Tattoos as self-care

Since leaving my marriage I have embodied just about every cliche imaginable. I changed my hair. I pierced my nose. And now, I have completed the Leaving a Traumatic Relationship trifecta: I got a tattoo.

I have long loved tattoos and had ideas about what I wanted indelibly etched into my body since my early teen years. Of course, mom said no and I had to wait until I was 18. I also had plans for a bunch of piercings too but still just have the single set of Claire’s style gun piercings (please do not do this) in my lobes I got when I was 20, plus the nose ring I got ten years later. For someone super into body modification, I was kind of a late bloomer. Also, my ex seemed to think he had some veto power over my body modifications so I kind of let it all slide and take a back burner since I didn’t want to have to fight about it.

My first tattoo was my birth name on my right ankle. I got it done right after my first wedding, because I was salty about being forced to change my name upon marriage. Forced is a harsh word choice, but after all my talk of keeping my name when I got married, my first husband pulled the “I actually really want you to change it” card with a month to go before the wedding and I didn’t realize “no” was an option. As I have now become estranged from both parents who gave me this last name and I’ve legally changed it to something completely new, I no longer feel attached to this tattoo and plan to cover it. My sister, who has a matching one, is also planning to cover hers.

My second tattoo was a celtic knot on my left arm, but I was scared of the pain and chose a size far too small for that part of my body. It looked absolutely ridiculous. My fourth tattoo was a lotus to cover this tattoo up. It is, thus far in the story, my largest tattoo.

My third tattoo was a matching tattoo with my now second ex-husband after we’d been dating for about a month. Luckily, it’s not something that you can tell is a matching tattoo by looking at it, but I still have plans to cover it up and reclaim it so I no longer think of him when I see it.

I, uh, had a habit of getting cheap tattoos. I never invested in the beautiful large pieces I admired on others. Investing in quality tattoo work was never something I allowed myself to do because it was so utterly indulgent. How could I reconcile spending so much money on something that does not add value or productivity? How could I justify this when I could pay half of somebody’s rent with the fee for a three-hour session under the needle?

I finally got over it and designed the most beautiful piece of art I have ever had placed on my person (so far). It’s a beautiful complement to my lotus, building on the existing tattoo and then circling around it in an array of different flowers.

Underneath the lotus are a zinnia, a dahlia, two violets, and a rose. Zinnia represents friendship, constancy, and lasting love – like the love I have for myself that I will always prioritize. Blue dahlias represent fresh starts and new beginnings. Violet is the birth flower of February, a tribute to my late stepfather who died as I was in the midst of my exit from an abusive marriage. Pink roses represent appreciation and gratitude – for myself and for those around me who helped support me.

Coming up and around the lotus are a larkspur and a Phalaenopsis orchid. Larkspur is the July birth flower, a tribute to my sister, and orchids represent proud femininity, new beginnings, and respect. Lotus, of course, represents growth from darkness. Each flower in this tattoo represents something precious and important to me, and it was a very healing experience to finally allow myself this act of self-care (albeit slightly painful self-care). I’ve been overjoyed by the sight of it in the mirror every time I see it, and I can’t wait to go back and get it finished.

Per commenter request, here are some photos:

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5 thoughts on “Tattoos as self-care

  1. Holly says:

    Wow! I so needed to read this right now. I’ve done the separation thing recently, and have been thinking about all the tattoos I’ve had on the backburner during my marriage. Nothing explicitly preventing me, but it wasn’t his thing. And so much with the cost being indulgent, and not adding productivity or value, that’s something I’ve always struggled with. So thank you for your words. They resonate, and are making me think.

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