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significance

today, I got a whole bunch of ink injected into my left arm. because I am an adult and can spend money on WHATEVER I WANT (spoiler: what I want is rollerblades, tattoos, and platform shoes. I’d also like a mortgage or a car one day, but I’m only a millennial, what the fuck do I know). whilst getting a tattoo might seem like quite a run-of-the-mill activity for the everyday goth, this was such a significant event for me.

I began self-harming around eleven years ago. what started as a foolish copycat activity to fit in to a subculture became a desperate coping mechanism for much of my adolescent and adult life. I dealt with a lot of pain and sadness growing up that left me emotionally scarred and vulnerable. I adopted many destructive coping mechanisms to survive this pain, one of them being self-harm.

physical pain allowed me a release from the intense, swirling powerlessness I continued to feel on a daily basis into my twenties – sometimes it was in response to real, horrible situations (the suicide of a friend; sexual assault; impossibly painful relationships) and sometimes it was in response to my own overwhelmingly powerful negative feelings about myself. it most likely sounds completely warped to those who’ve never had the inclination to deal with intense emotional pain by digging sharp things into their skin*, but self-harm became a safe expression for me. a blunting tool for my suffering that ensured I didn’t hurt anyone I cared about with my blind rage; that I didn’t give in to abusing drugs and alcohol; that I didn’t make any rash decisions based on horrendous panic attacks triggered by childhood trauma. the “only” person it hurt was me, and as I literally did not care for myself in any way, I continued to use it to cope on and off until 2016.

*have you ever punched a wall whilst angry? said awful things to someone when heartbroken? felt like tearing your hair out when frustrated? gone out on a drink and coke binge after a really difficult day at work in order to ignore your pervasive ennui? then yeah… you’ve either self-harmed or at least thought about it. sorry bro.

whist 29th february 2016 is the official “end date”, I had been abstinent for two years prior to this, but I never really lost the urge to express my emotional pain physically; I just got better at ignoring it. up until that day, I still (and bear with me, because I know this sounds fucked up) dreamt of slicing open my arms and legs with razors any time I felt “unacceptable emotions” like anger, guilt, shame, sadness, depression, grief, disgust, self-loathing, et cetera, ad infinitum. it was 2016 that marked the final occasion I actually engaged with that dream, and it was during this final occasion – a single cut to my left arm – that I smashed headfirst and rudely into reality and felt the true horror of what I had done to myself. it was 2016 that I said no moreno more, not ever. 

I became interested in tattoo art at the age of about fourteen, probably. I drew pages of tattoo ideas in my journal and wrote long, excessively complicated lists about the anime characters and cradle of filth lyrics I was going to have indelibly inked onto my skin as soon as I turned eighteen. thankfully I grew up (a bit) and have since acquired several beautiful pieces. I was always desperate to have my forearms done (prime tattoo real-estate) but one reason stuck in my mind every time an artist suggested placing a design on one of them.

I was absolutely terrified of losing the space where I inflicted injuries upon myself. most people can probably relate to the feeling of losing something important – imagine the child when they start realising they’ve lost their mother in the shopping centre. what is your safe place when you feel the worst that human emotion has to offer? perhaps it’s a parent, a grandparent, a peer. perhaps it’s drugs and alcohol. or perhaps an activity – say you play an instrument, or a sport. either way, this safe place is everything to you; it provides you release, focus, a way of feeling good; a distraction from your sadness, or your anger, or your heartbreak. perhaps, in dire times, it is the only way of feeling even moderately sane. a failsafe red-button. imagine the idea of never being able to access this, or similar, activities ever again. add to this a sense that awful, fucked-up things are just hovering round the corner from you at all times.

this was how I viewed my self-harming; the only way I could escape from torment. since the age of around seventeen my self-harm was infrequent, but I was still so attached to it. I felt, desperately, like I needed it. maybe not right this second; but at some point, in the near future, bad things, terrible things were going to happen, and what would I do to cope with those bad things if I didn’t have my trusty left arm?

I avoided any tattoos on my left arm specifically for this reason. but after my revelations last year – my commitment to actually fucking liking myself, to enjoying life, to properly working through my traumatic past so I could heal and be free of the broken child inside my heart and mind – I decided it was time for me to make a symbolic commitment to myself and my healing.

so yeah, I got my arm tattooed today. when placing the designs on my arm, I remarked to the artist that I wanted some more coverage over the scars. she adjusted the stencils, and then remarked that she thought I should leave some of the scars visible. I was a bit puzzled, and asked “how come?”. she paused and looked at me.

