the story of needles

Like most stories, this one is a nesting doll composed of smaller stories.

When I was seven years old I had an encounter with a rock, resulting in six bright blue stitches on my hairline. I’ll write more about that one later, because it is also the story of writing. Suffice to say for this purpose, the stitches spawned my deadly fear of needles. Or really my skin being pricked at all. It doesn’t have to hurt, heck I don’t even have to feel it, I only have to be aware that something has pierced me and phew down I go.

And I do mean down I go. I faint getting blood tests. I get woozy seeing fake needles in movies. I’m using the word correctly when I say I literally passed out three times trying to get a band-aid on when I cut myself making a grilled cheese sandwich.

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But it was a damn good sandwich.

So it makes perfect sense that I have eight earrings, healed over belly and nose piercings, and a tattoo that took fourteen hours! (Plus a smaller one, plus of course plans for more because they are addictive)

I first decided to overcome my phobia by donating blood. But they did the finger prick test, declared my blood too low in iron, and I ran away and never went back. Oh my gosh I better never develop diabetes because unless they find a non-needle way to test blood sugar I’m just plain going to die.

This is all stacking up to the tattoo story, because against all logic I love tattoos even though the only way to get one is to face one of my most irrational fears. I suspect that is part of the allure, like I am proving something to myself by facing a giant needle machine. But also, UMMMM they are hella rad and by plastering them underneath my clothing it is like I have a secret layer of armor that nobody knows about. I almost never feel a desire to show them to people, and feel kind of secretive and embarrassed when anybody goes, “Hey Sam show them yours!” Because they’re miiiine.

But here’s a picture anyway.

Thank you, Bill Canales at Full Circle Tattoos!

So, my process:

  1. Lay down and panic about the impending needle machine.
  2. Feel dizzy and nauseous for 15 minutes.
  3. Chug some orange juice to get my blood sugar up!
  4. Gradually sink into a meditative state in which the pain is more fascinating than alarming.
  5. Reflect on life for three hours.
  6. Hug tattoo artist on the way out because now I am stumbling and drunk on endorphins.

Step 4 was really the surprise for me: the way pain can act as a focus, and that by pushing my body to withstand it I can reach a calm zone. At one of my long sessions with the big tat, there was a girl on the next table screaming, “You’re hurting me! Ow! Ow it hurts!” the entire time, and her artist was sitting there with a stony look on his face like, “Just. Get. This. Over with.” Deal how you need to deal I guess, but I suspect you were not prepared to get a tattoo! And ultimately it felt strange that I was over there having some kind of spiritual experience, and my neighbor was absolutely miserable.

If there is any sort of message for myself in this, it is that frightening and painful things can be a focus that show us what we are capable of enduring in pursuit of a greater goal. I like my tattoo because it is a piece of art, but I fiercely love my tattoo because it is evidence of how I triumphed over my phobia.

The caveat of course being: triumphed does not equal cured. Take my blood and you’d better have a juice box ready because my blood pressure is 108 over 68 and I will fall down.