I haven't cut myself in eight years. I realized something today. I am still a self-mutilator.
I am laying on the cold tile floor of some bathroom I don't recognize. My head is swimming, or thinking of swimming, a child orbiting a pool of obsidian blackness and occasionally dipping in her toe. My body is alternately a furnace and a glacier, fluctuating with dizzying speed. My clammy hands are clenched into fists and I hug myself while rocking slowly in time to the waves of pain. Time slows, and the misery feels like a train traveling through an endless tunnel. I can't find the light. I've been in this place before. Or a place just like it. It is so dark.
Eventually, the pain starts to recede, turning down the volume that's been screaming in my ears. I begin to unfurl my tensely fetal body. Still not ready to be vertical, I slide an arm under my face, eager to relieve my cheek from the frigid floor. With my other hand, I trace my finger over the tiles, making block letters with their uniform squares. A-B-C, creating the alphabet. D-E-F, letters that form the language of my destruction.
I am not well. I am sick. When I look at myself, my eyes do not know how to interpret what they see. All mirrors are fun-house mirrors and the blueprints for the architecture of their curving glass surfaces are filed away in my mind. When I open a drawer, I never know what kind of plan is going to pop out. There are no labels, there is no organization. Sometimes it is a lovely design, some soaring building of boundless beauty that would be a testament to the highest capabilities of human innovation. More often it is a dilapidated, vandalized eyesore, not even worth the money to tear it down. Distorted and exaggerated in the curves of the mirror, flaws sometimes grow so large they are all that can be seen.
I am afraid of the mirrors. Instead, I seek a reflection of myself in others. Danger there, so much danger. For a fun-house mirror, while confusing and unpredictable, offers no judgment. It only silently offers distortions of what is real. But a reflection in others automatically implies a different perspective, a judgment and comparison of viewpoints. Instead of one voice offering criticism, there is now a river of voices. It is so much harder to quiet a crowd.
Do you know what almost always quiets a crowd? Food. You get ten people around a dinner table and they're going to laugh and chat it up while they wait for their food. But once it comes, there is suddenly silence - the quiet immersion in eating, the pleasant distraction.
Flash back to the cold bathroom floor. It is food that brings me there, and food that has been my downfall. No longer having the stomach to rend my flesh, yet somehow having the stomach to stuff myself. To watch myself expand, filling up with food and suppressed emotions. How many times have I had the same conversation with myself, prone on the bracingly chill floor? About how it's the last time I end up there (at least in my control, I've occasionally ended up there outside of my control). About how it can't be good for me. About how I ought to deal with the emotions that send me there, rather than trying to drown them in a torrential downpour of mindless calories. About how I promise to love myself enough not to do this to myself anymore.
But I do not know how to love myself unconditionally. Or if I do know, I forget more often than I remember.
It is so much more complicated than a simple metaphor can make it. I still must dig deeper, get at the roots of the problem. I am just so tired. And so sad. Still, there is value in understanding the problematic behaviors that are offshoots of the tree grown from the roots. I must understand everything there is to know about me.
I think the solution lies not in looking in mirrors, nor looking in others, but in looking inward. Yet there too I see things I do not like. How to make peace with the things I dislike and value the things I do is a lesson I never learned. I am trying. I really am.