Someone holding out their wrists. One says "Stay" the other says "strong." Text reads: 28 Tattoos that Cover Self-Harm Scars


Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

While most tattoos have a story, a tattoo above, below or on top of a self-harm scar is more than a symbol — it’s a visible reminder, and sometimes an actual recovery tool, for those who are trying to recover from self-harm. Maybe it’s a way of reclaiming your body, giving the story your scars tell more context. Maybe it’s simply a way to cover, to start fresh and move on from a painful part of your life. Whatever the reason, it’s a way for people who’ve self-harmed to commit to their recovery, and a reminder that stopping self-harming behaviors is possible.

To show some examples, we asked our mental health community to share tattoos they got to cover up self-harm scars.

Here’s what they shared with us — and here are their stories:



“I got a Sylvia Plath tattoo. She’s my absolute favorite poet/author. Her quote ‘I am. I am. I am’ (from her book ‘The Bell Jar’) symbolizes that suicide could’ve been the end for me, but I’m here, ‘I am’ I am here, I am alive and I am determined to get through this. The cat is Sylvia’s drawing called ‘Curious French Cat’ and it also symbolizes self-harm and depression — but how it’s not the answer anymore.” — Shannon P.




“I didn’t want to cover up my scars completely because I wanted it to be a reminder that I was strong enough to overcome it and that I still had a life to live… My life wasn’t ready to be over. My husband is the person who helped me overcome cutting myself though and I’m truly thankful for him.” —  Kimberly


“When my granddad passed away everything got worse and I couldn’t handle him not being around. Having depression is hard enough for me, then losing someone so close to me made everything worse. So I decided to get this amazing tattoos over my scars to remind me that he will always be there.” — Gina S.


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“Self-harm was a way I coped with my depressive and suicidal episodes. I would feel all this anger built up inside of me and I wanted to find some kind of release. But with depression, I wanted to hurt myself because I felt like I deserved it. So, my arms would almost be covered in cuts daily. It all started with a small cut as a cry for help, but very quickly turned into an addiction. When I had motivation to get better, I wanted something beautiful on my arm to cover these scars up. Now, I have a tattoo that says ‘This too shall pass’ with a peony that symbolizes healing. Whenever I have urges to self-harm, I instantly look to my arm to where I usually cut and I see this beautiful tattoo with a meaningful message and I just cry it out until the feeling has passed. It has helped me, and has also sparked up the conversation of mental health with others! It’s more than just a tattoo, it’s my journey to recovery.” — Reshmi C.



“When I began working as a professional in the mental health field, I felt as if people didn’t have a right to know so much about me at first glance. I tattooed cherry blossoms over my self-harm scars after working closely with an artist to provide the coverage I needed with a more natural look I wanted.” — Ashley C.



“I once cut the word ‘ugly’ into my leg, but recently got a tattoo that says beautiful to remind myself how beautiful I am.” — Brianna N.



“My tattoo covers my self-harm scars dating back 12 years. Some older, some newer. I was tired of seeing my legs covered in scars, never wearing shorts or swimming in long basketball shorts. Not only did I cover a spot I hurt myself on for years, I prevented anymore harm to that area. I have not self-harmed since. The Dia De Los Muertos skull as with the celebration is not only to celebrate death, but life. I felt it appropriate to celebrate life, death and my Mexican heritage.” — Alex B.



“I’ve always wanted to go into something related to astronomy. Now I’m a double major in mathematics and physics on track to go to graduate school for astrophysics.” — Samantha



“I’m so glad I covered my scars with something pretty. It was like making a commitment to myself to heal and grow.  Ever since I got the tattoo, I haven’t turned back. It’s a reminder of how far I’ve come.” — Haley W.



“My grandfather used to always call me ‘Pretty Girl’ so I knew I always wanted a tattoo of that somewhere. It wasn’t until I was in the midst of a depressive episode that I needed it on my wrist — not only would I always see it and remind me that my grandfather is watching over me, but every time I wanted to cut, I would see this and remember that I’m worth it.” — Meredith H.


