I adore tattoos. I’ve wanted a tattoo for so long that I don’t even know who first inspired the budding tattoo fanatic in me. I read about them; I study them. They fascinate me. I love that they tell me something personal about a stranger without words being exchanged. It’s almost like a code. I constantly think about getting tattoos, just like a kid might dream about being a superhero. When I was younger, I dreamed of having a reason to get a tattoo, almost like it was a rite of passage.
Most people guess I have more, and I can see why. But as much as I love talking about tattoos, I only have three. There is an eight-spoke wheel on my right shoulder, a tree stump with deep roots on my left side, and a three-word reference from a favorite book on my left wrist. I wonder what people think when they see them, if they can correctly decipher my code. Do they see the roots peeking out of my shirt and think I love trees? Do they see the wheel and think I love the sea? Or do they see the true meaning of each tattoo? People who have tattoos get them for different reasons. For me, they become a solution to a puzzle that keeps me distracted from thoughts of self-harm.
I’ve struggled with self-harm since I was a preteen. Almost every scar on my body has been by my hand, and I am still figuring out why with my therapist. But I’m lucky; I’ve learned how to divert my thoughts to something constructive when I start to slip down that dark, dangerous road. I write. I read. I draw. I play video games. I play a lot of video games. I do something to make sure those thoughts don’t appear. Sometimes those thoughts do show up, appearing seemingly out of nowhere and gone just as fast. Other times, however, they linger. If they linger, I think about getting a tattoo.
I spend countless hours researching, sketching, and planning my tattoos. I put the design on my inspiration wall and stare at it for hours, while a crude rendering has already been drawn on my body with an eyeliner pen. This planning stage lasts for months, just so I can make sure I’m not making an impulse decision on the design. After I am certain the tattoo is something I am willing to see every day for the rest of my life, I spend another set of countless hours researching tattoo artists. Through the process, I ask my friends for their opinions to get a different perspective. I am afraid of making a mistake; I don’t want to have to live with an ugly reminder of bad planning. I’ve done this three times, and I’m currently going through it again for my fourth tattoo.
I chose the placement months before this process even started. I chose that the minute I didn’t act on a dark, dangerous thought on my right shoulder, my left side, my left inner wrist, or my right outer wrist. I don’t know if you have any tattoos, and if you do, I don’t know what your code reveals. All I know is that I’ve chosen to solve my problem with a pretty interesting solution, and it’s a good feeling.
I used to think that getting a tattoo would be a rite of passage for me. And it has been, in a way. But I think it’s the motivation behind the tattoo that’s more important. It’s me knowing that I can love myself or I can hurt myself – and choosing love.