Fall 1986. I had just moved to Dallas from Pittsburgh after graduating from Pitt Law. I had not yet passed the Texas Bar Exam. I was looking for any work I could get to support myself while I studied. Coming from a relatively “small” city to one the size of Dallas was overwhelming. I had never experienced anything like Dallas traffic and the sheer size of the interstates. They seemed like runways to me. Driving around in a car I borrowed form my brother, I was continually getting lost and was always late. Finding myself three lanes over from my exit and having to continue three more miles to get the next exit to turn around was my regular routine. One particular afternoon, I was running late for a job interview. I was once again stuck in bumper to bumper traffic and missed my exit. I began to scream at the top of my lungs. Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! How can you been so stupid Brian! You’re an idiot Brian!
Gut wrenching screams from from deep within. Pain going back to the eleven year old child who has been told he was a “dumb bunny” by him mother. Bullied over his weight by other children. Now a Twenty-five year old “dumb bunny” missing his exit and late for a job interview. In my mind, that was me. As I drove the interstate screaming in my car, I began to punch with a closed fist on the right side of my head. I had no sense of the vehicles next to me watching my insane, violent display nor did I care. I had to punish myself. With each blow to the side of my face and right temple, I felt the release of my stupidity. Each blow was harder and harder as I tried to release the shame of that eleven year old child, held so deep. As I finally reached the next exit, I struck a blow to the right side of my head with such force that it struck my side window and cracked hit causing my car to swerve off the road. I was black and blue on the right side of my face, cut, and had a huge lump but fortunately did no further damage. A calm came over me. The feeling that I had inflicted enough damage on myself for being stupid. I had been sufficiently punished for missing the exit. A little too much to explain in a job interview. I turned around and went home.
June 2013. I am reading an article about the passing of Sopranos star, James Gandoflini. In the middle of the article, my breath stops and my mind starts reeling. Repressed memories come flooding back.
“Gandolfini’s wife described increasingly serious issues with drugs and alcohol, as well as arguments during which the actor would repeatedly punch himself in the face out of frustration”
I felt nauseous and was close to a panic attack. Memories of the missed exist. Memories of the ritual punching myself in the face every-time I made a mistake in law school, when I felt I had disappointed my family When I did not feel good enough in my ability to navigate life. Calling in sick from work when there were marks left by my physical assault on myself.
Why did I suppress these memories? Maybe for the same reasons I did not talk about my struggle with anorexia and then bulimia for twenty-seven years. Shame. Self harm is cutting. Self-harm is what teens do. Grown men don’t punch themselves in the face until they are black and blue. People will think I am nuts. Even today, when I feel like I have been a “dumb bunny”, I can sometimes feel that right hand heat up with the urge to hit myself. The feeling that it will solve everything. It won’t. As I factor those memories into my recovery I will say that they have made me more aware of how bullying and fat shaming can lead to so many different destructive behaviors in an attempt to punish ourselves and reinforce what we’ve been told. Self-harm does not discriminate by age or sex. I engaged in it. Through years of therapy and self exploration, I have learned that I am not a dumb bunny. I am worthy of love no matter what the eleven-year-old child tells me sometimes. If you are engaging in self-harm, reach out and let the people who love you, help you.
Brian Cuban is a an author whose best-selling book “Shattered Image: My Triumph Over Body Dysmorphic Disorder” chronicles his first-hand experiences living with, and recovering from eating disorders and Body Dysmorphia Disorder (BDD) and drug addiction. Brian speaks regularly about his recovery and breaking the male eating disorder stigma.