… a thought making crooked all that is straight.

Posts tagged “Self-harm

Cut the cow shit!

I’m as tall as a cow. I found this out as I walked through the cow fields and one came up and eye-balled me. Cows today must be GM-cows because I’m sure they never used to be that tall, and at 1.75m I’m not short either.

Short. I wish that was the excuse for why I struggle so much with the stiles. Predominantly a British phenomenon:

Doesn’t look too tricky to clamber over, does it? But is it left foot first or right? Which leg do I swing over and when? Usually I get stuck half-way across and sit with a blasé expression, pretending to admire the view while I consider whether to just throw myself off the thing or tackle it limb by limb.

I encountered similar difficulties when getting into the jeeps and pick-up trucks of my family in New Mexico. They live in the mountain desert so it’s high off-roaders only for them. I tried reversing in, but my legs are two short. I tried launching myself in front first and army-crawling my way on elbows over the back seat. Nothing but nothing was elegant. My family found it hilarious. I pursued different options like an alchemist seeking a way to transmute base metal into gold; but my elegance remained tin.

This evening I sat down by the river, watching fish jumping for the evening flies. Four swans floated past, each raising up out of the water to stretch and flap their wings, not together or randomly but one after the other. I saw flowers floating past and thought about garlands of flowers offered on the Ganges. A flock of ravens hiding in a tree was disturbed and raised a great racket as they flew off – I have never seen so many in one group. The pinky-orange sun slipped behind a cloud and I headed home.

On my walk I thought about art group today. There was only me, Woman and Beta Psych, so we just sat and talked. Woman narrowly avoided having her eyes jabbed out with paintbrushes when she TOLD me that I wouldn’t self-harm if I had a boyfriend. I coughed up a fur ball and said, “Cutting is not about being single.” She said other stupid, facile things and contradicted herself, or damned me to hell as irredeemable, by saying that men would be scared off by the intensity of my scars. I’m fucked either way, or not as the case may be. I said, that such people could “jog on” as far as I was concerned, that I didn’t need namby-pamby people who cringed at the sight of my scars around me. Life is too short and there are plenty of people who accept all aspects of me, or who have indeed been there themselves. As an LHP-er I don’t think that I have to surround myself with the twee people to feel good. No I don’t have to be nice about people’s beliefs in angels because that will make me a good person. Angelly-Wangelly stuff does my head in as much as therapy-werapy stuff dressed up under the abhorrent term “life coaching” – both run the triple knife edge of doing nothing, being childish make-believe or doing harm to fragile psyches. In any case you might as well imagine a smurf on your shoulder and listen to what the smurfing hell it has to say to you … you will make just as much progress by channeling your own subconscious that way. You do not invoke an archangel for a cuddle, FFS.

I said, I missed TMIWTM. Woman asked, “What does he give you that you can’t get from us?” I replied, “Everything! I have told him things I haven’t said here, and he knows things about me that no one else here knows or will ever know.” She looked shocked. Beta Psych appeased her with, “One-to-one is very different to a group working environment.” You bet your bejeezes it is. I said that I had never been so emotionally close to a man before. I heard her jaw hit the floor. She doesn’t like TMIWTM. She saw him for a couple of sessions 15 years ago and he told her she needed marriage counselling. 15 years later, she still needs marriage counselling… today she admitted to violence in the marriage on both parts.

Nobody’s perfect. But I do get tired of people trying to heal others when their own lives are fucked; or people in bad relationships telling you that a relationship will sort all your problems; or when people pretend to be open-minded but have surprisingly narrow and sudden limitations. I’m fucked in the head. I know that and admit it freely. You literally read my heart on my sleeve and the state of mind in the scars on my arms; but at least I am honest about it. I don’t bullshit and I don’t play around with other people, pretending to be something I’m not.

If I’m tin, then I’m tin but I keep trying to be gold. And somethings will never change: I will always be as tall as a cow.

