Comes the Darkness, Comes the Light

Comes the Darkness, Comes the Light: A Memoir of Cutting, Healing, and Hope is a powerful new book by Vanessa Vega about her journey into therapy for self-injury and an eating disorder. The book is not for the faint of heart: In sometimes poignant and graphic detail, she describes her self-destructive behaviors and her early experiences in psychotherapy. Ultimately, it is a memoir of courage, strength, and hope.

It is a compulsion like no other, the inescapable consequence and intermingling of tension, shame, guilt, and frustration. It is a descent into a realm of darkness few can understand… yet many secretly experience. It is the disorder known as cutting…

Vanessa Vega would stop at nothing to cause – and therefore control – her own pain. When she wasn’t cutting herself, she might be slamming a hand or arm or leg against a wall. Or she might donate blood or get her iron checked – just to feel the prick of the needle. Her actions would sometimes leave her in a trance-like state, large portions of her day left only as foggy images if they weren’t blocked out completely. The need to cut called to her, even as she fought back, sometimes succeeding, often giving in to a need she herself couldn’t hope to understand…

Slowly, with the help of family, friends, therapists, and an abiding faith, Vanessa gradually and painfuly began to shake off the bonds of despair and helplessness, ultimately gaining strength, until at last she looked the demon in the eye – and stared him down.

This is one woman’s story of a life lost and then regained. Offering hope and agonizingly hard-won insight to others battling this painful disorder, it is a chilling look at the destructive power of the human mind, and an unprecedented account of the tragic results of self-mutilation. But in the end, it is a testament to the incredible power of the desire to live, and to the endless strength available to all of us – even in our darkest hour.

In addition, Vanessa’s account addresses the fear, shame, and misunderstanding that confronts many people beginning psychotherapy, and the relief and comfort that comes from learning that one is not alone in the struggle, that others have journeyed down similar roads and emerged victorious.

This is a book that should be required reading for therapists or loved ones attempting to understand why individuals self-injure and how to assist them in recovery.

self-injury, self-mutilation, eating disorders, therapy, psychotherapy

DMOZ still promoting pro-anorexia, pro-self-injury sites

I last posted on these DMOZ listings on May 2, 2006, almost a month ago (see DMOZ and web sites promoting anorexia and self-injury). I just checked back today – nothing has changed.

DMOZ, also knows as the Open Directory Project or ODP, is a large human-edited internet directory owned by Netscape which is in turn owned by America Online (AOL) which is in turn owned by Time Warner, Inc. Recently, Google purchased a share of AOL making them also part-owners of DMOZ.

DMOZ is endorsing and promoting web sites whose primary purpose is helping young people starve themselves into ill health or death, mutilate their bodies through self-injury, or kill themselves. The rationale for this seems to be that this is some sort of lifestyle choice. The defense of the practice, as with the previous DMOZ defense of endorsing and promoting pro-pedophilia web sites, is the banner of “free speech”.

Anorexia is not a lifestyle choice. It is a mental disorder. So is self-injury. So is suicidal ideation (at least in the overwhelming majority of cases, leaving out the issue of incurable terminal illness). Endorsing such web sites is akin to promoting web sites that promote depression or panic attacks or paranoid thinking as a lifestyle choice.

Have a look at some of the listings in these DMOZ categories – these are presented as a quick sample and not intended to represent an exhaustive list:

Where is the social value in sites like these? Who do they benefit? Where is the social responsibility in promoting and endorsing sites like these? Does anyone really believe that mixing in a few sites on the dangers of anorexia or self-injury justifies the listing of pro-anorexia and pro-self-injury sites in a public directory with the size and status of DMOZ?

ODP, DMOZ, eating disorders, anorexia, bulimia, self-injury, suicide, social responsibility, social irresponsibility

DMOZ and web sites promoting anorexia and self-injury

I have written previously about the AOL-owned directory known as DMOZ or ODP (Open Directory Project) endorsing and promoting via listings in their directory sites that are pro-pedophilia and/or provide forums and chat rooms where child molesters can congregate to rationalize and justify their sexual preferences (see AOL-owned DMOZ Directory promotes child pornography [February 14, 2006] and DMOZ still listing pro-pedophilia sites [April 15, 2006]).

Now, I come across a recent publication in the APA journal Developmental Psychology warning of the dangers of the proliferation of web sites promoting self-injury, anorexia, and other self-destructive behaviors among young people:

The study’s three authors, all from Cornell University, point out that although internet contacts “clearly provide essential social support for otherwise isolated adolescents, they may also normalize and encourage self-injurious behavior.”

The study’s lead author, Janis Whitlock, explained in an interview that the marginalized adolescents who hurt themselves often are the types who are drawn to anonymous social contacts provided by internet bulletin boards and chat rooms.

And in the world of self-injury, the number of those virtual communities has grown prodigiously over the past decade, according to Whitlock’s research. The first was established in 1998. Currently, 406 exist.

It isn’t clear how much can be done to prevent the growth of sites such as these but it would seem to me that at least some pressure could be applied to web hosting services to take down the sites when they are made aware of them and to search engines and directories such as DMOZ to cease promoting them by listing such sites in their indices and making them easier to find. I have argued previously that if webmasters, directory owners, and search engines fail to demonstrate social and moral responsibility in the choices they make they may well find that they have lost the choice to make those decisions themselves, relinquishing them to international police forces and the courts.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone by now to learn that a quick search in the DMOZ directory locates this category – Top: Society: Issues: Health: Body Image: Pro-Anorexia. What one finds there are several listings for exactly the sorts of sites Whitlock is warning about:

Ana’s Underground Grotto – Background information about anorexia and food, tips and tricks, quotes, links, pictures, essays, and poetry. Beautiful PerfectionThinspiration, tips, tricks, poetry, pictures, bracelets, forum, and chat.
Cerulean ButterflyTips, tricks, thinspiration, resources and support for anyone suffering from an eating disorder.
Chaotic SerenityPro-anorexia basics, sections on food, exercise and media, link list, and chat room.
Life with Ana – Skin Deep – Offers personal story, tips, tricks, fasting information, and chat room.
LiveJournal: Happy Anorexic – Community message board for anorexic or bulimic people.
LiveJournal: Pro_Anorexia – Community message board for pro-ed people.
LiveJournal: Proanorexia – Community message board for people with eating disorders.
LiveJournal: Thinspiring – Community message board for thinspiration such as pictures, poems or stories.
Mia Is A Faithful Friend – Information and links about anorexia and bulimia. Thinspirational photos, tricks and quotes, nutrition and exercise, and chat.
Pro Ana Suicide Society – Community message board covering various topics ranging from eating disorders (male and female) to music and other interests (requires registration).
The Red Bracelet ProjectThinspiration gallery, recipes, excercise programs, and information on different eating disorders.
The Thin FilesA listing of pro-ana sites.
Words Won’t Bring Me Down – Personal story, daily food journal, tips and tricks, calories in foods, and thinspirational photos.

Those opposed to restrictions on the content of such websites use the red herring of “free speech”, apparently not understanding that society has long recognized that one person’s rights end where they endanger the rights or well-being of another. Supporters of DMOZ in particular have tried to argue that they are not promoting such sites, merely indexing them, and that too is nonsense: A directory of the size and influence of DMOZ has a responsibility to act responsibly and listing sites like these is not by any stretch of the imagination a socially or morally responsible act.

ODP, DMOZ, AOL, anorexia, eating disorder, self-injury