Last December, I proudly made the decision to do something I never previously imagined I’d do: to get a tattoo. In fact, not just one—but two. For years, I halfheartedly considered the idea, though the mere thought of it felt silly. As with many people, I imagined my future self parsing this decision for merit. Upon doing so, I then couldn’t fathom having an image indelibly imprinted on my skin. Thus, for my first 24 years and 2 months, my skin remained pristine, without a hint of black, a blog of orange, or smudge of blue ink.
Looking back now, it’s funny to see how quickly my viewpoints changed. Just three months prior, I remember having the age-old “Would you ever get a tattoo?” conversation with my soon-to-be girlfriend. My answer then remained the same. No. Tattoos just do not seem to suit me, I thought. But oh, how this viewpoint changed…
After a beautiful, transient, and then, particularly turbulent two months, I landed in intensive group therapy at the beginning of November. There, I spent 60 hours over the next three weeks, learning how to be completely honest with myself, how to more effectively cope, and then how to begin healing. Under my own volition, I asked for this help, realizing that, at the time, this was the only healthy option that remained for me.
In speaking my truth, I realized that I could begin to cut the chains that beheld to me to my unprocessed trauma. Then and there, I knew it was time to start being honest to myself, to forgive myself for things that happened to me—things that occurred far outside of my control. Surprisingly, in this vulnerability, I found great power, too. I came to recognize how rarely most people seem to level with themselves, to be completely honest about the unsavory pains, traumas, and behaviors that continue to weigh them down. Thus, in doing, I discovered an avenue towards leading a healthier, happier, more sustainable life. By acknowledging these truths, I could begin to account for them and how they shape my everyday life.
So, when I finished group therapy, I decided it was time for a change. An avid proponent and participant of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and mindfulness, I knew that I also needed a physical reminder of hope and light amidst the darkness. That way, wherever I was or however I felt, I could receive a prescient reminder of grace and resilience.
Needless to say, getting a tattoo became not only a sure decision, but also a step towards healing and living my best life. Etched in black ink, above my right wrist, a semicolon reminds me of the challenges I have overcome, and, if need be, will overcome again. I do not wear this symbol as a macabre reminder of my own mortality. Rather, I display it as a proud reminder of my resilience and vitality, despite having faced great challenges and adversity.
Alone, a semicolon tattoo did feel like enough of a visual reminder of my strength, however. Therefore, I decided to be bold, to afford myself the hope and aplomb necessary to navigate difficult situations. I chose a sun… Well, a sun shining brilliantly through ominous clouds, to be exact. To me, this tattoo conveys everything I need it to. It reminds me that even in darkness, light shines through. Similarly, it reminds me that the storms of life must also subside. And when they let up, light will shine freely and brilliantly.
Yesterday, as I wrote these words, I did not want to feel happy, at least for the day. Although I am so accustomed to and adept at reframing raw experiences, I chose not to. After all, sadness is a normal human emotion. It should be felt from time to time, especially in the midst of our Coronavirus-infected world. Yet, as I glanced down at my inked-up right arm, I began to feel tremors of hope. Though my body, which hasn’t seen the inside of a proper gym for a month, feels gross—my mind frustrated—I have overcome much greater obstacles before. After all, tattoos on my right arm—or, badges of these triumphs—remind me of this.
On good days, I still can’t help but feel that my tattoos look garish and dumb. Childish, even. But then, again, I didn’t receive these marks for my good days alone. I chose them for darker days, days exponentially more difficult than yesterday. For, on these days, my tattoos remind me that light shines through the darkness. Always…
Today, regardless of wherever you are, whatever you are doing, or who you are with, I hope you take these words to heart. Regardless of how opaque our world may currently feel, may you see the light shining through your life.
Author’s Note: I am doing quite well. Please know that I am wishing you good health, love, solace, and peace of mind at this time.