Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Life, After Eighteen

By Jocelyn Perez

Frida Kahlo’s“Lo que me Dio el Agua” provokes many emotions within me, as well as brings forth not just one in particular, but an onslaught of memories, specifically, the bathtub, and its significance to me. I had learned to perceive the bathtub as a place of cleansing and renewal, a place where, after the hardest of times, the water could simply wash away the pain of the day. I pictured some of my troubles rolling down my back and into the drain never to be seen again. The painting, however, made me wonder if my troubles truly vanish into the maze of pipes, or if they truly linger in the tub, present every time I step into it, rotting away in shadows. Could it be that they sit there waiting, watching night after night, prepared to reveal themselves when they so please? In the approximately fourteen years I have lived in this apartment, my bathtub has experienced countless showers, cleanings and those warm bubble baths, but it has also been stained numerous times by my troubles wrapped in blood.

Our counselor taught us, “Once a Cutter, Always a Cutter.” This mantra was not meant to inspire a defeatist attitude but meant to encourage strong support systems that would protect us from the urges in the future. Two out of three times, intrusive thoughts follow problems concerning relationships, school or work. Even if you do not cut in a year, it does not mean that you would never cut again. Years may pass and the scars may fade, but there may be one day, (we do not wish that day to come for anyone) that you will give in and hurt yourself.

My original group consisted of seven individuals; the number sometimes increasing by two over the course of the years. We had all started cutting at very young ages as outlets for our emotions. In our situation, it was not for attention, for we hid our wounds. We were only here because we had eventually run out of excuses when the wounds were finally discovered. We were labeled the “troubled” children and put through various workshops about problem solving and “loving ourselves.” Some of us actually wanted to stop for our parents’ sake while others felt helpless without this sense of control. Cutting, whether it was on the arms, legs, or stomach, served as relief from feelings of anger, mental or emotional pain, and guilt.

I started when I was nine, as my parents were going through a divorce. Most of us had started then. I had this desperate need to punish myself. I went into the bathroom, climbed into the tub and began to slash my legs and shoulders with a shard of glass. I found solace in this act, for the pain chased away the problems, even if it was just for awhile. I began to use it more frequently, and before I realized it, cutting had become like a drug. I used this form of relief for everything, even for things as simple as before and after school exams. The stress would become so unbearable that the only way I could concentrate was by constantly touching my arms. The pain I felt served as reassurance. This habit followed me into my teenage years until I was put into a program at the age of sixteen after my high school’s assistant principal noticed a bloody bandage around my forearm when my sleeve fell back as I was putting a textbook up on a high shelf. It was June, ninety-five degrees, and I was wearing a sweater. “Another warning sign,” so he said. I always wore long sleeves no matter the weather, did not like the beach due to the skin exposure and always had a first aid kit in my bag. My parents never noticed anything peculiar about my behavior. If they had only seen the knife and array of broken glass stashed along with the first aid kit, things might have gone differently.

I was eighteen and had been through an endless stream of therapy sessions. These sessions were now one on one, required complete body checks and of course the monthly parent-child therapies. Obviously, my parents were now completely aware of my problem and claiming it was an act of rebellion on my part. Of course, it was a rebellion for almost half my life, although I was actually trying to stop. The trips to the bathtub were decreasing. Now, I often went there just to cry. I kept being told to find a “more productive” outlet for my emotions, but I was not interested in taking on a new hobby. I wrote poetry and painted but if anything, rereading my work or looking at my paintings plunged me into such a depression that I just found myself back at square one; the smell of rubbing alcohol more comforting than ever.

Finally, I gave up trying to express my emotions and spent longer times in the tub thinking. I constantly thought of how I had gotten myself into this position and how I could get myself out. These deliberations began to take place under scolding hot showers and I would increase the heat along with my frustration. The numbing sensation came incredibly close to the feeling I experienced from a blade. At that moment, I realized that this could serve as that outlet along with the bathtub’s familiar comfort. My therapist told me that I could imagine my problems as little civilizations being swept away by the water. They would disappear into the drain and relief could soon follow. I tried this technique several times until I did not have to imagine anymore but I simply felt the immediate effects. It has been well over a year since I last “damaged” myself, as our counselor had put it, but I admit the thoughts are still present during daily conflicts. The act that I once saw as a quick-fix now appears before me as a ticket to a long road to Kahlo’s painting, nothing but a bathtub full of tears.


  1. That was quite moving and the candor of the writing is what makes it particularly impressive.

    Thanks for shedding light on a topic I knew little about.

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  3. The author is courageous, and brutally honest about her previous vice. What I find interesting is the thought process created from just a glance at a painting. The connections made from the bathtub, and the thoughts that mental connection invoked. In addition, she did a wonderful job of illustrating and summarizing her thought process and experiences.

    Thanks for your fearlessness.

    -Mr. Don Duval Patterson


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