Sleeveless: a Note on Addiction

I’ve started a new job, and learned pretty quickly to brave it sleeveless. I thought I should jump right in, before it became a big deal and I got increasingly nervous about doing it.

A Note on Addiction

There’s some debate as to whether or not self-harm is an addiction. In its strictest definition, addiction means “physically and mentally dependent on a particular substance.” But I’m not really writing to weigh in on that debate, just (as usual) describing my personal experiences and hoping it helps someone.

People in recovery, e.g. from drugs, often say that as well as the physical and psychological cravings for the substance, the behaviour surrounding the addiction played a huge part. For example, I knew someone who spoke about not being able to look at teaspoons in the same way while she was in recovery from heroin addiction. I knew someone else who said that when giving up smoking, the hardest part was trying to work out what to do with his hands instead of rolling cigarettes.

A lot of the behaviour that goes with addiction is also the behaviour of secrecy: lying, going to lengths to secure a high, pretending things are ok. I recognise this as well. I remember, at first, learning to cover marks with hair bands or bracelets. As things got worse, I learned to keep my sleeves pulled right down to my hands, or wear looser clothes so that the bandages didn’t make my arms look bulky.

I think that one of the saddest things about addiction to anything is that at some point the behaviour was a useful coping mechanism. Long after it ceases to be helpful- even as it starts to ruin your life- you feel the same need for it as if it were still a lifeline. When you think about it, this isn’t surprising. How can you give up something that, while becoming increasingly useless, has also become a way of life? I learned that all these things: the secrecy, the behaviour itself- were part of a larger picture that I thought was a picture of my life. Actually, it was a picture I had painted to make sense of my life, as it seemed increasingly random and out of control.

Self-harm may or may not be an addiction in the “true” sense of the word, but for me it certainly felt like one for a very long time.

Listen, though: addictions can be broken. It’s really, really, really hard. Many people struggle for years and years- and continue to struggle for years after the actual behaviour has stopped. It’s a continuous process. I used to think it was pointless… why put in all the effort to stop when you might still want to self-harm anyway? Why use distraction techniques? Isn’t that just hiding or shifting the problem? I’ve come to see that among other things, the “point” lies in less damage being inflicted- that it’s about being truly in control.

It’s hard. But please don’t let this put you off; the vast majority of people who have been through it will tell you it was worth it.

3 thoughts on “Sleeveless: a Note on Addiction

  1. “In its strictest definition, addiction means, “physically and mentally dependent on a particular substance”.
    If that’s true, then maybe I was never an addict…at least not a substance based one. I choose not to accept that though. My addictions were detrimental to my physical and mental health, either way.
    Would it be fair to say that self-harm is more of a compulsion than an addiction? That’s how my daughter described it, at least.


    1. Compulsion makes total sense! Great way to put it. I think that when something affects you in the way you describe, it may well be an addiction, but that’s just my view 🙂


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