Episode 58: Shedding Light on Self Harm with Alyssa Scolari, LPC
Episode 58: Shedding Light on Self Harm with Alyssa Scolari, LPC
Alyssa shares about her own battle with self harm and why we should never be writing self harm off as merely an attention-seeking behavior.
Alyssa Scolari [00:23]:
Hey there, warriors, how’s it going? We are here with a solo episode today, which I’m pretty excited for. We, on Tuesday last week … or, no, it was Wednesday last week, was the one year anniversary of the Light After Trauma Podcast. It is amazing to me, A, how fast a year has gone; B, how much has changed in a year; and, C, the way in which this podcast took off way more than I ever expected it to. I know that I have said that so many times, and you’re probably sick of me saying that at this point, so I will not bore you with my gratitude, but if it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be doing this still.
Alyssa Scolari [01:16]:
This has really become like a second full-time job for me. Well, it’s more of a hobby because currently we’re not getting paid for it. I do want to continue to put out these episodes though, and I really love what I’m doing, so I do want to make sure that I ask you guys for your continued support. If you can give even just the amount of a cup of coffee at Wawa or Dunkin donuts or Starbucks, or wherever you get your coffee, if you are even able to give that to the podcast, I would be so grateful because I love what I’m doing and this truly has become like a second full-time job, but it’s very, very difficult to continue to balance my job as a private practice therapist and my job as a podcast host. So in order to make this easier for me, and in order for me to be able to put out more high quality content for you all, it’s really important to be able to have the support, so I am kindly asking for your support. If you are able to give, if you have anything to give, please head on over to lightaftertrauma.com and click the button for Support so you can find out how you can better support us here on the podcast.
Alyssa Scolari [02:42]:
So with that said, just another huge thank you for all of the support and I am so excited to have friends all around the world. Today, I’m going to talk about a topic that is really important to me, but also really important for trauma survivors and it’s a bit of a taboo topic. I feel the need to talk about it now, in particular, because I’m realizing how long it’s been since I’ve done it, and when I say it, obviously, if you haven’t seen the title of this episode, you’re going to know I’m referring to self-harm. A lot of people, when they will look at me, one of the first things that they notice is the tattoo that I have of two out of my three dogs on my right arm, and I also have a tattoo of my third dog, don’t worry, on my leg and people often say, “Wow, your tattoo is really beautiful,” but what a lot of people don’t know is that I got that tattoo, not just to celebrate the animals who I firmly believed have saved my life throughout this recovery process, but also to cover up all of the scars that I have.
Alyssa Scolari [04:10]:
I am no stranger to self-harm. When I say self-harm, I want to make sure that you all understand that self-harm can come in a variety of different methods, variety of different flavors, if you will. It’s not just what I think most people go to, which is cutting on the risks. It’s not just an attention-seeking behavior. I think that self-harm has developed a really, really negative connotation that you’re … at least, when I was in high school, we used to call it emo, “Oh, your emo,” or, “You’re weird,” or, “You’re just doing it for attention.” That’s the big one, “You’re just doing it for attention,” and I hate that. I hate it so much to the point where I think that when people around me, regardless of whether they’re people in my private practice, outside of my private practice, friends, family, when they start to go down that path of, “Oh, this person does self-harm and it’s just attention. It’s just for attention. It’s just attention-seeking.”
Alyssa Scolari [05:24]:
I actually get very upset about it because, first of all, I don’t understand why we tend to criminalize needing attention. Humanity thrives off of connection. I mean, if we didn’t know that before COVID, look at all of the increased rates of suicide and suicide attempts and depression and anxiety as a result of lockdown, also a result of many other things, but being in isolation for so long has been devastating for folks. Yeah, when people are hurting and are crying out for connection and are crying out for attention, we tend to criminalize them. “Oh, that person just wants attention. That person’s just doing it for attention. That cut wasn’t really even that deep.”
Alyssa Scolari [06:18]:
This logic has always been very twisted to me because my reaction is, “Well, if that person is cutting because they need attention, why don’t we give it to them?” Because somebody doesn’t just decide that they’re going to start harming themselves because they’re going to get popular in school or because they’re going to get the man, woman, person of their dreams. It doesn’t really work like that. So, yes, I’m not going to sit here and argue; a lot of times, people are cutting in a very attention-seeking way, but that doesn’t mean that they’re terrible people and that doesn’t mean that we should turn the other cheek or roll our eyes or turn to our friends and go, “Ugh, did you see his or her or their arm? God, they’re so attention-seeking. It’s so annoying.” Like, no, we don’t do that.
