It's been awhile.

They say you're out. That somehow, through the strength of your soul, through pure will alone, you've literally pulled yourself inch by precious sacrificial inch to freedom.

You blush, attempt a smile. When they say that, it sounds like a giant accomplishment. But can you really be proud of stopping yourself from doing something most people never even think of doing?

If you look at it though, sometimes, on the good days, you can see what they mean.

You went from a record of twenty-four times a day every day (after all, there's twenty-four hours right? Even though you don't have a set time for each one of course. And who needs sleep when it's just full of nightmares anyway?), down to eight, maybe nine every month, to four or five every three to four months, to one every six months, to absolutely none in ten months. As in not once, as in not fucking ever the whole entire damn time no matter how hard things got. That's something to be proud of, right? But that's not all.

You've stopped talking to her, don't see her as much, won't let her take the reins anymore. There are other changes too. The way you look at things. The past is the past and has nothing to do with now. You've made sure of it. You're a different person and you plan to stay that way. Bad grade on a test? Forget about it, just study harder next time. No worries. Say something stupid? Just apologize and move on. Your friends still love you. Mess up during rehearsal? Figure out what you did and fix it, schedule an extra practice time. No one thinks you're hopeless. Someone says something rude about your scars? Brush it off. It doesn't matter. Who are they anyway, what do they know? Someone does something that makes you uncomfortable? Tell them. Don't stay silent and just roll over. You do actually have a right to protect yourself. Have an argument with your parents? Screw it. They're twenty-three hundred freakin' miles away and you're finally an adult, you only have to be responsible for yourself now.

You see, there are ways to trick yourself, if you work at it. You make sure to leave your reed tools in your locker – which is still problematic if it hits you when you're in the music building, but hey, no plan is perfect. You remind yourself over and over that people can hear things through the walls so that you won't be tempted to bang your head. You buy the shaving razors with the moisture strips on them because the extra effort of having to break it apart first might be some kind of deterrent, and you take the razor out of the shower completely when you're having one of those days. And when you almost break… those scissors in your desk drawer just happen to find themselves hidden away in the room of a friend without her knowing, because you figure if she doesn't know, you won't ask for them back until you're sure you really need them for something productive. And then there's the spaghetti strap pajamas that you absolutely hate – loathe really, seriously – but wearing them to bed kinda makes it hard to hide anything fresh. And many other ways that will just have to become the norm now, at least for you, because this is all you have left.

So you pick up the pieces and keep going just like you always have. Well okay, not quite like always. No more tools in your purse, your car, your shower, your backpack, your instrument cases, your locker, your nightstand, your pillow, your window ledge, your printer, your jewelry box, your closet, your bookshelf, your shoes, underneath your fishtank, hidden in the floorboards and the ceiling tiles, sneaked into the lining of your curtains, taped onto the bottom of your desk at work, other places that were so unique you couldn't help but forget them by now. All of them, they're all just… gone. You threw them away. Destroyed them. "Let" them disappear. "Forgot" to bring them here to school. "Don't" have transportation or enough money to buy more. There's no more anywhere. Not for you.

It hurts, sometimes. They've been a constant presence, a permanent solution, only you're not allowed to use them anymore. You can't. You just, ignore the want, pretend it doesn't matter, imagine that it's all old and in the past, and play along to the college life track. Most of the time it works. You're happier. You're more confident, self-assured, and trust it or not, actually assertive. Things are better. You really believe that you've changed.

But those are just the good days.

The bad days haven't disappeared.

The truth is, it isn't over. It never will be.

Talking with friends and being honest about things doesn't make them go away. Talking about the past like it's the past – once upon a time you did this because of this, once upon a time you wanted this and ended up with this, yes you did make all these scars (over a hundred of them) yourself back when you were a stupid kid and had no idea what you were getting yourself into, blah blah blah. You talk blankly, without inflection, like they're just facts you've read somewhere and memorized rather than lived, as if putting even the tiniest speck of emotion into one of the words will cause the effects of everything to come roaring back into your face. And you are being honest, but you're still leaving things out.

