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Sometimes beauty is skin deep – like when it comes in the form of beautiful artwork commemorating a commitment to being healthy and happy through the work of recovery. My own recovery tattoo got me thinking – who else out there has some sweet recovery art? I’ll start us off, and then I’m excited to share some of the really great reader submissions that I received!
My Own Recovery Tattoo:
My recovery tattoo was my first tattoo. I got it over the summer of 2005, when I was 22 and had been in recovery for about two years. February of that year, I smashed the scale I had been using in the alley behind my first apartment with a triumphant and cathartic anger (the avatar for my blog, Twitter, etc. is an actual photo of my smashed scale!). The scale had become a physical representation of the otherwise invisible tormentor known as anorexia, an altar upon which my self-worth was constantly debated. I had been making strides in recovery and was doing very well, but I kept coming back to the scale. In February 2005, I hadn’t weighed myself in months. I came across it, and, in a moment of weakness and curiosity, stepped back on it.
I knew it was a bad idea, though, and talked to a friend about it the next day. Well, she was furious. She told me everything I already knew – that I didn’t need it, that it was only going to create problems and that I was stronger than this. I agreed with her.
She asked me to get rid of it. Despite agreeing with all her points, I hesitated.
“Just put it in the trunk of your car until you go back to your parents’ house.”
I thought this was reasonable enough. It wouldn’t be sitting under my bed, easy to get to. Still on the phone, I put on my coat and walked out back, scale in hand. I popped the trunk and was about to set the scale down, but I froze.
“Matt? Are you there?” I hadn’t spoken in awhile and my friend thought the phone had cut out.
“Hang on a second,” I said. I set the phone down in the trunk, freeing my left hand, and in one swift motion raised the scale above my head and threw it onto the pavement. The last time I stepped on that scale I wasn’t weighing myself – I was stomping on it with all of my strength.
It was such a turning point for me, and so empowering, that it seemed a suitable image for a recovery tattoo. I took some photos and provided them to a local artist recommended by a friend:
The phrase, “Sic Semper Tyrannis,” is on the Virginia state flag, and means, “Thus Always to Tyrants,” which seemed a fitting slogan to the tyranny of anorexia and my refusal to let it ruin my life. Yes, ‘Tyrranis’ is spelled with a U on my leg, which was an accident. I like it, though, because it’s an “imperfection” that I can’t change, and recovery is all about accepting yourself as you are.
For me, getting tattooed definitely played a role in how I thought of my body. Suddenly, I had a custom piece of artwork that no one else has or ever would have. I realized that in my adolescence I had built up a ton of insecurities about how I looked, but none of them had to do with ways I actually felt about myself, just ways I was concerned with how I thought other people might think or feel about me. Getting tattooed contributed in an inadvertent way – rather than focus on my body, I feel like people focus on the artwork, and suddenly I don’t care. That wasn’t my intention when I started getting tattoos but it’s made me appreciate my body more and feel more like it’s “mine” and not just some “imperfect” expression of a male body (as if there is such a thing!)
Enough about me, though. Let’s check out what others have done!
Recovery pieces seem to range from elaborate, custom pieces to simple phrases which have special meaning to someone. Some go for a simple, elegant recovery symbol popularized by the National Eating Disorders Association and featured in their logo. Behind each one, though, is a commitment to health and recovery, and a reminder of how far each person has come.
Our first reader submission actually has multiple recovery tattoos! Here are her pictures and the story behind each one:
“BREATHE- when I was very sick with an ED, I often would attend support groups/individual therapy, and I had an extremely difficult time trying to talk because of my anxiety. I would be so anxious, that I would literally stop breathing until I suddenly had to take a deep breath of air. This tattoo, which is my own handwriting which my tattoo artist traced, reminds me to breathe through my anxiety! and also the 3 middle letters spelling “EAT”, remind me that I must continue to nourish myself to stay well. Also, it’s a reminder of project brEAThe, my amazing campaign that has kicked off tremendously.”
“Silvers’ Hope- Silver was my best friend who passed away in 2009. She also struggled with anorexia. She told me I was her hope. This is my daily reminder and a big motivation in my recovery.”
“ED recovery symbol- this speaks for itself! I got it done when I came home from finishing my treatment at Homewood. It was when my full recovery truly began. And it’s above my scars, and tells a story of how far I truly have come.”
Lindsay brings up a great point here – getting out of treatment doesn’t always mean that someone is “better.” I view treatment as the method of laying a strong foundation for long-term recovery. Sometimes we want so badly to just put it behind us that we rush it and want to be further along than we are – but recovery isn’t a destination. Recovery is something that you do, meal by meal, day by day.
