*Disclaimer: This is a story about my own experience having a tattoo. In no way do I judge others for having tattoos.
When I was a teenager I got a tattoo.
I did it mostly in defiance of the old-fashioned, conservative family who raised me.
I was essentially asserting myself as a bad*ss, who was above their rules.
When my family finally did see my tattoo, they pitched a fit. My dad screamed, “Now you’ll have to marry a biker.”
I’d marked myself as a “rebel” who would now be an outcast in society. I took his words to heart—they sunk in hard. I was a disappointment.
I’d also gotten a tattoo as a way to impress my peers. I’d set myself apart, as someone who could think for herself and not conform to societal norms.
In my teenage mind, I didn’t consider the permanence of this tattoo. I couldn’t imagine ever growing out of it.
But I did.
As a grown up, I’d definitely outgrown the black blemish of my youthful rebellion. I didn’t actually grow up to to be the bad*ss I thought I was. In fact, I grew up to be rather old-fashioned myself, a true nature girl who wanted a clean, unblemished body.
For years I’d been dreaming of removing my tattoo.
Finally, after years of research and beating around the bush, I finally found the courage.
I would no longer be defined by my tattoo.
So, I removed it. I traded in my tattoo for a scar.
During the process I learned many things about myself.
Lessons from my tattoo removal scar.
1. Some wounds are really deep and take a long time to heal.
I gave myself the gift of extreme patience. Healing from the judgement of my family took longer than I thought it would. Seeing my tattoo as a knee-jerk reaction to my family’s conservative values, was hugely eyeopening for me. In order to heal, I had to accept responsibility for my actions. I also had to make peace with myself for disrespecting my body—I had left a permanent mark on it.
2. Don’t try to impress others.
I got a lot of attention from having a tattoo. Please keep in mind that this was 20 years ago. Tattoos were not in vogue, as they are today. Not everyone had a tattoo—in fact almost none of my peers had tattoos, certainly none of my “all natural” friends.
Having a tattoo made me the center of attention, in many situations. If only for a few minutes.
As it turns out, the spotlight wasn’t where I actually wanted to be, as I’m a rather private person.
Soon enough, the appeal of having a tattoo wore off. I eventually noticed that I was getting the wrong kind of attention. People, often complete strangers, felt comfortable approaching me with questions about my tattoo, which was truthfully, none of their business.
3. When we pull off layers of things that no longer serve us, the truth is revealed.
Taking off the layers of my tattoo was a slow process and it gave me plenty of time to reflect on my whole life.
With each layer of skin I removed, it forced me to look at the ugly truths in my life. It created a space for me to slow down and reflect on the difficulties my tattoo brought me.
I’d invited unsavory characters, many of whom were also tattooed, into my life, and allowed them to make trouble for me. I’d also come to see myself as lower class, or less than, and didn’t believe that I could have all of the same opportunities afforded to someone without a tattoo—especially in the job market.
As I peeled more and more layers off, I began to reinvent myself as someone who deserved a proper job. I joined the apprentice program at Elephant Journal and eventually was offered a full-time job as an editor. My opinions about myself, as a person with a tattoo, actually held me back and kept me from blossoming into a person who could contribute to society in a meaningful way.
4. When embarking on a new adventure, leave behind expectations.
I’d spent such a long time imagining removing my tattoo, that I was shocked when it was nothing like I’d expected. It was actually harder and much messier that I could have ever pictured. As with anything in life, it is better to leave behind expectations and, instead, be present in the moment.
“Expectation is the mother of all frustration.” ~ Antonio Banderas
5. Get help—don’t keep secrets.
I’d planned remove my tattoo in secret, and not let anyone know that I was doing it.
Instead, a trusted friend stepped up and appointed himself as my helper. I let down my guard, opened my heart and told him what I was up to. There was a lot to process—he was always available to talk, asked the perfect questions and helped me take care of my skin. And my heart.
Accepting the help of a reliable confidant made removing my tattoo a healing process, instead of just some physical change I was undergoing.
6. Avoid obstacles.
If we know someone will stand in our way, don’t let them.
I knew that if I shared my plan to remove my tattoo with any of my family members, they would find a way to talk me out of it. As the baby of the family, I’d always let them boss me around.
Removing my tattoo was one project I didn’t want their feedback about. I was bound and determined to accomplish my goal, without any obstructions.
Eventually, my tattoo was gone and had been replaced by a gnarly scar.
I am no longer someone who has a tattoo. I hold my head higher. I do a better job taking care of myself.
Having a scar instead of a tattoo is part of my journey.
And, what did my family say? My mom asked to see my scar the other day and said, “Well, it looks better than the tattoo.”
Author: Ashleigh Hitchcock