Going for Blood

Topics: Cutting
Published: April 08, 2014

“...I’m lost. I am distraught. Last night I couldn’t help it—I needed to see blood, so I scratched myself with my razor. Just a tiny bit of blood. A tiny scratch....”

I have a soft spot for women who cut. They know they need help, though it is hard to ask for it. The statements above are from the journal of a friend who tries to resist cutting herself. She often succeeds, sometimes fails. 

Cutting herself isn’t the only way that she calms down. She burns herself too. Cigarette lighters, irons, they all work. They temporarily stop the chaos within, but what stops the insanity best—is blood.

These strategies substitute a lesser pain for a greater pain, a physical pain for a psychological pain. And if cutting and burning are a lesser pain, then the greater pain must be great indeed. One woman would hit herself in the face as a way to focus her mind so she would not be haunted by past shame. 

But why blood?

For most ancient cultures, life itself was thought to be in the blood (Lev. 17:14), and their sacrificial systems usually included it. They shed blood to appease the gods and drank it to gain their power. There is something about humanity that carries an awareness of the importance of blood and its implications for our relationship with God. The Torah, of course, gives God’s true direction for sacrifices, and the result is a lot of blood.

So spilling blood makes sense at some level, it seems to offer appeasement. This woman who cuts is using it to quiet the near-audible voices she hears in her head. She does not know whether they are her own, Satan’s, someone else’s, or a chorus of them all—but they all want blood. They speak of shame from sexual violation, rejection by a parent, and being the family scapegoat. Blood will cover the shame and do penance for the guilt, for a little while. Blood leads to peace, temporarily. But after a day or two the blood-lust comes again. It is a futile cycle. 

She is beginning to see it more clearly. Her cutting is done in a temple where she is priest and her cultic system is a lie, and she is getting sick of it. So we focus on the Lamb of God whose blood takes away the sin and shame of the world (John 1:29).  We study Hebrews. We see the high priest who offered one sacrifice for all time and then he retired from his sacrificial work—he sat at the right hand of the Father—because his work was done (Heb. 10:10-12). She is learning to rest in his rest.

She has recently been able to go ten days without any blood or even anything self-injurious, and, like an addict who has a little distance from her substance, she was clearer. She started musing about Jesus, who asks her to join him and reason things through (Isa. 1:18). She did that, and heard his irresistible gospel-logic that he cleanses those who come to him. She spoke about the realities of adoption and lavish grace (Eph. 1), and she believed it too. They seemed to her to be small steps, which they were. Yet they are also unabashed evidences of the Spirit who empowers those who are weak.