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How My Tattoos Have Saved Me From Self-Harm

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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. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

I can feel the cold liquid spread onto my forearm and the stencil is placed on it. I can hear the buzzing sound of the needle start up beside me, and I clench my teeth. This is going to hurt. The buzzing gets closer to my body, and I start to shake. I sense the familiar feeling of the needle on the surface of my skin. Instant pain. I gasp and flex my forearm muscle, but it’s no match for his strong hands keeping me from moving. After a few moments, I calm down, letting the pain of the needle continue its path to creation.

And then numbness creeps up and overcomes me. It consumes my entire being and shows me a light at the end of the dark tunnel my life has turned into. The sensation of releasing myself into the hands of the tattoo artist gives me the rush of adrenaline like no other. I don’t want to feel, I don’t want to be. Whisk me away and do everything you can to keep me from drowning in my own sorrows and tears.

The pain of the needle becomes one with my body and it feels as if it is a part of me — a part of my being. The consistent hum finally settles my nerves and gives me a sense of place in the world — a sense of belonging to the earth. I can almost taste it.

The feeling of that needle keeps me from screaming. The etch of the design on my skin is my way of coping, my way of not self-harming, but still getting the feeling of self-harm in some way. It’s a soothing feeling. Maybe from myself, from my own demons that fester inside of me. These demons bury me in their infestation of despair and loneliness, but I am able to breathe fresh air again through the injection of the ink.

If you’ve ever gotten a tattoo, you may know what I’m talking about. You may even agree with me when I say it’s a coping mechanism. For me, it’s also a way of expressing to others in a creative way what means the most to me and what I have struggled through during my lifetime. Recently, or rather extremely recently, I got another tattoo. It’s a peony flower with the roman numerals “XVI.” That’s the number 16. It represents and serves as a reminder to me of the 16 days I spent in the psych ward.

When I look down at my skin, it brings back vivid memories of things I will forever remember, but it also helps me live through tough times. To look at my tattoos and know I will survive is freeing for me. They give me strength to face whatever bullshit is being thrown at me that day, that week, that month or even that year. They are my security blanket, and I am not ashamed to admit that.

Over the past three years, I have gotten quite a few tattoos and piercings. For some people, they are rebellious and unacceptable. For others, they are ugly and a waste of money. For me, they are my story. My tattoos are what have saved me from self-harm. My tattoos have made me feel human and real. My tattoos have made me feel like me.

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

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

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Thinkstock photo via dimid_86.

Originally published: May 17, 2017
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