This is the fifty-first edition of The i’Mpossible Project: A series where anyone can share a personal story of inspiration or an event in life where they overcame tremendous odds. Everyone has a powerful story to tell and something to teach the world. (See HERE for guidelines on how you can write for The i’Mpossible Project.) Here we have Ashley Lewis Carrol with The Visceral Way.
I begrudgingly answered the pediatrician I’d had my whole life when asked me what foods I’d still eat. One word. I was a somewhat stocky sixteen-year-old girl who'd played sports nearly non-stop for the last decade of her life. And yet here I sat.
The doctor left to talk to my mom in the waiting room. When she came back, she looked worried.
“Have you been cutting on yourself?”
There it was. The question I was queasy in anticipation of.
I looked away and nodded.
I pulled up the sleeve covering my right arm to reveal a forearm crisscrossed with self-inflicted wounds. Dried blood on fresh cuts and halfway healed scabs on others. Red and angry and unapologetic. Painful to look at and excruciating to live with. I think now about a specific wool sweater with belled sleeves and how the fabric would catch on my scabs and tug. The little realities of being a cutter that so many don't think about. Don't want to.
Tears sprang into my pediatrician's eyes. She looked at my arm and then at me.
“These cuts aren’t something I can ignore.”
Her words felt like a threat.
“I’ll be praying for you.”
The follow-up felt like a warning.
I lived life as an on-again-off-again cutter from sixteen until twenty-one. I lived life as an on-again-off-again human through that time also. I was half girl, half woman. Half person, half disorders and diagnoses. Not even half understanding what was even going on with me and how it would influence the trajectory of my life.
When I was sixteen I started starving myself. Then I started binge eating. Then, I started purging. I binged and purged my way through the next six years of life. Because living with an eating disorder sucks, I started self-harming myself to cope. I found I got a brief reprieve from the incessant food thoughts that had so quickly dominated my life. I mostly cut my arms, but also my legs and stomach. I would occasionally branch out into burning and bruising. I even went through a stint of sticking needles in my veins.
I craved the release but hated the harm it did to me. I didn't mean for my arms to become borne with scars that told such a sordid story wearing short sleeves became a political statement.
I wore short sleeves anyway.
I don't always identify as a “cutter.” Even though I've spent half my life with cutter scars over large parts of my body. Cutters are scary. Cutters are selfish. Cutters are melodramatic drama queens looking for attention. Or are they? Are cutters maybe the ones holding all the shit in to spare you from the truth? Are cutters the girls who feel too much, love too hard, and hurt so very deeply? Are cutters your favorite people to go to when you have a problem, or need a shoulder to cry on, or that flash of insight you can't quite reach on your own? Cutters are our sensitive souls, walking this world with stories to tell that we've outlined on our skin. Cutting may be scary but cutters are not. We are sad. We are scared. We often feel broken.
I stopped cutting, for the most part, when I started sleeping with my high school boyfriend. To be naked in front of him was hard enough—having fresh cuts made the whole endeavor unbearable. The shame of someone seeing stopped me. The burn of pain reflected in a loved one’s eyes. Ouch.
I stopped bingeing and purging when I was twenty-one years old. I was a lost girl at that point. I’d dropped out of college to get treatment. I’d dropped out of treatment when my parents ran out of money. I’d dropped out of life when my parents cut me off and left me alone. Twenty and bulimic. Newly sober and severely depressed. They paid one month’s rent at a clean and sober house. No job. No friends. No car. No credit. No back-up plan.
I survived. I put one foot in front of the other. I did the sober thing. I did the not sober thing.
I fell headfirst into a methamphetamine addiction.
I barely made it out.
This is how I made it out: I met a boy. I liked him. By the end of our first date I thought I’d marry him. Just three months after we met I got pregnant with his baby. I got and stayed sober. I learned to eat and not throw my food up. I came back to this thing we call life. I slept and ate and bathed and fought traffic and went to meetings and took classes. I had a baby and built a family. I became a social worker. I became a person.
This is also how I made it out: I took the steps in front of me. I followed directions sometimes. I forged my own path other times. I did the hard work and I took the easy routes. All of it. I learned that life—real life—includes the struggle and the sweet. I learned it the visceral way. Through life.
It’s been over decade since I made it out. I still find myself surprised that I did. That life could be good. That people are loving and kind. That skin can heal and scars can flatten and turn white with a whisper. I’ve found a lot of solace in my story—and a lot of strength in living life while telling it.
BIO: Ashley Lewis Carroll is a mother to two school-age daughters, wife to the Father of Every Year, social worker in the domestic and sexual violence field by day, and writer in the wee hours of occasional mornings. Ashley posts the momentous and the minutiae of her life on Instagram and is resurrecting her blogger identity at ashleylewiscarroll.com. Ashley has been published on Elephant Journal, Scary Mommy, Feminine Collective, and The Mighty.
You can find more stories like Ashley's in The i’Mpossible Project - Volume 2: Changing Minds Breaking Stigma Achieving the Impossible, now available for pre-order (click here). 50 authors. 50 inspirational stories of managing and overcoming mental health obstacles.Read a few sample chapters HERE.
The first 200 people to pre-order will get a “thank you” in the front of the book, a free ebook copy of the book The Gospel According to Josh: A 28-Year Gentile Bar Mitzvah, and a free ebook copy of The i’Mpossible Project - Volume 1: Reengaging With Life, Creating a New You.