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"My God, do you learn...."

"Experience, that most brutal of teachers...but you learn, my God, do you learn..." C.S. Lewis

As with many middle-class white girls, my first brush with self-mutilation occurred in high school...the combined stress of trying not to utterly fail algebra (which, truth be told, I hardly even bothered to complete my nightly homework...I simply didn't give two shits about the class...) and rejection after rejection from boys with whom I allowed myself to become obsessively infatuated....the problems were mostly of my own creating, though my narrow, self-centered perspective at the time could hardly bring me to that realization...from self-inflicted problems, I moved seamlessly into self-inflicted bodily mutilations.

After the intervention of years since graduation, I can't truly recall my initial inspiration to take fire to skin...I had a friend in a grade below mine who recounted grisly tales of cutting her legs with blunt scissors at thirteen. Perhaps it was just a fad, a way to be "acceptable" within my group of friends, many of whom were considered "unbalanced" and made routine visits to their shrinks...my girlfriends and I even went through a phase where we'd decided to become anorexic and proceeded to compete to see who could eat the least for the longest period of time. Ever-competitive, I won, refusing food for days before allowing myself a few spoonfulls of yoghurt. I don't believe that "fad" lasted more than a month, but there were seeds sewn within my mind, seeds of self-abuse, coupled with my inherent extremism...no matter the situation, it somehow became competitive to me...I had decided to wound myself, and if Elaine could cut herself with dull scissors, I had to find a way to make MY affected despair that much more dramatic. Thus began the destruction of my shallow high-school life.

I began to burn myself sometime in January of 2001. I was a junior at the time. At first, I could hardly bring myself to hold the extinguished match-ember against my wrist...but, as the winter progressed, the holes in my wrist and shoulder multiplied and multiplied, as i progressed to taking pressing still-flaming matches, then, sometimes, lighters, to my flesh. I was obsessed...hardly a day went past that I could bear the absence of flame. Truly, it is as much of an addiction--and as hard to relinquish--as alcoholism.

I became more creative with the burning after graduation, when I was out of the house and no longer had to fear my parent's detection, experimenting with different metal objects heated brand-hot over candles...forks left the most impressive marks. My favorite tool became the round metal ends on my coloured pencils...they provided a satisfyingly painful, perfectly spherical burn. The scars are extensive...hard, raised orbs cover my left shoulder. my wrist is a battle ground of assorted scars from many nights when I found that twenty or thirty burns weren't enough...I had created an ineradicable bracelet of pain. Those times, I had many reasons for the burning: my roommate-boyfriend monopolized all my free time...I burned myself in anger. I couldn't transfer the images in my head onto canvas...I burned out of frustration. I was drunk...I burned to see if I could feel through the numbness. I was bored. I burned. The pain after such nights was immense and constant..at first, my flesh was a mass of blisters, and after they burst, the fabric of my clothing clung to the raw flesh beneath....There were times when it hurt so much I cried and cursed my idiocy at creating such pain...yet I always returned to the flame. I thought myself clever as I discovered the finer points of concealment: never, never to wear a tank top, wrist bands or duct tape wrapped around the wrist, and, when the wounds transgressed my thighs, I gave up on wearing shorts entirely.

I am still half in love with the intensity of focus, the endorphin rush, the crystal-pinpoint pain bestowed upon me by the flame. I do not indulge my urges every time, however... It is a burden I can never escape as long as I am attached to this body. In that way, it is much the same as any form of bodily modification.....only the stigmata attached to this form of flesh-alteration is inescapable...I encounter dozens of non-modified people who see my tattoos and do not judge me every day...but these same people, when encountered with my branded flesh, look at me with pity or revulsion. It seems that it can be acceptable to wound yourself if the product is beauty (aka, a tattoo or a piercing), but when the mark is merely the by-product of a pain that was embraced for it's own merits, it becomes a disagreeable, shameful thing. I cannot go into public without disguising my wrist. I have, however, begun wearing tank tops again. Like my ink, those scars are very much mementos of where my life has lead me, and although I may only very rarely encounter one who approaches those scars with understanding, they are part of this body I inhabit, and their existence cannot be denied forever.

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submitted by: nightshaded
on: 11 March 2006
in Ritual

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