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reclaiming

I've been unsure for a while whether to submit this experience. It was a positive experience for me, but I don't want to- explicitly or implicitly- condone other people performing self-scarification. Other people's may not turn out as well as mine did, and this can be really dangerous. At the same time, however, I believe in each individual's right to adorn hir body however s/he sees fit. So I'm sort of torn, I guess. Mostly I want to say that if you're going to do this, be safe— plan ahead of time, be sober, use clean tools and a clean workspace. Keep your scarification clean, and don't be afraid to go to the doctor if something starts looking infected. That said, I'll continue with my experience.

I'd been toying with the idea of a fish design on my ankle for some time. The symbolism of a fish has significance to me on several levels—-the idea of swimming fish as a metaphor for digging below the surface of one's emotions, above all others. I did a few drawings, since it was important to me to draw my own design, and finally decided on one. I wanted it to look quite primitive, like a line drawing. This is because I like the aesthetics of simple ink designs, and because this was very much about primal emotions. I'd thought about getting it tattooed, but as I thought about it more, I realized that I wanted to do it myself. This was interesting to me, because I've dealt with self-injury (SI) in the past. I've only injured once in the last year, but I've dealt with SI thoughts and impulses more often than that. I knew that if I did the scarification myself, I would be reclaiming my body and its adrenaline rushes as my own, as a positive thing instead of something negative and fearful.

That's not to say that I wasn't afraid of doing this scarification. I was afraid of the pain, and afraid that it might turn into some self-injury spree.I approached this cutting in a different way than I'd approach self-injurious cutting. This was very premeditated, planned weeks in advance, so that I could have time to order the proper materials. Self-injury, for me, has always been relatively spur-of-the-moment. This was very much about creating something beautiful on my skin, whereas SI was about making what I felt was ugly and worthless even more ugly and worthless. This was about beauty and tenderness and gentleness, whereas SI was about self-destruction, hatred, and anger. I felt completely different going into this as a beautifying exercise than I would as a self-injurious one. This was something I feared yet wanted, whereas SI was always wanted lustfully, even compulsively.

I'd decided to do the cutting on the early morning of February 6, 2005. This was also significant, as this was a very personal anniversary to me. On that date, eight years previous, I was admitted to a psychiatric ward for depression. I'd struggled with the anniversary in different ways since 1997, and this year I wanted to reclaim it once and for all. I wanted to not be afraid of that date anymore. I wanted to not be afraid of my memories and emotions and history, and I wanted to transform them into something beautiful, written in my skin.

It was approximately two in the morning on a Saturday night when I sat down to do the scarification. I had slept in that day, so I wasn't really tired. I had one of my best friends visiting from out of town, and she was willing to help and/or supervise me in the scarification.

We laid out the tools of the trade after we'd laid a clean towel and some plastic wrap over the area we planned to use. After doing quite a bit of research, I had bought sterilized scalpels from BME for use in the scarification, and had purchased some burnt-sienna coloured tattoo ink from another website, for rubbing into the cuts. I had also armed myself with a pack of gauze pads (for cleaning up the blood), some rubber gloves, alcohol swabs, Purell hand sanitizer for our hands, and extra-large band-aids for the finished scar. Overall, I'd spent about USD$25 on doing this properly, and I think it was money well spent. I used a gentian violet surgical marker (also sold on BME) to make the drawing on my skin. I scrutinized the placement of the design, and when I approved, we started a ritual of sorts.

My friend and I turned the lights down, meditated together for a while, listened to some soft music, and made sure that my head was in the right place (i.e. this isn't meant to be self-injurious after all). We turned the lights back on for the actual scarification. We both put on gloves, after washing and Purelling our hands, and she sat near me as I wiped the area down with alcohol swabs, and dug in to start making the cuts.

The first couple of cuts were the only ones that really hurt. After about two minutes, my adrenaline buzz kicked in, and I was able to go at this in earnest. I held the skin taut and cut the entire fish design once, then went over it a couple more times to ensure uniform depth of cuts. I'd read while researching experiences that the proper depth of cuts in order for the ink and scar to 'take' would be approximately 1/8 of an inch. I tried to cut uniformly to that depth, though I'm sure that some areas of the design were cut more deeply than others. I used two different scalpels, one straight-bladed scalpel and one curved-bladed scalpel. I found that the curvy one was better suited to making cuts at the proper depth, as well as making the curves outlining the body of the fish design. The straight-bladed scalpel was useful in cutting straight lines, dots, and details.

