My New Tattoo: Turning a Negative into a Positive

So I got a new tattoo this past weekend! I’ve been wanting this tattoo for a good couple of months and I got it for a very special reason. This is my second tattoo (picture below of my first badass sister tat, which hurt like crazy). But before I get into the tattoo itself, I want to back up to about 8 months ago to when this all started and how the idea for this tattoo came about…

Tattoo

Circa 2015. Party on everyone.

 

The Backstory: 

In September of 2015 I was living on my own for the first time ever at age 28. My then-husband and I separated after 5 years of marriage and almost 12 years together. It was a mutual decision, but that didn’t make it any easier. To avoid dealing with my feelings from my separation, I decided to distract myself with other activities. I especially got busy decorating my new home and creating a new life for myself, which felt full of possibilities. For the first couple of months it felt strange, yet empowering, to be on my own. But this soon proved to be a temporary feeling.

 

About six weeks go by and I slowly spiral down and can’t seem to handle this new life. I’m an emotional mess because I have no idea how to be alone. I developed a hate for myself, so I was the most miserable person to be around. I didn’t even want to hang out with myself, though, fortunately, my cats still did. I had to figure out how to deal with my emotional pain, so I started turning to hard liquor, which I’d done before on occasion in years past. Anytime I felt myself falling into a bad emotional state, I’d reach for my whiskey and start drinking straight from the bottle. I’m kind of a lightweight, so it never took much to get me drunk. I’d drink enough to numb the pain and reduce my hysterics to light tears, and then I’d pass out, only to wake up to a bad hangover the next morning. I’d repeat this process as needed, which was at least once a week.

 

After about a month of this, the drinking alone didn’t feel like enough to deal with my emotions. I’d had thoughts of harming myself before, but when you live with someone you almost always have someone there to stop you. The most I would do in the past is dig my fingernails into my arms to try to at least break the skin. This would leave little marks on my skin for about a day or less. But now I was living by myself, and there was nobody there to physically stop me. One night in late November I started drinking and had a strong urge to cut myself. So I grabbed a kitchen knife and did just that, over and over again until I was satisfied. It didn’t even hurt. In fact, it felt good because it provided a distraction from my thoughts. The cuts weren’t deep enough to warrant needing stitches, but these marks would certainly last for more than a day.

 

This became a bad habit, an addiction even, that went on for another couple of months. I always cut on my left wrist, and always in the same two spots. As much as I had thoughts of wanting my life to end, I never actually cut to end my life. Instead, I would cut horizontally on the sides of my wrist. It was just a way to feel physical pain and relief from my thoughts. But I also felt a lot of shame from this. I’d wake up the morning after one of these awful nights, and I’d cringe at what I’d done to myself, again. I’d slap some bandages on my wrist, throw on some bracelets, and discreetly hide this from everyone I knew. Every time I cut, I’d tell myself the next day that this is the last time, that I was going to commit to getting myself better. But I failed myself over and over again and it was wearing me down. The final time I cut, my thoughts were so bad that I cut vertically down the middle of my wrist, which brought me just a little bit closer to ending things for good. At that point I decided to get myself some help, as I was clearly losing control.

 

I started therapy in January of this year, and while the obsessive, negative thoughts continued for a few more months, the cutting and drinking came to an end. I had a huge mental breakdown at the end of March, where I was ready to end my life, and from there started what I like to call my “awakening.” My healing process officially began at that point. I started to value and embrace myself and my life, I patched up relationships with people in my life, and I haven’t had suicidal or self-harming thoughts since. I was so proud of the progress I’d made that I wanted something to permanently symbolize this journey and healing process, which brings me to the reason for this blog post.

 

The Tattoo:

My good friend came with me (and even ended up getting her own tattoo!) to a cool little shop in Charlotte called Blood, Sweat and Tears. Eric Sparrow helped me with my design and then inked away. I decided not to watch while he tattooed me for a couple of reasons: 1) I’m a big baby, and 2) I wanted to wait to see it as a finished tattoo. I closed my eyes and practiced my meditative Darth Vader breathing throughout the process, which luckily only took about 10 minutes. It certainly hurt, though a lot less than the tattoo on my foot. When he finished, I took one look at it and held back tears. It was simple, but perfect.