©StarofSeshat 2011

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Bodies Under Siege: Christ as symbol & beauty in the pain

I am currently reading Bodies Under Siege: Self-Mutilation and Body Modification in Culture and Psychiatry by Armando R. Favazza, M.D. It is the first comprehensive attempt at dealing with the subject of self-mutilation from a cultural psychiatric perspective. I am only about 20 pages in, but I already feel that this man has understood the concept of self-mutilation not only from a cultural and ritual perspective but from the perspective of a mentally ill person.

Many people, knowing either vaguely or intimately my personal belief systems and practices as a witch, question and frown upon my use of a crucifix in my practices, and the fact that I often wear one when I am in a particularly bad “demonic” phase. The fact is I take great comfort in aligning myself with the voluntary self-mutilation that the mythic image of Christ allowed to be imposed upon himself. The crux of Christian myth is based around this voluntary sacrifice, but the issue for me is not sacrifice for another but identification with excruciating internal and external pain.

The images of Christ on the cross have been graced over the centuries with a virtual delight in the gore and excruciating agonies of this man-God. As such he can become the epitome and symbol of a self-harmer’s attempt to make peace with the forces inside and to say yes to life; because self-harming is not a suicide attempt but an attempt to avert suicide.

Quoting a discussion about Fakir Mustafa by Graver, Favazza says:

[Fakir] feels [the pain] not as a foreign invasion of the body but as a sensation of the body that separates the body from the mind.

And this is certainly one of the prime motivations for my own self-harming urges – to demarcate boundaries between mind, body, and I would add, soul, to separate out the mix and to ease the pain of their co-existence.

Suppression is a beautiful tool which can facilitate the survival of someone who has lived through the unspeakable; but it can too easily become a means of self-destruction, where the emotions that should be focused on “enemies” is turned inwards, thus indeed creating a form of social self-sacrifice. Favazza elucidates this point:

Blood has awesome symbolic and physiologic powers, as evidenced by its role in religious sacrifice, healing, the formation of brotherhoods, and blood feuds. When harvested properly, it can alter the course of personal and communal history. It is my contention that some mentally ill persons mutilate themselves as a primitive method of drawing upon their blood’s ability to foster bonds of loyalty and union among members of their social network, to demonstrate their hatred of and conquest over real and imaginary enemies, to heal their afflictions, and … to set right their relationship with God.

Favazza discusses the subject of self-mutilation within Christianity extensively, identifying possible schizophrenics, anorectics and self-harmers amongst the martyr crew. He writes:

It is clear that the individual human body mirrors the collective social body, and each continually creates and sustains the other. Misperceptions of reality, feelings of guilt, negative self images, antisocial acts, and all the other symptoms we associate with personal mental illness defy understanding without reference to the psychological, social, cultural, and physical integrity of the communal “body.”

Which leads me on to the disgust, bewilderment and rejection that self-harmers continually face from the “communal body”. Favazza’s statements support my own experience of the anger, disgust and fear that self-harmers illicit not only amongst passers-by but even amongst their so-called “caretakers”. Nobody truly understands the self-harmer from a psychiatric perspective and instead dismisses the person saying, e.g. it must be a chemical imbalance, or part of borderline syndrome, or a way of getting attention. Favazza summarises self-mutilation amongst the mentally ill as a morbid form of self-help, but warns that it is nothing to trifle with and that for those individuals who cannot control the behaviour it may end in unsightly scars or even “the loss of an eye”.

Personally, I wear my scars as a warrior would those won in battle. When your insides resemble the direst of Hieronymus Bosch’s paintings, and your outside is that of an amicable, sweet and smiling Englishwoman, there is a sense of relief when your external appearance begins to resemble the internal reality. Naturally this comes with extreme forms of social and familial rejection. Nobody likes to see pain, nobody likes to be forced to imagine what’s inside the person wearing the scars. There are very few who would reach out and kiss the scars, saying, “There is beauty in such life-affirming pain.”

©StarofSeshat 2011