I woke up in the shower. Freezing cold water was raining down on me, and I realized I had passed out from the loss of blood. I pulled myself out of the tub, and into my bedroom. Swallowing sleeping pills, I sank into darkness for two days.
Surprisingly enough it was not this moment that helped break me out of a cycle of self-harm and depression...but it certainly helped put me on a path towards healing.
I can't remember exactly when I started cutting, or how long it lasted for. But I definitely remember wearing sweatshirts in the 110 degree heat of Arizona summers. I remember people asking me if my scars were cat scratches...or, worse, that I wasn't cutting in the right direction for the desired effect of death. People, even strangers, would pat the lacerations on my arm and tell me, "Don't do that anymore." as if that would solve my internal struggle. Even years after they were healed, I would still feel shame or embarrassment. But oddly enough, I knew I didn't want to remove them...in a way, I liked the scars. They were like silver fish swimming against a rough stream; they remind me, even now, how far I've come.
It makes sense, I think, that so many people who have had serious trauma in their lives end up getting tattooed. It's transformative; it can be deeply spiritual. And, if you're fortunate, that moment with your tattooist is a reminder that there are other people out there that understand what it's like. Back when I started getting artwork done, there wasn't such a thing as Tattoodo, Facebook, or Instagram...you had to rely on word of mouth. And although I had been getting tattooed here and there, I had never found someone I was comfortable enough with to let them see that part of myself.
And then I met Fritz...a Tempe based artist who has an authenticity that really resonated with me. He didn't even blink when I showed him my scars, and asked if we could tattoo over them. I just remember him being so casual, "Yeah, we can do that." He didn't make a big deal about it, and there was no trace of judgement. It was fucking awesome.
No matter how you look at it, tattoos are incredibly personal. Even if they don’t mean anything in particular, the client is entrusting their artist with their skin, body space, time, and money. The artist, in turn, is trusting their client to care of their piece, and to respect the artistry and devotion that goes into becoming a highly skilled tattooist. So, when the added complexity of a self-harm scar cover up tattoo is added into the mix, this highly personal moment is intensified.
For those who suffer from self destructive tendencies like cutting it can be extremely difficult to be comfortable showing skin that has been scarred. And it can be difficult for others to fully understand the deep pain behind the scars. Off hand comments can be triggering, and it’s even worse when someone, even from a place of care, asks the person to simply refrain from hurting themselves. Like drinking or smoking, self harm can be a compulsive coping mechanism.
Sometimes it’s the only way a depressed person knows how to grapple with the torment inside. So, when someone has had the strength to heal the damage within and they want to move on from the emotional and physical hurt with a tattoo, it can be incredibly revolutionary and freeing. Finding an artist who understands these emotional intricacies, and is compassionate towards them, helps to encourage that powerful change.
Support is important for people who are suffering from depression. It’s spaces, like those found within the tattoo community, where freedom of expression, authenticity, and honesty are wholeheartedly reinforced. That is where people can find the foundation of happiness and begin a healthy transformation. Tattoos help with change. They give confidence, power and a sense of belonging to the wearer. In a world where we often feel that we control nothing, tattoos give us a way to express our innermost selves in a beautiful and creative way. There are many artists out there who will give discounts or special priority to those trying to reclaim their scarred skin through this art form, including Jen Tonic who is super supportive and caring. Make sure to really research the artist and design you choose so that the past is revolutionized into a present and future that you can look at with love and hope every single day.
The Mark Rothko tattoo by Jamie Luna is a superb example of how the perfect tattoo artist can make your scar cover up tattoo experience outstanding. Rothko, an American painter, was completely unaware of the magnitude and power his works would have on generations to come, very similar to Van Gogh. His artistic genius transcended his suicide, and the emotional value of his pieces still affects millions the world over.
So, it’s fitting that a painter who not only suffered from depression, but was obsessed with infusing his paintings with the most visceral emotional experience, would have his work used to cover up self harm scars. It’s so fitting, and so beautifully synchronistic while also reminding the tattoo wearer, and fans like myself, that at no point are we ever really alone. There are so many others out there that feel lost, hopeless, depressed, misunderstood...and it’s communities like this where we can all find each other through a creative, and often healthy, outlet.
If you, or someone you know, is suffering from depression please reach out to those around you. You are special, important, and valued. Your voice and experience is necessary. It is absolutely possible to find a place of healing, and to move on from the pain you are feeling. For me, it took years...I practice Zen Buddhism, I meditate and exercise regularly, and I surround myself with people who take a deep interest in my well-being. It’s not just luck...it’s hard and constant work to heal, to evolve. It is never easy. But I have faith that we all can embody a metamorphosis.
I don't think its just by chance that many of these pieces are flowers...florals bloom, they flourish, they grow...but only with care. Transform inside, love inside, so that you can live a peaceful and natural reality on the outside.