About two weeks ago, I got my third tattoo.
I had been contemplating getting a cherry blossom piece in memory of my sister, who passed away unexpectedly several years ago. Prior to her death, this is something we had talked about doing together. In fact, she and I had come up with the idea separately and later discovered it was something we both wanted. So, to me, it felt significant in solidifying our bond as sisters and as friends. Little did I know what would transpire.
When I reached out to the tattoo shop via email, the owner enthusiastically responded by letting me know the same artist who did my previous tattoo, which I love, still worked there. I sent her some pictures of my ideas and of my existing tattoo, and she said the best thing to do would be to come in and speak with the artist.
I made the 90-minute drive to the shop and started talking with the artist. I showed him a cool idea that incorporated cherry blossoms, but he told me the tattoo would have to be really large to include all of the details I wanted, so I quickly abandoned that idea. I then told him maybe I could get just the flowers—three of them on my forearm. I showed him the types of shading and coloring I liked, and we spent well over an hour scouring the internet, going over likes and dislikes. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find an exact picture of what I wanted, but I figured since he had done my previous tattoo, it would turn out great, right?
The next bit of hesitation came when I was trying to pick the location. My forearm seemed exciting, yet maybe too much exposure. And I wasn’t a huge fan of the sketch, so that didn’t help. This is when the shop owner inserted herself in our conversation and suggested I get the tattoo near my collarbone. I liked the idea, and before I knew it, she was putting numbing gel on my shoulder and making a stencil of the sketch. Of course, time was passing much slower when all of this was happening, but it felt like a blur. I told her I felt pressured, and she temporarily backed off, but then returned to offer more ideas and tell me how great it would look.
Before I knew it, I agreed to get the tattoo and sat down in the chair. I guess it felt good to be making a decision, whether good or bad. The artist got to work, and it took him all of 30 minutes. When I stood up to look in the mirror, I remember thinking, what the hell!? I asked him about all the black lines, as I had specified I wanted the borders and detailing to be done solely in color. His response was that he always uses black and gave me his explanation.
Same artist, my ass! I paid what seemed like an inflated price, gave a decent tip, and stumbled out of the shop. What followed were a few sleepless nights, anger toward the shop owner and myself, and, eventually, a lot of laughs.
So, here is what I learned (and was reminded of) from my tattoo experience:
Lesson #1: Do not fear upsetting other people, especially if it means compromising yourself.
Looking back, I don’t know why I felt this strong sense of obligation. Yes, I had made the appointment. No, they didn’t ask for a deposit. What I realized is that my people-pleasing nature still gets triggered at times, often to my own detriment. Ultimately, I need to do what is right for me, even if it pisses people off. Since I felt anxious prior to the appointment, I should have called the shop and canceled. That would have been honoring myself.
Lesson #2: When it doubt, pause.
This seems so simple, yet in the moment is impossible for me to put into practice! If I am about to make a decision and I feel uncertain, how about taking a walk, a deep breath, removing myself from the situation? There was no sense of urgency, and yet I acted as if it was an emergency. I have been in this scenario so many times, it’s ridiculous. A couple of examples include signing a six-month lease for an office space I never used and making some major purchases (house and car) when I felt hesitant.
Lesson #3: Trust your instincts.
How many times do we fail to listen to that quiet voice within? How often do we let our circumstances, and, in my case, people, override our intuition? I could’ve saved myself a lot of distress if only I had listened! Not only when it comes to my tattoo, but in situations that have had lasting emotional affects.
Lesson #4: Nothing is permanent.
It’s ironic how Japanese cherry blossoms are said to symbolize the impermanence of life. Yet, here I was, freaking out because I had just put something permanent on my body that I didn’t like. I reminded myself that there were options (i.e., removal or changing/adding to it) and that it was only a tattoo. Plus, my memory of the experience may soften and possibly change, the tattoo will fade, and hopefully the lesson will remain.
Lesson #5: Acceptance is a wonderful destination.
Once I found humor in the situation and was reassured the tattoo didn’t look all that bad, I tried my best to accept what happened and move on. Getting to this place of acceptance helped the fear and anger dissipate. I would be lying if I said I never feel a twinge of regret when I look in the mirror, but maybe one day I’ll get there.
In the meantime, I’ll focus on accepting myself—bad tattoo and all.