NEW VINEYARD — Drops of blood from self-inflicted cuts were the tears Connie Hanagan Stinson couldn’t cry.
She lost her youth to cutting, an act of self-mutilation done with glass and razor blades.
A survivor, she wants to share her story with young students facing choices to deal with their own emotions. Calling her experiences a journey from self-abuse to self-love, she wants them to know there is hope for a future.
“I don’t want this generation to just be survivors. There are resources out there that were not available when I was a cutter,” she said in a taped presentation.
Cutting is not a new trend. Stinson, 70, started her spiral of self-abuse in her early teens in the 1950s.
Her circumstances landed her in mental institutions. She didn't receive an education but still went on to own three businesses and earn her General Education Development certificate at age 37. In recent years, she attended community college where she learned she had a severe case of dyslexia.
Writing a book, "Look Beyond the Scars," was carthartic for her. Talking to young students means even more.
"She is passionate about helping young people look beyond their struggles and look toward a better future," said Jennifer Laliberte, a teacher at Franklin Alternative School in Auburn.
When Laliberte had a large group of students who were struggling with self-injury, she did some research and found Stinson's book online. She felt her students could identify with her, she said.
After Stinson spoke to the class, most students shared their own personal struggles.
"Connie's message is one of hope and I believe that the students really felt that," Laliberte said.
The why is a question everyone asks, Stinson said recently sitting in her log home in New Vineyard.
The answer is different for everyone. It can be a combination of many things. It can manifest in different types of abuse but she knows it’s more prevalent today than most realize, she explained.
“You don’t see it but it’s there,” she said of students who attempt to cover the scars, those left on arms, legs and even faces.
For Stinson, it was a release from the anger kept within, anger over a lack of schooling and sexual abuse. These were things that were not discussed in her strict Irish Catholic family where feelings and love were not expressed.
Sickness kept her out of school for an extended period as a child. A hole in her eardrum limited hearing. She couldn't catch up and was placed in “special classes.”
She wasn’t dumb but that’s how she felt. It was shameful and embarrassing, she said.
"The special class really did a number on me," she said.
In her early teens she was molested by a male neighbor. She knew it was wrong but like many victims, she couldn’t talk and kept it secret.
Her cutting began as a way to get out of the special class. A staple scratch got her a pass to the nurses office. From there it escalated, she said.
“The more I cut, the more I cut,” she added.
Her actions were out of control. A bullying incident landed her in court where the judge learned of her cutting and placed her in the first of several mental institutions. These were places where a young girl witnessed others' heartache and endured a lack of understanding.
One doctor wanted to teach her a lesson. He stitched cuts on her legs without anesthesia. A nurse held her down, but Stinson said she held back her tears. Hurt and angry, she later cut out the stitches and gave them back to the nurse with a message for the doctor, “no lesson learned.”
Stinson quit cutting in her early 20s.
“I grew up and matured. I found my voice and began talking. I didn’t want my son to pattern my behavior,” she said.
Her physical scars were hidden beneath clothing. Her emotional scars were buried deep until midlife when she explored what caused her to do this, she writes.
"My hope is that my revelations will help anyone who feels now as I did then," she wrote of her attempt to reach others.
Stinson may be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 652-2010.