Alyssa Scolari [07:20]:
I’m sure you can tell that I’m very passionate about this and I’m very passionate about it because people used to say that to me all the time. For those of you who are new here, or for those of you who know my story, this is a little bit of a reminder. I am in recovery from complex PTSD, and I have a history of self-harm, and I also had repressed memories of trauma so repressed memories were sitting in my subconscious. I was not consciously aware of them, and so about a couple of years ago when things started coming to the surface. Now, for those of you who are familiar and who know what it’s like to have repressed memories, you also know that the memories don’t just come to the surface and then stop forever. It’s a much more complicated process than that.
Alyssa Scolari [08:20]:
So while my repressed memories have definitely slowed down in terms of what keeps coming to the surface, not really flooded with flashbacks all the time like I was before, I also still have them and I’m not totally sure what triggers them. Sometimes there’s no rhyme or reason, but I’ll give you an example. So I really haven’t had any repressed memory come to the surface for maybe like a month or two at this point, and I was standing in my bathroom a couple of weeks ago and I was combing my hair. I don’t know, this might sound weird, but I actually use the same comb for my hair that I used to use when I was in high school. So, spoiler alert, I threw out the comb, don’t worry, I’ve got a new one. Some people are like horrified that I’m still using the same comb. I clean it, don’t worry. It was just in good shape so I was like, “Yeah, there’s no need to get a new one.”
Alyssa Scolari [09:25]:
So, whatever, I digress. I had the comb and I was combing through my hair, and I was particularly vulnerable that day because I … for those of you who don’t know, I have extensions in my hair because my hair is very, very thin and fine and I had to end up getting them taken out because my hair was just not reacting very well to them and whatever. It seems like a very minor thing, but my hair, I was so used to having thick, long hair and it had become my security blanket and I didn’t even know it. So I got my extensions taken out. I was left with this like thin, very damaged hair, and I was combing through it feeling really vulnerable.
Alyssa Scolari [10:13]:
All of a sudden, I looked down at the comb and I saw that one of like the teeth of the comb was bent, and I flashed back to being in the ninth grade. I remember that that comb was the first tool that I used to try to hurt myself when I was about 14 years old. Yes, the teeth were very, very dull and it really didn’t do much to me, aside from leave a few red marks on my arm. I think that if anybody had known at the time that, that was happening … I didn’t tell anybody, I hid it very well … If anybody had known, people could have easily written it off as an attention-seeking behavior, but it wasn’t. Or, I shouldn’t say that; it was, it was very attention-seeking because I was hurting so badly and I didn’t even have the words for it. I couldn’t even tell somebody because I had no rhyme or reason for what was wrong. I couldn’t tell anybody what was going on because I didn’t know. I just knew that there was something so horrible inside of me and so the only thing I knew how to do was hurt myself.
Alyssa Scolari [11:48]:
Now, I actually found it of weird that I had a memory like that surface because, like I said, I’m no stranger to self-harm. I only stopped self-harming maybe a couple of years ago at this point and it’s not like I’ve ever not remembered it. I never repressed to that part of my childhood at all. So it was a little bit weird how that memory surfaced and I found myself just thinking a lot more about it over the last couple of weeks, and I think that the reason why I’m thinking so much more about it is because it’s just been on my heart to speak about it. So I’ve not really spoken at length about my self-harm habits, but here I am today, I’m sharing it. I’ve been podcasting for a year. I’ve been putting my journey and my struggles out there, and I have received so much love and support. I’m trusting the process that the universe or God is telling me that it’s time. It’s time to talk about this stuff.
Alyssa Scolari [13:04]:
So, going back to when I was in high school, that was just the beginning. When I wasn’t getting any kind of relief from the self-harm, I escalated. I escalated to sharper objects, objects that actually left marks on my arm. I was caught by a teacher and she didn’t do anything. She asked me about it, but I made up some terrible, horribly unbelievable kid excuse that nobody would believe and she just let me go. I was not sent to the guidance counselor’s office. There was no phone call home. When I was in high school, so we’re talking 2006 to 2007, was my freshman year of high school, so not that long ago. I mean, I’m really not that old; I’m 29.
