Lived Experience/Memoir

Pumpkin, Hook Pull, And A Wedding

I just realized today that it’s been just about a year since my hook pull. That event was the height of all positive, empowering emotions for me. The very next day was the long-awaited wedding of one of my best friend’s best friends. Everyone at the wedding was so warm to me, and inclusive and inviting — I’ve rarely ever experienced a crowd of people like that before in my life. And when I have, it’s caused me so much anxiety that I walked away an emotional wreck. It was also the first wedding I’ve had the privilege of photographing (and I received very humbling praise from the bride a couple months later). These events changed everything. I began to rapidly withdraw myself from anyone who treated me like I deserved less respect than I offer.

It seems hardly ironic to me, then, that this was the beginning of the worst six months in the last ten years of my life. It is a well-known fact that when a person has been driven so deep into depression that they consider taking their own life, it’s not when they sit at rock-bottom at they are the most at-risk for suicide. It is in fact, when they are on the climb up out of that depression, that they are the most vulnerable, because they have to get used to feeling again, as if for the first time. And for me, rock bottom happened in the end of December of 2009, when I gave my life over to a complete stranger (in a manner I had always promised myself I would never engage in as long as I have any magnitude of self-respect) in the anticipation of being put out of my misery. I didn’t tell anyone except two psychotherapists and my only non-professional confidant for nearly two years. There is a sense in which I see myself, for the entire period between then and March of 2011, as hovering there at rock bottom, or just barely above it.

My best friend had asked me to be his date at the wedding when the wedding was announced. We were both uncertain of whether or not I would (or could) actually be there. But then I found out that the hook pull would be on the same weekend, and I started planning and strategizing to get there any way I could. Fakir Musafar (considered the father of the Modern Primitives movement) would be facilitating it, with his long-term partner Cleo Dubois, and I knew that I couldn’t miss it. I knew that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that, if I wasn’t there, I would spend the rest of my life kicking myself in the ass over. And the timing with respect to the wedding made it even more statistically impossible to repeat. I hadn’t yet met my best friend face-to-face, but he and I had been talking to each other almost daily since I had first heard about what a hook pull was and nearly crapped my pants in anticipation of how much pain it would cause to endure. By the time I spotted this opportunity, I had fully worked through the overwhelming anxiety I had about that pain, realizing that I had faced my own certain death more times than I could count — that it just didn’t make sense to fear the hooks anymore.

I very quietly cried on the plane during both the take-off and landing. The only times I’ve been on a plane prior to this trip were for heart-breaking reasons that significantly contributed to my descent into the kind of self-hatred it takes to try and commit suicide. I felt overwhelmed with anticipation, watching the waves of the ocean disappear under misty clouds. Joy swept through me as I watched green fields and tiny little man-made lakes and roads that looked like veins, slowly grow bigger when the plane descended from the mist. By the time I was finally in the air port, I was positively bursting with joy — I was finally meeting the man I’ve been fostering the longest friendship I’ve ever had with anyone. We spent the entire long weekend together, and it was like we had been hanging out and drinking for years.

My hook pull overwhelmed me with feelings of self-love, to the point that I felt equal compassion for every other person in the room with me. I was so ecstatic, even before the piercing started, that I was trembling and just couldn’t stop smiling. I giggled very nervously as I was being pierced, holding hands with another friend I have deep love and compassion for (the full magnitude of which, I realized while we were holding hands, facing each other as we were being flogged). We were pierced at the same time, and we pulled together. We pulled against each other, and we were graced by both Cleo and Fakir. The most heightened moment of the experience for me was when Fakir approached the two of us, pulling against each other, and I invited him to hook in with the very thick rope he was wearing in his heavy-gauge deep-chest piercings. Rather than opening the carabiner that held my friend and I together, he swung that rope around my neck and pulled against me. It was bliss, and I was ecstatic. I took this picture when I settled in for the night with my best friend:

I remember holding the cord that linked my hooks together, and telling people that it reminded me of the initiation of Hindu boys into adulthood, because they are given the sacred thread that they wear for the rest of their lives. I am not wearing that cord in the same way, but this experience is something no one can ever take away. It is with me for the rest of my days. It just so happened, that was also the night of the super moon, during which the full moon appeared the largest and brightest that it has appeared (or will appear) in 18 years.

Imagine my amazement when, the next day, I spent the entire afternoon in a room of a few dozen people who acted like we had known each other for years and I was one of their closest friends, just like the best friend I had just met face-to-face for the first time two days earlier. I have said it before, and I will say it again: this is such a rare event in my life, that it would typically make me feel an unusually heightened level of anxiety that would turn me into a disempowered emotional wreck. But that didn’t happen with this group of strangers. And the reason, I think, is because we were all there to celebrate the happiest day of the united lives of the bride and groom. I took all my photographs at a distance in a sort of stealth-mode (as I typically do in social situations like this), but the joy still reached into me and shook all traces of anxiety right out of me.

I stayed on this emotional high for a couple of months before the stress of repeatedly being re-traumatized finally took that away. But I have never known such joy before in my entire life. And I know that the day will come again, when I re-live that too. In the mean time, I have many joyful memories to recount:

I love you, Pumpkin!

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