“so that you never forget how far you’ve come.”

prince

I used to think he was a prince,
and I wrote about him with diamonds
flowing from my pen.

I stared at him in wide eyed
wonder whilst he slept
in my bed, and I so wanted to
plant myself in his soil
and grow my smothering bindweed
around him.

I let the waves of
obsession and lust
wash over my heart,

and oh,
those waves were so
lovely for a time

(until they came crashing down
and I screamed for three
whole hours when I realised
he did not plan on falling in
love with me).

then he was gone and
I was powerless and
angry and consumed by
my need for his
royal validation.

“I hate you!
come back,”
I whispered into our letters,

and my pen flowed
not with diamonds but
poisoned well-water.

then time passed
and I grew and
flowered and blossomed and
shed my buds and became
an oak.

and
when he came back
(because that is what
always seems to happen),

he wasn’t a prince and
his hair wasn’t spun gold anymore.
he was just a man.

I wasn’t his arrow
and my burns had healed

no longer so susceptible to
drops of water and kisses.

I revelled in our connection
and nothing more.
I looked at him and he at me.

uncomplicated and free
and true in our humanity and our
normalcy and our faultery
and our fuck ups.

maybe now that I am a tree
and not a twining unwanted stem
I can be like this
and feel joy for its simplicity
instead of dissecting its
fragile meaning.

or maybe I will muse and see
that my desire for his turrets and towers
ebbs away with the moonlight
trickling down my thighs as
the lap of the warmest tide
goes out. 

we shall see, little prince.

trip

six months of an acid trip
life is full of revelations now
little epiphanies woven in
to my days
threads so glittering wind
through the halls and
stairwells, turning
cobwebs and dust into
pretty paper chains

“girl,” he says
looking up from the ground floor
“why are you always so
guilty?
let go of that conscience, girl”

I say fuck
I always had the words to
describe myself but
I placed them on the page like
newspaper cutouts
a ransom letter to myself
I never glued them
down, so they blew away
into the wind
and I shut my windows hoping for
sense

I sink into my trip
but I’m not in a daze anymore
not a passive witness
not a powerless princess by
the closed window willing
my hair to grow a little longer
this trip is mine now
I embrace the others
that join me
and kiss the ones that
leave me to soar

and I don’t feel
a stitch of remorse
or pain
or shame
not anymore, girl

be

If I look back, I am lost.

the above is a quote from the ever-popular character of daenerys targaryen in the song of ice and fire books written by george r. r. martin. throughout the books, we go on a journey with daenerys, as she is thrust unceremoniously into a very adult (albiet highly fantastical) life. we follow her as she attempts to navigate not only her hostile environment but the people who surround her, their intentions and what, if any, end goals she should be focusing on.

the phrase touched me when I read the books, resonating with me as I wander through my own journey of self-discovery and healing. I have a large tendency to over-analyse and dissect in an unhealthy way; I attempt to break these negative thought patterns using things I learn in therapy, though a lot of the time it feels like replacing one over-analytical stream of thought with another. at present it feels like my thoughts are just an endless barrage of questions; whys, what ifs and hows chatter relentlessly away as I try to navigate grown-up life.

a recent obsession that has been festering away is the fear that I will never “cope” with life, that I will never “get better”, that I will continue to be hurled and burled through life on an emotional rollercoaster, with no semblance of achievement or satisfaction to be found, no more true loves to be had, no enjoyment of anything for too long lest it become too stressful, too difficult, too triggering. the mere thought absolutely terrifies me to say the least, and my anxious brain works its hardest to find unequivocal proof that this is certainly the path I will be forced to tread. attempts to control and relieve the anxiety brought by this particular stream of thought generally manifest in hours spent googling and researching, desperately throwing unanswerable questions into the echo chamber of the internet, hoping to find some magic words, some proven theory that will provide me with the reassurance I so urgently crave. psychological theory, psychiatry research papers, comments sections and self-help articles of varying quality; they all get consumed, processed, churned out and considered as evidence. I think back to the very darkest times of my life and constantly self-assess to see whether I’m feeling now as I felt then, whether I’m hurtling head-first back into that terrifying black chasm of helplessness and despair.

it is prudent to remind myself that self-assessment was not my strong point when I was stuck in the aforementioned chasm; I had no questions, because I had almost completely accepted my “fate”, my fate being that the only real answer to my emotional suffering was death. It is quite the opposite now. the questions nowadays never seem to stop coming, but none of those questions are “how to tie a noose” or “painless ways to die”. recalling memories of that time are utterly painful, and I feel sad for myself, and those who lived through it with me. I have come a long way, but it appears there are still hurdles to jump over and knots to unpick.

