Tattoos and Trauma: I Choose My Permanence

People often ask me what my tattoo means. The truth is that it means so many things that I couldn't sum it all up in a neat little package to convenience a curious mind. Forward motion, I tell them. Struggle, I tell them. But it means so much more.

People often ask me with their hooded eyes and tilt of glance if it's really such a great idea to invest, both money and potential professional integrity, in the eventual sprawling sleeve that I have in mind for my right arm.

People often ask me if I have tattoo regret. They suggest that the permanence of ink on my body is directly in contrast to the impermanence in our minds. What they don't understand is that a tattoo, to me, is so much more than ink.

It is a declaration. A rebellion. A statement.

My body has been taken from me in so many ways; by myself; by others.

I took my body from me. My preoccupation with the idea of beauty, and the idea that I did not fit that mold, took my body from me. Indulging in these destructive behaviors, a restrictive lifestyle encouraged by weight-loss cheerleaders, took my body from me. I took my body from me when I denied what it needed, ignored it when it begged for me to pay attention. I will not apologize for the ways in which I tried to heal my brokenness. But I cannot ignore the inevitable dissociation and detachment from my body that I engaged in under the guise of fixing myself.

Fear took my body from me. My childhood memories are dripping with trauma, like sweet viscous honey that clings to every crevice and corner. Manipulation and what most would define as psychological abuse plagued the insides of what was supposed to be my safe haven. Anger. Screaming voices, constant tears, thinly veiled threats of violence, and incessant hiding from the shadows that filled the corridors with their full-bodied presence. A constant overwhelming fear that filled my chest like a rapidly inflating balloon, frantically fluttering and always ready to pop.

Violence took my body from me. An adult figure meant to protect and serve, an adult figure meant to mentor and keep me safe, encroaching on my ever-changing body and striking when insecurities loomed heavy. Making me feel wanted and loved while twisting affection for their own desires. Trapping me in a web of self-doubt and convincing me it was what I wanted. Pulling at puppet strings that had been put in place throughout many vulnerable years, their just-our-little-secret promises and behind-closed-doors kisses ensuring silence and self-hatred.

People say that violence is permanently imprinted on the self. That surviving leaves its mark, whether you want it to or not… that your emotional scars leave a physical presence, and that you have no say in the matter. It is a part of you; your victimization and trauma are a part of you, forever emblazoned on your supple skin, marring the perfection and causing others to look away in sadness from the things that hurt you.

This is not your choice. Many would say that this is your burden to bear, your scar to show. These people would be wrong.

I choose my scars; I choose my survival; I choose my permanence.

A tattoo is a choice; surviving violence is not. And I would much rather make my choice to put whatever the hell I want on my body, than accept that what I have lived through has permanently scarred me.

I get tattoos because I want to reclaim my skin.

I get tattoos because I want to celebrate my body.

I get tattoos because I have finally given myself permission to view myself as a yet-to-be-conceived masterpiece.

I love tattoos because I want to dictate what stays permanently etched into my body. So many things have touched me in my life. People. Pain. Caresses and embraces. Violence and harshness. So many things that I had no control over. So many ways that I attempted to mold myself to fit what I thought I was supposed to be.

But now? Now I get to reclaim that. Reclaim my body, in all the ways it's been taken from me. From societal standards of beauty, to the man that touched me who never should have, who made my skin his before I knew how to live in it myself... I take my body back from all of these things and paint my body like a canvas. A beautiful piece of art that I get to design and manipulate and use to visually tell my story. Brush strokes here and there to show the world who I am before I even open my mouth.

People often ask me if I know what I'm doing.

My answer? Abso-fucking-lutely.