I had a moment in ballet class recently. I usually wear a tank top to class and it exposes a lot of my tattoos. Over the years, they’ve become part of the scenery. I rarely notice them any more except when people ask me about them. My oldest one turned 7 in October (I wasn’t kidding when I said it was full of anniversaries). As I was focusing on myself in the mirror, I thought “wow, I really do have a lot of tattoos”. The name of this blog was inspired by them.
My relationship with my tattoos has changed wildly over the years. When I first started getting them, they were mostly covered by clothing so no one ever asked about them. As I started getting more visible ones, I would get really defensive when people asked me about them. My parents hated them and have only recently come around to accepting them as part of the scenery as well. They did make my professional life harder. When I worked at the bank, even though I never saw customers or anyone other than my coworkers, they made me cover them up. That meant long sleeves and tights year round. With my current employer, as long as I’m within dress code, they don’t care what’s showing. When I worked retail, they didn’t care as long as nothing was offensive. Banana’s dress code included layers, so very few of them showed on a regular basis. When I finally accepted them for the self injury scars they were, my relationship with them changed again. Just like any other person who self harms, I have the scars to show for it and the world can see them. Mine quite literally happen to have a little more color. I don’t get angry or defensive when people ask me about them unless they touch me without my permission. I may reply with my usual sarcastic comment when they ask a silly question like “Did that hurt?”. I considered having them removed as recently as this spring. I’d even made an appointment with a dermatologist for a consult on what having them removed would entail. I canceled it at the last minute. They’re part of who I’ve become, good, bad, or otherwise.
I haven’t been tattooed since January of 2011. Even then, it was just finishing out a piece I’d started a few months earlier. When I’d been tattooed previously, the pain was never that bad. It was annoying and a bit painful in some places, but nothing I couldn’t handle for several hours at a time. My record is 6.5 hours of sitting. Artists frequently commented on what a good sitter (industry lingo for how long I could be tattooed without needing a break) I was. When I went in to finish my last tattoo, it was after I’d started therapy and begun to let go of some of the old pain. Finishing that piece was one of the most physically painful experiences to date. I squirmed and bit back the pain because I didn’t want to ruin my perfect record. What I didn’t realize at the time was tattooing didn’t serve me any more. I wasn’t numbing my emotional pain through physical pain any more. I’d been forced to face it head on. Now I knew how normal people felt being tattooed. I walked out of that tattoo shop with my finished piece and never set foot in one again. For those curious, my final piece was a phoenix.
Here’s to accepting bad decisions we made when we were young. Here’s to learning to accept yourself and your scars. Here’s to not being ashamed of the world getting to see them. Here’s to letting go instead of hanging on.