I would walk the halls and wonder how it was possible to pass dozens of students and teachers and yet none of them could see the pain I was in. I felt so alone.
GL: How would you describe the sensation from cutting? What is it about cutting that seems to make it addictive?
NS: It’s such an amazing adrenaline experience. The pain is one thing but the best part for me is getting to see the blood run down my arm. The sight of all the blood just gives you a rush that can’t really be described to people who have never cut.
GL: As a recovering cutter, what do you do to deal with your problems now that are more constructive?
NS: To be honest, there is nothing as good as cutting so it can be really hard sometimes. Music is one of my favorite ways to cope because music can describe such a wide range of emotions and feelings. Also just talking to friends is good too because it helps me feel like I’m not alone.
GL: What advice can you give to other cutters that can give them hope?
NS: It’s not easy, but I can promise that life beyond cutting is a life worth fighting for. You’ll probably fall and give in from time to time but just focus on moving forward. It’s so easy to get discouraged when you mess up but you just have to face forward and never give up. Eventually you’ll start to see progress and soon it will get easier.
GL: How do you see God using your past to help others?
NS: I can relate! That’s the biggest thing. When people talk to me about their experiences with cutting, it’s almost like I’m talking back to myself when I was caught up in it. I remember how frustrating it was when nobody could understand how I felt or why I couldn’t stop or why I needed it so badly. Being able to relate helps immensely.
GL: Do you feel that cutting is growing as a form of coping?
NS: Without a doubt. It’s already very common but I can just see it growing and statistics show that.
GL: What types of people cut? Who are the kinds of people that you feel inflict self-harm?
NS: Cutting does not apply to ‘certain types of people’. Many would stereotype that it’s ‘emos’ or ‘goths’ but the truth is that it can happen with anyone. Black and white, christian and aetheist, poor and rich.
GL: What can churches and schools do to educate people about cutting and self-harm?
NS: Schools and churches should share the stories of people who have cut and aware people of the danger that self harm could cause, but I think education can only go so far. Education is great but I think more importantly we should try to focus on getting people help and support.
Cutting, self-harm and self-mutilation, like many other phenomena in teen culture and experience are not only symptomatic of deeper core issues but have also proven to be highly addictive behaviors. Many teens say that once they start, it is very difficult to stop. Self Harm (SH) or Deliberate Self Harm (DSH) is usually not done with the intention of committing suicide even though the cuts and injuries are often found on the wrists and arms. For most, cutting is a way of coping with life and finding release and relief from emotional pain and stress. Many “cutters” use their stomaches, legs and other places that are not readily noticed by family or loved ones.
What exactly is self harm? Self harm could be defined as using an object like a knife, razor blade, scissors, needles etc. to inflict pain or cut oneself. However, other things like anorexia, bulimia, and burning oneself with lighters, matches or rubber erasers can be considered as self harm. There are other derivatives of SH that involve breaking bones, ingesting non-food items, and “embedding”, which is implanting an item underneath the skin, almost like a protruding tattoo.
Why am I writing an article on self-harm? I have had a few “cutters” in youth groups in the past but nothing really serious. However, recently through Nathan Smoker, the V2H intern the subject has come to light again.
Nathan is a great guy. He’s fun-loving, creative and enjoys anime like no other. He’s from a Christian family and been involved in church all of his life and yet he’s grappled with self-harm and cutting to a great degree. For more information on Nathan and his story, click here: http://nathansmoker.wordpress.com/
As I have been learning about help for self-harmers here are some of my observations:
1) Self-harmers desire to live. In fact, we all desire to live. Hold someone’s head under water and they will fight to get a breath of air. Although some self-harmers contemplate suicide at times, self-harm is actually a cry to be alive and to feel alive. Because so many who cut feel numb and dead inside, cutting and SH is a way of feeling alive. The pain reminds them they do have feelings, they do bleed, and they are alive! When we interact with teens and especially those who cut, we need to validate their worth, value and identity in Christ, especially. Helping cutters realize that there is a purpose for their lives and giving them something to pour themselves into can be very helpful in bringing life and making them feeling alive. We all long for purpose. Cutters are looking for purpose in their pain and looking for a reason to continue living. Let’s give them one!
