Wednesday, July 11, 2012

My birthday hangout...or "keep me in suspense"

**Warning: this is long, graphic and quite possibly boring to everyone but me! If you are bothered by piercing, blood, pain or just really long stories, off you go now..* **One more thing - keep in mind that this is one person's experience with suspension. Individual experiences vary greatly and this blog post is not intended to influence anyone to do this or discourage anyone FROM doing this. I loved my suspension, but the decision belongs solely to the person considering it.**

This past Monday was my forty-second birthday. I usually celebrate my birthday in an extroverted manner, lots of friends in the house, lots of music, laughter and noise. This past year has been so filled with changes, so much worry and fear - boisterous revelry just didn’t feel right. For this birthday I turned inward and did something very significant to me, personally. I observed (I don’t think “celebrated” is the right word) this birthday swinging through open space, suspended by two hooks in my back.

Body suspension…why would anyone do that? I think that’s probably the number one question regarding the process. It’s absolutely the question I chose to avoid (the wording would probably be more along the lines of “Why the F*CK would you want to do THAT??”) by keeping the decision to myself (or between myself and Jim) until afterward. That question would most likely be followed by several negative/judgmental/concerned statements about the freakishness of the act. Or the danger, the pain, my questionable sanity – you name it, someone would have covered it. Conversely, I’m sure there are a few people who would have been supportive (if a little dubious) or downright enthusiastic . But the decision and the action was far too personal, too important to me, to let anyone influence me in either direction. I had to come at it straight from my heart. Of course I discussed it with Jim (this is something I’ve wanted to do for several years, actually) and he responded the way he always has when I’ve found myself needing to do something that’s significant to me on a deeply emotional or spiritual level. He expressed his concerns and his complete inability to relate to having such a need – and then supported me.

So..back to the question. Why WOULD anyone do this? It’s painful, it’s repulsive to many, it’s scary, dangerous (even when performed responsibly by experienced professionals). I can’t answer that question – but if you do a little research you’ll find myriad reasons dating back thousands of years. Rituals, rites of passage, overcoming fear, spirituality, performance art – the reasons vary as greatly as the individuals who choose to suspend.

I can only speak for myself…and I’ve found it very difficult to do so in an articulate manner. Every word I’ve chosen so far, I’ve chosen because it’s the closest I can come to capturing something as intangible as an emotion with something as limiting as language. But I’ll try. I don’t remember exactly where or when I first saw a picture of someone being suspended, I just remember that it spoke to me in a very visceral way..I was immediately drawn to it. I knew it was something I would do one day, HAD to do one day. And many of the clichéd reasons do apply – to test myself; could I withstand the physical pain and mental stress something like that would cause? Meditative/spiritual practice; would I be able to find that place inside of me that would allow me to endure the pain? Trust; could I put myself into the hands of a virtual stranger and trust that they would keep me as safe as possible (all the while knowing many of the risks are not in their control or mine)? Trust again; would the hooks hold me? Would my skin hold me? Would my body tolerate it? Would my mind tolerate..and even enjoy it? And there’s that – enjoyment. There is nothing else that can duplicate the feeling of floating, flying, spinning in the air supported by nothing but one’s own skin. All of those reasons are true, but the words really only scratch the surface. The rest will have to dwell inside me, unarticulated but just as real.

So that (clumsily, partially) covers the why. It’s easier to write about the how. How did it happen? How did it feel? How do I feel now? So – a brief history about how I found the person who suspended me is in order. A little over two years ago I decided I wanted to do something kind of “big” for my 40th birthday. Something bucket-list-worthy. Skydiving came to mind..but then the image of someone being suspended popped into my head and that was it. I knew that was it. FINDING someone to perform the suspension was almost as painful as the act itself. To make this story slightly shorter..I was put in contact with Roger "Rabbit" Rodriguez. He has 16 years of body modification experience under his belt, he’s knowledgeable and best of all, friendly and articulate. Unfortunately he wasn't going to be in town for my birthday. Blah blah (life..mine, his..got in the way) and two years passed. Two months before my 42nd birthday he contacted me to tell me he now had a studio (Ancient Adornments) in West Hollywood and was available. I checked out his studio’s Facebook page and there was a video posted of a recent suspension he’d performed on one of his crew members. It was so beautifully filmed, set to music – the “suspendee” was a very pretty young girl who appeared to be very serene and happy. The look on her face reflected a lot of what I wished to get out of the experience – focused, joyful, with a hint of being in some “other place” mentally. If I hadn’t already been absolutely sure I wanted to do this, watching her would have put me completely at ease. As it was, I’ve been sure about this for a very long time, and that just was icing on the cake (haha..birthday pun). I was ready. I was excited. I was completely unafraid.

