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Suspended Disbelief?

For the record, I am not a thrill-seeker. I have never been on a rollercoaster, nor have I ever jumped off anything taller than myself. If anything, I have been the complete opposite for most of my life: a rather nervous and fearful person. Fear, however, is no fun to live with and when I started getting involved with body modification, I experienced, for the first time, some sort of respite from my fears. I took things that scared me – pain, being 'different', making decisions that had permanent consequences (in the form of tattoos), even needles – and embraced them; turned them into friends. I can't say when the turning point was, but I decided to use my fears to make me stronger, as opposed to letting them keep me weak.

Initially, suspension held little appeal to me. I suppose, at that stage, I could not understand the point of having nothing to show for the pain – no 'souvenir' in the form of ink or metal. I liked the physical validation of tattoos and piercings because I could show the world how strong I was. It was only when I had decided that I wanted to show myself how strong I was, that suspension began to intrigue me. Having gone through years of hating my body because of constant, crippling stomach problems and the immense fear that came about as a result of feeling that I had no control over my body, it was vital to me that I could prove to myself that my body was still my own and that I was in control: pain could elevate me.

It was in the earlier parts of last year that I started researching suspension. Dragon's (the piercing and tattoo parlour that I go to) is the home of the Sacred Souls suspension group and I knew that, were I to go ahead with it, it would be with them. I decided that the familiarity of the faces and the studio would be reassuring, which seemed an important necessity for a first time suspension. After a few months of reading experiences, looking at photos (and noticing the generally blissful facial expression of the person hanging from hooks), researching the possible risks and trying to develop a better relationship with my own body, I decided on September/October. I turned 21 in October and I thought that a suspension would be a memorable and significant birthday present to myself.

It was round about July or August when I approached Marius and Vicky – the owners of Dragon's - with the idea. I told them that I wanted to do a suicide suspension, as I felt that minimal hooks and being upright was probably the best initiation into suspending. They didn't question my decision at all, but were rather amazed that a small quiet girl such as myself was interested in hanging from hooks. They told me that they had only attempted to suspend one girl so far (suspension is not common in South Africa) and that she had passed out before her feet left the floor. This didn't scare me: instead it made me more determined to go through with it and to get my mind around any physical factors which would hold me back.

We scheduled a flesh pull for the end of August because they wanted me to get a feel for the hooks before going through with the actual suspension at the end of September. The flesh pull was incredible and physically affirming in such a good way and after that I could not wait to suspend. It offered me the confidence that I would be able to manage a suspension and I stopped feeling so let down by my body.

The four weeks until my suspension were filled with anticipation, impatience and a certain amount of disbelief. Was I really going to hang through hooks that were skewered through the flesh of my back? The countdown down to a week, I started drinking a mixture of lemon juice and molasses twice a day. Marius told me that it would cleanse my system, and he confided that he was sure it made skin a little more flexible. Not that I needed that: my pull had confirmed that I have skin like a puppy – easy to pinch and pull, and generally quite malleable. It was quite gross to drink, but I forced it down, safe in the knowledge that I was preparing for this to my best ability.

In no time at all they day arrived. I was scheduled to meet Marius and Vicky at the studio at 18:30. About an hour and a half before the time, I had a long, hot shower to help me relax and I got dressed in comfortable pants and a halter-neck top (so that it wouldn't get in the way of the hooks). I also took a warm hoodie with, as it was one of those chilly Spring evenings. Unable to think of anything else that I could take with or do to prepare, my friend (who doubled up as moral support, photographer and driver) and I set off.

We arrived a little early and had to wait a few minutes for Marius and Vicky to arrive. In that time, I got more and more nervous and stood pacing backwards and forwards outside the shop. After what seemed like an eternity, yet right on time, they arrived. We said our hellos and chatted about nothing in particular while they opened up the shop and put on the cd that I had brought with (Christian Death – Catastrophe Ballet). All the while, I was pacing. Even though I was mentally calm and prepared, the adrenaline already coursing through my body seemed to indicate otherwise.

Eventually, tired of retracing the same path on the studio floor over and over again, I sat down on one of the big leather couches in the front room. We all watched as Marius set up the rig, hypnotised by the motion and the sound of Rozz Williams crooning tragically over the speakers. As he finished setting up, Vicky got to work in the piercing studio, setting out the clamps, sealed needles and hooks on a clean paper towel. Marius had decided that a six-point suicide suspension would ultimately be most comfortable for me as the weight of my body would be supported by more than the four hooks I had expected and thus, I would feel less pressure.

We all moved through to the piercing studio, where I took off my warm top and climbed onto the bed. I lay on my stomach with my eyes closed and my mind drifting, as Marius and Vicky massaged my back to loosen it up. I willed myself not to be nervous, and they both reassured me that I had nothing to worry about and would be entirely in control the whole time. I could take things at my own speed and according to my own comfort and I was relieved not to feel at all pressurised. They were entirely supportive and I have no doubt that they would've remained so, even if I had backed out at that stage.

However, I wasn't going to back out and once they were done rubbing my back, Marius got out a red sharpie marker so that he could draw the placement lines. I sat up as straight as I could and looked ahead as he did so, and in a few moments he was done. I was instructed to lie back down. I put my hands under my head and lay flat on my stomach, glancing with some tentativeness as the six 10g needles and the six 10g hooks. I reassured myself that it would not be too bad, even though I had never been pierced more than twice in one sitting, and told them that I was ready.

