Wednesday, November 3, 2010

the gospel according to punk rock, anorexia, and razorblades

Monday night I went to see Social Distortion play. The last time I saw them was 6 years ago, which is hard to believe. I spent my teen years going to punk shows all the time, but it's been 3 or 4 years since I've even been to one.

This past monday, as I felt my heart lift when Mike Ness stepped out on stage, I couldn't help but feel a loss. A loss of the girl who banged her drums and strummed power chords on her cheap electric guitar. Those things that gave me strength, that I clung to as some way to define my constantly fleeting sense of self, fell away years ago. I can't help but try to find the moment when things changed; when I went from idolizing leather-jacketed men who wore their pain in tattooed sleeves and screamed it out in microphones, exorcising it, to wispy girls exercising it, starving it, puking it out. When I stopped admiring the turning of pain into righteous anger and soul-saving songs, and placed it instead on silent suffering, jabbing fingers and gagging, on mouths stitched tight and days connected like dots by the number on scales and labels; when stomping strong in steel-toed Doc Martens became shaking stick arms and trembling twig legs in children's jeans. Punk is refusing to be silent. Anorexia is silencing every aspect of myself.

When I discovered punk rock I thought I'd been saved from my pathetic existence of emptiness and nothingness, from being a Nobody. I was so tired from screaming on the inside, my face a blank mask of stillness, the best hiding place. Playing Dead was my survival skill, but it was starting to kill me. That summer I was fourteen I built a cocoon in my bedroom, wrapped myself in safety-pinned t-shirts and pictures from Spin's 25th Anniversary of Punk issue. It started with a glimpse of Johnny Rotten's crazed eyes; I felt my insides tremble with something like hope and recognition. He went on the wall beside my bed, soon joined by Joey Ramone, Joe Strummer, and The Damned. That summer, "Pretty Vacant" played over and over on my discman, and Johnny Rotten's memoir became my Bible. It all made so much sense, something clicked into place. This is who I am, this is why I don't fit in. This is how to breath, to be in my skin. This is how to be seen, to find a way out. I can be this fucked up loser and still be okay. There is hope.

By September I emerged a pink-haired butterfly with torn, safety-pinned wings, plaid and studded and on fire. Patches proclaimed my tribe, allegiences to bands and anarchy. This time when I walked into classrooms, for the first time teachers looked at me; not through me, or at my brother's "little sister." I fluttered through hallways on the intensity of people's stares, no longer transparent and insignificant. I was the only one like me there, but there was a name for me now, and I was part of something bigger. There were others, and the ones who came before me, guiding me through my headphones, gabba gabba we accept you, wore their armor of spikes and studs against words and stares, and survived.

I was idealistic, the conviction of a new convert. Joey had stood on my wall on insect legs and told me an ugly freak could be loved. I was sure that others who emerged like me did it for the same reasons, had the same understanding, the same gods of Dee Dee and Captain Sensible. I didn't expect Hot Topic uniforms and the new testament of Green Day and Good Charlotte. Johnny Rotten never spoke of getting sneered at by popular girls making punk pretty and fun.

Soon I fell deeper into destruction. Sid Vicious, dead by 21, hovered over my pillow with "give me a fix" carved into his bare chest. Darby Crash, with broken teeth and cigarette burns called to me in songs about tunnels and being caged, the hopelessness that makes you eventually die by age 20 with a needle in your arm on the floor of someone's garage. Iggy Pop rolled around in glass and stabbed himself, Johnny Thunders sang about being Born to Lose before dying of an overdose before Dee Dee Ramone. All of the people who seemed to understand me most couldn't survive in this world. Even punk rock wasn't enough of a way out. Their pain made them cause more pain just to cancel it out.

Eventually my pain could no longer be contained in mosh pits and jars of manic panic and screams like beautiful stab wounds. my wounds emerged real and bloody on the surface of my skin the summer of my suffocation; when in the heat and rage and nothingness of my inner self caused something in me to finally break, or maybe come alive, inflamed. It was the moment I realized that nothing was enough. Tears weren't enough, and there were no words that could explain or heal. I did what felt like survival, the opposite of my days of playing dead, or maybe no different. But the impulse to attack myself was pure-to grab the safety-pin next to me and drag it across my flesh. To create silence, a space to breathe. To be in existence and to fall out of it.

In many ways I've fallen out of life and into some sort of existence, a limbo-state of psych wards and force feedings amidst school and pretend functioning and trying to allow someone to love me. I live in my head, and I've forgotten the letting-go in the crowd, the bass line heartbeat and soaring vocals, the pure anger and celebration of surviving.


  1. Wow. That's all. Oh, and this....when you write a book let me know. Please write a book. I remember when I turned... and the fear and excitement of making that first red line appear on my arm with my pocket knife that was meant to be "handy". I want to be able to laugh at these memories. I tried so hard to find a way to laugh....when I fail, I give in and cry.

    Anyways...nobody likes a rambly comment.

    I just meant to say: Good post.

  2. thank deserve a prize just for reading all that.

    sometimes it's good to laugh, but it's hard when those memories still cause so much pain. it's okay to grieve too.

  3. God can I relate and when does that ever happen? Most everyone around me thought punk was stupid to begin with and were deeply uninterested in hearing about how it broke my heart eventually. Thanks for writing.

  4. You have an amazing way with words. I could empathize so much with everything you wrote here (though I was never into the punk rock), and you captured it so beautifully. I agree with the previous commenter, please write a book. Your writing is so vivid.

  5. Thank you for writing this and for sharing it here.

    They used to burn women accused of being witches, hundred of thousands maybe more, to terrify and silence them.

    Somehow anorexia became a preemptive strike. And a horrifying distraction from the ongoing slaughter of all girls' souls.

    Be well in peace.

    -The Crone

  6. This makes me want to cry. And I too can identify with drowning myself in music and worshipping certain bands. I have a shrine wall in my room. I think I cannot be without something to obsess over.

    Your writing, your story, is heartbreakingly beautiful.