The day of my birthday (last Monday, the 9th) finally came and I spent the day relaxing and hydrating. I was advised to come into this completely sober – so no birthday cocktails were had. I drank water, made a playlist on my Iphone (another cool thing about Roger is that he’ll put your own music on the sound system, so the experience is totally individualized and personal), and reading about suspension. I read people’s personal accounts, I watched a few videos, read a lot of FAQ’s. I’m surprised the FAQ’s didn’t generate any jitters – you’d think a list of possible side effects that include pain, shock, nausea, vomiting, convulsions and even death might generate second thoughts. Nope. I just felt completely sure that everything would be fine.

My appointment (I scheduled a private suspension, so the only people present were Roger,three of his crew members, and Jim) was at 8pm. We arrived a little early and checked in with Roger. Meeting him in person only made me feel more secure – he was warm and funny and just had an air of “I know what I’m doing and you’re going to have an amazing time” about him. He instructed Jim to make me eat a light dinner (nothing acidic or spicy or bubbly, he said – as there was a chance I might throw up..and if you know me at all and are familiar with my vomit phobia, the fact that I wasn’t even worried about THAT should make you understand how important this was to me) and we went across the street for some food. We got back a couple minutes after 8 and they were still setting up.

Roger prepped me for what was about to happen, what I could expect, tips about keeping my body as relaxed as possible. After close to an hour they were ready to place the hooks. I laid belly-down on what looked very much like a doctor’s examination table (complete with white paper!) and prepared to be pierced. As the studio is also a training facility, one of the two female crew members was going to place one of my hooks (she has piercing experience, but not with suspension hooks). I never got her name, but she was actually the girl in the video I’d seen, which was reassuring. She knew from experience what I was about to go through. Roger explained that he would place one hook and she would place the other (the suspension I did is called a two point “suicide” suspension. Suicide because the body appears to be hanging from a noose, due to the placement of the hooks in the upper back area). He instructed me to take a deep breath through my nose and then exhale through my mouth as through blowing out a candle. We did one practice breath, and on the second one, they pierced as I exhaled. The hooks went through surprisingly fast, although I could tell it took a lot of pressure to push them through. The sensation was a sharp stinging pain that quickly subsided. Now the endorphins and adrenaline began to flood my body. I still didn’t feel nervous at that point, but there was a mental shifting and realization that this was really going to happen.

They walked me over to the rigging and I stood as Roger attached my hooks to the suspension rig. Jim took some pictures. Once I was all hooked up (haha), Roger pulled down on the rope (the rig is set up like a rock climbing belay – rope over a pulley) to put some tension on the hooks. My skin was pulled taught and upward, creating strange-looking peaks above my shoulder blades. Jim said I looked like an angel whose wings had been plucked. This was when the pain began to become significant. Roger explained how I would go up – that I was to let my arms hang down by my sides and signal him with my hands scooping upward. He let me know that it was best to just go ahead and go all the way up when I was ready (not do it inch by inch) because once your feet are off the ground you’re suspended. It’s not going to feel any less painful close to the ground as it is up in the air, and that the first few moments of leaving the ground are the most painful. Then the body adjusts and you begin to get used to it, and can begin to move around.

He told me to signal when I was ready, there was no rush. He reminded me that as I went up I needed to focus completely on the reason I was doing this, and just let it happen. He’d be watching me carefully for signs of shock and I could indicate I wanted to get down by simply pointing down, no need to speak (which is good..because that’s nearly impossible at first). All the while he gradually increased the tension on the hooks to allow my skin to stretch and me to adjust to the pain (and no one tried to tell me it wasn’t going to hurt..it’s part of the process). Here is when the fear came. I was shocked (physically as well as mentally) by the level of pain, and I wasn’t even off the ground yet. Was I really going to be able to do this?

They all had told me the hardest part is letting your toes finally leave the ground, that the body really wants to stay on the ground and it will fight the upward pull. That was true. I began to give the “up” signal and felt myself rising until just my big toes were still touching the ground. Just then, it truly felt like the earth was fighting to keep me on the ground, while the hooks were fighting to pull me into the air. Roger had Jim come over and hold my hands. My toes were still on the ground, I looked like a freakish ballerina. This seemed to be my mental hurdle – letting my feet leave the ground. But I signaled “up” and found myself a few feet off the ground, gripping Jim’s hands until my knuckles went white. The pain became a living thing. I had expected it to hurt – trust me, I didn’t harbor any illusions about it being easy, but I was still truly astounded by how BIG it was. That’s the only way I can explain it. It was all-encompassing and for a few seconds I was terrified. I thought “That’s it..I’m going to be one of the ones who goes up for two seconds and then immediately gives up and comes down.”.