so I shall keep going forward. I shall keep trying. if I look back, I am lost, and playing psycho-detective will amount to nothing if not further pathologizing of perfectly normal human experience, which I don’t think is a good thing (although at this point I could probably sit a Bachelors psychology paper and pass it, so that’s something). I’m just a human; a big soggy bag of flesh and bones and organs and electricity; and I truly believe that nothing except personal peace and happiness are important. we are one tiny dot, in a vast ocean-sky of planets and solar systems and galaxies and possibly universes. our lifetimes are breath on the skin of the world, let alone the universe; our supposed failure and suffering are eternally meaningless in the scheme of things. we feel important, but that doesn’t make us happy or peaceful. we should do for the pleasure of doing; be kind for the pleasure of kindness. to be clear, this is not some hedonistic analogy; you won’t be happy or peaceful if you spend your days chasing chemical highs and being a cunt to people you sleep with in the name of “absolute pleasure”. cruel people are cruel, and lost people are lost, because they suffer inwardly and place excessive responsibility on external experiences and objects (and their effects) for their inner own peace and happiness.

the key, I believe, is to live outwardly, and reap inwardly. to absorb the joy of the world, of living, of being here, now, at this very moment. to be child-like, to accept the utterly bizarre systems humans have brought upon themselves (like council tax) and fret not over what you achieve, but what you learn, and just be.

just be.

when your brain starts ticking with questions, with self-doubt, with suffering and memory;

remember, just to be.

permission

for a long time I
chose to be
your victim
all torn up with
sorrow and disgust
making you all evil
all wrong
and myself
so weak
it was so much easier
to absolve myself of
thorny responsibility
this way

now
that victimhood belongs
to you
not me
not anymore
I survived your
long con
and your violence
and I will
not allow your
actions to scar me
any more
because you
are lower than shit
not evil
no, because that
would relinquish you
from the permanence of
who you are
in your humanity
and
the choices you made
in your selfishness

the reasons why I
allowed you to
exist within me
mean nothing at all
not now
not anymore
my pain
does not matter
not anymore
because I
have given it
permission to leave
forever

saviour

read biblical stories as a child
waiting for my
vision to appear from the dirt
to tell me
how things were going to be

pored over pages of hope and joy
looked into the eyes of adults
to search for
the saviour who
did not come

do I need to know
why and
how I internalised
the shame of being,
so young?

was it a
single word, or
repetitive injuries to
my little ego?

I do not know,
cannot remember
or will not remember

my little ego,
is still in there
wounded and so
desperate for
something she just
cannot
articulate

mirror

I saw her there, in the drunken mirror, reflected in the glass dirtied with smears of black and orange, fingerprints and hairspray trails. I saw her there in her purity, and I marvelled at every inch of her being; a drunken mirror, maybe, a dirty reflection, but one so pure and bright I could not ignore it.

a little woman, she stood there in black, peeling off her layers of wet clothing and laughing unfettered, until they were all laid out to dry. she stood twisted and I marvelled still, at each perfect fold of skin; where her thighs met her buttocks, and led down legs of gold and grey and black, to the gentle lines across her stomach, the creases beneath her ribs worn in from how she sat.

and she did sit, I knew, in the past; but now, she stood, and turned, touched her arms at their angles, one by one. more she touched and more I marvelled, at her skin so golden-bright and smooth, so proud with its pockmarks and scars and stains, bearing such a dreamlike contrast to the streaks of dark hair that danced so lightly on her back as she turned to laugh more, more, more.

I looked and sought her, perhaps only for a second, and saw so much that I had to look away as quickly as I went. what a thing of beauty, what wholeness she emitted in only a moment, I thought, I thought, I thought. I longed to touch her, to reach her, to smell her, perhaps forever, forever and ever more. in the mirror there was only a moment, but I learnt so much I felt tears prickling in the corners of my eyes. I wondered if I dared to look again, what I may see, if those paradises so absolute could possibly remain, of whether perhaps they existed only then, in that light, in that reflection, at those angles?

who is this, I asked myself, that can stand and turn and laugh so readily, so beautifully, so purely and freely, who can posses such vibrancy and gleam in nothing but a moment in a grimy mirror?

I dared, and I saw her again. staring back into my eyes, seeing me. she is. I am. and I soar past my years of hatred and coldness, my denial, my pain and pointless suffering, my self-loathing and denigrating. I am her, with the golden legs and soft stomach and black hair and curved ribs. I am her. I am, I am, I am, and I sink heavy into bed that night elated with the knowledge of the truth;

I am, I am, I am.