After the first couple of cuts, when the pain subsided, it really felt more like painting than cutting. On some level, I was thinking of the significance of the design and the date, but more than anything I was concentrating on cutting evenly and precisely, much as I did in high-school art class, when doing linoleum-block carvings.

It bled a bit, and we used about three-quarters of a pack of gauze pads to stop the bleeding. I was never afraid that I'd hit a vein or artery, because blood wasn't spurting out violently, just oozing like it does out of any cut, such as a shaving cut. After the bleeding had mostly subsided, I opened the bottle of tattoo ink and started rubbing it all over and into the scar. It was hard to tell what was blood and what was tattoo ink, since their colours and textures were not entirely dissimilar. It was weird, however, to see the tattoo ink mixing with newly oozed blood, sort of like an oil slick in water.

The ink rubbing hurt only a slight bit— the motion of touching the cut was more painful than the actual rubbing of the ink. Like I said, doing this scarification was hardly painful at all. I'd say it was less painful than a paper-cut, and definitely less painful than any self-injury I'd ever done. I don't know whether to chalk this up to cleanliness and using the proper tools, or to an adrenaline buzz, or to my positive attitude going into the experience. I suspect that all of these might have played into it.

The best part of this is that it wasn't self-injurious at all. To an outsider, this may have just looked like a girl cutting herself. However, it was completely different. It didn't feel compulsive or scary or dark like SI at all. We were joyous and laughing and singing along with music. I didn't feel sadness or fear, but joy and peace. I bonded with a good friend over reclaiming this anniversary for myself.

It felt really good to have someone there with me—someone there who fully understood the meaning of the scarification. She didn't 'assist' much other than handing me opened gauze pads (with clean, gloved hands) and talking with me, but her presence was appreciated. I can understand why someone would want to do a reclaiming such as this by oneself, but it felt good to have a comforting presence there with me. I didn't feel alone.

Time went by quickly, due to my adrenaline buzz, but the actual scarification session took only about an hour. This included cutting the design, slowing the bleeding, rubbing ink, and bandaging. However, I was so hopped-up on adrenaline that I was unable to sleep until about five that morning. I slept until about ten on Sunday morning, and opened up the bandage to look at the cut. I couldn't tell much, since I'd applied ink generally over the whole area, not just to the actual cuts. I added a little more ink, and replaced the bandage with a fresh one.

After about two days, I felt ready to let the scarification be exposed when I took a shower. I washed it twice a day, plus giving it a once-over when I was in the shower. I used Neosporin for the first couple days, switched to using Vitamin A&D ointment for a few days, then regular unscented skin moisturizer, after about a week. I moisturized it daily for about three weeks, until I was sure that it was properly healed.

After about three days, the scar began to itch like mad. I realize that this is normal with tattoos, but it is still annoying. Don't scratch it, because it may make the ink come out. I found it helpful to smack the itchy area instead of scratching it.

Healing the scarification was less painful than healing any self-injurious cut that I've ever done. Again, I'm not sure if this is due to the cleanliness of my instruments and surroundings (as opposed to SI episodes where I'd used a safety pin that I'd 'sterilized' by sticking in a candle), or due to the sharpness of the scalpels, or due to my motives/ state of mind. I was just amazed that it never hurt when I accidentally bumped the bandaged area during the first few days of healing.

I wore bandages over it for roughly the first week. In retrospect, I wish I hadn't worn the bandages so long, in interest of giving it room to breathe and heal. I also wish I hadn't used Neosporin, since I've since heard that Neosporin can leach ink out of tattoos. Perhaps because of this, the scar has faded significantly since I first did it, nearly three months ago. It's still quite visible, though not in as much detail as when I first did it. It's much more pronounced at certain times, like after I take a shower or shave my legs. I don't plan to touch it up, though. It's enough for me to know it's there, and know its significance.

It's significant to me because I faced down my fear of pain and emotion. It's significant because it's history written in my skin. It's significant because it has pretty much entirely broken me of self-injurious urges. I haven't seriously felt like injuring since then. I recognize my body as mine, and worthy of respect and beauty.

I hope that this submission has been helpful or at least interesting to someone who has read it. My friend and I took pictures of the scarification, but most of them are too blurry for uploading to BME. If you want to see them, contact me and I might send them to you. Thanks for reading, and be well!

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submitted by: Anonymous
on: 30 April 2005
in Scarification

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