Sunday, 16 May 2010
When my parents were growing up, they were both part of large, very conservative families on plots of land that have been passed down for generations. My dad grew up bailing hay, and my mom fed chickens. They were part of very traditional Christian families who believed in the proverb from the Bible, “spare the rod and spoil the child,” meaning a child who didn’t get spanked would become spoiled. They were both spanked as children and they believed it would be beneficial to my brother and me.
It worked, I suppose, for a time. When I was a small child, I suppose it deterred me from some deviant behavior. However, as I got a little older, into my tween and teenage years, spankings got a little harsher and a little more violent. Instead of learning to be honest and respectful, I learned to hide things from my parents to avoid spankings. As a matter of fact, once I started high school, the only thing I ever got spankings for was being disrespectful to my mother. That was something I could not hide and my father could not tolerate. Things got ugly, to say the least.
Some say that spankings provide an immediate consequence to children who might not understand that their actions have delayed consequences. And for some, it becomes only a threat. For me, it taught me that when I do something wrong, there needs to be immediate painful punishment. When I was young, it was provided by my father. As I got older, I got better at lying and hiding things from my parents. Often, even if I did get in trouble, the consequences were just yelling and disappointment. Usually, that painful punishment had to come from somewhere else.
I first heard about cutting from a friend of mine my sophomore year of high school. She was a year ahead of me in school and I liked her a lot. We were both staying the night at a mutual friend’s house when she brought it up. She mentioned it in passing and said there was a book she had read that really helped her. I was intrigued, so I found the book and read it. I thought it was creepy at the time and it passed my mind.
Junior year of high school, I was involved in a lot of stuff I wasn’t altogether comfortable with. I was dating a boy I had no interest in who smoked and drank and ended up dropping out of school after that year. He was sweet but unnecessary. I also was hanging out with a bunch of people I didn’t really like or agree with, but since my best friend hung out with them, so did I. I was doing things I didn’t like that I knew my parents wouldn’t like, but since I didn’t really have any other options, and I personally wasn’t doing anything bad, I didn’t tell anyone. I still felt guilty.
I hated feeling that way and tried to push it down as much as I could. One day, right as spring break was starting, something in me snapped. To this day, I couldn’t tell you what it was, but all of a sudden, I didn’t feel anything. It was great at first. I didn’t feel guilty about my friends. It didn’t hurt when my dad yelled. It didn’t bother me when I felt like a third wheel around my best friend. Then, things got a little scary. I could not feel anything. I didn’t love my parents, or my friends, or anyone. I couldn’t feel happy or sad. I didn’t feel anything at all. It reminded me of when my foot would fall asleep. I would stand and try to walk on it but it didn’t feel like anything was there. If I stubbed my toe, I knew it should hurt, but I didn’t feel anything.
One night, my dad yelled at me about some very personal things and it really should have hurt, but it didn’t. About half an hour later, I was still trying to handle what had happened and he was asleep as though it didn’t affect him at all. I went into the bathroom I shared with my brother. I picked up his pocket knife out of a drawer and sliced my left forearm just in front of my elbow. It bled a little and as it did, I could feel every negative emotion in the world flow out of my arm and soak in a little bunch of tissue I had in my hand. As I threw it away, I felt my head clear and my heart lighten. All of a sudden, I was sleepy. I went to bed, never having felt better in all my life. That night started a terrible habit.
My battle with cutting raged on through my first year of college. There were times it was really bad and times it was all but gone. I met my best friend the summer before I started college and she helped me through so much. For half the first semester and through the entire second semester, I wore long pants and either a hoodie or wrist bands on my arms to hide the hundreds of marks that covered my arms and legs. When I finally did show my arms, I would keep them hidden against my body as much as possible, although with the help of my best friend, I was eventually able to be ok around my small group of friends at school.
When I decided to quit, it took many tries before I got it right and even then, it was about four months before things got any easier. When you’re addicted to something, it’s no big deal to do it and you almost don’t even think about it, but when you decide to quit, for a while, it consumes all your thoughts and everything you do. It is hard and painful. Eventually it became easier and over the last two years, I have been relatively ok thanks to the out pour of love I received both from my best friend and from God. The verses in the Bible that talk about us being healed and made right by the blood of Christ meant so much more to me. All along, I had been trying to heal myself with my own blood. Christ was tortured so I didn’t have to torture myself. God says blood is necessary for the forgiveness of sins, but it is His blood that was shed for me. I was overwhelmed, wash, soaked, marinated in love. It was that love, God’s love, showered on me from the bible and my wonderful best friend that gave me the courage and strength to stop hurting myself.
However, it always felt like there was a trick; like something out there was waiting for me to slip up. It felt like walking on ice. Eventually you get the hang of it, but there is still always the very real possibility that you will fall and fall hard.
On Tuesday, I got a tattoo that I have been wanting for a long time. It is the Greek word for unconditional or God’s love, “agape” on my left wrist. I first wanted the tattoo when I first started to quit. However, at the time I knew I would have to quit before I got it. Slicing up my wrist would ruin the tattoo. I was so nervous; I almost didn’t go through with it. Once the tattoo artist got started, I knew I had made the right choice. Most people choose not to get tattoos for two reasons: they hurt and they are permanent. For me, those were my two reasons to get one. The marks on my arms are all but permanent. When I was cutting, once my scars would start to fade, I had to make new ones to cover them. I wanted the scars. The scars reminded me that it really happened; that my pain was real. They reminded me of how hard I fought to stay alive.
The tattoo itself felt so familiar. The area it covers is an area that was highly abused by razor blades. Wrists are wrinkly by nature and highly vascular. These factors combined meant that if I made small, numerous cuts, they would bleed a lot for a time, and if I took care of them right away, the next day I could pass them off as dry, flaky skin. The tattoo felt like a thousand tiny cuts, only this time instead of spelling out pain, they spell out God’s love. His love has covered my pain. Now, when someone looks at my left arm, instead of seeing marks of madness, they will see God’s love. When I’m upset and considering screwing up everything I’ve worked for these last two years, I can see God’s love shining from my arm. In the place that was the source of most of my pain, sin, sadness, and shame, God’s love now burns brightly. I used to teeter on slick ice, craving pain and imagining the blood flow but my bloodlust has been satisfied. God’s love has covered it all.
What did your first tattoo mean? If you don't have a tattoo, do you have something that symbolizes a struggle that you've overcome?