Reclaiming my sanity
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler, long I stood And looked down one as far as I could To where it bent in the undergrowth1
Everybody has a complex and unique story to tell, and behind that story lay many intricate webs that give us a deeper insight into the why, the what, and the who involved. The paths that lead us to where we are today can not be transcribed shorthand.
Twenty three years seems like such a long time to me. After all, that's my entire life thus far. And yet, so much has happened. I'm sure that much of what I am trying to say here could be analyzed by psychologists who would find deeper meanings than I can put into words, but nonetheless, there is a story to be told of how taking the path less traveled has led me to be a happier, more complete person.
I have had many years of interest in alternate lifestyles, and as most teenagers do, I spent a lot of time trying to find my niche. A hectic home-life did not help this any, and after many unsuccessful attempts at finding out who I was, I began to despair. At this point, I think I was quite possibly at my lowest.
Forced anorexia, an abusive lifestyle and self-harm were the norm for me. At home, I was told that, at 5'10" I was much too large and was not allowed to eat more than once a week; I was given a fair amount of chores, as it would "build character" and whenever I disobeyed, or did not perform up to the standards that were set for me, I was punished. Sometimes, this was mild, and others, it was brutal, leading to fractures, welts, bruises and lacerations. I began to believe that I was indeed at fault for my so-called failures, and in turn, punished myself, turning to razor-blades, sharp needles, and anything else that I could find to make myself feel better. One day, I blacked-out in gym class, and when I was revived, there was a group of concerned girls standing around me. The teacher asked me what was up, and when I tried to tell her it was nothing, she pointed out some small scabs on my side, where my shirt had ridden up, and the fact that my ribs were sticking out. She took me to the caf, got me some orange juice and some hash browns, and then called off the rest of my classes for the week. I spent the rest of that week, and a fair bit of time over the next few months with my guidance counsellor, and some "specialists" that were brought in. The infamous turning-point had arrived, and soon thereafter, I moved out, and I have not looked back since, although I have had a few relapses. That's not to say that I knew where I fit in just yet, but it was a start. Fast-forward a few years, and I have discovered the beauty of piercings. I supplement this with tattoos and begin to understand the joys of loving one's body for the beauty it is, regardless of the state it's in. I realize that there is a community of people who think more like I do, and that I am not the anomaly that some of my friends have begun to suspect that I am.
Thankfully, one day, I found BME on the web, and have been able to learn more about what I have grown to love. And again, my eyes are opened to a whole new world of possibilities. There's more out there than tattooing and piercing? And how! I began to see that some of the things I have always fantasized about are more than mere fantasies. And then, I find scarification. At first, the idea of purposely hurting myself again scares the shit out of me, but the beauty of a thing that can be so terribly traumatic on one's body and mind ensnares me.
I have begun to contemplate this on a more serious level. I start thinking of designs and placement options. I still haven't thought of anything definite, when I see an ad for Scar Wars. This is it! This is how I want to do this. I want to be surrounded by people that will not judge me, and who will see and understand the aesthetic value. Unfortunately, I only found out about this event a week before it took place, and was still a little shy about the idea. I began to feel out for friends who might have a similar interest to either partake of the experience with me, or at least to be there as support. I let Scar Wars slide from my mind, and focused on more tangible options. Several more months pass, and much contemplation. I decided that a piece on my back would be best, as I had an existing scar from a childhood accident that I wanted to turn into something that I could love for the rest of my life, rather than be ashamed of.
This was as far as my mental preparation had gotten when opportunity knocked again. Scar Wars 2 was being talked about, and I knew that if I didn't get my shit together, I would never be able to do it. I spoke to my piercer, who also happened to be listed as one of the attending scarification artists, and we discussed design options. Basically it came down to some wings, or a lotus flower. I wanted something fairly simple, and not too large, but I also wanted it to blend in with what was already in the center of my back. I registered and paid. I spent some more time discussing the design with my chosen artist. Having Jesse work on my back made the most sense to me, as I knew and trusted him. He has a professionalism that can not easily be equalled, his shop is immaculate, and still he manages to make people feel comfortable and at home while he is altering their bodies.
Over the next few weeks, I spent a lot of time reflecting on the past, and what this would mean to me. There was no turning back from something like this, and if I was going to do this to myself, I wanted to be able to get some closure. If I was to let someone cut me, then I wanted it to signify the true end of my cycle of self-harm. I made a promise that there would be no more ugliness in my life, and that no matter what happens, I would always think back to how I reclaimed my body through another's hands and artistry.
I meditated a lot during this time as well.
