Self-harm & Tattoos

(This post talks about self-injury. Though I never write about what I find to be triggering, I do advise self-harmers to read this post with caution. If it is triggering you, stop reading or sit with someone who helps you feel safe. )

I have a consultation for a new tattoo on Thursday and I’m super excited. This will be my third tattoo. On my left forearm, I have a typewriter with cherry blossoms bursting out of it, designed for me personally by Cassandra Warren. Another of her designs is on my right shoulder: a birdcage with a burst of light coming from within, indicating that the bird has disappeared. My upcoming tattoo is my own design, and it will be the smallest. It has a very special and secret meaning for me. It’s going to be on my left wrist. Maybe I’ll share its meaning with you someday.

As a kid and younger teen, I never ever thought I’d get a tattoo. After I started self-injuring, however, the idea of permanence no longer scared me. One of the reasons I cut myself was to mark myself permanently, to tell my story, the pain of that day or week or moment. I have hundreds of scars and I can still remember the stories behind some of them. If you could wave a magic wand and make all of my scars disappear, I wouldn’t want you to do it. They are part of me and my history. Tattoos cover the scars so they aren’t the first thing people notice, but they don’t erase them. I like that. Getting tattoos marked a new chapter in my life. I chose to love my body instead of hate it.

There are some people who argue that getting tattoos or piercings are a form of self-harm. When it comes down to it, these things do harm the body physically, so the argument is a valid one, but I believe it’s the reasoning behind the acts of “harm” that make body modification different. That said, I know I can handle the pain of a tattoo because of my experience with self-harm. Maybe that’s why tattoos mean so much to me.You can’t separate or define some things. That argument doesn’t matter much to me.

So, my typewriter tattoo spans over 50-100 scars on my one arm. At first when people asked me whether it hurt more to be tattooed over my scars, I couldn’t give them an answer because I only had one tattoo. Now that my shoulder is tattooed, I can say that getting tattooed over my scars didn’t hurt more than getting normal skin tattooed. Most of my scars were at least five years old, however. The minimum healing time before getting a tattoo over a scar is six months so that your skin is properly healed first.  I think my scarred skin is tougher than unscarred skin. Overall, your body feels pain differently all over, so it really depends on the location, the detail of the tattoo, and the tattoo artist when it comes to pain.

By the way, seeking to get tattooed over my self-harm scars was an awesome experience. No one has ever looked at my scars with less judgement than the tattoo artists at True Love Tattoo. It was as if we talked about me getting tattooed over a single scar from an accident. I felt no shame when I saw how little my scars affected those tattoo artists. So my advice is, if you are worried about the reaction you’ll get from tattoo artists when it comes to your scars, DON’T WORRY! These people alter skin for a living. They don’t care why your skin is a certain way, they just want you to love your tattoo(s). They go to tattoo conventions where there are people with the most extreme forms of body modification. Google it! I swear it’ll make you feel like your scars aren’t shameful.

So being a self-injurer made me consider getting tattoos, whereas if I’d never self-harmed I might not have considered tattoos as easily. But now that I have tattoos, I know they are 100% for me. As a writer and artist, symbols mean a lot to me. My typewriter tattoo mainly represents writing, but also the work behind writing. I researched flowers and chose cherry blossoms to grow out of that typewriter because of the meaning that flower holds and its tie-in with a favourite book of mine. My birdcage tattoo has many meanings that I expect to change as I grow. The tattoo primarily symbolizes escape, but the birdcage can represent so many things.

Tattoos are an investment. Take the time to come up with an idea you love. Then find a tattoo artist who is skilled and be prepared to pay them as much as they ask for, plus a tip. It’s worth every penny! They are giving you art that you’ll have the rest of your life.

If you want tattoos but are scared of their permanence and whether you’ll get sick of them, do what I did. I printed out a picture of each of my tattoos and hung it on my wall as I saved up my money. After six months, if you aren’t sick of seeing the design every day, then it’s a safe bet as a tattoo. Also consider getting your tattoo(s) in a spot you can’t see all the time. My shoulder tattoo is more visible to others than to me and so it’s always a delight when I glimpse it in a mirror or in a photograph.