“So here’s my tattoo. I have ‘Namaste’ tattooed on my wrist, with the ED recovery symbol. I decided to ink my wrist mainly for the sake of how visible it is for me, especially when I am eating or struggling with any self-esteem or personal struggles. It reminds me to be mindful and that I have the strength to do this. I love the fact that it is not hidden because it ALWAYS brings up conversation. ‘Oh what does your tattoo say?’ Then I explain what it is, and how in treatment we used to say Namaste at the end of groups, meetings, etc. I wanted to take that strong message and the power of that supportive community with me everywhere. This tattoo not only helps me in my recovery journey, it also creates opportunity to educate others.”
Thanks for sharing, Sadie!
Cat S. Ginn
“I’m in recovery from Anorexia for 8 years now – since 2004. I’ve been fighting it all my life, it seems. I’m 50 years old now. I took a piece of my artwork to a tattoo artist. After discussing depth, color, and representation of the “journey” that is my life, he tattooed this on the inside of my right wrist… It represents a difficult, yet transitional point in my life’s journey. One that has tested my strength, resiliency, and ability to overcome whatever reality comes my way!
Take THAT, Anorexia! Take THAT, Bipolar Disorder! And Bring it on! Tourettes Syndrome! I’ve beaten the ass of the toughest amongst you!
THIS TIME you will NOT overcome! I WILL!”
Wow, Cat – that’s quite a battle cry! Thanks for sharing!
“I have lived with disordered eating my entire life. when exactly did that became an Eating Disorder? I am not sure. I was 18 by the time I was actually anorexic, but I remember having disordered thoughts as young as 12. I entered Homewood Health Centre in Guelph Ontario in May of 2008, after my husband and doctor realized something had to be done. I was at an all-time low weight and slowly starving myself. Once there I learned not only how to cope and handle my eating, but also made some of the most important relationships I would ever have. Before leaving Homewood, a woman that I had become friends with and I decided a tattoo would be a great way to honor the time we spent there.
To me, it was also a stamp on my wrist to remind myself daily of the people I met, both patients and staff. Remind myself of how sick I was and how sick i didn’t want to be ever again. Remind myself to eat. But mostly I wanted people to ask me what it was…and what it meant. I wanted to be able to tell people that eating disorders don’t just affect young athletic woman. I wanted to be able to tell people that an eating disorder can hit at any age, any sex, any race, any religion. I wanted to be able to share with people the knowledge that an eating disorder is a mental illness and my getting sick with one was no different than me getting cancer or diabetes.
I am incredibly proud of the tattoo on my wrist. Not only has it has made for some awesome conversations over that last four years, but it shows what a fighter I am as I fight every day to be in recovery and no longer let this illness run my life. I believe if society as a whole was more aware of what eating disorders really are then it would not only help reduce many of the negative stigmas but maybe save a life or two by recognizing the symptoms!
Andi – age 45″
Thanks for your passion and commitment to educating others about eating disorders, and thanks for sharing your story!
My name is Hilary and this is my recovery tattoo. I got it at the age of 19 ( I am now 23) when I was nearing the end of my treatment at Homewood Health Centre in Guelph. For me this tattoo represents my faith in a higher power that gave me a a second chance at life when I thought ED was going to take it from me.
I was driving back from Ottawa General with my Mum after a consultation to go into their inpatient program. The doctor there said he would get me in as soon as possible but he couldn’t say when it would be. We were on the 401 coming into the Toronto and it was dusk and the stars where just starting to appear. My entire body hurt and I was tired. I had a meeting in Guelph at Homewood the next day that my Dad was going to take me too. At that moment I looked up into the sky and prayed..for the first time in my life I asked that if there really was a higher power and if I was meant to survive this they would let met get into Homewood despite the fact I was quite a bit bellow weight restrictions. At that moment I really felt a spiritual connection with something. I had a feeling that someone out there had heard me.
I was right. The next day Homewood told me to go home, pack my bags and come back the next day to be admitted.
I do not follow any particular religion but I know from this experience that there is something out that watching over all of us. I was not meant to die of anorexia, if I was it would have been for years ago. I am meant to LIVE and that is what keeps my fighting. My tattoo is meant to remind me of that and to give thanks for my second chance at Life
Time and time again, my eating disorder has made me feel like a prisoner of my own mind. “Free your mind” (in my best friend’s handwriting who has been my main support through it all) is a continued reminder to allow my mind to be free from my eating disorder.
Thanks for sharing, Saige!
I got this tattoo after getting out of treatment for the first time. It is a constant reminder for me to be strong even when I feel weak. I decided the heart needed to be uneven and strange to challenge my perception of ‘perfection’. Even things that aren’t perfect can be beautiful.
Thanks for sharing Karly, and stay strong!
If you have a recovery tattoo you’d like to share, I can add it to the post. If I get enough of them, maybe it can become a series!