The Stories on my Skin
We humans do love to mark the significant moments in our life don’t we? We all have our unique ways of doing this. Some people plant trees. Some take photographs. Some write.
Without realizing it, it seems that I have developed my way of marking moments. I take photographs and write of course, but I do something else less digital than that.
I love to tell my stories on my skin.
I have seven tattoos. They have taken just over 20 years to acquire from the first to the last most recent, and I love them all.
Feeling like an adult at last
I got my first tattoo in 1997, aged 24, a recently single mother with a nine-month-old baby. I had just started university where I was training to be a teacher. Finally, I felt like a proper grown-up*. I had a large scar on my leg where I had burned myself after falling asleep drunk in front of the fire, pre-baby. I hated it.
For as long as I could remember, I had always wanted a tattoo.
This seemed the perfect place. I could cover an ugly scar with a pretty one. Paying for it with my first student grant cheque felt perfect. I was marking the start of my new life.
I don’t love the design of this anymore, but I still love what it represents to me, the first time I felt like a responsible adult.
*46-year-old me laughs at the naïvete of the child I was back then, I was so far from being a proper grown up!
Marking a loss
It was to be a long time before I had another tattoo. I knew after the first one that any tattoos I got had to be right, and had to mean something.
Tattoo two certainly did that.
When I completed the Inca trail in Peru in 2010, it was a profoundly bittersweet moment. I had started hiking and fundraising following the death of my brother. Both activities were fundamental to my healing. They helped me to process my grief, and grow as a person.
I wanted to mark this epic adventure in South America with a tattoo.
I had wanted a bespoke design that truly represented my feelings. Sadly the tattooist we found in Cusco didn’t speak English. I opted for the safety of a design in his book, but I love everything that this tattoo represents; my brother’s life, and the way he inspired me to live a more adventurous life.
The first two tattoos were a long time coming. The next five came in pretty quick succession.
Breathe to recover
In 2014, I got sober. In May 2016 I went to India to speak at a conference about my recovery journey. I also published my book about my recovery and launched it at the conference. This was a truly momentous occasion, and a tattoo to mark everything that trip meant to me was a must.
I adore this tattoo. It reminds me of what I need to do when life threatens to overwhelm me. It’s on my right wrist, so I can always look at it when I need to. It represents so much. My path to recovery, being in India for the first time, becoming a published author, speaking internationally, sobriety, life, and Yoga.
The George tattoos
I am a huge fan of George Harrison. Indeed, I credit him with starting me on the road to recovery many years ago, when his influence inspired me to start Yoga. I already had tattoo number five booked when I got tattoo four. This is taken from one of George’s albums, which is titled Thirty Three and a Third. This one was an early birthday gift from Liam, my middle son, the child I raised pretty much completely on The Beatles for many years.
November 29th is the anniversary of George Harrison’s death in 2001. It is a day I have always marked by listening to his music lots and feeling very sad. He is the only celebrity whose death still makes me cry sometimes.
George Harrison’s Dark Horse record label logo was the first thing I ever saw that I wanted to get tattooed on my body, when I was 20.
I had other priorities for my money back then, namely alcohol and drugs, so it never happened. So it was wonderful that sobriety gave me the ability to save some money and prioritize the tattoo I had wanted for over half my adult life.
On 29th November 2017, on the 16th anniversary of my hero’s death, I finally got this beautiful tattoo on my left arm. It still fills me with joy almost a year and a half later, I don’t think I will ever tire of it.
My life mantra
George’s first solo album is, in my opinion, one of the most magnificent musical creations of all time. It is one of my go-to albums when I want to listen to music that is going to speak to my soul.
The album’s title is one of the most powerful lessons we can learn in life if we are to live a happy life. ‘All Things Must Pass’ is one of those fundamental truths that, if we can truly accept it, can allow us to enjoy the good times without becoming too attached to the good feelings, and get through the bad, knowing they won’t last. I got this tattooed in a font based on George’s handwriting to remind myself of this powerful truth.
Marking an anniversary
The image of a bird flying free of its cage feels like it might be a bit of a recovery cliche, but it means the world to me. I always loved the idea of being able to fly, and when I was looking for ideas to mark my four-year sober anniversary, this kept coming back to me. There are four flowers, and a bud on the branch.
Although it wasn’t planned that way, it occurred to me later that they can represent four sober years and the potential of more to come. There is beauty in the blossomed flowers, and in the potential….like the buds at the start of spring, it fills me with excitement for what might grow.
All my tattoos have represented moments of recovery and growth.
I love my tattoos and hope to get more in the future. And I know that whatever else I get etched onto my skin, there will be a damn good story attached to it!
I shared these stories at a local speaking event in November 2018.
Do you have any tattoos? Share the stories of your body art in the comments.
Esther is from Wales in the UK. She beat 20 years of alcoholism and drug abuse at the age of 41 when she trained to be a yoga teacher. She has been sober since Oct 12, 2014, and has written a book about her adventures (Bent Back into Shape, Beating Addiction Through Yoga).
Esther loves music, Yoga, her babies (three human sons and one dog daughter), walking in the hills and at the coast, and dancing like no one is watching (even when she is at the grocery store!). She is passionate about the power of Yoga to create health and happiness, and believes that through its transformational power, and particularly learning to breathe, we can create space, peace, healing and joy in our lives.