Crimeless Punishment

Monday, June 15, 2009

I am going to get in trouble for writing this. I know this already.

There is going to be fall out and anger around this, and the dual voices that modulate much of my behavior argue furiously about the words that I am typing.

This pattern of pre-emptive punishment is something I am intimately familiar with, as I spend alot of my time punishing myself for the decisions I make. Even when I know they are right. Punish, Punish, Punish.

Why, asks my new therapist. Why do you punish yourself Dawn? Why do you pick fights with people you love before birthdays or other events? Why?

I stare at her sullenly. My mouth draws into the tight lipped O that forms when I am biting back my words.

Because. Because if I punish myself first, then no one else can do anything worse to me. I have already done my best to make me suffer, so when the other shoe drops, it is a small annoyance rather than a cataclysm. No one can disappoint me.

She write notes, furiously. I am a unique beast in her life, I dare to believe. The self aware crazy. The smart crazy. The occasionally witty crazy.

For years, I have hidden one of the many things I do as punishment to myself, for my punishments are not purely emotional. For years I have done these things and carefully pushed them out of my mind as habits. It was only through the Envisage project that I started becoming aware of them, as I photographed some of the instances. I am a picker. I am a scratcher and a digger.

I do not bite my nails. I do not smoke. But when in private and nervous, I start to scratch. Usually my chest first, or my feet. If it is a very bad time, it will be my face. I will pick at skin, at toe nails, at imagined bumps or warts until the skin dissolves under my non-bitten nails. I have ripped off toenails in my compulsive worrying at my body later having to lie to pedicurists that I caught the nail on something. Because what is the alternative? the truth? That I pick,pick, pick at things until bleeding? That I scratch the hell out of my breasts where the world can't see them, often while under very hot showers?

I mean, I know this is not an acceptable habit. I know it has a big whiff of the crazy about it, so I hide it. There are whole after school specials about the cousins to this little compulsion - the cutters, so in my skating the edge between full blown and charmingly crazy, I hide it.

About three weeks ago my 25 year old sister drank antifreeze in an effort to punish herself. According to her, it was not her intent to kill herself, as she very nearly did having stopped breathing and having to be airlifted to a larger hospital with her organs failing rapidly. It was her intent to punish herself.

Magic words, those. Punish herself. Oh, I know this well.

We were raised in a house of secret keeping. Don't tell what goes on here. Don't betray, don't reveal.The consequences of stepping over the rules was punishment. Not physical punishments - no, that would be too gauche. Too obvious. Our punishments happened long after the event, when you least expected it. They got maximum benefit that way. Your guard was down, and the knife went deeper. As children of my mother, we learned to punish ourselves first. In this way, we deadened the later punishment that was coming - and it was coming, I assure you.

It is the super power of the narcissistic parent, this self punishment. Rather clever, don't you think? Get them to do it, so all you have to do is look at them? Get your children so hyper attuned to your ever changing moods that they begin the punishment without a word? And then deny that anything ever happened? Tell them they imagined it all?

And even now, writing this, I begin to pick at the skin around my nails. There will be trouble from this. I am not supposed to talk about these things, you know. Then people will know. Know the depth of the crazy. And what will they think then?

My sister is out of the locked ward, and back on her meds and doing well. We talk as much as I can get her on the phone. Survivors, I told her. Soldiers on the same field of battle like Madge said in her comment. During one of the talks while she was still in the ward, I told her that it wasn't her job to worry about our mother - to worry what she would think or say or do. Not your job, I told her. Her job? Get better. Start uncovering her triggers for the need to punish herself - and work to defuse those. I know I am.

14 Baleful Regards:

Mitzi Green said...

oh, dawn. if you really think you're going to shock the masses--write that one entry that makes us all say, "whoa, she crossed the line there, she's a real whackadoo, all right," i hate to tell you, you're going to have to do better than that.

no, i've never personally ripped off any toenails, but i have peeled away fingernails to the point the sharp stabbing pain of Gone Too Far stops me. my real business is chewing--lips and inside my mouth, to the point of bleeding and scarring.

i'm not telling you this to diminish what you've confessed in any way. i'm not trying to minimize what you have gone and continue to go through. i just want you to know (despite my horribly inadequate way of telling you)--you're not alone.

Dawn said...

Oh mitzi love - thank you. I don't feel diminished at all. I always kind of suspected there are loads more of us out there - and always kind of perplexed at how we hide it all so well...

Anonymous said...

When I wear a swimsuit I have to tell people that I wiped out on a bike ride, when really I just scratched the same spot on my leg over and over for hours at a time from the ages of 13-24. I still get the urge at 37. Sometimes I just pick a new spot.

Anonymous said...

You are definitely not alone. Just a question, and this is by no means a criticism: Did your need to punish yourself contribute to your decision to end your marriage?

Bethany said...

Definitely not alone. You will never see my feet because they are a mess from my picking at the nails and pulling off the skin around the nails, my heel and in between my toes. One big fucking mess.

Thank you for sharing this so I know that *I* am not alone.

Madge said...

*raises hand*

Yup. I am also a picker, biter, scratcher... Not surprising, I guess, considering our similar histories. What freaks me out is watching The Bird pick up my habits. Is it because she sees me doing them or is it because I make her feel the same way my mother made me feel?

I hope your sister is doing okay. And that you are taking of easy on yourself. XO

La said...

How incredibly brave of you.

For me, it's moles. And freckles. Somewhere in my mind they are representative of my internal flaws; so when the urge arises, I pull off the moles, or scratch the freckles til they bleed.

Otherwise, I am completely sane, lol.

You're not alone. And it's not an easy place to navigate out of. You should be proud of yourself for trying.

Fraulein N said...

My "picking" manifests itself a bit differently from yours, and is for rather different reasons, but ... yeah. You're definitely not alone. You and your sister are in my thoughts.

MarciaAnn said...

Chiming in. Dawn, I too pick, but in places where no one else can see ... ears, head, nose even (yes I admit it)

I totally understand the concept of why you do it too. I'm the first to trash myself so that when someone else attempts to, there's not too much harm to my already battled self.

My husband always wonders why I point out beautiful women to him - it's so I don't catch him looking at them and feel worse about myself than I currently do. If I tell him about them, the perception that he doesn't find me attractive (which is TOTALLY my perception) is somehow diminished in my warped world.

Thank you for baring your soul in your blog. When I read your blog I KNOW I am not alone as I truly feel

Jaelithe said...

You know, you are doing a very good job being a calm, responsible older sister.

But don't forget to cry to someone about the fact that you nearly lost her, okay?

Trust me on that one.

FishermansDaughter said...

I've been reading your blog for a while now - rarely comment - but this hits home and compels me

Paraphrased: and then they will know the depth of the crazy and what will they think of then?

I'll tell you what I think - I think you found a way to deal. A compromise. A way to marry punish and self soothe...and I don't think that's crazy AT ALL.

Anonymous said...

I just stumbled upon your blog, but this post is amazing. I'm sorry about your sister and I hope she stays well. I'm a cutter. I haven't done it in a couple months, but there's always that option. It's hard to stop and so easy to start again. Especially in the winter since no one can possibly notice. I scratch when I can't cut and I peel/bite constantly. That's more of a nervous tick though.

I consider myself the smart crazy too. I've taken a bunch of psych classes and read pysch books all the time. I analyze my every mood, every action.

Anyways, just know that you're not alone. You sound like an amazingly strong person.

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