Getting the hooks in was pretty much the same as any piercing procedure. Marius put on a fresh pair of gloves and clamped the middle left spot first. The clamps were a little pinchy, but thankfully didn't hurt. 'Okay,' said Marius, 'take a deep breath in and then let it out slowly.' I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply. I exhaled as slowly and evenly as I could and felt Marius pushing the needle through the flesh of my back. It was not the quick, painful sting you come to expect from a body piercing, but more a feeling of immense pressure. I could feel the weight Marius had to put behind that needle in order to push it all the way through as quickly as possible. It was not comfortable and I even muttered some 'ouch ouch ouch'-ing while he was busy. He quickly followed through with the hook, which was also rather unpleasant, but I quickly got used to the feeling.

The next three hooks proceeded in much the same manner. Inhale, exhale, pierce and follow through. Before I really knew it, the inside left, inside right and middle right hooks were in place. I was aware, however, that each piercing was more uncomfortable than the last and by this stage I was feeling pretty agitated. I was even starting to dread the last two, outermost piercings. The right outermost piercing was next. Again, the procedure was the same, but this one was definitely the most painful and I clenched my teeth as the needle went through and was very relieved once the hook was in place.

Then there was a pause: 'Hmmm... I don't like the way that hook is sitting. It looks too shallow.' I was unable to see what was going on back there and somewhat confused. Marius explained that the hook was not as deep as he would've liked it and instead of repiercing and traumatising the area even more, he was just going to remove that one and I would do a 4-point suspension instead. Seeing as this was what I had initially expected, as well as the fact that I wouldn't have to go through any more piercings, I was more than happy to agree to this. Marius took the hook out and cleaned a few drops of blood away from the puncture wounds. I got up, a little shakily, and looked over my shoulder into the mirror. Who would've thought that surgical steel hooks could look so good embedded in the flesh of my back? Now I was almost ready to hang.

We headed back to the front room, where the rig was hanging from the ceiling. I stood underneath it, as Marius tied the rope to the hooks in my back and the corresponding sections of the rig. Even the slight tugging on the hooks as he secured them to what looked like a medieval torture device felt weird: sore, but kind of cool too. Vicky gave me a Coca Cola to sip while I waited for him to finish up, as I was feeling unexpectedly shaky. The coldness of the liquid in my dry mouth and the sugar instantly perked me up.

Once everything was securely in place, it was time for the part that I had been most excited and most anxious about: it was time to go up. I told Marius that I wanted to take it slowly and no one rushed me. He started 'winching' me up (I don't know the technical term) and Victoria stood in front of me and held my hands to keep me stable. It was so important to have someone standing in front of me to look me in the eye and physically support me in that moment. As the ropes tightened and the hooks started pulling, I slowly rose to my toes, all the while trying not to let the awkward feeling of the hooks pulling me up by the flesh become an obstacle.

Soon I got to a point where I couldn't rise any higher on my toes and it was time to will myself to lift my feet off the ground. This was not easy. I leaned into Vicky so that I would not feel unbalanced as I left the solid reassurance of terra firma. With much support and encouragement from the people around me, I lifted my toes and started hanging from the hooks. One obstinate toe kept looking for the ground, but eventually Marius had lifted me high enough to prevent any further contact with the studio floor.

At this point I was far too tense. Although I felt mentally fine, my body would not believe it. The physical feeling of hanging there was beyond intense: all my muscles felt tight, and despite my best efforts not to, I was holding my breath. Vicky was very sweet and kept telling me how well I was doing and that I just had to relax and go with it. I sipped some Coke, closed my eyes and did my best to breathe and transcend the pain.

After breathing deeply and consciously relaxing my tensed muscles, I really started to get into the suspension and the feeling of weightlessness. The pain from the hooks, although still there was starting to feel like it existed on entirely another level from the one that I was on. I kicked my legs out and swung slowly and happily in mid-air. I felt the calm that I had seen on everyone's suspension photos – this is what I had been looking for. Unfortunately, I was only hanging a little over five minutes before I started to get dizzy. Everything looked really bright and all lines were too sharp. I've never passed out, so I don't know if I was close or not. However, the dizziness was overwhelming and I did not want to ruin my first suspension by passing out in mid-air, so I decided it was time to descend; to come down.

I held onto Vicky as Marius lowered me back down. Despite the short duration of my hang, I felt euphoric and unbelievably proud of myself. I was exhausted, but it was the kind of post-achievement tiredness that feels so good, so right and so justly deserved. Back on the ground, the floor felt alien beneath my feet, as I walked back to the piercing room.

The hook removal went by quickly. Once the hooks were out, Marius and Vicky cleaned the wounds, although they had hardly bled at all. They then massaged the area to get any air trapped under the skin (or 'rice crispies' because they feel and sound so crackly) out – that was rather fun. I was then bandaged up, which seemed ridiculous for such tiny holes, and got back into my warm hoodie, so that my body would not go into shock after the physical 'trauma'.

Thereafter we hung out (haha) at the studio, just chatting and enjoying ourselves. My energy levels soared back up, and by the time we left I felt superhuman – just the same as when I'd done my flesh pull. The next few days were possibly the most 'zen' I have ever experienced. I felt capable of dealing with anything and nothing could phase me. My daily stresses were all still there, but now I was 'seeing' them differently; seeing how small and insignificant they were. Life is all about moments and I think the greatest moment is when you're stripped of all ego, of all awareness of yourself and your issues and insecurities, and you just are. I think my suspension was the closest I have ever come to that.

What follows is the entry from my personal journal post-suspension:

I'm trying so hard to find the words to describe my suspension, but I can't. It was beyond words. Beyond words because how do you describe something that new to you; a feeling that unique? Details are possible, but I don't think I'll ever be able to recreate that mental space you enter when you are absolutely weightless. It's as close to perfect as you can be in a body.

Details

submitted by: Anonymous
on: 11 April 2006
in Ritual

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Artist: Marius
Studio: Dragon%27s
Location: SW%2C+South+Africa

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