“What inspired me to get tattoos to cover my scars was so whenever I was down or having a bad day, I could look down at my newly painted arm and remember that overcoming something can lead to beautiful things. My next step is to cover the scars of my other arm and my leg. It’s never easy, but by getting them covered up, it’s a little bit like closure.” — Lauren S.


“I don’t generally tell people my story. I stopped self-harming around four years ago, I’ve never known why I self-harmed, it’s just something I felt I had to do. I had a therapy sessions which were great and eventually realized I had depression and I needed to take a step towards being the happy me again, so while my legs where recovering from the self-harm I got a tattoo under neath my scars saying “OKAY.” When I got that tattoo, it made me feel powerful and that I had control of my body. When most of my scars had healed and I was only left with a few big scars, I got them covered with a lion, not to hide what I did — but because lions are strong and powerful and so am I.”  — Abi W:



“I got this tattoo on my 18th birthday, in part, as a memorial tattoo for Robin Williams. When I was very young, I loved to perform and make people laugh. I loved doing voices and improvising dialogue, as Robin Williams did. He has been my biggest inspiration in life and someone I relate to very much. As I grew older, I sunk further into my depression and became too self-conscious to pursue my childhood dream of performing. I now have extreme social anxiety and struggle with chronic depression. For a long time, I was angry with myself for no longer being the friendly, funny person I used to be. The version people seemed to like better… I realized all I can do now is put effort into improving myself moving forward. This leg piece symbolizes me ‘setting myself free’ of the judgment and ridicule I had placed on myself for so many years, the same way the genie gets set free by the master he was slaved to.” — Ysabel V:



“After years of struggling with bulimia and self-harm, I decided to get the infinity sign with the NEDA symbol beneath. Just as a daily reminded to stay strong. I added the sunflowers just recently. I have dealt with depression and anxiety for about five years now. Anytime an anxiety attack occurs, I try to focus on one thing, and that is a field of sunflowers I had visited before. I had never felt so calm and at peace when I was standing in that field. Now that I have this tattoo it is a reminder that even though I may struggle with the things I do, that inner peace is not impossible. The tattoos themselves cover up old self harm scars.” — Kyra B.



“The semicolon is symbolic for my story not being over. ‘Just breathe’ is a reminder to do so when I’m in panic mode, and the words go over some faded self-harm scars.” — Amanda C.



“The tattoo is placed on my wrist — in line with where I self-harmed — because I tend to wear my heart, and my feelings, on my sleeve. The heart is a reminder to me that I need to love myself, even when it seems impossible. The heart is made with an arrow because an arrow can only be shot by pulling it backwards which is a metaphor for when life pulls you back, it’s going to shoot you forward again. — Jessica C



“This isn’t a cover-up tattoo, but I also thought that it was very important. I struggled with self-harm for a really long time, an addiction I felt that I would never be able to overcome. But I decided to get this tattoo. It’s my recovery tattoo. The mindset I had when getting it was, if I ever get to such a low point in my life where I feel that I ever need to self-harm again, I’ll look at this tattoo and I will say to myself “heaven can wait” – I am not ready to die yet. There is so much of my life that I still have to live. And I need to be strong for everyone else around me. That’s what I do. I’m so proud of how far I’ve come in the last year. I still struggle with my mental illness but I would never put myself through the pain I did in the past. And I hope everyone can get to that point one day.” — Robyn W.



“I’ve had a strange life, harsher than fiction. My first counselor at 8 told me I was ‘below average,’ then I was first diagnosed at 13 when I was suicidal. Bipolar and OCD have shaped and broken me. I got my son to design and make me a tattoo. He’s an amazing artist, but I wanted it for so many reasons. One, to show him he’s that good. Two, to cover years of self-harm. Three, I wanted a more rational reminder to fight for a better quality of life for my self. My life is not my own.” — Sherri A.