Alyssa Scolari [14:17]:
So I definitely feel like … and I don’t blame this teacher. I think as teachers, teachers don’t sign up to be therapists and teachers spend up having to be therapists for kids who are hurting for kids whose parents won’t take them to therapists, for kids whose parents have no idea that their kids are even hurting. So I don’t blame that teacher. I don’t harbor any type of ill will. It just makes me so sad that I slipped through so many cracks because that was not the last time that somebody saw that I was self-harming. I know that there were multiple people in my life who knew that I was cutting and I wasn’t just cutting, and I think that that’s important to know.
Alyssa Scolari [15:07]:
Self-harm comes in a variety of different ways like I mentioned earlier. It doesn’t always look like cutting. Sometimes it looks like hitting. Sometimes kids, or adults I should say, because self-harm does not discriminate. Sometimes we end up hitting ourselves, slapping ourselves, punching ourselves. Sometimes we put ourselves in really, really reckless situations, dangerous situations. For me, that looked like driving. Sometimes I would drive at ridiculous speeds and I’m a little nervous and feeling shame come up as I talk about this, because it was very stupid of me and I definitely put a lot of other people’s lives in danger. Thank God I never hurt anybody and I was never hurt, but I did a lot of really reckless things because I was hurting so badly.
Alyssa Scolari [16:01]:
Self-harm also looks like burning. Self-harm can also look like abusing substances, not eating, over-exercising, depriving yourself of sleep. Self-help harm comes in so many different, again, flavors, for lack of a better term. So what do you do? What do you do if somebody in your life is self-harming? Well, I can tell you what not to do, and I can tell you that because I have had so many people in my life say the wrong thing to me and it started out when somebody found out, a lot of people … It started with the horror, the absolute shock. People would gasp. They’d go, “Oh my God, why did you do that to yourself?” in exactly that tone of voice. “Why would you do that to yourself?”
Alyssa Scolari [17:12]:
Could you imagine, as a kid, what I felt? Shame, guilt; it even strengthened my core beliefs that I was defective because people were looking at me as if I was some sort of circus freak. I am the self-harmer and, no, that’s not a projection. I was genuinely labeled and valued as … or, I shouldn’t say valued. I was labeled and perceived as a head case, essentially, and I don’t like that term, but that’s basically how I was treated. I’m not talking about by other peers, because I understand that peers my age, they can’t know how to help. It’s not their responsibility to help. I work with kids every day, and the number one thing I tell them when they have a friend who is self-harming is that it’s not their responsibility to be that person’s therapist. It’s their responsibility to tell a trusted adult.
Alyssa Scolari [18:21]:
Here’s the thing, though, right? I also had trusted adults in my life that knew, and I still got the, “Oh my God, don’t do that to yourself. What are you doing that for? You’re going to have scars all over your body. It’s going to be there forever.” If I could go back in time, I would tell them this one thing, which is what I think so many people who struggle with self-harm would like to say also, which is, “Look, I understand I might have scars forever, but quite frankly, I don’t plan on living long enough to the point where it’s going to matter.” Yes, that might sound harsh, but it also rings so true for so many people who struggle with self-harm. They’re not looking at their future. They’re thinking of how much agony they’re in and they need relief immediately.
Alyssa Scolari [19:30]:
So if you know somebody who’s self-harming, don’t stare at their scars; don’t point out their cuts and gasp in horror and say, “Oh my God, what did you do? Instead, if you are a kid, if you are in over your head, try to find an adult, a trusted adult who can help with this. If that adult doesn’t help, find another one, and another one, and another one, and another one until somebody listens, because there is an adult out there who’s going to listen. If you’re an adult who struggles with self-harm, or if they’re an adult who loves somebody who self-harms, try to reserve judgment. Try to encourage this person to get help and try so hard to not label this person as so fragile that you also can’t share your feelings about it. Because I know. I self-harmed even while I was with my now husband and it was very hard for him. It’s so hard to watch somebody that you love engage in self-harm.
Alyssa Scolari [20:56]:
David, while he wasn’t perfect, because how can you be? You can’t expect to be perfect in a situation like this. He was so good at never making me feel judged. He was so good at never making me feel like I was just looking for attention. He was so good at understanding that the hurt that I was inflicting on myself was a reflection of how much internal pain I was in. He could say that out loud to me and he could validate that, and I truly believe that, that made all the time difference in helping me to stop.
