How Body Art Helped Me Overcome an Abusive Past

Brooke Cagle/Unsplash

Trigger warning: bodily and sexual abuse.

The first time I used to be sexually assaulted, I used to be 16 years outdated. My “boyfriend” pressured me right into a compromising place. He gave me an ultimatum: give him a blowjob or get out.

I used to be first identified with psychological sickness after I was 17 years outdated, after years of reducing and self-injury. After a precarious suicide try.

I bought my first tattoo after I was 18 years outdated. I gave up my driver’s allow, buying and selling the skinny piece of cardstock for a state-issued ID and a few ink. And I used to be bodily abused after I was 19 years outdated. My boyfriend struck me within the face throughout a struggle over a banana.

He gave me a bloody nostril and blackened my eye.

And whereas this was the primary time, it wouldn’t be the final time. I collected bruises like my associates collected Beanie Babies or playing cards. Every day was a distinct wound. A distinct battle. A distinct scar. 

The excellent news is, ultimately issues bought higher. I’m 36 and haven’t been overwhelmed, pushed, kicked, or struck in a while; nonetheless, the injuries remained (and, in some ways, nonetheless stay) — a minimum of till I turned to physique modification. Until I spotted the therapeutic that I discovered in tattoos and physique artwork. 

“Trauma experts encourage us to work from the body out in the course of recovery and healing — to attend to the sensations, senses, and images that carry the imprint of trauma,” Suzanne Phillips, a psychologist and adjunct professor of medical psychology at Long Island University, tells PsychCentral. “The tattoo’s use of the body to register a traumatic event is a powerful re-doing. It starts at the body’s barrier of protection, the skin, and uses it as a canvas to bear witness, express, release and unlock the viscerally felt impact of trauma.” And this was the case with me.

The first time I used to be tattooed, I felt empowered. Like I used to be reclaiming a bit of myself. Of my voice. The second time I knew it wasn’t a fluke. The act remodeled me. I felt complete — and healed — and since then I’ve used tattoos to overcome grief, trauma, unhappiness, and loss. My tattoos aren’t simply part of my story, they are the story. They are photos of ache and triumph. Of battles gained. 

Of course, I’m not alone. Many folks use tattoos as a method of catharsis for varied causes. Kelli, whose final title is being withheld at her request, advised Scary Mommy she used physique artwork to beat a “difficult crossroads” in her life. 

“Everything was crumbling around me, and my religion and culture were the only things there for me during that trying time — hence why I got a shamrock with a trinity knot.” 

Caitlin Papanier, a childcare supplier and educator, admits she used tattoos as a option to cease injuring herself and participating in self-harm.  

“[Cutting] was a way for me to bring an instant calm to a chaotic emotional overload. When my anger and anxiety would become too much to handle — when my adrenaline was skyrocketing at an insane pace — the ONLY way to drop those levels were to cut and then instantly take a nap. But then I found tattooing and the second I felt that needle, I was instantly calm. It felt like I could finally breathe.”

And Samantha Robinson, a mom of three, shared an identical story.

“I tattooed my left forearm to cover scars from my past. I used to cut as a way to cope from sexual assault in my teenage years. As I got older and found better ways to cope I was embarrassed by the scars. My tattoo brought beauty from pain and reminds me of everything I have overcome. It made me confident again.”

That mentioned, tattoos nonetheless get a nasty rap. Many affiliate the artwork kind with deviant, legal, or sexualized behaviors — therefore the phrases “prison art” and “tramp stamp.” The notion that tattoos and physique modification can be utilized to heal can be extensively debated. Some consider it’s a type of social masochism. However, tattoos could be cathartic for many people, notably for these (like me) overcoming trauma. In truth, “therapeutic tattoos” signify a robust pathway to therapeutic and physique reclamation.

“In its visibility and in the bearer’s wish to let it be seen, a tattoo can undo the shame so often associated with trauma, war, victimization, and the intergenerational legacy of hidden trauma,” Phillips writes. “Choosing to publically… [share things which are] often hidden, they [tattooed individuals] turn horror to honor and shame to a shout about survival and a mandate to ‘Never Forget.’”

As for me, tattoos have helped me cowl bodily wounds, bringing new gentle and life to myself and my physique. They have helped me overcome invisible scars. The act of tattooing has really helped me heal, feeling snug within the palms of others. I’ve allowed males (and ladies) to the touch my physique in a protected, managed, and intimate means. What’s extra, tattoos have given me a renewed sense of self. Body artwork has helped me really feel safer in my pores and skin. For me, physique artwork has been transformative, in additional methods than one.

Does that imply tattoos are proper for everybody? No. Of course not. Tattoos are private, as is trauma. But there may be potential pushed with ink. Power. Tattooing could be motivational, inspirational, and stuffed with therapeutic and hope.

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