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This Girl Gets Tattoos

It’s finally warm enough in Colorado to wear flip flops, sandals, and all the fun, open-toed shoes that summer brings. My favorite part about sandal season is that it means I get to look at my tattoo whenever I want.

On a chilly night in November of 2010, I sat in my apartment in Athens with a mug of Cadbury Hot Chocolate and Bailey’s with a word document open and filled with several pictures of flowers and a word in Sanskrit.  Finally, I found the right flower and combination of colors.

This is it. This is me. This is my tattoo.  

In March of 2012, I was visiting some family in Tennessee and had my cousin take me to the tattoo parlor where she got inked.  I spent the next 40 minutes in a room with a guy with a shaved head that was covered in a skull tattoo permanently etching my design into the top of my left foot.

I get asked a lot if it hurt, but I’m not the best person to answer this.  I have a pretty high pain threshold and though there are more sensitive parts of the body than the top of the foot (the rib cage for example), I’m pretty sure most people would experience some pain, but I didn’t.  It was like a tickle with a lot of pressure and some pinching.

My guess is that most people wouldn’t peg me as someone with a tattoo, considering how often I was referred to as “straight-edge” in my youth.

But then again, most people don’t really know who I am.

When I got the tattoo, a friend of mine criticized me for the ‘offensive’ act of putting a word in Sanskrit on my foot.

Obviously it wasn’t my intention to offend anyone, but what she didn’t understand was the meaning behind my tattoo.

I got my tattoo as a reminder that I don’t just belong to myself.  I belong to something bigger, I’m part of the divine, universal consciousness and my tattoo is a reminder to take care of myself, body, mind, and spirit.

During my early twenties, my biggest struggle wasn’t an eating disorder or depression.  My biggest struggle was self-acceptance and an inability to be myself without permission or validation from others.

The anorexia and depression were just symptoms of a more fundamental problem of not believing that I was worthy or good enough to live on this planet, or to exist authentically.  No matter who I tried to impress, I was never good enough.

So I starved myself and engaged in bouts of horrific self-harm because I felt that I deserved to be punished for not being perfect.  It didn’t matter if no one else on this planet is perfect, I felt the rules were different for me.

Now lest you think I’m a raging narcissist, think again.  I felt the rules were different for me because I felt fundamentally flawed, not fundamentally better than everyone else.  The big theme in my life was earning my way to worthiness, though it nearly destroyed me.

The first half of my twenties were spent in and out of hospitals and treatment centers, with multiple therapists and even more medications to try and “fix” whatever was wrong with me.

When my struggles finally landed me in the ICU with words like “organ failure” and “possible transplant” coming from the mouths of my doctors, I realized that if I didn’t start the journey towards self-love and acceptance, I was actually going to die.

You can’t have an eating disorder and love yourself.

You can’t be depressed and love your life.

Even though I struggled with depression, deep down, I wanted to live, I just didn’t want to live in pain.

So, in that moment, I made the decision to give up my eating disorder once and for all and to try and recover from the grips of depression that had kept me bogged down since the age of 16.  When I use the word ‘depression’, I don’t mean ‘sad’ or ‘blue’ or just ‘kind of down’.  I’m talking about severe, clinical depression, the kind where you hate yourself from the inside out and spend every minute of every day wishing you were dead.  It’s the kind that comes from having past traumas that eat at you and make you feel unworthy and unlovable.

Just writing this makes my stomach churn, because honest accounts of mental illness are often met with stigma and hate, more than understanding and interest.  Depression is often seen as weakness or a choice, but it’s no more a choice than cancer is.

Recovery is a choice though, even though it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

But recovery has given me so many gifts, ones that I’m immensely grateful for.

The biggest gift is the realization that I am allowed to be myself.  I’m worthy, I’m enough, I’m here for a reason and it’s ok to own that.

It’s not what’s wrong with me, it’s what’s wrong with happened to me that led me to believe these lies about myself.

I have permission to be myself.

I have permission to share my truth.

I have permission to be mostly vegan and still eat cheese pizza and ice cream (because Milk & Cookies Ice Cream is the sh*t).

I have permission to like rap and classic rock.

I have permission to write long blog posts without pictures, because even if some people get bored and click away, there might be one person out there who needed to hear what I just wrote.

Bravery is a scarce commodity these days, but I want to do my part to expand it.  Each and every day I learn more about what it means to be me, what it takes to keep me healthy and happy, and how I can help others do the same.

I’m glad I’m alive.

I’m grateful to my family, the friends who stuck by me, and the doctors and healers who helped me get to where I am today.

I’m grateful to wake up every morning and that my body recovered pretty miraculously. I see having a healthy body as a privilege and I will happily take care of it.

I look back on that night in Athens when I designed my first tattoo.  I had no idea that it was the calm before the storm and that I’d soon descend into a dark night of the soul, but I wouldn’t change my journey or the lessons I learned along the way.

It brought me closer to myself, closer to a power that is greater than me, and I realized that trying to conform to others’ ideas of who I should be and how I should be is a waste of the person I am.

This girl gets tattoos, and she’s ok with it.

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{ 4 comments… add one }

  • Catherine @ foodiecology May 20, 2014, 8:50 pm

    Thank you for sharing such a deeply personal post. I’m glad you’re at a place where you can reflect on your past, confront and share what must be incredibly difficult memories, and inspire others with your writing and positive energy.
    Have a beautiful evening!
    (And I didn’t mind the lack of pictures.) :-)
    Catherine @ foodiecology recently posted…For Two FitnessMy Profile

    • Alex May 21, 2014, 2:09 pm

      Thank you for your lovely comment, Catherine! It meant a lot to me. I’m happy to be at a place where I can share these things and hopefully help someone in the process. I hope you have a great rest of your week!

  • Ashley @ Kick Ash Mom.com May 21, 2014, 8:51 am

    You do not have my permission to like rap. I’m sorry. I kid, I kid. This was a great post. I feel the same way about my tattoo. It’s an expression and growing up with pasts like ours, its really hard to find yourself and express who you are and want to be.
    Ashley @ Kick Ash Mom.com recently posted…Just not myselfMy Profile

    • Alex May 21, 2014, 2:08 pm

      Agreed! <3 Thanks Ashley!

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