East of Eli

Create Change Selected Works: Odes To My Tattoos

"I know it's cliche to say that we need to be ourselves because everyone else is already taken. But it's true" -Robine, Be You

Introduction

We know tattoos have very special meanings to those who get them. In May we asked our Create Change community to submit photos of their tattoos along with brief essays telling us why they got them and what their tattoos mean to them. This proved to be one of our most popular campaigns to date, based on your feedback. We’ve loved getting to know some of you a bit better through your photos and deeply personal stories. In addition to posting them on Instagram and Facebook, we’re also sharing a recap of the submissions below. We hope you enjoy them as much as we have.

Just A Spark

I got my tattoo when I was 19 and it is a version of my favorite band, Paramore’s, logo. Here’s why I got it and why I am happy to have it every day: It was the beginning of 2013, the year I started my university studies in biology, something I had dreamed of since I was little. I was very keen to learn and to go on to the next exciting step in my life. My schedule was packed but I was determined, and even though I was feeling overwhelmed by all the mathematics, physics and chemistry, I thought I could somehow make it. It was my dream after all.

As the semester went on, my mental health quickly deteriorated. I was always on edge, fighting a lot with my parents and feeling very anxious about Uni. On my way home, I was actually scared knowing I had to go again the next day. I dragged myself through weeks like this, feeling more helpless and overwhelmed on a daily basis but I didn’t tell anyone. My friends had all found their way and were happy and I couldn’t be the only one to fail. And, I didn’t want to disappoint my parents, so I suffered in silence. At the end of the term, I took my exams and soon found out I had failed them all. This is when I completely broke down. I finally told my mom and I decided to quit. I didn’t want to give up, but I simply couldn’t take it anymore.

But, what to do next? I’d failed at my dream of becoming a marine biologist and I had no Plan B. I was lost. I had no idea what I was good at or what would make me happy going forward. I was feeling numb and I was only a shadow of myself. I had failed. I was of no use – that’s what I thought anyway.

Then I heard preview snippets of the new Paramore album and the song “Last Hope”. I lay in my bed crying. The lyrics immediately spoke to me: “I don’t even know myself at all, I thought I would be happy by now. But the more I try to push it I realize, gotta let go of control”. When I could finally listen to the rest of the song and I heard “and the blood in these veins isn’t pumping any less than it ever has and that’s the hope I have the only thing I know is keeping me alive” and “It’s just a spark but it’s enough to keep me going”, something inside me changed. There was a feeling inside me that everything would be okay, that I would find my passion.

And, right, my blood is still pumping, so there is still hope. I got my tattoo to remind me of that feeling of hope. Now I look back and know this was an experience that shaped me and made me stronger. When I am feeling down I still listen to “Last Hope”, look at my tattoo and know that there’s always hope, that things will look up again eventually.

Tribute

Alex, my husband, passed away in February 2018, after having suffered ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) for two years. We had been married for 40 years and he was the love of my life, my best friend, my buddy. The day he was finally diagnosed, his first words were: “I know I’m in a war I will eventually lose, but I’m determined to fight and win as many battles as I can”…And he did, he kept his hope almost until the day he died, he was an example for all of us in terms of being brave, and he even managed to support his family in their grief and powerlessness.

He was a big fan of the British band “The Editors”, and more specifically he loved their song “No sound but the wind”. We played this song at this funeral, and every time I play it now, it’s like he’s there with me, listening together… This is the only tattoo I have. It depicts an empty text balloon following a leaf floating in the wind. The words are lyrics from this song. It sits on my right forearm, just for me to look at. It’s very personal. I don’t care if strangers don’t know it’s meaning, it’s just something between Alex and me…. forever!

Kindness & Equality

This is my tattoo – well the one on the right is mine. It is the EOE logo but it represents so much more for me. I got it last year after seeing Nathan and Chyler again after a long time, changing my life in so many ways. I went to see them in Zurich expecting a show, but I got so much more.

I could never fully relate to the mindset that most people around me had, but at this show I experienced much love with a community of lovely people. I immediately wanted to get the tattoo as a reminder that, yes, I do not need someone and I am whole and at home by myself. But also so that whenever I am disappointed in the world or have to be around mean and not like-minded people, or get caught up in negative mindset, I just have to look at or feel my wrist – where my tattoo is – and it reminds me that there is good out there and good times ahead; that even though they are not in the same place right now, I have these lovely friends across the world and it also reminds me of all the precious things they told me.

