In the process of
writing last week’s post about transformation I started thinking about my
phoenix tattoo, which got me thinking about regret and acceptance.
The phoenix is,
of course, a potent symbol of transformation. It’s the mythical bird that rises
from the ashes after adversity. The caterpillar emerging from its cocoon into a
beautiful butterfly. You get the idea.
I was certainly making a statement when I chose to get a phoenix tattooed on my upper back at the age of 22. I was also ahead of my time, as Ben Affleck has just done the very same (although his is more colourful and impressive).
To give you some background, at the time I got inked, I had come through the other
side of a battle with depression and a redundancy. I wanted to carry a mark
that would symbolise my resilience and inner strength. I hoped it would give me
something to draw on in challenging times. I believed, in the naïve way that
only a 22-year-old could, that I was through my biggest personal crisis. I did
not then understand that life is a series of challenges and strength building,
and that we are reborn again and again and again (unless, of course, we choose
to stay stuck).
Instead of being
a badge of honour, the tattoo became a source of regret. It didn’t remind me of
my transformation, it only reminded me of the misery that had permeated that
chapter of my life. I felt disappointed that I had not grown enough to become the person I had believed I could be on day in a dingy Auckland tattoo studio. Plus, it was kinda ugly.
So, in my early
30s I decided to have it removed. Unfortunately the laser treatment process was
excruciating (vastly more painful that the tattooing process), and was
predicted to become more so as treatment progressed. It was also costly. So
after five treatments I decided to make peace with the now slightly faded bird, and quit treatment.
understand how people who have tattoos of their ex’s name on their forearms, or
Kermit the Frog tattoos on their butt (I actually know someone in this situation),
would want to have those removed. But my tattoo wasn’t that awful. So why had I
wanted it erased so badly?
|My tattoo removal story in Women's Health magazine|
What I’d been
trying to do was the equivalent of what people do on Instagram every day – edit
out the ugly side and present only the elements of myself that I wanted to be
seen. I knew that getting rid of the tattoo would not alter the course of my
history, but at least it would mean I wouldn’t have to keep reflecting on it –
because every time someone saw the tattoo I had had to explain (in the vaguest
of terms) that I had been through “a rough period”. In doing so I was invoking
the heavy energy around that period once again. I felt a whiff of the despair and, just like a dementor in Harry Potter, its darkness loomed large. I didn’t want to be dragged down by that chapter any
longer. I wanted to put that behind me once and for all.
So very idealistic.
The past is ugly.
It has shadows and it leaves scars. It cannot be erased – even with the heat of a laser. The challenge for me has
been in finding a middle ground between acceptance and regret. More than a
tattoo could, it was in writing about my battle with depression that I finally
made peace with the parts of myself from which I had bled so profusely (read
that post here). I now neither embrace nor recoil from reminders of my past struggles. I have taken the lessons and am doing my best to gently move on. I have regrets, but I no longer ruminate on them.
We are all better
off for what we’ve been through, good and bad. That’s the unsightly truth.