The Art of Bloodletting

Copyright Justin Mills

Justin writes:

I am a sophomore at Washington College, and I recently produced a paper that will be published in several magazines and publications in the area.

The essay concerns the 3-year long cutting addiction I have recently overcome. It is raw, but entails true emotion. I just thought that groups such as yours might be interested to see it.

Junkies live and die by their needle. I lived by my blade. There is little disparity between the two instruments: both penetrate the flesh causing extreme feelings of euphoria. Yet whereas the needle implants, the blade releases. All drugs and intoxicants constitute forms of self-destruction, or mutilation. Blood was my drug. And what a potent and brilliant one it was. I cannot think of any other times when I felt the essence of “Om” enrapture my soul.

My habit was inspired by uninhibited anger and desperation screaming out in torrents of blood streaming down my thighs. It was pure empowerment. With blade in hand, I had control over everything. I left this world. There was only me, in my room, and I was God. I was in control of my pain, my misery, and my life. But I wasn’t in control of much else.

Some folks use knives or other sharp objects, but a straight razor was the only one who could make the cut for me. It split the sinews so precisely that it required little or no effort on my part to dig into muscle tissue. These thin steel fangs could easily be purchased typically in packs of five at any local hardware store for two or three dollars, and without being questioned by the cashier; my scars were strategically concealed.

I chose the legs as canvas for several reasons. First and most obvious, it becomes very difficult for others to recognize my addiction if the scars are hidden by clothing. Another is that it is the location of the first cuts, so it simply seemed natural to continue there. Finally, the surface is smoother and has less hair, providing for better incisions. The downsides are that it of course precludes opportunities of public swimming and spending nice days at the beach. One also gets unbearably hot when wearing pants during the midst of summer.

Superficial horizontal cuts on the arm are an unambiguous sign that someone is getting high off the attention and depravity, not the rush of endorphins that soar into the brain when pain is inflicted upon oneself. I needed help, and the blade came to my aid in a convenient plastic compartment located on my hallway shelf. Who knows what method of escape I would have taken up had I not picked up a razor?

I was introduced to this phenomenon like most others are, by example. A former girlfriend had carved up her thighs, and of course I was completely unable to empathize with her situation. But, like most guys, I pretended that I did and that I sympathized so that I would continue to get laid. Then one day I became incredibly mad and couldn’t figure a mode of release, so I cut my leg. I honestly cannot even remember the cause of the first cut; the reason was insignificant, I was going to begin cutting anyway at some time. Little by little, I went from scratches to cuts. Cuts became gashes. Gashes turned into wounds that pierced through all layers of skin and into pink, pulsating tissue.

Bloodletting soon became a daily ritual. I would return from school in a daze. Memories of days at school that semester are very vague and hazy. They passed at a snail’s pace, yet were over in a heartbeat so that they almost never happened. But the afternoons will not be lost in the annals my memory. I would fling my book bag onto the crusty and stained Crayola-blue carpet of our third-story apartment. I would then flop down on the bed in my room, where I was never bothered. I would always gaze up at the ominous blade lingering on my bookshelf, and then I would retrieve it. I would then turn on my depressing-aggressive heavy metal music (which I still thoroughly enjoy) and I would sit upright on the southeastern corner of my king size bed. If I were really angry, which I would usually become, I would unleash a storm of vertical and horizontal slashes on my calves, resembling latticework. If horribly depressed, which I often was as well, I would turn to the upper thigh and incise deep wounds often reminiscent of shapes and sequences. My favorites are the three deep gashes that together resemble a tiger’s claw. I would become entranced by the blood, which I would often consume, as it had such a distinct taste. Sometimes I would let the blood drip onto pieces of paper and I would proceed to smear it around creating various abstract objects and shapes. After the ecstasy was finished, I then undressed and continued to the bathroom where I would soak the fresh wounds in steaming hot water, which is not at all conducive to their healing. This was an essential step in the ritual where I would savor the sensation of the boiling water permeating the new work, as the bathwater slowly turned a crimson hue. Then I would wrap up the bubbling wounds in a sock, dress myself, begin the mile-long hike to pick up my sister, usually in the cold, and then walk a mile back. For some reason, this walk was very enjoyable, the fresh air invigorated me, despite the warm blood often dripping down my legs and incisions constantly opening and closing. I never experienced pain during these afternoons. This was my weekday ritual; it was religious.

My blade gave me something to look forward to day after monotonous day. It was constant, it was always there, and its effect never diminished. I may have passed out on occasion, and gotten a little dizzy, but with the exception of that, no serious physical threat was ever posed to myself, as I took proper care to make sure the wounds were free of infection. And despite the ecstasy of the bloodletting itself, all the time in between those afternoons were occupied with the utmost hopelessness, depression, and rage.

Hundreds upon hundreds of battle wounds line the contours of my lower body, many of which required a great deal of stitches. Many of the earlier and less severe wounds have healed and faded almost completely, while others overlap each other. There are also scars lying across the arteries on the top of my feet, as this proved to be an excellent source of blood. They are all still fading.

I ceased cutting myself because I was on my last leg; it was my only choice. Once it was ingrained in my mind that cutting would progressively destroy my life, the problem seemed to be under control. It was when I stopped cutting that the bomb of mental illnesses was dropped on me. Suddenly, multitudes of psychiatric problems manifested themselves, all at once. Self-mutilation was like the dam holding back the mass of many problems lingering within. Now it is a daily duty to have to battle the onslaught of extreme obsessive-compulsive habits, the constant mood swings and depressing fits of bi-polar disorder, extreme impulses of borderline personality, and occasional psychotic fits of rage. Medication is beginning to rectify these situations, but they all seemed to materialize after the cutting had stopped and after I moved in with my aunt.

After I had rebounded from my nadir, emerging from homeless shelters and several psychiatric care centers, everything seemed to be looking up. No more did I feel the pain of being at the bottom, and hopelessness was behind me. I was now living with an aunt who cared for me and acted like more of a family member than I had previously ever had. I was back in school, and looking at colleges. However, temptation reared its ugly head. I got terribly frustrated one day and I picked up the blade.

I cut. I winced. It hurt.

Never had it hurt before, and never again have I even thought about picking up a blade. An epiphany, an apotheosis had been reached that day. When I see a razor blade, I no longer see a stress reliever, a paintbrush, or a tool for carving flesh. Instead, I see a device used for cutting cardboard or scraping birdshit off a car window. One must be in a certain hopeless state of mind in order to feel the effects of the drug. There is a correspondence between pain and hopelessness and a certain mentality that enables one to experience the euphoria, which cannot be felt if only one part of the formula is absent.

But these intense feelings of euphoria almost never existed. All I am able to associate with the ritual is physical pain, as it was the last sensation felt from the process; the ecstasy can no longer be imagined. This was a rite of passage into my maturity; no more can or will it ever be done, nor will it ever again be necessary.


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