“The text is from a bracelet that my best friend and I gifted to each other as we were graduating university. We both struggle (as many do) in feeling like we are enough or like we deserve our accomplishments — we bought each other the bracelets so that we would always remember that we deserve to be happy and live awesome lives. It also has a semicolon to show people that every day I keep living is a day I beat thoughts of suicide.” — Alicia R.



“I got my tattoo to cover the scars from my suicide attempt. I decided on a butterfly because it is a symbol of rebirth, a new chapter. It reminds me that something beautiful can come from a very dark place.” — Truda W. 



“When I was 16 (three years ago) I tried to take my life and I was going through a miserable time. With support from friends, family, God and therapy, I realized that no matter how much pain I go through, I will still rise from the ashes, so I got this tattoo as a reminder.” — Maggie K.



“I started cutting my wrists at age 13 and did not stop until age 18. I was hospitalized twice for it. In the hospital, I learned about the serenity prayer. I swear my life by the serenity prayer because I needed the serenity, courage and wisdom to tell myself that I can change myself, but no one else around me. I was able to realize that harming myself over things I cannot control is just like beating myself up for no reason. So I got this tattoo as a reminder to remember that and incentive to never hurt my wrists again.” — Shevona H.


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“I saw this quote back when I was in seventh grade. I knew one day that I will have this tatted on me. I didn’t start self-harming until sophomore year in high school. As a freshmen in college last year, I finally got this quote on my body.” — Zari S.


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“I got these watercolor roses to symbolize my two years clean anniversary last year. Now I am three years clean. Roses are one of my favorite flowers, and they are beautiful, just like recovery.” — Michelle M:


“I went through four years of depression, then an abusive relationship. I got a tattoo to cover the pain and scars of this bird cage saying I’ve been set free from life and the abuse.” —  Cassie S.



“This reminds me every day to continue to fight for myself and that giving up is no longer an option.” – Aiyana R.



“This is the tattoo I got to remind myself not to self-harm. It covers the worst scar I had gotten from self-harm during a panic attack. The words say, “it’s come our time.” They’re from a Johnny Cash song, but I like it as a statement saying that it’s come our time to no longer be victims of ourselves, but rather be our own heroes.” — Elizabeth C.



“Although it’s purpose is not to cover up the scars I have, this is a message to myself to remind me to ‘stay strong.’  It’s in a place I see often on purpose. I also waited to get it until I hadn’t self-harmed for a long while. It was like something to aim for, a reward for myself. Now it’s there to stay and hopefully I’ll not be in a place where I need to self-harm again, certainly not over my tattoo.” — Amy S.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

 28 Tattoos That Cover Self-Harm Scars


Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

An empty room, an empty girl.

Sitting silent on the floor.

Her sleeve rolled up, exposing skin.

She drags the blade and presses in.

The pain it brings cannot compare.

To the joy she knows will soon be there.

It’s worth the scars that never heal.

For just a moment not to feel.

Just a cut, Just a scratch.

“Whats that mark?”

“It was the cat.”

Just an excuse.

Just a lie,

“Whats with all the bracelets?”

“Just fashion, why?”

Just a tear.

Just a scream.

“Why were you crying?”

“Just a bad dream.”

But is not just a cut,

Or tear, or a lie.

It’s always “just one more.”

Until you die.

Scars on your soul.

Scars on your skin.

Some on the outside.

Some are within.

Some have a story.

Some are unwritten.

Some you can see,

But most are quite hidden.

Hush little baby,

Don’t you cry.

Don’t cut your arms.

Don’t say goodbye.

Put down the razor,

Put down the knife.

It may be hard,

But you will win this fight.

From darker clouds,

And blackened skies,

Through deeper scars,

And all your lies.

She cried.

She wanted to die.

“I am fine”

She lied…

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

“When I see my scars, I fight disgust — but I do not truly hate them. Why is this so? They remind me. I remember. Everything. I will always remember. They represent pain. They represent life. At times when I had no other way of showing it, pain that had built up was etched into my flesh forever. I’m not proud. Do not be mistaken. My razor was the brush, my skin the canvas, and my blood the paint. But it was not beautiful. Most of the artwork birthed from anger, guilt, numbness, or self-punishment. I felt so little and thought so much. It is both a blessing and a curse to be a thinker. That will forever be the case.