Every time I spoke to Jesse, the idea of going back on my plans was becoming less of an option. And as the fear grew inside me of what I might be putting myself through, so did the design for my back. By the time we were booking flights and hotels, what had originally been planned for my mid and upper back became a piece that would start from my hips and go on up to my neck. And every time options were discussed, I reassured myself inside that it would all be O.K and told Jesse that I trusted his judgement and gave him full artistic licence within the boundaries that I had set: not too far on to my sides, and it has to flow with my existing scar. I think I said this more than was necessary, but it was mostly to reassure myself. I also forced myself to find as many procedural videos, photographs and experiences as I could and study them. I wanted to be prepared in any way that I could. Eventually the day came that I had to get up at 3:30 am to board that plane to Los Angeles, and it seemed that the time flew by me in a blur. Now I was more nervous of the flight than I was of the pending event, and I am more than grateful that I had a friend with me for the ride. Landing in Los Angeles seemed so surreal, and from the moment the plane touched down, I began to feel more inner calm. I was no longer worried about anything, and I had faith that regardless of what happened, this trip was going to be a milestone in my life. The following day, I headed over to the place where Scar Wars was to take place with another girl who was attending the event, and thankfully sharing her hotel room with me. When we arrived, there were so many beautiful people sitting outside, and I had no clue what to say to any of them. I knew nobody, and nothing. I was out of my element, and it made me a little quiet. I wanted to know these people, but more than anything else, I wanted to begin the work that was ahead. When the artist's arrived, things began to take shape, and I was smoking about 10 times what I would usually smoke. When Jesse called me from inside and told me that we were going to start drawing the stencil on my back, I finished my smoke, knowing that it could be the last for a few hours, and headed inside, breathing deeply and evenly, preparing for the worst. I watched another cutting begin as I was drawn on, and many people had their input.
Then the time came when I had to sit on a massage table with my back to the room and let Jesse work his magic. The ventilation was less than perfect, and the room was crowded full of people that I did not know, but it was just right for me. However, as the scalpel first hit my skin to begin etching the design, I began to wonder if I could actually do this. The blade was sharp and hot, and it went a lot deeper than I had ever put it when I had cut myself. It was the most exquisitely painful thing I had felt in a long time. As time went on, and the etching progressed, I drank a lot of fluids, meditated a lot and spent more of my energy than was strictly necessary staring at the sculpture on the wall in front of me that reminded me of pulling. I believe it was called "Trust." I had to brace myself with my arms against the table to keep from pulling away, and I ended up ripping through the drop cloth under me.
By the time the etching was done, I was more than ready to let Jesse spray on some anaesthetic. As a matter of fact, I think I asked him several times if he would spray it on early. Discovery: plastic wrap is not as comfortable as one might think. After about fifteen minutes, the magic juice had done its job, and Jesse began to deepen and widen the lines of the flames, petals and leaves of my lotus. I was now able to talk to people a little more easily, and did so at intervals. I knew that this was a social atmosphere, but at times I just wanted to be left alone to sit inside my own head.
After several hours of this, I am getting tired and antsy. To top it all off, I really have to pee. A break is at hand, and I rejoice inside at the idea of a moment's reprieve. More spray is applied to my back, and a layer of plastic wrap to protect me and others from cross-contamination. I leave the table, and when I return, I hop up on the table, and Jesse proceeds to unwrap me and work some more. I think after that first break, the rest of the day became a bit of a blur. Nothing follows any sequential order in my mind. I have been trying to piece it all together in my head as best as I can for over a week now, and still there are inconsistencies.
At many points, Jesse asked how I was doing, and I mostly replied that I was fine. As we neared completion of the line-work and prepared for the flesh removal that would highlight the petals and leaves, Jesse asked what my thoughts were on having another artist or two work on my back. He suggested Wayde Dunn, and I told him that I would trust his judgement, and that anything to speed up the process was fine by me. We decided that Wayde would be perfect to work on my back and then suggested another attending artist who was not working at the time. At this point, the sun was already down, and the space had cleared out a little bit. The other suggested artist had already vacated the space, and so it was to be Jesse and Wayde who finished my cutting. My body began to feel the physical reverberations of the mental and emotional drain that I had been going through thus far, and when the line-work was complete and we took another break, I was swaying on my feet, and was kindly asked that next time I chose to walk somewhere that I should be accompanied. I said that I would, with a vow that there would be no more breaks involved. I just wanted everything to be finished so I could go back to the hotel and sleep.
Wayde came over and as he and Jesse set up a new work station with better light, I had to re-convince myself that this last part was nothing, and that it had to be done. At least I was going to be able to lay down for a bit.
I laid on the table on my stomach, with one hot guy to my left, and one hot guy to my right; both wearing masks and gloves and wielding blades in their hands.
What I had experienced thus far could not have prepared me for what I was about to plunge head-first into. As they prepared the lines surrounding the pieces that were to be brutally torn from my body, I was calm, but as they began to pull on the skin and cut underneath it, I wanted to scream. I couldn't fathom how so many people had done this before me, or how some could actually enjoy the feeling of it. It was excruciating!
