Self Harm Series – 2nd Entry – Interviewing Caren Gibbs

As I sit on my couch and prepare this blog, a song is running through my head.

~ ♫ This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. ♩~

It fits so perfectly because that’s what these folks, who are bold and brave enough to talk about their experiences with Self Harm, are doing. Letting their light shine so that others may see and reap some of the blessings from their hardships.

carenCaren. Welcome. I sincerely appreciate you taking the time to answer all my questions and emailing me back and forth.

CL: As you know, the main character in my debut novel struggles with cutting. What type(s) of self-harm did you struggle with?

Caren: Bulimia, hitting myself with a brush, and using an eraser to erase my skin.

Were you using all these coping mechanisms simultaneously or in stages?

I used all those methods simultaneously. Bulimia was the easiest to keep hidden and took the longest to overcome. Using the eraser gave me the best relief.

Are there any physical repercussions or scars left from that time in your life?

Yes, I have scars from the eraser and teeth marks on my hands.

While I’ve done a lot of research, I’m certainly no psychologist, nowhere near it. But I can’t help but think that because you were self-harming in so many ways, that it’s a reflection of how compounded your pain was. What was happening in your life that caused you to medicate yourself this way?

At the time I was in the fifth grade, I had already moved four different times and gone to four different elementary schools. My father was abusive. My parents divorced and my mom, sister, and I moved to a different state to live with my maternal grandmother. Grandma was a perfectionist and I never measured up. I felt like I could not control anything and everything I did was wrong. The self-harm brought a calm over me. It was something I could control and it was mine.

When you say your father was abusive, was it abuse you witnessed or directed at you?

He would spank me with a cutting board. He would hit me until he was finished. I never knew what that would be. I got hit a lot.

There are no words for how horrible that is… was. So you went from a father who physically abused you to a grandmother that you couldn’t measure up to. In what ways did she make you feel ‘less than?’

My blood sugars (diabetic) were never perfect. My weight was never perfect. I constantly felt like a failure.

May I ask if your diabetes is type 1 or 2? Just wondering if the bulimia was a contributor… Type 2 is common in my family. My friend’s mother was diagnosed with type 1 at a very young age so I know a little bit about it.

Type 1, diagnosed in 1980 at age 7… no other diabetics in my family.

Wow. So the bulimia certainly didn’t contribute.

The bulimia is how I dealt with the pressure of not measuring up. I had to stuff all my feelings until I couldn’t handle them anymore. Hurting myself was how I felt better at the time.

So this all started in the fifth grade… how long did it take you to get help?

I got counseling in high school but wasn’t able to deal with my underlying issues until college.

Do you still struggle with urges to repeat some of these behaviors?

Sometimes. When I get stressed. But I’ve learned other ways to handle my stress, like long distance running, that work better.

Yes, you must have another outlet. It’s crucial. How are things going with your parents now?

My dad and I have been able to repair our relationship and we are both healthy now. My mom and I are doing lots of talking and are currently working on our relationship.

What would you say to someone who is struggling with self-harm right now? What words of wisdom would you offer?

Any time I meet someone who is struggling with self-harm, I tell them my story and tell them they are not alone. I felt very alone when I was struggling.

That’s wonderful; I’m sure you’ve touched more people than you know.

Last thing. How’s life for you now? What do you cherish the most?

Since God has healed the relationship with my dad, is in the process of healing the one with my mom, has given me the most understanding husband a girl could ask for, and has given me twin daughters (14 years old now), things are very happy! I have learned to work on and change or improve the things I can and leave the rest to God. I have daily migraines that are difficult to deal with, but distance running helps. I have a lot of friends I can talk to who ‘get me.’ I have no need to return to unhealthy behaviors. My girls know what I’ve been through and we talk openly about it.

Beautiful. Several of your answers were incredibly difficult to read so I can’t begin to imagine being the little girl who endured what you did. You’re blessed by your family and I’m certain they’re equally blessed by you. I love a happy ‘continuance.’ Definitely not an ending because you have a whole lot more beautiful waiting to happen. Thank you!

Folks, please take a moment to share Caren’s story. It will, without a smidgen of doubt, bless someone. Peace and love, peeps.