The logo also kind of looks like an equality sign and it reminds me of my value and that everyone is equal, regardless of age, race, gender, sexuality, or job. It reminds me that no one is worth more or less than someone else, to treat everyone with kindness and to be empathetic with people around me.

Stitch

This was my most recent tattoo and it has the most meaning to me. To most people who see it, they just see Stitch in a Hawaiian shirt with two symbols and a nice saying on it. To me it is so much deeper. Let’s start with Stitch himself. First, Stitch has been my favorite character ever since I first saw him, but he’s grown to have a much deeper meaning to me when same sex marriage was legalized on 6-26 which is Stitchʼs experiment number.

Throughout the Lilo and Stitch movie he learns “ohana” which means family, and family doesn’t get left behind or forgotten. I have found my ohana within the EOE family, the LGBTQ community, and even in the Supernatural family. So I tie all this together with Stitch in a rainbow shirt with the EOE symbol also the Supernatural symbol. Then “Choose to Be Free” is to remind myself to be free to be who I am, and in doing this I will find my ohana.

My Angel

I got this tattoo for my 17th birthday.

This tattoo means a lot to me because it’s something I have done in homage to my big sister who died six years ago when I was only eleven years old. I don’t really remember her because I was a child. But the little things I do remember about her mean a lot. And when I look at this tattoo I remember her.

With this, I will always remember her and somehow she will always be here with me.

Music Wings

I left my home in my little town at my eighteen running away from my family’s psychological and physical abuse. When I was growing up, all I heard was: you are nothing, you deserve nothing, you are not good enough.

I spent my entire adolescence knowing that as soon as I legally could (18 years-old in Spain), I was going to run away. The innate sense of survival that I believe every human being has told me that I had to get out of there as soon as possible, but….was I going to brave or strong enough to actually do it?

It was extremely hard as a child to see those people that should have protected me and loved me being the ones that were making me go through hell, fights, and beatings. You arrived at a point where you think they’re right, that you’re not capable of pursuing your dreams, and suddenly you look in the mirror and realise that you are gone.

It was at that point, being completely lost, when music, songs, and my guitar saved me. My refuge was my earphones, and hearing other musicians’ lyrics. It clicked in my brain, like a wakeup call.

I barely remember the three days it took me to run away from home. I think I was in shock. I escaped in the middle of night because I was too scared of my family to confront them face to face. I got onto a ship to go from one island to another and then a plane to fly to the farthest city in the country.

New big city, new people, new language. I was definitely a mess, my heart was shattered. I was alone, no place to sleep, no job, one bag with two t-shirts and two pairs of jeans and zero self confidence, but…I was finally free to be myself. That was enough to start.

Today, thirteen years later, I’m an independent, strong woman, married to an amazing wife; I’m a successful business manager in a great company with two cool tattoos, one on each arm: a wing to remind me that being free and being true to yourself, is what is gonna let you fly wherever you want to and accomplish any goal, and a treble clef to know that if I feel lost or confused in any moment, music will always be my refuge where I can lay on, laugh, cry or simply feel.

This is the first time I’ve written my story down and opened up about what my tattoos mean. I do it because I know there are many people out there thinking they “can’t” and I want to tell them that the only thing you need to overcome, whatever comes your way, is to believe in you.

Be You - Tattoo

This tattoo was not my first and won’t be my last. It is the one I thought about the longest, before I got it and it means the most to me. One reason for that is because it’s in Chyler Leigh’s handwriting and when I read it it’s like she’s standing right beside me, telling me to just “Be you” and it comforts me every time.

Sometimes I stop for a second to think about what it means to me, right in that moment. It reminds me that I shouldn’t be so hard on myself when I’m struggling. I just need to see it to know that, if I’m true to myself, everything will be alright. I don’t need people or labels to define who I am, because I’m just ME.

There is a quote from Dr. Seuss that says “Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is you-er than you.” and I think that this is something we should remember every day. I know it’s cliché to say that we need to be ourselves because everyone else is already taken. But it’s true. Everyone is unique and therefore has something nobody else has. And that’s what makes us special.