It's just, safer, talking about it as if it's over, as if it's not a problem anymore. The past had nothing to do with your friends now, but the present, the future, those things are tricky. How are you supposed to explain things to these people whom you love dearly, who you would do anything to protect, who you have so much respect for, who have accepted you exactly as you are and truly put in an effort to know your soul, that you've been lying to them all along?

How are you supposed to admit that you still think about cutting yourself all the time, each and every single day and night? That sometimes, without even meaning to, without planning it or even thinking about it, you still fake accidents for attention? That it's a habit you just don't know how to break? That you need the security of it, to know that someone might care that you're hurting? That the only language for pain you know how to speak is physical because it's always been the only tangible constant in your life?

How can you look your friend in the eye and tell her that you almost cut yourself while you were over at her house? That if you'd had a tool you know you would've? That, worse yet, you would've done it without letting her know, hid it from her even though it's the last thing you should do, the last thing she would want you to do? How can you convince her that it has absolutely nothing to do with her and completely everything to do with you and how fucked up your mind is?

There's this… thing that comes over you. Dark like the night and heavy and cold as a wet blanket that wraps itself around you, defocusing your nerves and clouding your mind. You can't speak, can't talk about it, can't find the words. There's just an undeniable indescribable sense of inner pain and worthlessness. Everything just seems to… stop working. It's just like before, the loss of energy, the absence of passion and creativity, the inability to make sense of anything, the painfulness of laughter and times with friends who don't understand – who simply just can't – the utter hopelessness of it all. You stop writing, journals, fanfics, poems, you name it. The inspiration is gone. Music ceases to bring joy, becomes just black specks on a page. Movies just leave you wishing for all the things you'll never have, or dreaming about all the things you will. Talking with friends just leaves you empty. Even the color orange seems to fade before your very eyes. It's just like before. Only you don't know how to fix it anymore.

So you just get to live in it. All the time. Every day. Subjected to it, trapped by it, imprisoned inside the glass walls, terrified of what could be released if it shattered. There's a constant state of panic – which you think would get unbearable, but it is actually so constant that it becomes the norm, and going below that level would almost be more scary – involved in everything. Things you don't understand, things that don't even have anything to do with you. The panic is a part of you by now, it's what you breathe, it's inside your veins.

But sometimes it still takes over you, without warning, giving you no chance to prepare or compensate for it. Footsteps just a little too close behind you – heart jumps into your throat. A guy friend playfully (briefly) touches your arm or your waist – your body freezes. Scary-looking cloud in the sky or a thunder-like sound – air disappears from your lungs. Winds whistles in the dark of night – your pace instinctually quickens. A creak, a scatter, a random noise that nobody else hears – your legs collapse. Walk solo into the giant panty downstairs at work as the door slams behind you - butterflies in your stomach, pools of sweat, smell of acid in your nose, the works. It's been that way for a long time.

And you know it's not normal. You just know that something's wrong with you, that somehow you've been… broken. You're not a whole person anymore. You're just a shell waiting, waiting to be filled, waiting to be shattered, waiting to be overtaken, destroyed.

Those are the moments that you nearly lose control. When you need it the most. But you resist, with all your fury. Because the familiar has become unsafe. Because the things you've always believed in have vanished before your eyes.

You don't know which is worse. Feeling desperate enough to need it, or being afraid enough to resist it because you don't know what will happen.

And this is always what happens. You've come full circle, back to it. The root, the cause, and the symptom of every problem. No matter how much you fight it, it comes down to this: you will never be free of it. You will never ever win.

Even if you stop forever, even if you never cut again, it will always follow you, haunting you, your demon shadow. It is part of you, forever identifying. The scars on your arms will never fade; the scars on your heart will just get deeper. And whenever you are alone, it will be the only thing you have. Just like all the times before, no matter how long it's been. All the time. All the time. All the time.