2) Self-harmers desire to escape. The pain or emotions they are experiencing can be so intense that the cutting and releasing of blood can seem therapeutic and even be euphoric at times. Often cutters who are experiencing negative feelings withdraw into their rooms or isolate themselves from others to try and “medicate” or stimulate themselves in ways that can ease the pain. Finding ways to engage students in activity that is healthy, productive and communal is a great way to help those who have negative home situations or pasts. Being involved in their lives in positive group situations can bring healing and hope. We all long for and were created for meaningful relationships. We need to create meaningful circles of care and concern where cutters can share their feelings, not be isolated or feel rejected. Having such a “safe place” with safe people is important for all of us!
3) Self-harmers desire someone’s attention. Although many of us would be reluctant to admit it: to some extent we all want someone else’s attention at some point. Just because someone is cutting doesn’t mean that it’s all because they are deliberately seeking attention but it is a way to get attention for some. It is a natural thing for us to want and desire for others to care about us.When we are made aware that someone is cutting, we need to make sure we give them the right and proper attention. We also need to help the cutter understand that there are right ways to get the attention they desire. Helping them find ways to communicate and express their wants,desires, and feelings, is crucial in helping the cutter get beyond the pain. We all want to be loved and feel loved. We all want to belong. Let’s make sure we give people the attention they need.
As we learn more and more about this form of addiction and coping, we cannot underestimate the power of prayer and the importance of helping kids connect with their God and each other. At the core of every addictive behavior and sin is a God-given desire or need that is being unmet or satisfied in an unhealthy way. As you come across students who deal with SH and cutting, let me encourage you to take a proactive role in listening and engaging them. There is no way I could ever overstate the value and power of simply being available to someone who is cutting themselves open just hoping someone would let them in.
What is simply amazing is that there is no condemnation for us! How can this be? Christ has come to set us free not to enslave us to more bondage…even though we graciously become his servants and slaves because of what he has done for us!
We are Set Free Because God:
Sent his Son as a
Sin Offering who
Condemned Sin and
Satisfied the Law.
Our minds show what we are living after: the flesh or the Spirit. What things we think about and consume our thoughts reveal what nature we are feeding.
Flesh = hostility toward God, incapable of pleasing God, death in life and after life toward God.
Spirit = life and peace toward God. Pleases God in this life and afterlife.
The Spirit within is evidence that we belong to God. God’s Spirit within gives us life in our dead bodies.
We are to put to death the things of death and live freely by the Spirit.
The Spirit makes us Children of God. The Spirit then:
leads us, adopts us, testifies to us and others, ministers to us in suffering and glorifies Christ through us.
Christ has accomplished for us and in us what we could never do on our own. His willful decision to come and suffer in our place has made it possible to set us free from sin’s grip and allow us to freely run into God’s arms.
The Source Code has been broken and we have a New Source Code being written within us even as we speak. The Spirit of God is re-writing who we are, engrafting His Life Code into our very own DNA!
Focusing on the life that is in Christ leads to a wide open view of life. Being focused on the law is like trying to squeeze into a pair of pants and shirt that juts doesn’t fit any more. God wants me to focus on what he has done not on what I’m trying to do! Be paying attention to what God is doing in me and through me. Pay attention to the Life-Giver and not the Life-Taker called sin. Allow Christ to be the center of attention; this is how you will know you really belong to Christ!
Move on! Don’t waste a lot of time wrestling with sin…just bury it! Enter into the resurrection life that is already inside of you through Christ! Run to God, who is your Dad now and exclaim with great excitement and anticipation: “I”m ready for whatever and whoever you want for me to be! Make me your Child and let me share in life together with you!”