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My just-finished tattoo, in all its red, painful glory

This one little tattoo holds a lot of meaning for me, from the design to the colors to the location. Here’s a little summary of what it means and why I chose it:

  • The Design – I chose a lotus flower for several reasons. These flowers are found in dirty, mucky ponds and emerge as beautiful, colorful jewels on the surface. It’s a meaningful symbol in yoga and Buddhist culture, representing beauty, purity, spirituality, expansion, awakening and life. The symbolism this flower holds is a reminder that we can all be a light in the darkness and that we can stand strong when our environment and surroundings are less than ideal. For me, it also means that despite the shit I’ve gone through and dealt with, I can rise above it with strength and beauty.

 

  • The Colors – While purple and green are my two favorite colors, that’s not the only reason I chose them for my tattoo. The purple lotus is the most rare color of these flowers, and is a symbol of spirituality, mysticism and enlightenment. Purple is also the color of the crown chakra, which represents beauty, spirituality and connection to our inner selves. The bit of green on the sides, while appropriate to resemble the leaves of the flower, has its own special meaning. Green is the color of the heart chakra, which represents love, happiness, balance and peace. Given what these colors represent, they were a clear choice for me to add to my lotus design.

 

  • The Location – This is perhaps the most important part of my tattoo. For a while I just wanted my wrist scars to go away and I would cover them up as best I could. I was deeply ashamed of them, and only associated them with weakness and negativity. But as I’ve gone through my own personal awakening in the last couple of months, I’ve come to realize that these scars are just another part of me and they don’t need to be covered up. They are there because of me, and me alone, and I’ll wear them proudly. So I got my tattoo on my wrist, with 2 of my scars surrounding it and one going right through the flower. This serves as a constant reminder of what I went through to get to this better place, and that I can always turn the negative aspects of my life into positive ones with a change in perception.

A Side Note About Tattoos: 

I’ll keep this brief, but I want to offer my perspective on the notion of tattoos and how they are viewed in society. I don’t want to generalize, but there is a common negative perception of tattoos among the baby boomer generation and up. I’m aware that many people age 50+ have tattoos of their own (rock on!), but I don’t think anyone would disagree with me that most comments like “why do you need a tattoo?” tend to come from people of a certain age. My answer to that is: we don’t need tattoos, we just want them. My generation is the most inked generation thus far, because this is how we’re expressing ourselves. We’re a creative group who are never quite satisfied with the status quo. We just want to embrace our weirdness in an artistic way.

 

Honestly, we don’t really care how our tattoos will look when we’re old, and we likely won’t have regretted getting them. I read a funny blurb on a blog recently from a girl who was asked, “what are you going to do when you get old with all these tattoos?” Her response: “I’ll probably fit right in!” This made me laugh because it’s true. We millennials will be quite the colorful bunch hobbling around with our walkers! And not to sound morbid, but I’ve never assumed I’d live to be old. I have a big fear of death and would like to live for a long time, but I’ve also accepted the fact that I could die today, or tomorrow, or next week. So are tattoos really that big of a deal when you get down to it? Isn’t it more important to just be a good person while we’re on this planet, regardless of what’s on our skin? Fortunately, tattoos are becoming more acceptable in today’s society, but to those of you who just can’t shake the idea of them: Let it go. It’s not about you. 

 

There’s a quote in Elizabeth Gilbert‘s book, Big Magic, that sums it up quite nicely:

“My tattoos are permanent; it’s just my body that’s temporary. So is yours. We’re only here on earth for a short while, so I decided a long time ago that I wanted to decorate myself as playfully as I can, while I still have time.”

 

Of course, getting a tattoo isn’t the only way to turn a negative experience into a positive one, but for me it has helped my personal healing process. Because in the midst of my physical demons now lies a symbol of perseverance. It’s truly empowering when you can turn a part of your life around for the better, no matter your method of getting there. I hope that any of you who are going through a difficult time, regardless of what it is, can find a method that works for you to turn your negative into a positive. If you’d like to share your story or thoughts, please leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you!

 

 

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