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Sutured Shut

2007 wasn't the best year for me, and I found that many of the troubles I had stemmed from how I interacted with those around me as well as what my general outlook on life was. As December drew to a close, I hoped to take some time to reflect on the year that was and think about the one to be. I'd wanted to do a lip sewing for a while (can't exactly say why; it just appealed to me), but wished to make it more of a symbolic ritual than a spectacle, and so was just looking for the right situation. It occurred to me that suturing my lips shut would give the perfect opportunity for the silent contemplation I felt I needed at the start of 2008. And I hadn't had anything else done for a while and was getting that itch. At the beginning of January, I sent a message to Stephen DeToma (iam: sacred), entrusted piercer, friend, and all-around good guy. I'd mentioned my interest in lip sewing to him before and he'd said he'd be glad to do it; I just had to let him know when I was ready. Well, I was. We set up a time for me to come to Anomaly after the shop had closed. And that was that. I was finally going to have my lips sutured shut. I got to the shop, not feeling very nervous at all, considering. I'd never had an oral piercing, but in reading experiences about them, I'd gathered that they're pretty low on the piercing-related pain scale. Not that pain really factors in very heavily for me. In fact, I consider it to be an essential part of the ritual, sometimes opening up avenues for exploration that would not be there otherwise. But that's neither here nor there.
Stephen sat me down and we went over how I wanted to do it. I'd never put much thought into the process, as what I would experience after all that was done was what I always focused my thoughts on. But, as he pointed out, this was my experience and he just wanted to make sure it went according to any plan that I might have for it. We decided to do four stitches, for a total of eight holes (getting slightly nervous now). They would be vertical and each would be done individually. He would pierce from the outside in on the top lip, from the inside out on the bottom lip, thread the suture through, tie it off, tighten it up, and move on to the next one. All I would have to do was lie there. Fine with me, I'm good at that. He took out the medical sutures that he'd managed to squirrel away and opened up the package. Inside the packet, along with the suture material, was a needle that would have been shamed by a small fishhook (of which its shape was very reminiscent). I'm no expert on sizes, but the thing couldn't have been any more than a 20 gauge. I began to wonder how Stephen's human-sized hands were going to be able to maneuver it, let alone pierce with it. But hey, the guy's a professional. He handed me a cup of mouthwash and had me swish it around for a minute. That done, he wiped down my lips and the area around my mouth very thoroughly. He took up the toothpick and the gentian violet and made the eight dots for the entry and exit points, taking care to make sure they were as symmetrical as could be. That done, he gave me the chance to check it out in a mirror to make sure all was done by my satisfaction. It was. We began. He had me lie back in the chair and begin the "about to be pierced" breathing cycle. Stephen uses the "three breaths in, pierce on the third breath out" system, which works great for me (I'm always very relaxed by that third breath and find that blowing the air out as the needle goes through helps "push out" the pain). The fishhook went in and...you've got to be kidding! I hardly even felt it! The suture was threaded through, and that was little more than a tugging on my lip. Set to position two, big breaths in, push the air out. Again, not much pain. He tightened the suture and I was left thinking that the way I felt must be what Sylvester Stallone feels every day: the right corner of my mouth just wasn't budging. The second one proved to be a bit trickier and never did tighten well, but by the third, Stephen had the method down and just breezed through the remaining two. All-in-all, it only took about thirty minutes from cleaning to tightening the final suture. And while none of them really hurt (and I was sure to take in the sensations as best I could, good or bad), by the fourth one, I was definitely glad that I didn't have more to go. I'd say that the most painful part of it was threading the sutures through the newly-poked holes, as occasionally it would tug and give me a bit of a jolt. But even then, it was nothing more than an annoyance. Sutures in, it was time for me to enjoy my few brief moments as one with lips forcibly shut. But first there were pictures to take! Rather than experience the moment, I was overcome with the overwhelming urge to document it. The piercing process had left me a bit hyper and I wanted to do anything but sit in quiet contemplation at that moment. After exhausting myself of different funny angles and camera settings, I sat back on the piercing chair, closed my eyes, and rested quietly, finally experiencing what having sutures holding my mouth shut really felt like. I tried running my tongue between my teeth and lips, but found that the suturing prevented even this simple action. I became grateful for the loose second suture, however, as the fact that it was not drawn taut meant that I could feel it with my tongue. I spent much of my "internal exploration" time running my tongue up and down the length of that particular stitch. From time to time, Stephen asked how I was doing, and I could only give non-verbal affirmations that all was well. I soon wanted to express more complex ideas, but of course was prevented from doing so. I could have written them down, I suppose, but that would have defeated the purpose. Finding new ways to get my messages across was half the fun, and Stephen was quite good at interpreting my silly hand signals. I'd been sure to drink plenty of water before hand, figuring I didn't want thirst to cut my experience short. What ended up being a bigger annoyance than I'd anticipated was the inability to lick my lips. They weren't getting dried out or chapped, but unconsciously moisturizing them with my tongue must be something that I do fairly often, as being unable to was driving me a bit crazy. After having them in for about half an hour, I figured I'd exhausted my options. I'd gone through having them put in, lived briefly with the inability to open my mouth, and taken plenty of pictures. At that point, I supposed I could either have them removed, or wear them for a long period of time to find out what further limitations would pop up. I briefly considered asking if I could wear them home and take them out myself, but I figured that was probably something better left to the professional. So I made a cutting gesture with my fingers which Stephen correctly interpreted. I lied back again and he got the cutting implement. I was expecting that pulling the suture material back out through the holes would sting at the very least. However, they were out in moments; so quickly and painlessly, in fact, that I kept my mouth shut for another half minute, thinking that they were still keeping it that way. Afterward, my lips were slightly swollen and lined with eight tiny dots, no larger than pinpricks. I had the faintest taste of blood on my tongue, which a sip of water quickly washed away. It was late and I was tired and still had my drive home ahead of me, so I thanked Stephen profusely, gave him his tip of Sailor Jerry rum, and headed out. By the time I'd gotten home (about half an hour later), my lips were back at their normal size and even the needle entry points had faded. I couldn't even make out where half of them had been! I was actually a bit disappointed, hoping that some physical remnant would be visible until at least the next morning. My lips didn't feel very tender on the outside, but on the inside, there were a couple of spots that felt a bit "chewed up," like I'd bitten my lip. Even that feeling didn't last more than a couple of days. So that was how I experienced a lip sewing. It wasn't exactly what I expected (and my resulting "deep thoughts" have yet to shatter the world), but I'm satisfied with how it transpired. And I still would like to try being shut for a longer period of time at some point in the future, perhaps as part of a suspension or other body ritual. Lastly, I'd like to say thank you to Stephen for helping me realize that particular dream. I shall be forever grateful.


submitted by: LotN
on: 07 Feb. 2008
in Ritual

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Artist: Stephen+DeToma
Studio: Anomaly
Location: Pasadena%2C+California

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