today, I got a whole bunch of ink injected into my left arm. because I am an adult and can spend money on WHATEVER I WANT (spoiler: what I want is rollerblades, tattoos, and platform shoes. I’d also like a mortgage or a car one day, but I’m only a millennial, what the fuck do I know). whilst getting a tattoo might seem like quite a run-of-the-mill activity for the everyday goth, this was such a significant event for me.
I began self-harming around eleven years ago. what started as a foolish copycat activity to fit in to a subculture became a desperate coping mechanism for much of my adolescent and adult life. I dealt with a lot of pain and sadness growing up that left me emotionally scarred and vulnerable. I adopted many destructive coping mechanisms to survive this pain, one of them being self-harm.
physical pain allowed me a release from the intense, swirling powerlessness I continued to feel on a daily basis into my twenties – sometimes it was in response to real, horrible situations (the suicide of a friend; sexual assault; impossibly painful relationships) and sometimes it was in response to my own overwhelmingly powerful negative feelings about myself. it most likely sounds completely warped to those who’ve never had the inclination to deal with intense emotional pain by digging sharp things into their skin*, but self-harm became a safe expression for me. a blunting tool for my suffering that ensured I didn’t hurt anyone I cared about with my blind rage; that I didn’t give in to abusing drugs and alcohol; that I didn’t make any rash decisions based on horrendous panic attacks triggered by childhood trauma. the “only” person it hurt was me, and as I literally did not care for myself in any way, I continued to use it to cope on and off until 2016.
*have you ever punched a wall whilst angry? said awful things to someone when heartbroken? felt like tearing your hair out when frustrated? gone out on a drink and coke binge after a really difficult day at work in order to ignore your pervasive ennui? then yeah… you’ve either self-harmed or at least thought about it. sorry bro.
whist 29th february 2016 is the official “end date”, I had been abstinent for two years prior to this, but I never really lost the urge to express my emotional pain physically; I just got better at ignoring it. up until that day, I still (and bear with me, because I know this sounds fucked up) dreamt of slicing open my arms and legs with razors any time I felt “unacceptable emotions” like anger, guilt, shame, sadness, depression, grief, disgust, self-loathing, et cetera, ad infinitum. it was 2016 that marked the final occasion I actually engaged with that dream, and it was during this final occasion – a single cut to my left arm – that I smashed headfirst and rudely into reality and felt the true horror of what I had done to myself. it was 2016 that I said no more. no more, not ever.
I became interested in tattoo art at the age of about fourteen, probably. I drew pages of tattoo ideas in my journal and wrote long, excessively complicated lists about the anime characters and cradle of filth lyrics I was going to have indelibly inked onto my skin as soon as I turned eighteen. thankfully I grew up (a bit) and have since acquired several beautiful pieces. I was always desperate to have my forearms done (prime tattoo real-estate) but one reason stuck in my mind every time an artist suggested placing a design on one of them.
I was absolutely terrified of losing the space where I inflicted injuries upon myself. most people can probably relate to the feeling of losing something important – imagine the child when they start realising they’ve lost their mother in the shopping centre. what is your safe place when you feel the worst that human emotion has to offer? perhaps it’s a parent, a grandparent, a peer. perhaps it’s drugs and alcohol. or perhaps an activity – say you play an instrument, or a sport. either way, this safe place is everything to you; it provides you release, focus, a way of feeling good; a distraction from your sadness, or your anger, or your heartbreak. perhaps, in dire times, it is the only way of feeling even moderately sane. a failsafe red-button. imagine the idea of never being able to access this, or similar, activities ever again. add to this a sense that awful, fucked-up things are just hovering round the corner from you at all times.
this was how I viewed my self-harming; the only way I could escape from torment. since the age of around seventeen my self-harm was infrequent, but I was still so attached to it. I felt, desperately, like I needed it. maybe not right this second; but at some point, in the near future, bad things, terrible things were going to happen, and what would I do to cope with those bad things if I didn’t have my trusty left arm?
I avoided any tattoos on my left arm specifically for this reason. but after my revelations last year – my commitment to actually fucking liking myself, to enjoying life, to properly working through my traumatic past so I could heal and be free of the broken child inside my heart and mind – I decided it was time for me to make a symbolic commitment to myself and my healing.
so yeah, I got my arm tattooed today. when placing the designs on my arm, I remarked to the artist that I wanted some more coverage over the scars. she adjusted the stencils, and then remarked that she thought I should leave some of the scars visible. I was a bit puzzled, and asked “how come?”. she paused and looked at me.
“so that you never forget how far you’ve come.”