Yeah, it's a thing.
I encourage anyone who reads today's post to actually research this, don't just take my word for it (or not take my word for it).
This is my experience.
The first tattoo I got was a Harry Potter reference on the top of my right foot while my friend and I were in Las Vegas for her 21st birthday. I had imagined myself with this specific tattoo for a while before actually committing; and we wanted to do something... what is the word I am looking for here... cool? What happens in Vegas, right?
I have never once regretted this little 10-minute tattoo on my foot. You would think I would forget about it as time passes, but I still look down at it all these years later and feel proud that it's there. It means something to me, sure; but it also was pretty fucking painful (especially with it being the first tattoo and not knowing what kind of pain to expect), and when I look down at it, it serves as my own little reminder that I endured that - by choice.
For years after that I wanted another very specific tattoo, the etching of the oak tree on my grandpa's headstone. I never pursued it. Not for a long time. I think I was too anxious to find and reach out the right artist, and then go physically sit down and have this stranger put something on my body that is meaningful to me. But after Serenity died, I finally felt compelled - and I mean almost immediately - to get this done. So I sought out an artist and sat down to do it.
That tattoo was different. Again - it means something to me, but the experience was different. It took about 30-45 minutes "under the needle," and within the first couple of minutes I was re-acquainted with the pain, and accustomed to it. It became... a release. A pain I was welcoming and not pulling away from. It released my tension and stress and trauma, and psychological and emotional pain during those 45 minutes. Within the first couple of weeks after that - as James helped me care for it during the healing process (it's on my back), I felt lighter despite what had just happened in our lives.
Obviously, my little tattoo therapy realization is not a replacement for real therapy and I do not advise using it as a replacement. However... there is something therapeutic about it that has complimented the process.
I sat for two hours for the work on my arm last fall. There is nothing meaningful to me about it. I told the artist that I found that I simply wanted a bee and some wildflowers. That I liked his work, and to design it however he liked. Again, I felt the same adrenaline rush and cortisol release when the work was done. Again, I look down at my arm everyday and feel proud simply because I endured it. As stupid as that sounds... when I think about it, it really is not stupid at all.
I started to research this over the winter to prove to myself that I was not making up the feeling of release. The internet did not disappoint in confirming the brain chemistry (adrenaline and cortisol release); but then I also found this really special video below, where David Allen (a tattoo artist) discusses the importance of acknowledging everyone's story and looking inward to heal yourself. If you have 10 minutes to spare, I highly recommend watching this:
All in all, tattoos can mean many different things to each of us. They have helped people process physical and psychological traumas, cope with disease, cover scars, give people self-confidence, etc. Mine have become a symbol of my own pain and endurance, but also fun symbols of self-expression - as my most recent Futurama one proves to be.
So let me know what you think about tattoo therapy, and if yours have helped you process events in your life as well.