I get asked about my tattoos on a weekly basis, if not daily. I have ten, so far, and most of them are easily visible in a tank top. Each one is deeply meaningful, as was the experience of getting each of them. Every tattoo I get is a marker - a memorial - of something significant on my path through life. When I get asked why I get tattooed, I usually have some sort of flippant or dismissive remark - the real explanation would be inappropriately long-ish for the standard conversation, and I dislike talking about myself all that much. Especially with people who ask questions like, "doesn't that hurt?" That might actually be a valid question, in the end, but it annoys me. It speaks of an ignorance that I can't diffuse with a short answer, on a topic that I probably wasn't interested in enough to bring up. But, the questions are probably valid. So I'll give it a try here, when I'm not annoyed.
I don't speak for every person who has tattoos. I speak only for myself, though I understand that I'm one of many tattooed people who feel this way.
Why do I get tattoos?
I get tattoos to mark significant events or guiding philosophies that shape my life, like memorials that will be with me, wherever I go, forever. Admittedly, the cost of getting a tattoo is prohibitive, and there are more than a few I plan to get for events passed, but for which I have not yet been able to afford the tattoo. So unfortunately, the memorialization of these events does not always coincide with the actual event. That's unfortunate, in my experience, because the process of getting a tattoo is an ordeal which imparts the greatest emotional satisfaction - or the greatest spiritual empowerment - when tied intimately to the related event. But, I do what I can with what I have, and I have the ability to concentrate on the relevant event during the tattooing process. It's the best I can do, sometimes. That does allow me to incorporate my spiritual connection with the tattooing process, which otherwise might be too painful to be borne. The pain, then, becomes cleansing, as though the memorial were being cauterized into my flesh. It helps me to integrate my lessons learned with my body's memory; it shapes who I am, in the way that I chose.
For me, this is the Ordeal Path realized.
Why did I get that tattoo?
Each tattoo I have, has a story all its own. Some mark events, like my time in the Army or my divorce from my child's father; some mark my connections to other people, like the one which complements the tattoo I designed for my brother many years ago; some are statements of my core ethics, like the two on my spine which symbolize my spiritual path as it first appeared to me.
I have one which I regret getting. I don't regret that I got one for that event, but I do regret the shape I chose for it: it's Ex-husband #2's name. My next tattoo will be to cover that. More than covering the old tattoo, the next one will reflect what I've learned since getting his name tattooed on me.