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First Tattoo rite of passage

by Emily M 2 years ago in humanity
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How my first tattoo helped save my life

First Tattoo rite of passage
Photo by Ana Martinuzzi on Unsplash

Tattoos. The word evokes so many mixed emotions in so many different people. Some good, often bad. For me, tattoos - or one in particular - became my focus, self care and helped me stop cutting.

Life was both very kind to me, and yet not when I was younger. I had so many people who loved me, who tried, but I was an angry 14 year old girl. Emotions, hormones, growing pains in so many ways imaginable cause me to try and find control in my life somehow. Cutting was that release. Looking back it's all literally textbook. I'm 99% sure someone could write a case study on my life and find it fascinating.

When I was unhappy, and seeking that release cutting felt so good. The thin burn as you cut and went deeper, the cuts and marks almost a medal of how far I was able to take it. How far I could push past the pain and keep control. For a long time, my family was mainly unaware - or pretended, hoping it was a phase or something that might pass. It didn't.

When I was finally caught and had to have the conversation with my Mother I tried to blame it on the cat. Playing with our fuzzy buddy Charcoal he scratched me and that's how it must have happened. My Mom, unfortunately for not a total and complete idiot. In my family we go immediately to Nana for everything. She is the beloved matriarch of the family and practically raised me when my Mom was a single working Mom who supported us herself.

Both of my Grandmother's are the reason I stopped hurting myself. I didn't want my Nana and Grandma to go through the pain of losing - on the paternal side - her son and then her only grandchild, or her grandchild.

My Nana made me a deal, if I stopped, she would sign and pay for my first tattoo when I turned 16. I went to live with her shortly after and neither of us forgot that promise. When I turned 16 I still didn't have a clear vision of what I wanted, so I waited until I was actually almost 17 to get my tattoo. I knew what commitment it was, I have the scars that mark every bad decision I've made. So I was not going to get any regular flash art tattoo. I'll be the first to admit I have 100% "White girl" tattoos - but each one has a very special significance to me. Not every tattoo has to have a deep story behind it, some can be "I liked it" but mine all mean something. I have deeper meanings inside my tattoos like an Easter Egg.

When I finally decided upon my first tattoo, my best friend drew it, and in the end three or four of us have the same tattoo in different ways. On my shoulder forever I have a red butterfly, with the saying "A butterfly knows no shame."

A reminder that the butterfly that floats on the breeze, that can flap its wings in Canada and cause a typhoon - has no worries for what others think. It's beautiful, crazy, delicate and real. It was my group of friends, the Red Butterflies, the girls who had my back no matter what happened. No matter what we looked like, no matter what we enjoyed listening too, or watching, or learning, we had our people. We belonged. We mattered. If only too each other, we mattered.

My first tattoo may not be the biggest, the best executed, done by the best artist, or anything that will ever win design awards. But it is the one that means so much to me. It tells a story of a chapter in my life that ended and began. It reminds me of the people who love me, the people who care about me, and to always be myself.

A butterfly knows no shame after all.


About the author

Emily M

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