then I thought about how long I’d waited to do this, and how, compared to all the emotional pain of the past few years, this was bearable. Only JUST, but it became bearable. Roger had Jim slowly walk me back and forth – holding my hands and very gently allowing me to feel what it was like to swing. It looked like the world’s strangest slow dance. It was kind of beautiful. Then I let go of his hands and I was completely suspended. I tried to close my eyes and let my limbs relax. Roger told me to move my legs around, and I did – gently and slowly paddling them, turning in very slow circles. I’d been up for maybe five minutes and didn’t notice any easing up of the pain. I DID notice that I felt a little nauseated and sweaty and felt that sort of mental sideways slip that precedes passing out, so I signaled “down”. Roger lowered me slowly down and Matt (crew member and super nice guy) placed a chair beneath me. I sat, but Roger kept the tension on the hooks. Jim brought me my Gatorade and I had a few sips. The nausea passed. The fainty-floaty feeling subsided. The pain did NOT. But I wasn’t ready for it to be over yet, so I stood and signaled Roger to go ahead and take me back up.

This time he had me kind of slowly run forward and as I did, he pulled me up, causing me to swing back and forth. This actually eased the pain of the hooks a little. I breathed. I looked around the room. I moved my arms and legs, bent my knees and pulled them toward me. I could see my refection in the tinted storefront window and it was amazing. I was doing it! I was suspended.

Matt offered to swing me and I nodded. He gently gripped my hips and gave me a push that sent me flying back and forth through the air. I moved my legs and began to spin. I kept my eyes open and watched the room go around, watched everyone below me go around, and then Matt gave me another push and I was swinging again. The pain was still very present, but the sensation of swinging and the utter strangeness of being off the ground but not sitting on something or holding something (it’s far more bizarre than you’d expect..your body doesn’t quite know what to make of it) allowed me to tolerate it. The rigging above me creaked like an old ship as I went back and forth. I slowly stopped swinging and kind of played around with different leg positions. I reached back and grabbed my ankles, which felt simultaneously pleasant because it stretched my tense back but painful because it tugged the hooks harder. I tried sitting Indian style midair, which was fun. Then I just kind of kicked my feet and experimented with my making body gently spin. I focused on the music finally, and decided to stay up until the song that was on ended. By then I knew I was done.

I signaled “down” and Roger lowered me onto the ground. I told them I felt like I was done, so Roger let the tension off the hooks. And here’s the weird thing (as if the rest of it wasn’t weird..), it actually felt uncomfortable when the pulling stopped. I almost “missed” the sensation, even though the pain was instantly gone. We went back into the piercing room and Roger removed the hooks. Then came another unexpectedly painful step (possibly THE most painful part of the whole experience)…”burping” the wounds. Think about it. Yep..air gets in there. It makes sense – your skin is being pulled away from the muscle, there are holes, which are stretched open, and as you move about, they gape a bit and air gets in there. In my case not much, my skin seems to take quite well to having hooks through it. Still, Roger was determined to find any air that might have gotten in. He did this by pressing VERY VERY hard…kind of a massage from hell, over and over. This was the only time during the entire event that I made painful expressions. REALLY painful expressions – one of the girls laughed and said “You didn’t make a face like that the ENTIRE time you were up!!!”.

When that was over I was allowed to get up and walk around. The relief was immense, my feet have never been so happy to feel a floor beneath them. I asked how long I had stayed up, because I felt like I wussed out pretty early in the game..it really only seemed like a few minutes. Matt checked and told me I’d been up for about 20 minutes. And that’s when everyone gave their suspension confessions – “My first time, I was up for about three minutes, got sick and came right down!”. Everyone else’s story was similar and Roger told me I had done really well. I was surprised by that – and by how unaware I was of the passing of time while I was up. I guess my mind had other things to focus on at the time.

So that was basically it. Matt showed me a little of the film footage (yet another wonderful aspect of Ancient Adornment’s suspension is that they film it for you and make you a very cool video set to music!!Wanna see? Click here!) and it was unreal. It was hard to wrap my head around the fact that the woman floating around in the video was me. It almost didn’t look like me. I became aware of a massive endorphin high – I was growing more giddy and elated by the second. I felt like I’d been injected with some sort of happy drug and I could not stop talking (poor Jim)! I babbled the whole way home and didn’t stop when we got there. I finally had a birthday cocktail and settled into bed, but it took a long time to wind down. Once I did, though, I slept. Deeply. A rarity for me. I was exhausted and happy and sore and I slept hard.

So was it what I expected? Not exactly – but I mean that in a good way. I’d actually been a little concerned that it would be easy and that I would feel as if it hadn’t been a challenge that I conquered. The fact that it was so much more intense, heavy and painful (and for a short while, very scary) than I had expected, but made it through anyway was rewarding. So..while it wasn’t what I expected, it was what I had HOPED for. It was exactly what it was supposed to be.

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About Me

Hippieville, CA, United States
This is the story of life after losing the "real" job and the house, trying to find the middle ground between making a living and actually living.