Scars and My First Tattoo

I did something the other day some might find a bit strange for a girl with a needle phobia.  I got a tattoo.

Yeah I know.

The thing is though, having someone jab a needle into your arm is completely different experience than getting inked in a number of ways.  For one, medically-related needles hurt less but mess with my head more.  I hate them. I REALLY hate them.  And I usually have no choice in whether or not I’m going to get them.

Getting this tattoo hurt like the dickens but didn’t freak me out at all.  I wanted to scream a few times from the pain, but it didn’t evoke fear of any sort. Weird.

I got this piece done for a few reasons. Scars have always held very deep significance for me, and I’ve contemplated them a great deal throughout the years.  They are inevitable in this life, though what we choose to do with them can make or break us. They can easily cause our hearts to become calloused and our souls cold and jaded if we allow them to, and I think that is the natural course of things if we do nothing.  Pain has a way of perpetuating itself when left to it’s own devices within,  inflicting more pain elsewhere.  As Steinbeck put it in East of Eden,  “You’re going to pass something down no matter what you do or if you do nothing. Even if you let yourself go fallow, the weeds will grow and the brambles. Something will grow.”

I decided a long time ago that I wanted to grow beauty, not more darkness.

I believe with all my being that turning over one’s suffering and scars to the One who can heal us will ultimately create something far more beautiful than what we were before the wounds were inflicted.  By bearing pain with humility, hope, dignity and courage, it can mold and strengthen us beyond what is imaginable, and serve as a reminder to ourselves and to others that Hope exists in the Great Healer himself.  It can be excruciating to endure, and often I’ve felt it would surely break me in the process.

But by fighting the good fight and not giving up or giving in, I am left with a stronger, gentler heart that probably could not have been molded by any other means. It bears brutal scars, but is all the more beautiful because of them.

Tattoos are sort of like that. They are, I suppose, scars themselves.  They are painful to endure (at least mine was) but their end result can be terribly beautiful.  Having just come up out of a very dark time of my life, I felt that doing this would be good for me on many levels.  It felt like the physical closing of one chapter and the opening of another.

The design itself carries great significance for me, none of which I’ll carry on about here. But it’s meaning holds value for me, and knowing that for myself is important I think. The placement and size were, to some, rather surprising since the ribcage and hipbone area tends to be one of the more sensitive locations from what I understand.  Since this was my first and have nothing to compare it to, it’s hard to speak to that.

But I can tell you it hurt like a mother.

In my mind though, it’s gonna hurt no matter where you put it, so you might as well put it where you want it and get ‘er done.  Whats a little more pain for something you love?  I mean, it’s sort of going to be there forever.

I chose to do this in one 4.5  hour sitting. This was neither a result of courage or bravery on my part,  but rather the sometimes foolish stubborn streak in me coming out, plus the strong dislike for half- finished projects.  Paul, the artist I chose, sort of thought I was nuts to do this on my first try I think,  and he was probably right. He thought I’d probably change my mind halfway through, but like I told him, it’s just something I decided to do, and the stubborn streak in me can be pretty hard to argue with.

So now, onto the fun stuff.  Everyone’s experiences are different when it comes to this sort of thing, but for those who are curious about the process for me, here tis.

The shop I chose was Outer Limits in Orange, and my artist was Paul Black.  I’d highly recommend the shop and the Paul. (: My friend Kevin referred me to him a few months back after getting his piece done there. The place is really clean, well-designed, and comfortable. The rooms are semi- private with two clients to each room.  Paul’s been doing this for 20 years and his work reflects that. He’s really mellow, good-natured, patient, and does a good job reflecting what you’re asking for artistically.

My dear friend Suj was kind enough to sit with me throughout the whole process and take lots of pictures during the 4-plus hours we were there.  She’s been inked before and knows what it’s like, plus she’s just a cool person and I take advantage of her company whenever I get the chance.  She was also very diligent about making funny faces back at me whenever I scrunched my face at her in pain, which inevitably made me laugh.   I also got to meet her friend Spencer while on the table, which was a rather unique experience in and of itself.

“Hi, my name is Jen and oh, here is my tummy with some blood and ink all over it. Nice to meet you.”

After putting the stencil on, he began by outlining everything in color since I didn’t want any black.  Sort of felt like a bee sting being scraped across my skin….sometimes more like a small razor blade.  Not horrific, not fun. And I guess tats don’t make me cry, they make me want to scream and say not-so-nice words.

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Here is my ‘I’m-in pain-so-I’ll-just-smile face.’

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Close-up of the nearly finished outline

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And then he began shading.  This part hurt less for me than the outlining…..at first. It was not as sharp, more like a deep burning sensation for the first hour or so.

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As the shading progressed, however, so did the pain.  By the third hour of going over and over areas of my ribcage lower stomach/hipbone, I was truly grinning and bearing it. Sometimes I was using words I shouldn’t have, and though I tried to whisper them into the pillow, I’m afraid poor Paul got an earful.  The hummingbird was definitely the most painful part, though I am not sure why. It felt like I was being knifed on an open wound, and since nerve endings are weird, I often felt it through my back too. Whoohoo.

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Roughly three hours in, about the time I was really starting to shake, Paul began reminding me that there would no problem in doing the tattoo in two sittings, that most people do (even those who have done them before)

Again, Paul got to see my stubborn streak.

He also kept having me scoot back on the table towards him as I kept ‘accidentally’ sliding forward to get away from the man with the burning needle.

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When it was over he said was really impressed that I actually followed through and took it.

I sort of think he just thought I was batty.

But it all worth the pain. Four and a half hours later I was done and it was beautiful.

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You can see SuJen’s beautiful face taking a picture in this one.

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Other than getting shaky, lightheaded and cold once he was done (which is actually very normal since your body sort of goes into shock I guess) I felt really good afterwards. I sang all the home in my car and ate a candy bar before crashing.

And by crashing I mean a collision of me and my bed, not my car and anything else.

It’s healing up quite nicely now, and every morning when I wake up I’m pleasantly surprised by own personal sunshine painted forever on my side.

(for For those who would rather see the process without detail, here’s a video of it)

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