Prince Albert [18+, Content Warning]
Warning: This essay contains adult themes as well as descriptions of piercing procedure and childhood abuse.
“Just let me know when you’re ready...”
The mood in the piercing studio was calm if a little anticipatory; they had temporarily closed the doors to the public for the duration of this very specialised procedure.
I was lying on the couch as vulnerable as one can be with trousers and underpants pulled down to my knees, everything on show.
Aiden, the person who I trusted most in the world right now (as if I had a choice!) held an intimidatingly large needle in one hand and what’s generally considered—my being a man—the most prized part of my anatomy in the other.
Three deep, calming belly breaths. I was so grateful for those all those yoga classes I had taken for teaching me this technique. The mantra ran through my head: “Chest breath is stressed breath. Belly breath is calm breath.”
Then I said it. I was going to go through with it.
One deep breath in and as I breathed out a searing sensation flooded my whole body, centred as you would suppose on the body part that was quite literally ‘in hand’.
What made me consent to this? What drives a man to get stabbed (for that’s what had just occurred) through his most private regions?
Was it my rebellious nature? The world seems to spend as much time as it can telling you to do this, don’t do that, that’s not appropriate, and I was having none of it. If I want to do it, I’ll do it and no-one will stop me. There. That told you. There’s something cathartic, whatever your age, about throwing a tantrum like an immature toddler on occasion.
I suppose rebellion was part of the reason, but there was something bigger. This procedure allowed me to feel – something that I am not accustomed to doing.
I grew up in a household where feelings were taboo (as was development of the ‘self’, but that’s another story for another time).
My mother had very good reasons for disliking feelings; she grew up at the hands of a predatory and abusive father while her mother stood by and did nothing.
I can certainly understand what followed.
Forgive it? I’m still working on it.
Growing up in an environment without feelings was all I knew; I daresay by the time I was able to form memories I had probably already learnt to suppress any form of expression or self.
I’m told that there is a critical stage in infancy where a baby will try out all sorts of emotions and the mother will reflect and magnify them: the baby smiles, the mother smiles back wider; the baby laughs, the mother laughs louder; the baby frowns, the mother frowns in sympathy.
If, as an infant, you don’t receive the validation that this mirroring achieves, you begin to believe that expression is bad.
You never question that your mother may be struggling or unable to relate in healthy ways. You simply turn it inwards and feel that you are ‘wrong’. And as your very natural and instinctive behaviour goes invalidated you begin to abandon yourself. You feel that you are not loved, and therefore not lovable.
And as you make your way through life you find yourself becoming more and more numb to emotion.
“You’re so cool, calm and collected”, people say.
Yes, that’s because I am incapable of feeling anything.
Of course, the emotions are there, the feelings occur, they just get buried so deep inside that they affect your physical being instead of your emotional being. Immunodeficiency, anxiety, hypertension: all symptoms of the complex PTSD that develops from childhood abandonment and emotional abuse.
A large part of the appeal of piercing, for me, is being able to actually feel the pain that I’ve been carrying for forty-plus years.
Sure, the source of the pain is different. But it’s nice, sometimes, to go with it, to surrender to something I should have learnt to deal with many, many years ago.
And to do so in the safe hands of someone as professional, accepting and skilled as Aiden is worthy of immense gratitude.
Of course, during the procedure my emotional regulation skills—or should that be curse?—were in full force. I didn’t whimper, I didn’t cry, I didn’t shout.
I simply said “Wow. That got my attention.” and sank into a comfortable fuzz as the endorphins and adrenaline hit my bloodstream.