Despite this, there was unexplainable relief in the opposite sensation: of feeling too much and not thinking at all. Powerful expressions of raw emotion plagued me into horrendous actions and taunted me with their permanence thereafter. Each scraggly line of scar tissue was a moment when the reasons to live held on tight and came out victorious… My scars are the markings of a fighter — permanent reminders for someone who battled what I assume was depression and mental anguish daily for years.

I assure you — I love life and I look forward to the future. Understanding that, you can see how frustrating of a struggle it is when your brain defiantly disagrees with your heart. I still fight daily against those disagreements. However, there is a silver lining born from all of the struggle and blood, and it’s simple: None of these scars were previously near-fatal wounds. I am still here… alive. That is all that truly matters at the end of the day — that darkness never won.”

I wrote these words in a blog post of mine about six months ago.

I read it again and again, baffled each time. I talked about the pain that screams from the scars. The pain endured or lessened. The pain controlled or exacerbated. I talked about the stigma that kept me from asking for help. Ask for help. Light cannot find you if you sit isolated in darkness. Ask. You are not alone. You are not helpless. I talked about this because I still struggle with this. I wrote my heart out not wanting to forget how valuable a hug is or how warm that cup of coffee with a friend feels like. I didn’t want to forget the love that wrapped me so tightly in her arms when someone prayed for me. I can’t forget that. So I wrote about my struggles and shared with the world for the first time.

You have to understand: Self-harm is a beast of its own. In recovering, I simultaneously feel that I never struggled with it at all and also that I still do horrendously. Either it plagues me, or I forget about it sometimes. That is, until I see people staring at my arms at the grocery store or at school or even at church. Then I remember. I remember how difficult it is for me to embrace my body as it is now. I remember how much I still struggle to live in a sunny state and to wear a tank top or shorts — or a swimsuit. I understand. It will get better. Self-worth isn’t something you gain in one night. It is a process. It involves changing your way of thinking and embracing the positives that others pour into your life. Don’t put yourself down. Don’t give more weight to the insults thrown at you than to the subtle whispers of your greatness given to you.

This is a process, my friend. Some days, I still hate me. I have to snap out of it. I am worth more. You are worth more. Don’t let scars define you negatively. You are alive. You are beautiful and you are handsome. (Yes, men struggle with self-harm as well). You are strong and courageous. I just wanted to remind you that you aren’t alone. I understand. Some days drag endlessly. Some days you may fail to find confidence. I want to remind you that it is OK to not be OK. It is OK to still struggle sometimes. It is OK. You are OK.

It isn’t OK to struggle alone. If you are currently struggling with self-harm, seek help. There is hope in help. Asking for help can bring light into the darkness. Break the stigma — your own mental health and well-being is infinitely worth it. If you are in recovery, keep on. I know it’s difficult. If you haven’t heard this: I am proud of you. To overcome is no small task. Keep on. Keep seeking support. Keep loving yourself as much as you can. You are loved. The scars don’t make you any less lovable. In any regard. People who say otherwise don’t realize that true beauty emanates from character and the soul.

Your soul is infinitely worth it. It is infinitely beautiful. Your wounds have healed. The scars will continue to fade a little more year after year. Rest in that. Take care of and value your body — but, more importantly, take care of that beautiful soul. Keep fighting my friend.

Image via Thinkstock.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

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The last time I cut myself was on November 30, 2014.

These past two years have been a constant battle between my dark thoughts and my not-so-dark thoughts. If you had asked me how my recovery situation would be like two years ago, I would have simply said “nonexistent.” I didn’t believe in myself, and many people struggling with self-harm think just like me.

Self-harming behaviors control you. When you think you have found peace within yourself, the thoughts will creep back in and almost force you to relapse. And yes, sometimes relapsing seems to be the easiest option.

Recovery is not possible.

