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Trial by fire - my DIY strike brand.

I've never seen pain as something to be feared. Instead, pain seems to me to be something that can be used to reach important conclusions, clarify decisions, and maybe even (at the risk of sounding a little clichéd) transcend the mundane and everyday to catch a brief glimpse of something beyond our normal perception.

I have always been fascinated by fire and its various properties, and in my early teens I was the sort of kid who would sit for hours passing my fingers through the flame of a lighter until I got blisters, marveling at the fire. So it should come as no surprise that my first "heavier" modification (in other words, not a piercing or a small stretch) was a strike brand. I had decided I wanted to do something to mark how far I had come in the preceding year. I had cleaned up a lot of my interpersonal relationships, graduated from high school, moved out, stopped doing drugs, and started university, all of which had involved many (painful) personal changes. I wanted to mark myself in some way to remind myself of what I had overcome. I wanted a sort of permanent reminder of my abilities and potential for strength... something that would lift me up every time I saw it and help me keep going.

I decided on a relatively simple design, since I had never branded myself (or anyone else) before, and my range of tools was limited, to say the least. I chose 3 circles in a vertical line – a large one in the middle and two smaller ones on the top and bottom. To me, this represented the 3 stages of life I had gone through so far: the first small circle was my childhood and lack of awareness of the world around me. The second circle – and the largest – was the stage I had most recently left: my adolescence, involving depression, unwise choices and change; lots of painful change, hence its large size – it would be the most painful of the brands. The third circle represented the stage I was just entering: university, confidence, pure living and new beginnings. I marked the area in the middle of my chest, tried to put myself into as calm and centred a state as possible, and figured I was as ready as I would ever be.

Aside from marking, there wasn't much set-up to do, so I positioned a small mirror so I could see my own chest, and started heating up the head of the first nail. I held it in the flame with tweezers for a count of 60 and slowly brought it towards my chest. I could feel the heat radiating from the metal and had a moment of uncertainty, but I pressed the head of the nail to the first mark as hard as I could. Pain. Pain like white light radiating out from my centre, making me cry out involuntarily and clench my teeth. I could hear my skin hissing and felt it denting under the nail. I rode the wave and held the metal to my chest until the heat subsided. I looked in the mirror. A tiny, dark circle had appeared on the first mark; not a blister, much deeper than that. I was satisfied with the first one for now. I took a deep breath and started heating the second, larger nail head. I held it in the flame a little longer this time, because this was meant to be the biggest circle, the most painful. I pressed it to the mark. This time I was expecting the pain, but it still made me gasp. It took effort to hold the metal on my skin. I looked in the mirror again. This one didn't seem to be as deep as the last; there was a layer of skin like a blister over the burn, which I rubbed with my finger until it came off, before heating the nail again. I wanted this to be as permanent as possible. I pressed the hot metal back onto my chest, waited out the pain, and went on to the third and final mark. I heated the nail, held it to my skin, gasped, removed the metal. The blister seemed very shallow, so I rubbed off the first layer of skin and tried again. And again. It still didn't seem as good as the first, but I was getting light-headed. I then went over the first two circles again, holding the hot nail on now-numb burns for as long as I could. I sat down on the floor and closed my eyes, and it felt like the room was turning upside down. I decided this was enough for tonight. I had read about aftercare on the BME encyclopedia, so I rubbed some salt and Vaseline over the wounds, taped saran wrap over top, and went to bed. The next day I scrubbed off the proto-scabs in the shower with a clean toothbrush and sea salt, and continued to do so for the next month or so until the circles stopped shedding and started forming keloids.

The circles are now raised scar tissue, but the bottom-most one isn't as prominent as the top two, which seems to me to be appropriate... it represents the current stage of my life, so shouldn't it always need some correction, and a little special attention?

I've since added two vertical lines on either side of the circles, to represent the boundaries I've set for myself and the path I have chosen to follow, but that's another story.


submitted by: Anonymous
on: 24 April 2008
in Scarification

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