Alyssa Scolari [21:37]:
So when people come into my office and they have a problem with self-harming, I don’t sit there and make them sign a safety contract. I mean, if their life is on the line, I take measures to get them into a higher level of care. But I don’t gasp in horror. I know that the self-harm is a reflection of words that this person doesn’t know how to speak into existence, emotions that this person doesn’t know how to sit with. I try to get to the bottom of that. I have had so many therapists, adults, friends shy away from me, not want to talk to about self-harm because it makes them uncomfortable. What I can say to that is the more we avoid it and the more we pretend like it’s not there, the worse it’s going to get.
Alyssa Scolari [22:31]:
Please know also that if somebody is self-harming, that doesn’t automatically mean that they’re actively suicidal and need to go to a hospital immediately. I’ve had a lot of parents come in, very panicked saying, “My child had scratches on his, her or their arm and I have to take him to the hospital. I have to take him to the hospital,” and then they go and they go to the hospital and they sit in the hospital for, honestly, at least 24 hours now, because crisis centers are so jam-packed, only for the crisis center just to ask the kid, “Do you have a plan to end your life?”, the kid says no, and then they get discharged. It feels very frustrating and like nothing is getting done. So just because someone is self-harming doesn’t mean that they have a plan to end their lives; at the same time though, they could, and we don’t know if we don’t ask.
Alyssa Scolari [23:31]:
So the biggest thing that I want you to take away from this is to not shy away from self-harm, because so many people shied away from my self-harm and it only made the problem worse. It surely developed into an addiction that I struggled with well into my 20s. I feel really grateful now to be free of self-harm and I still get those bad feelings. I still get those urges. It’s interesting because I woke up today knowing I was going to record this podcast episode, and ironically enough, I am struggling with some bad urges today. I will admit that because I’m human and I’m not going to give into those urges. I’m going to choose to do the opposite. I’m going to choose to drink water and I’ve done … I’ve eaten breakfast. I’ve done a workout. I’m trying to get all the self-care in that I can and I’m still struggling today.
Alyssa Scolari [24:42]:
Sometimes we use every single skill and we still have urges to self-harm, and that’s the moment when we have to ride it out. Whether you’re somebody who struggles with self-harm, or whether you’re somebody who has a loved one who struggles with self-harm, get somebody to ride out those urges with you. I’m really thankful that I’m not going to be alone today. As soon as I close down this computer, I’m going to go downstairs and I’m going to hang out with my dogs and hang out with my husband, and I’m going to find a way to ride off this urge because tomorrow’s another day. I have enough scars on my body to be able to say 100% that the self-harm doesn’t fix anything. Not a damn thing.
Alyssa Scolari [25:39]:
So, please, if any of this is resonating with you, have a conversation about self-harm with your loved ones. Whether you have a loved one who is hurting themselves, or you’re the one hurting yourself, start speaking about it and if you feel rejected by one person, move on to the next, because somebody is going to listen to you. Somebody is going to be able to guide you to get the help that you need. Just because you are self-harming now doesn’t mean you’re going to be doing it for the rest of your life. I self-harmed on and off for what? Maybe 15 years, 14 years. So like about half my life and I’m free from it now. Even though I have the urges due to a lot of trauma triggers, I’m not going to follow through with that urge and you don’t have to either. It’s okay to need attention. It’s okay to need extra help, and it’s so important to talk about this stuff, because the more you talk about it, the easier it is to overcome the urge.
Alyssa Scolari [27:08]:
If you’re struggling and you need support and you need resources, reach out. You all know where to find me. You can head over to my Instagram. That’s probably the easiest place to find me, which is … my handle is @lightaftertrauma. Feel free to shoot me an email with your thoughts on this, and know that if you self-harm you’re not alone. I really do understand it. I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to write in and share your stories of things that helped you to overcome self-harm. I know there are a lot of things that helped me. I could talk about that in another episode, but what I really want to do today is just get the conversation started on self-harm because I have seen far too many people shy away from it and, unfortunately, the problem is growing bigger than ever before. So please remember how much you are loved. Remember that you are a warrior and remember I am holding you in the light, and I love you all so, so much. Have a wonderful rest of your day. Can’t wait to be back with another episode next week. Take good care, warriors.
Alyssa Scolari [28:21]:
Thanks for listening, everyone. For more information, please head over to lightaftertrauma.com, or you can also follow us on social media. On Instagram, we are @lightaftertrauma; and on Twitter, it is @lightafterpod. Lastly, please head over to patreon.com/lightaftertrauma to support our show. We are asking for $5 a month, which is the equivalent to a cup of coffee at Starbucks. So please head on over again, that’s patreon.com/lightaftertrauma. Thank you and we appreciate your support.