This is possibly the most common thought people who cut have.

It is absolutely false.

Three years ago, I began therapy. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I learned how to control my emotions and thoughts and that relapsing is OK. It is an inevitable part of recovery. The key to recovery is accepting that you need help. Without acceptance, the pattern will continue.

Can I honestly say that in these past two years I have been completely happy? No, I have passed through extremely difficult phases, in which harming myself would have been the easy thing to do. Yet, I persevered and here I am, two years later.

Now this in no way means I will forever have control over it, but I strive for it. To this very day, I think about harming myself at least once a month. Each time I look at my arms, I see dozens of scars that reproduce bad memories, like a ghost lingering on. I feel ashamed, not necessarily because of what other people might think, but of myself. I wish I had never touched that silver devil with my skin, but it happened.

I cannot possibly do anything about it now, except strive for better. Whatever I may be feeling is nothing compared to the sadness I will feel looking at my scarred arms. I decided it’s not worth it anymore, which was perhaps was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

I now opt for other coping mechanisms, such as reading, writing poetry and these posts and even thinking about what I want to do with my life. Anything that calms me down is helpful. The reality is recovery is not a one time thing. It is a constant back and forth. No one should tell you that it is not possible, not even yourself.

Think of it this way, you wouldn’t want to spend your whole life having the flu. Instead, you would do anything possible to help yourself get better. Yes, recovery is incredibly hard, especially when we live in a society where mental illness has a huge stigma around it, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

It is a long journey, with many bumps in the road, but with the right help, you can get through it.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Image via Thinkstock.

Shortly after my father’s recovery from a bladder and prostate cancer duo in January of 2009, he began telling a joke to family and friends when they inquired about his surgery. He would say “I asked the surgeon before he put me under if he could give me a six pack when he closed me up.” Then, my dad would lift his shirt and point to the diagonal scar scanning across his abdomen. “But he left me with this, a train track!”

When shown to a family friend, months after the surgery, the scar stood out prominently against his pale white belly as a purple-pink color causing more alarm than laughter. Now, the scar has faded to blend in with the color of his flesh, only distinguished by a subtle raise in the skin. When questioned further about the cancer, my dad will recall the time he “peed tomato soup” that lead him to seek medical attention. Even if the friend was not laughing, my dad enjoyed his own joke oftentimes chuckling at himself.

What he will not tell you, but what I remember most, is how his body shrank and his skin hung tightly onto his skeleton appearing to lose 50 pounds within a month’s time. I remember hesitating to hug him too tightly, afraid he would snap under my pressure. He wouldn’t disclose the job loss that followed a twice extended medical leave, or the times he would pretend to take the dog out, only to stand alone in the backyard, sobbing so profusely his shoulders would shake, rattling his entire body, and his face distorted, exaggerating every wrinkle.

Bladder cancer, his doctors had told us, was a cancer seen in smokers over the age of 60. My dad never touched cigarettes, and was 46 the time of his diagnosis. Our family contemplated a cause, considering stress of a position held for 17 years at the same company. However, he will only tell you of the one-liners, and flash his scar as his most earned punch line.

In December of 2009, 10 months after my dad’s surgery, I required my own stay at the hospital. Only for me, my infection wasn’t detected with MRIs or PET scans. My parents brought me to the doors of South Oaks as a last resort after weeks gone without eating, continuous sleeping, marks that ran up and down my arms and realizing I had been stealing my dad’s Vicodin which he was prescribed during his recovery from the cancer. My memory from this time is fractured, however I remember taking enough to be induced to a sleep lasting a full day. I remember lying about where I was often, going to school only to come back home and sleep.

The marks on my arm remain cryptic for me to absolve or atone. I often time wish for the opportunity to speak to the younger version of myself, seeking a justification for the habit. Years of therapy concluded that it coincided with the “severe instinct to self-destruct.” Returning to these memories, I encounter a girl whose keen desire was to run. I recall multiple instances when I would run away from home. One time only lasted a few hours, another four nights. My destination might have been the next town over to someone’s house, or a train to the beach where I spent an entire evening on the boardwalk until the sun rose in the morning. None of these fickle attempts were meant to leave home permanently, I don’t think. Nor do I think I would ever stop coming back home.

