Old Made New Again

Fifteen and a half years ago, I got my first tattoo with my ex. It was a very simple design, a Japanese kanji for courage, based on a tattoo my ex had in the same location on his wrist. I don’t remember much from getting the tattoo except that it was relatively painless and quick and I began telling people that it was a reminder to myself that I had courage.

Fifteen years was a long time ago. I’ve grown since then, though I might still need that reminder, but I’ve had regrets for a long time. I didn’t like that I had tattooed myself in a language that I didn’t speak, in a style that was appropriated from a culture that I’m not a part of. I regretted the reminder of my abusive relationship on my body. I just couldn’t figure out how to turn the kanji into something else though, since it was black ink in a pattern that I couldn’t draw into something else.

I’ve had a great appreciation for dinosaurs for a long time. And I’ve identified with them strongly for the past years, especially with Tyrannosaurus Rex. What started as an inside joke about how I am really a tiny dino blossomed into my adopting this as part of my identity. No, I don’t think I am actually a dinosaur, but I enjoy playing the part sometimes. So when it came to trying to figure out what to cover this tattoo with, I decided that it would be great to put a dinosaur in it’s place. I couldn’t figure out how to design it myself though, so I reached out to a local tattoo artist to see what he could come up with.

I was a little nervous going into the shop yesterday for my appointment, because I hadn’t actually seen the sketches he’d drawn yet and had no idea what things might look like. I knew that I could walk away without getting the tattoo if I didn’t like what he had come up with, so I wasn’t worried about getting something I didn’t like, but I was really hopeful that he would design something I’d fall in love with. He did not disappoint.

The dinosaur snakes its way from the outside of my forearm, covering the old tattoo seamlessly, and branches out around the outside of my arm. My only complaint with this tattoo is that it’s impossible to get all of it in one photo. The shading work is brilliant. I can’t express how much I love this tattoo. It feels appropriate to have something that fits in line with my identity rather than a foreign symbol that made me cringe every time a stranger asked me about it. It feels like a reset in some ways.

I’ve been so engulfed in depression lately that laying on a table feeling that familiar stinging sensation as the tattoo artist transformed my arm was comforting. In the same sense that self injury has been comforting in the past, the pain felt like a release that I had long been needing, except this pain didn’t come with feelings of shame and regret as self injury often does. My partner who came with me kept commenting that I just looked blissed out for the most part, probably because I was high on endorphins. But it was good. I needed this.

I’m starting again in the LGBT partial hospitalization program that I went through over the summer tomorrow morning. I have a lot of feelings about getting help, mostly shame for needing help, for not being strong enough to get through this on my own. I know that this is my own internalized shit and that it’s actually a strength that I’m not giving up and fighting this, blah, blah, blah, but it sucks all the same. However, there is one brilliant thing* that does not suck that is easy for me to see and since it’s still really sensitive, it’s easy for me to feel. That is a thing that I can bring with me tomorrow when I go to my program, which will be with me the entire time. And I love it. I guess what I’m trying to say is that even though things really suck right now, this experience has been a light in the dark and I really needed that right now.

Image – Four photos stitched into one, showing four different angles of my right forearm with my new dinosaur tattoo

*I just want to mention that another brilliant thing in my life is my close friends and family and partner who have all been providing me with a lot of necessary support

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