I gasped as the needle took its first bite. In an instant, I was propelled back eleven years, when I had last experienced this sensation. The stinging waves synced with the buzzing sound, and I was soon lulled into a headspace of surrender.
Lying on that table, my face buried in the familiar smell of the pillow brought from home, I smiled, thinking of Jenny.
“I’m not much of a pain slut anymore,” she had once told me. A pain slut? That was the first time I’d encountered the term. I could understand the concept, intellectually. I could understand craving the endorphin rush. But the pain itself?
When I gave myself the gift of tattoo a few weeks ago, I remembered how much I embraced the pain of the vibrating needle injecting ink into my skin. And I thought of Jenny, and the friends I have met since who use or enjoy pain in various ways, for varied purposes. Being a pain slut did not seem such a foreign concept anymore.
I also thought of Kasini, a dear friend and former lover, who had accompanied me when I acquired the first part of my back tattoo, a black snake biting its tail, twisted in an infinity symbol. She later told me that she’d found the look on my face disturbing, the aroused smile and half-closed eyes as I drank in the pain. She said she’d felt bothered (or was it turned on?) by the naked ecstasy on my features. She’s since come to understand the beauty and power of pain, and I tagged along with her for a stunning compass tattoo nestled between her shoulder blades. Bonded by the tattoo needle, we are.
My yoga teacher’s words came to me. “Your body feels sensations, and then you judge them as good or bad, pleasant or painful. Notice how your mind and body twist away from sensations it perceives as bad. Try to refrain from classifying them, and instead observe them without labels.”
While the ink pierced my body, I breathed, embracing the sensations, watching the waves roll over me. The surrender was beautiful, and in many ways, erotic. I started to create my back piece nearly fifteen years ago, with the black snake. It marked a significant phase in my life. Three years later I added another infinity symbol, this time turned ninety degrees, with vines twisting upward and roots down. I planned to continue adding to my back’s artwork when I reached milestones that felt significant enough to mark with permanence on my flesh. Eleven years later, I’ve reached another one.
This milestone has to do with coming home into my body and loving what is. Part of the decade-plus delay was directly linked to bodyshame. In the midst of the first two tattoos on my lower back, I felt artificially confident in my body because I was using dangerous means to feel thin. After I stopped using speed to lose or maintain my weight, I started to put on pounds. I didn’t want to work on the tattoos anymore until my back was toned and “not fat.”
This summer, I let go of those restraints and began working on the tattoo again. Traci, the artist I chose for this latest addition, understands my intentions, and is helping me mark my body with a stamp of the bodylove I am cultivating.
All of this is a blessing. And it’s a spell. I believe in that kind of magic, the self-created kind.