With the return of summer comes the return of clothes that, shall we say, are a little less covering than the turtlenecks and parkas we wore just a few short months ago. Ohio weather is fickle and I still have my winter coat handy, just in case. Anyway, I was reminded, once again, that with the change to my summer wardrobe, my tattoos once again emerge from their winter hiding place to speak of my life’s journey. I tend to forget I even have them; they’ve become such a part of me that they’re as natural as freckles on other people.
I was getting my change back from the not-so-friendly cashier at Krogers when she saw the tattoo on my wrist and did a visible eye roll accompanied with the wonderful scoffing sound that is oddly reminiscent of a cat struggling with a hairball. First off, I would just like to dispel the myth that tattooed people are lesser humans than non-tattooed people; each tattoo tells a story, even if that story is, “I got drunk at spring break and ended up with a snail on my rear end.” They are roadmaps of where we’ve been, where we’re going, and serve to either remind us of that story or to engage others in conversation about them. They speak of the human condition as a whole. Second off, I would like to tell you the stories of my tattoos in hopes that you will see me in a way other than girl with two tattoos who, clearly, deserves to be scoffed at when getting handed back her change at Krogers.
Tattoo 1: January 9th, 2010…one day after my 22nd birthday…I took my mentor at the time (who inspires me to this day despite the fact that our interactions are limited), to accompany me to get my first ever tattoo. I hesitantly walked into a tattoo shop in Dayton Ohio, clutching the design I had picked out close to my heart while offering up silent prayers that I wouldn’t be judged by what I was about to do. I had been wanting a tattoo for many years, but wanted it to mean something very personal and that represented who I am as an individual–something I wouldn’t regret when I was 40 or 50 like a dolphin jumping through a hoop of fire or name of a current crush. I had been contemplating going to therapy for about 6 months at that point, but had only been going to counselor, but was not getting the treatment I needed. I had been scouring the National Eating Disorder Association’s website for some time, looking for ways to get help…and that’s when I decided to get the NEDA symbol. It would be a constant reminder of where I had been with the disease, where I am with it, and where I hope to someday be with it. I wanted to be able to look at it every day to remind myself why life is so worth living, why I am worth loving and to always believe that I am worth treating well. It was to be my “strength for the journey” tattoo–my constant companion who would never judge but be an ever present reminder of my will to recover. I wanted to cry as I handed the folded up paper with the NEDA symbol on it to the man behind the counter, as I knew the inevitable was about to happen. I’ve heard it before: you don’t look like you have an eating disorder, which one do you have, why would you let yourself do this to your body…the list is almost as endless as the list of certain celebrities’ ex-husbands. As I was signing my life over to the tattoo artist, he unfolds the paper and stares at it for what seemed like an eternity. “So, what is this anyway?” he asks. I tell him that is the symbol for the National Eating Disorders Association and how they work to raise awareness and education on EDs as well as help those suffering from EDs and their families get help…and prayed that was the end of the questioning. “So, like, you have an eating disorder or something? Which one, anorexia or bulimia?” was the next question. I explained to him that it isn’t always such a clean cut distinction between the two but that my disordered eating is currently under a different category of eating disorders called “Not Otherwise Specified” as it does not fit all the criteria for either anorexia or bulimia according to the current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. The questioning stopped at that point, and the guy seemed a little taken aback by my honesty and the tears that were starting their journey down my cheeks. The rest of the experience was just talking about tattooing and his future move to Chicago, as I’m sure he felt a little uncomfortable talking about the tattoo itself. And, in the end, I ended up with exactly what I wanted and had educated on EDs at the same time. Every time someone asks about that tattoo I speak of NEDA’s hard work but also of my own. I still struggle. Daily I tell myself there is a difference between my thoughts and what my ED tells me–most days I listen to what’s right, but we all make mistakes. But it’s different now because I can look at my tattoo and remind myself why it is so important that I keep fighting, keep living and keep breathing.
Tattoo 2: September 24, 2011. My friend Kaity, who was visiting from out of town and had promised me we would get tattoos together, and I went to a shop to fulfill that promise. I got the word “Hope” written in Cherokee (my heritage) tattooed on my wrist. I chose to get “Hope” tattooed at this time because I had graduated summa cum laude from a private college the year before, but was still fighting to prove that I was good enough. That fighting took form of continuing my ED, self-mutilation and abusing laxatives. After receiving help from both the Lindner Center of HOPE (well, just an intake eval and a diagnosis) and my current team of doctors, it is my hope that I will move beyond these issues and learn that I am good enough (plus, hope is part of the Lindner Center’s name). That I am good enough to live. Good enough to love and good enough to love myself. Because now that I am in treatment, it is my hope to be able to live a healthy life as well as educate others about EDs. I know I don’t have all the answers (nor do I claim to), and I know I’ll be fighting this disease for many years to come…but I also know that these tattoos will remind me why I am fighting so hard, why I need to take life one day at a time and why it is so important to love life.
So, next time you are giving a twenty-something back her change at Krogers or come across a person at your local library who is tattooed, don’t automatically assume that they’ve been in jail, dropped out of high school or any other misconceptions you may. If you’re brave enough, ask them their story. If you come across me, by chance, I would love to tell you about mine…of course, after reading this, you have a pretty good idea of what mine mean.