Tattoos celebrate life. They help define who you are without you ever saying a word. They remind you of your beauty. Take the time and then take the risk. Life is worth living, however you do it. Go ahead and do it!

13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. destroythequeen
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 20:19:16

    I view my scars as my thorns. I am a rose and they are my thorns. They are the creases in a book, the cracks in the spine. Telling the story that I have lived, suffered and survived. Other people are afraid because they don’t understand how something that came out of such pain could become a thing of beauty.

    Reply

    • daisiesandbruises
      Apr 30, 2012 @ 20:32:30

      “They are the creases in a book, the cracks in the spine. Telling the story that I have lived, suffered and survived.” – I love that! Beautiful. <3
      Your words are so true. Thank you. :)

      Reply

      • destroythequeen
        May 01, 2012 @ 06:10:21

        Thankyou for your amazing blog. And your amazing self.

      • destroythequeen
        Feb 18, 2013 @ 05:01:10

        I know this post is a bit old now, but I wanted to add to it. I just got my first tattoos last week. And it has been a life changing experience. I have no self harmed since I got them, which is the longest time I’ve gone in the last year.

        Before, I’d never go out with completely bare arms. Now, because they are still healing, I go everywhere with bare arms. I was expecting people to be awful, say mean things and the like. Only one person asked about my scars, and I just said it was “a long story”. I am not ashamed of my scars, I am not afraid of people seeing them. The tattoos make me feel free. I feel beautiful. For once in my life, I don’t completely despise what I see in the mirror.

        I have an anchor on my left forearm about 10cms from my wrist, and a heart the same size and place on my right arm. The anchor symbolizes hope, and the heart is for love.

        A friend was afraid that I’d become addicted to tattoos, because of the pain. He thought, misguidedly, that self harmers love pain. I had to put him straight. I don’t believe, now, that people who love tattoos are addicted to the pain, I think they might be hooked on the other effects that tattoos have. Such as making you feel more confident.

        Tattoos have extreme healing powers.

  2. Kinnery
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 20:26:58

    I definitely plan to get (a) tatoo(s) someday, when I have the money. They’re art that you wear, and they can hold so much significance
    And yes, as writers, we hold onto symbols for dear life. Having that on your skin is a beautiful thing.

    Reply

  3. dreadfulclaire
    May 01, 2012 @ 02:10:07

    Thank you so much for writing this, Erin.

    Reply

  4. Regina
    May 01, 2012 @ 06:43:41

    thank you for always sharing so much of yourself here, erin. even though i have never done any self-injury as far as cutting goes, i think about all the other things i did in order to make myself feel something, anything… so what you write resonates deeply.

    btw, i’ve always dreamed of getting a white literary tattoo… it would just say “poet” on the inside of my wrist. :)
    xo

    Reply

  5. Roma
    May 02, 2012 @ 16:21:35

    I like this post. When I was younger, I also didn’t think I’d end up with a tattoo, let alone three. I wanted one but I didn’t think I’d ever actually muster up the nerve to do it or be allowed to do it.

    Reply

    • daisiesandbruises
      May 18, 2012 @ 12:54:20

      Yeah, it’s interesting how much more popular tattoos have become and how maybe our parents’ generation might be the last to associate tattoos with bikers and sailors only. Anyway, I think that’s why I never thought I’d get one. They were “bad” until I grew up and learned otherwise. :)

      Reply

  6. Shelley
    May 13, 2012 @ 16:04:23

    Thanks for sharing these thoughts about your scars, and your tattoos. I’ve considered getting a tattoo on and off for years, and I think your idea about hanging a picture of the tattoo up on the wall to see if it it still meaningful after looking at it every day is great. I love your birdcage tattoo!

    Reply

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