This hospital visit lasted a month, until I was released in January of 2010. Instead of celebrating a year of being cancer-free, my dad along with my mom were researching alternative options for me to attend school. They heard of private programs, ones they wouldn’t be able to afford, and reached out parents in the community who have dealt with a similar scenario. After months of homeschooling, I returned to my high school the following year. I evaded therapy, and continued my use of Vicodin and Xanax as a previously diagnosed “borderline personality disorder” and “depression” heightened.

When I entered college the following fall, these illnesses manifested in a perpetual isolation. My first year and a half of college only returns to me in flashes, in the infrequent times of clarity and calm. The unclear moments are manic episodes of speeding my car on the Hutchinson River Parkway at 3 a.m., or climbing the campus’ castle in the same late hour allowing my feet to dangle off the ledge for hours. There’s a picture of me from my second year during Christmas time, but my memory of that Christmas is completely obliterated. Gaps of time in between impulsive action are filled with hazy blurs of weeks spent in bed. The only evidence of consciousness are journals I kept during this time. The passages in the books covering this time range from incoherent scribbles to rambles of anxious and paranoid thought. There are pages where the pen seeps so deep into the page, the writing appears embossed on the paper. Other entries are separated by months, leaving rifts of unrecorded time.

After months of remaining unchecked, I found myself back in the psychiatric unit after an attempted suicide at age 19. After the initial detox, I began writing in a journal given to me by the staff. I would observe everything around me. I created stories for the other patients, and I penned verses of poetry in an attempt to translate my own experience into words. This entire stay at the hospital was spent scrutinizing the place I found myself in, watching everyone but myself. Unable, yet, to address the aftermath of these past few years, I clung onto writing. I carried the marble notebook and pencil to every group therapy, individual council, family visit and meal in the dining hall. I would stay up at night using the light from the nursing station to continue writing well into the mornings.

After being discharged, I was transferred to outpatient care. I took a semester off of school, found a part-time job shortly after, and created new rhythms such as schedules and routines. For the first time in my life, I turned to calendars, to-do lists and post-it notes. I continued to write, both poetry and short passages of fiction. My journals piled up, as writing became the vice to replace all previous addictions.

The following year, I enrolled in a new college closer to my hometown. Returning to this community didn’t involve me lifting up my shirt to tell a joke and point to a scar, but instead it consisted of hiding scars. Few people were told of my recovery, however I remained reluctant to share my story to the majority of my friends and family. I concealed my own scars on my arm with longer sleeves, and deferred the reason for transferring schools to a desire for change in scenery. I only confided in the pages of my journal, where the prose and verse allowed for the audacity to face myself. I showed these filled books to no one, but allowed every inch of thought to be spilled inside.

A poem began forming over the course of a year. I gathered corners of papers and backs of receipts releasing a repeating theme of hands, or of building something. I fused together the fragments finding myself creating a mosaic. It contained my experience with addiction, suicide, depression and of recovery. The words I wouldn’t use, the definitions that got stuck in my throat when confiding in a loved one, every dark corner of the story was illustrated in this poem. There was an urge, for the first time, to share this story revealed in the poem. My friend, and poet, was emailed the finished product with the subject line “I’m not sure what this is, but I think you should read it.” Unknowingly, the poem was then submitted to a poetry organization, “True Voices.” The following email to me asked for a meeting the next week about participating in the organization’s next show.

My initial reaction was to return into hiding and ignore the request. It took immense persuasion, yet I found myself at rehearsals preparing for an event called “Blinded” in March of 2015. The day of the show, I was surrounded by poets who seamlessly fell into a cadence of mannerisms and routines that appeared effortless for the rest of the group. You were supposed to shout “Bars!” when a line in a poem sounded good, and you had to snap at the end of each piece. There was also a way you used your hand movements to emphasize your words, where the poets appeared to dance around the microphone in fluid motions. A yellow scarf hung from the microphone, and 300 audience members starred back at me as I told my story for the first time. In an attempt to mimic the movements of other poets, I got my hand stuck in that scarf having the stand wobble in front of me as I begun. Deciding the aesthetics would have to wait, I became bare and naked on stage sharing my story for the first time.