It’s that “Tinseltown”-Moment, when you think in the middle of the day “Hold up – I don’t want to be nobody else, I love myself.” We just need to be ourselves, that is enough. This tattoo will remind me of that, every day.

The Homage

My tattoo is very special to me, so I decided to share why I had it done.

My father passed away when I was very young, right before my seventh birthday. He was an economist by day but his true passion lay in music.

I don’t have many vivid memories of my early childhood, but these I’ll never forget. My father would often sit me down in his office and play his favorite songs for me. Mind you, he was not the kind of person who’d express any feelings or affection. Music, however, was the only thing that would crack him open and completely transform him. Whenever he’d pick up his guitar, this big, serious, and often very cranky man would suddenly turn into a gentle, loving parent. Even at the tender age of five or six years old I could sense how much pain and regret he felt for never going after his dreams. So, as a promise to myself, I vowed to always go after mine.

When I turned 18 (where I lived back then they would not let you get inked if you were underage), I got this tattoo right behind my ear. It’s both an homage to my father and our shared passion for music, and a gentle reminder to myself that I don’t have to live with regret; that doing what you love effortlessly brings out the best in you; that by not being true to yourself you’re depriving the world of your light and love.

So, whenever I feel like I’m losing my way, I look at my tattoo and think of him. Then I feel compelled to choose again. And I choose to keep fighting for the chance to do the things I love.

Love,
Mihaela

Kia Kaha

Kia Kaha is a Maori (Native Peoples of New Zealand) phrase used as an affirmation, meaning “stay strong”, and has been used in anti-suicide campaigns in NZ. The year I turned 35 was tough. I was living on a remote island, and working on boats in even more remote and isolated locations. I loved my job it. It was the perfect mix of at sea time and office time, and it filled my love of adventure and exploring while also letting me be a data nerd and improve my technical writing. Unfortunately, it all came crashing down in year three of that job.

The boat I was working on was owned by a government agency, and all of the people working on the boat, including me, worked for that same agency. A couple of days into an almost month long trip, several of the crew started making a lot of gay jokes, and making very homophobic comments. When I asked them to stop, they got worse, way worse. I was getting harassed for being assumed to be gay. No one had asked me, and I hadn’t told anyone. This went on for weeks. When you are on a seventy foot boat with nine other people, there really isn’t anywhere to get away from everyone, so I couldn’t escape. This went on for weeks. It got to the point that jumping off the boat and swimming home seemed like a good idea, even though we were over 100 miles from the nearest town and the water temp was only a couple degrees above freezing.

Most nights during the last three weeks of the trip, I hid under my sleeping bag and cried myself to sleep. When the trip was over and we were back in town having a debrief, I broke down and told the boat supervisor, my boss, and the big boss about the jokes and harassment and that it needed to stop. This effectively outed me at work. From that day forward my boss started harassing me over my work quality. My depression and PTSD kicked into high gear. I started having panic attacks every Sunday night about having to go to work on Monday. I talked to the very religiously conservative human resources manage about the on-boat and in-office harassment. Her response was that she couldn’t do anything about it. I then contacted the union. I was told that I could report it, but the end result is that nothing would happen to the harassers, and I would likely end up being blacklisted, would not be able to get a job in my field, a field I have wanted to work in since I was six years-old.

The downward spiral sped up, and I started looking at maps to see which would be the best cliff to drive my vehicle off of, and looking at firearms in the local sporting goods store. Because I am not out to my family, and only a few friends, I didn’t really have anyone I could talk to or confide in. I finally did seek out counseling, and realized that I had to leave the job I used to love. Leaving that job would also mean I had to leave my home and the island I was living on. So I started applying for jobs, eventually accepting the one I am currently in (going on eleven years now) and moving several thousand miles. I still have times where I greatly resent my harassers and the agency I worked for because of what they took from me, but it gets a bit less over time.

During the time I started counseling, I was going through some photos from a trip to New Zealand and came across the phrase “kia kaha”, and an idea sparked. The next day, I got that phrase tattooed on the inside of my left wrist, under where my watch band sits. It is now there and I can look at it whenever I need that reminder to stay strong, that I am strong. I have survived a lot, and can survive anything else thrown my way.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official views of Create Change or its affiliates.

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