My facebook recently discussed my enthusiasm for the way in which now it’s summer and skin is on show, I keep needing to explain my scars to strangers. One friend commented: surely it’s one aspect of the way you use the cutting to impose narrative coherence on your life?
And this was so wildly inaccurate in terms of my own perceptions that I felt the need to pen the following:
Actually cutting imposes the very opposite of narrative coherence, for me at least. It offers a physical immediacy by definition outside the often painful and limiting narratives of my life. And the scars as a physical language are outside narrative too – they just speak ‘pain’ without the need to consctruct or shape a coherent narrative the viewer can understand. There’s an extent to which pain-beyond-language is still in our culture considered greater or more genuine than pain articulated or shaped by verbalisation or narrative – it’s one of the ongoing traumas of my life. And the marks I carry speak both to others who’ve been similar places – ‘i know about pain too’ – and signals an experience outside theirs to those who haven’t. Either way, cutting and its physical evidenceoffer both experientially and communicatively a space to actualise and articulate pain outside the narratives through which our psychology tends to shape itself. I can build it into them, but it also stands outside.
All of which is true, for me at least. I’m well aware that my scars also enable others to impose narratives on me – melodramatic emo teenager, neurotic self-absorbed fool (and that these have some truth to them, the latter at least) – but they need to do so partially because the scars’ physical existence *without* a shaping and coherent narrative, the bare evidence of pain – is so troubling.* All the more so because they’re also *pretty* or symbolic and therefore not simply the product of immediately overwhelming pain but also, evidently, the assumption of its permanence. This is not to say that my cutting friends whose scars look different suffer less: most of them probly more. Cutting’s actually quite a minor part of my psychological armoury, I think. I just suspect the way i do it – ‘what is that? is it a tattoo? oh, you did it YOURSELF?!’ – sometimes confuses people more. Cf the checkout clerks who prompted the original comment.
Anyway, back to the topic in, uh, hand. I think to a certain extent cutting *has* to be outside narrartive coherence, because by and large narrative is what we use to shape our lives, to make sense of pain, to mnake sense of events, to instil some sense of progression rather than random incidence. Cutting, an immediate physical fact rather than a progression, is outside that: it’s what I turned to when the very articulacy of my words, the very extent to which I could detail and describe and explain my pain and its roots and its inevitability and my own inability to deal with it because it ripped into the very heart of my coping mechanisms and my sense of self, meant that few people were able to understand or acknowledge the depth of the mindless agony I was describing. There’s an extent to which if you can talk about, narrativise something, it’s somehow perceived as safer – the idea of a narrative of grief, for example. It’s all part of a process, a narrative, that ends with the resolution of it somehow being OK. And it hurts and it’s damaging, because some of us actually *are* that psychologically aware, and if we say we’re utterly desperate we actually *are*. But that’s sometimes so hard for people to understand. I can’t put it better than how a close acquaintance of mine put it, as he descended into a particularly black depression and went to the doctor, who since he ‘wasn’t urgent’ simply put him onto a delayed referral: ‘Why do I have to actually try and top myself before it counts as a cry for help? Why can’t my cry for help just be saying ‘help?” (I suffered a faintly similar, much less drastic, scenario at Oxford, where I stumbled around saying to everyone ‘i can’t cope, i’m not coping, i can’t do this’ and nobody took any notice until I started losing weight and dropped to 36kg, whereupon everyone started focusing on food and my weight rather than my desperation, problems with the course, living situation, etc. It couldn’t’ve been much worse.) Sometimes, words can be trusted; sometimes words are like knives that expose the pain, not a layer protecting the speaker from it. And if they can’t be perceived as such, then real knives can seem like the only option – and the thing is, the dangerous thing is, that on so many levels, they work.
If I can’t use my voice, I’ll use my skin.