The liberation that followed the nervousness triggered a necessity to share. This distinct and brand new ache felt the need for community, after only knowing detachment for years. I sought out more opportunities to perform, to hear others perform and to be present in spaces that allowed my words to cultivate and my story to be shared.

After this time, I became frustrated with the scars on my arms. It was summer, and although the lines were fading they grew in my mind, becoming obscenely large and obvious in my perception. I had difficulty comprehending what I saw, unable to redeem the girl who expressed her pain in this way. The old skin that was raised like braille became cryptic when I traced over their shapes with my fingers. I remembered seeing pictures of breast cancer survivors getting tattoos which covered their scars across their chest. One afternoon, I spent hours on the computer searching picture after picture of elaborate and vivid tattoos cloaking the double mastectomies; some of enormous butterflies, others of dragons, birds, flowers or an entire garden.

This initiated my own desire for a tattoo, an option I previously had no interest in. My first tattoo was two weeks later, on my right arm where the Hebrew writing of the Torah’s Exodus 14:14 is written. The story I wanted engraved on my skin was that of Moses parting the Red Sea. Before taking the Israelites through, Pharaoh’s armies approached to attack the Jews. Panic escalated in the crowd, and before performing the miracle Moses, turned to his people to say “The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still.” These words are now worn on my arm, a new scar painted over the scars that felt foreign and enigmatic.

On my left arm, my scars are covered with a pine tree. Hermann Hesse wrote an essay in his book, “Bäume” in 1984 of how we should live like trees. He spoke of how the source of strength for a tree is within them, holding within them the secret of their seed which they follow to the end. He writes “Out of this trust, I live.” To trust my own body, my own soul, my own proved to be the most discouraging at times, and also the most empowering during recover. If anything would be covering my scars, it needed to be branches and leaves growing from a tall trunk  — a trust manifested. To lay this image over my scars was owning this trust as my own. That I, too, could grow.

When I first came to my father to my father to tell him of my tattoos, he scoffed and told me to reconsider. I did not tell him of the extended reason why I made this decision, only that I wouldn’t budge and I already made the appointment with the artist. Shaking his head, he told me “As long as you can tell your grandchildren a decent story about it, do as you please.”

I contemplated how my children, and children’s children would perceive this story. I also think about how much of it is still incomplete, what’s left to add to it. I hope to find the voice to tell it all, and the courage to share it often. But, it will be told.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

When I was 16 I started cutting myself. I was in the early stages of an eating disorder and I discovered one night that by cutting, I experienced a brief reprieve from the incessant food thoughts that had quickly dominated my life. I begin cutting myself nearly daily to cope. Within a few months I was regularly hiding an arm full of cuts, burns and bruises under seasonally inappropriate long sleeves.

When my friends found out, they told a teacher, who told the school counselor, who called my parents. I got into therapy, but I still self-injured. What mostly stopped my cutting was when I started dating a high school boyfriend. Revealing fresh cuts to him — to anyone really — was so painful and shameful that it outweighed the brief reprieve cutting gave me. The last time I ever cut was when I was 21 years old, during my personal rock bottom of meth addiction and general total life downfall.

In the years since, I’ve tattooed over many of my visible scars. I’ve gotten a couple social work degrees and now work as a professional in the domestic violence field. I’m married with two daughters and two dogs. I own a house and, by all accounts, am happy, together and successful.

Until last year, when I found myself cutting again.

This feels like a terrible thing I did, and perhaps a more terrible thing to talk about. The truth is, it happened a few times. My life had spiraled again to a somewhat out-of-control place. I was struggling mightily with a severe mental health crisis and the slow swing of medication changes that often go alongside such struggles.

