Memoir of a Cutter: Mormon Relives Shame of Self Injury


Cutting 'Like Addiction'

"There was no thinking involved, it was just instinct," she said. "I made one cut and saw the blood and it startled me. Then I came back to myself and realized what I was doing."

But cutting soon became pleasurable. "You go into a trancelike state, very much like addiction, and it feels very good and doesn't feel like you're hurting yourself," said Steadman.

As the cutting spiraled, so did her appearance. Steadman dyed her blond hair black, wore a nose ring and started to let go of her body hygiene. And the cutting took on new forms.

"I'd hit my head against things spontaneously," she said. "The pressure and emotions were weighing on me so heavily. I would run and try to [write in my] journal and then run the pen against my skin and make it bleed."

Steadman got back together with her boyfriend, dropped out of school and moved to Wyoming, falsely thinking "a change of scenery can change what's going on in your head."

But she got worse, and so did the guilt and shame. The night she attacked her legs, Steadman said, "I couldn't stop. I had to keep going because I felt so out of control and a really deep-seated feeling of self hate."

Her boyfriend returned to find blood running down her legs and called her mother. Steadman went back to Utah and began treatment, which included unconventional rapid eye movement therapy, and "mindfulness" -- a mix of cognitive therapy and Buddhism -- among other techniques.

The most common treatment for cutting is dialectical behavioral therapy, which Marsha Linehan pioneered at the University of Washington.

Linehan and Miller co-wrote a book on the therapy, which teaches cutters self-soothing skills, ways to feel the sensation they are seeking without the self-destruction.

"Instead of reopening scabs and wounds, you put hand lotion on your hands, or some people snap a rubber band to get the physical sensation without the permanent tissue damage," said Miller. "Some throw cold water on their face. Other people put on soothing music or go out for a run. Males do push-ups and sits-ups, exhausting themselves."

As for Steadman, the cutting incident in Wyoming was a turning point, and today she has a better understanding of why she became so vulnerable.

"I did have a form of abuse with my father," she said. "He never hit me, but there was an underlying theme. I didn't know how to express my emotions.

"Oftentimes, we want to be the strong one, the perfect one, and it's hard to let go and tell people what's going on," she said. "I was afraid of my feelings."

Today, Steadman is married to the boyfriend who had his own addictions to overcome but saved her. He has since given up drugs.

Her memoir, she said, is a gift to others. "I want people to feel validated for their own experiences, whatever that struggle is," she said.

"Growing up in Utah, you keep skeletons in the closet. You put on appearances and keep the darkness to yourself," she said. "But if people aren't taught to deal with the dark side of themselves, eventually it will own you."

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