As I was asked more and more frequently by others how I was doing, if I was O.K, or if I needed anything a hand or a drink, perhaps? I wanted more and more for it to all stop. I tried to concentrate my focus elsewhere, but there was no way to do this for me. Meditation was the next step, and although the breathing calmed me, I was tethered to my body, for better or for worse, to know what I was doing to myself. I just wanted these brutal people hacking my back apart to stop, and I began to regret this decision I had made. As the pain drilled farther into me, I had to work hard to hold back the tears, and at one point, I asked them to stop for a moment. Shortly after this, I think that I began to cry. I was told that these first tears took over seven hours to come to my eyes, and when I stopped the flow of waterworks, I was a little better off inside my head again.
There was a break for food, and I forced down some cheese pizza that had been set aside for us by some very thoughtful staffers and/or attendees. I asked how much longer this was going to continue, and was informed that there was just over three petals left to remove. We cleaned up a bit and went back inside to finish the job once and for all, and I told them both that I did not want to take another break. Lying back on the table with sustenance inside me, I was a little calmer again, and this time when they began to pull and slice, I thought deeply about where I had been in this life of mine, and where I expect to go. There are no definite answers in there, but I began to realize that if nothing else, I was going to be me, and I was going to love me. I would no longer hurt myself in any form, and that meant that those back home that had been destructive forces in my life were no longer going to have any power over me either. If I wanted to get a tattoo, then I would, and think nothing of the consequences, because if someone else was not pleased with what I hold dear to me, then they did not need to be part of my life. The same rule began to apply to everything else in my life, and the disapproval I was facing from my family and peers melted from my mind.
When I was told that all was finished, they cleaned me up, and Jesse mercifully applied one final pass of anaesthetic spray to my back. Pictures were taken by many and I was bandaged in preparation for the night ahead. I thankfully found a group of people staying at the same hotel as myself, and hopped into their van, promising others that I would return tomorrow, and promising myself that I would sleep for a thousand years. I got into my room where my cell-mate and fellow victim was already sleeping, and carefully lowered myself onto the bed. Sleep came quickly, and I never even woke once to rehydrate myself.
That first morning was a gathering of the best and the worst things I could ever have experienced. Waking early and thirstier than I had ever been, I downed a large bottle of water, and tried to read and relax until the girl in the next bed woke up. I felt surprisingly refreshed, even after sweating for an entire day while my body was mutilated and torn, and I was restless. I was also dreading the first shower, as I was informed by many that this experience would be the worst by far. Instead of a shower, I went for a walk, and bought bandages, medical tape and plastic wrap to care for my back and my newfound friend's leg. I also ate a large helping of fresh fruit that morning before I could even bring myself to face what I knew was inevitable. Eventually, I showered under a light, tepid stream of water. It was painful, but I still think that the process of flesh removal is more painful by far.
The next few days were wonderful, and I felt better than I had in years. This feeling of well-being despite the trauma I had undergone grew as the days progressed and I made connections with those who chose to be a part of something both terrible and wonderful.
The time there went almost too fast, and even though Los Angeles itself was less than idyllic, the people and experiences made all the difference. I was beginning to dread leaving this behind and returning to my mundane life.
Just over a week later, and it seems that even at home, things have changed around me. I am aware of the odd looks I get from those that know what I did to my body, and at work I am treated as a bit of a circus act. At home, my mother tsks and tells me I'm stupid for doing this to my body, but helps me care for it to prevent infection anyways. My father pops in online via my younger sister only to tell me that he is disappointed in me and that he does not wish to speak to me for a while. And this doesn't bother me. The only one that really digs deep is knowing that my boyfriend, whom I love and respect, can not bring himself to tell me that he is unhappy. But even this, I am going to let go. We discussed the ramifications of this, and I will give him time to understand my needs, but in the end, I made a promise to myself and I plan on keeping it. The healing that had to be done on the inside has started, and now I simply must wait for the outside to follow suit. I have received something far more important to me than what I ever expected. I wanted to reclaim my body and my mind as my own, but in the end, I have been given a beautiful piece of art that will last a life time, and something far less tangible a sense of self-worth and peace. And as an added bonus, I have walked away with new friends and an experience to remember forever. No, I do not think that I would ever undergo this again, but I don't need to. I feel more complete.
And I am eternally grateful to those who were there when it took place, those who have understood my want for something more, and those who helped: organizers, staff, and most especially Jesse and Wayde for their amazing skill and ability to bring spiritual healing without propaganda.
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I- I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.1
- Robert Frost, "The Road Not Taken," Mountain Interval (Henry Holt and Company, 1920; Bartleby.com, 1999.)
submitted by: Anonymous
on: 28 Feb. 2006