Lest my falling be in vain, I’d like to share with you some things I’ve learned from my most recent foray into self-injury:

1. Desire and action are different things.

When I had a depressive break last year, all the dark thoughts of my teenage years came flooding back for the first time since I’d turned 21, gotten sober and found out I was pregnant with my oldest daughter. I turned toward the light then, turned my life around, and never looked back. Until I was 31 and my past caught up with me. I struggled with suicidal urges and was appalled the desire to cut followed me around like a long-lost frenemy. I learned I could want to cut and not act on those urges. I held out for six months.

2. Medication works really well for me.

During a hospitalization in the psych ward, I was prescribed Lithium and immediately saw my self-injurious thoughts dissipate. Months later, when I briefly went off the medication, they returned with a vengeance. This was the first time I cut in 10 years.

3. Cutting scares the shit out of people.

I had a friend in grad school who confided in me she had cut herself after years of abstaining. Her disclosure rocked me to my core — I couldn’t imagine anything so bad it would drive this person I loved so dearly to injure herself so intentionally and severely. When I cut, I returned to that place of shock and fear — I imagined others thinking of me like I thought of her. I kept my mouth shut. I didn’t even tell my husband.

4. Cutting is the coping behavior that has filled me with the most shame.

I’ve done a lot of questionable things. I was a meth addict. I’ve been an off-and-on bulimic for half my life. But cutting is the hardest to talk about. Cutting brings up the most questions about attention-seeking behavior, or overall sanity, or indications of suicidality. I’ve talked about all of these things in my time — and pieces of the way all of them have affected my life in the last year — but not about cutting. I’ve only told my medical and mental health providers and — eventually — my husband and a small handful of friends. For the girl who seems to talk about everything, I haven’t found the forum yet to talk about this.

5. Cutting doesn’t make you “crazy.”

I cut myself and went to work. I cut myself and parented my kids. I cut myself and had sex with my husband. I cut myself with no intention of killing myself — in fact, no desire to die at all. I cut myself because I didn’t know what to do, but I wanted to be OK. I cut myself to make my life better, not worse. I cut myself because I was, in fact, quite sane and utilizing what was the best coping skill available to me at the time. I wholeheartedly believe that. Maybe I have to.

6. Scars scar.

This may be the most obvious statement ever. I’ve lived with scars over much of my body for half my life now. I know people see them, but people never say anything. The only time I can remember being asked about them was when an uncle made a comment at Thanksgiving about my “playing in the blackberry bushes.” I was rocking years old scars at that point. It’s always been my prerogative not to hide them. But I see them every day. They remind me. They sadden me. I know if I could go back and undo any moments, it would be those. I didn’t understand at 16 how long life was (I’d guess at 32 I still don’t) or how permanent scars were. It pains me immensely to know I’ve recently added to the scars on my body, and increased the reminders of pain and strain and turmoil that live on the skin I’m in. 

7. I’d rather cut myself than kill myself.

If those are my choices (and I’m not saying this is the case for every person who cuts) I know which one I’d rather go with. No question.

8. Silence festers.

I actually go into middle and high schools now and talk to youth about identifying and responding to mental health concerns using my own personal mental health story. I talk about cutting in my teen years. I don’t talk about cutting in the past year, actually in the past six months. I don’t talk about it because it’s not appropriate or helpful. But that doesn’t mean being silent doesn’t kill me a little. It doesn’t mean I don’t feel a tug to tell the whole story, to break down any lingering facades of perfection or shit eternally gotten together. That is why I’ve written this today. This is a safe space for my experience, my life, my essence. This truth is mine to be spoken, and it demands to be so.

9. I am lovable even if I am scarred.

I am lovable even if I am unable to always access kindness for myself. I am lovable even if I am indignant. I am lovable even if my truth is painful. I am lovable even if my actions are scary. I am lovable even when I am bleeding. I am lovable even if I’ve failed. I am lovable no matter what is or isn’t present on my skin. I am lovable. So are you. 

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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