What the Cutters Feel

Long scorned and misunderstood, people who injure themselves are finally being taken seriously

Cathy Collins' first memories are of knowing that she was adopted. The hardships of childhood--the difficulty of communicating with her parents, the cruelty of other children--all fed her belief that she was unwanted, her sense of being alien and unreal. She began abusing drugs and alcohol as an adolescent, but by freshman year discovered a better release. Using a knife or a razor, she would methodically slice open her arms. "A main part of it was to know I was real," she says. "With the blood flowing down my arms, I was real."

For the past decade, Collins, 31, a...

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