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Yesterday I began the process of having my tattoo removed. As I sit here, it is swollen, blistered and throbbing with heat and there are emotions and memories flying around my body that I have not had for years.

I find myself pondering deeply that there may be more to tattoos than I previously realised . . .

I had my tattoo done while I was on a world tour with a pop band. Why not? I had been thinking about getting one for years but I couldn’t decide on the design. I felt it had to be something meaningful; that it would somehow make a statement about who I was and that I had to get it right. In the end I rebelled against this internal pressure and got something fairly standard, just to get it done.

It hurt, a lot, and I came away from the tattoo parlour feeling in a bit of shock over the pain, the blood and the undeniable fact of what I had just done.

Back in my hotel room I sat on the floor at the end of the bed and drank vodka from the bottle. It helped to dull the pain on all levels. The next day at the gig I was a hero and proud to be permanently branded with a certain toughness usually reserved for, well . . . tough people.

This was 2002 and tattoos weren't as common as they are now, particularly in women.

Having permanent jewellery on my arm was cool, but it was the association with the toughness that really got me hooked. I had always had an uneasiness with life and I could not reconcile my sensitivity with the harshness of the world around me. I felt the need to toughen up, to harden up and to build a big wall of protection around myself.

A tattoo helped to cement this image.

I watched people noticing it and having their own little reactions, making up their minds about what sort of person I was. I liked that. If people were wary it kept them at a distance, which was fine by me.

Amazing isn’t it . . . actually feeling tougher from a bit of ink on my arm!

So why have it removed 14 years later?

The thing is, I’ve changed a lot in the years since then. Now I actually embrace vulnerability and sensitivity. I regard those qualities as strengths, encouraging me to be more loving, and more open as a human being, as a woman. They allow me to feel empathy and understanding, for myself and others, and life is a richer experience as a result. Nowadays it feels more rebellious to stay with vulnerability and openness than it does to toughen up and pretend it’s not there.

So why not leave the tattoo be and move on?

Well, I had read some interesting stuff about tattoos holding energy in them and actually affecting you on many subtle emotional levels.

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I couldn’t feel any of these so-called effects myself, but the information had come from someone I deeply respected and I wanted to investigate further.

I made the first appointment for removal.

Wow. As soon as I put the phone down, I experienced a sudden rush of emotion.

Panic and fear began coursing through my body like an electrical current. No way was I going through with it!

What on earth was going on?

I remember describing it to a friend at the time as feeling like, by removing this tattoo I was being stripped of all armour and weapons while in the heat of battle. Crazy.

Over the next couple of months as the appointment loomed, these emotions came and went, flooding through my body like a poison.

Frankly I couldn’t believe it. I considered cancelling many times, but the emotions were so intense, the question was begging as to why, and this kept me committed to the process.

What was in this thing, of which I had been previously so unaware? Was what I had read about tattoos holding energy in fact true?

Finally, the day of the appointment arrived and the physician congratulated me for showing up.

Apparently most people cancel. Were they feeling what I was feeling?

The removal was painful and the emotions continued to jolt my body. The doctor talked me though each step gently and with great care, allowing me to take it at my own pace and to express the emotions that were rumbling beneath the surface.

Afterwards I felt the same feeling of shock in my body that I had felt directly after the procedure 14 years ago. I was shaky and emotional and because I no longer drink, there was no way to take the edge off and I felt every moment of it with uncomfortable clarity.

The physical pain was manageable but the emotions were full on. I had to employ some gentle breathing to stay calm. Underneath that, I felt so vulnerable and raw and the tattoo seemed more deeply embedded into my skin, like a leech.

Going deeper again, I felt that somehow its hold had in fact been loosened. Something had unlocked and the emotions flooding through my body felt like they were just being released from storage.

These emotions were familiar, but I hadn’t felt them with anywhere near this intensity for years. It was like going back in time and visiting my past self. Wow.

So I’m only at the beginning. Having a tattoo removed is a process.

But I feel the worst is over, having committed to letting go of everything that I have invested in it and what I have thought it said about me. I no longer have the heavy sensation of it being bolted onto my body and I feel undeniably lighter as a result. Like I was carrying something that has lifted off me.

Could I have just released the emotions and left the ink there? I would have said yes in the past, but not anymore.

The reactions in my body throughout this whole process have been enough to convince me that the tattoo itself holds much more with its physical presence in the body than we realise.

I, for one, am glad to let it go.

Filed under

EmotionsBody imageFashionSelf-empowermentTattoos

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    By Catherine Wood, Bachelor of Music, Musician, Teacher, Composer, Producer

    Catherine has an insatiable curiosity for what makes things tick. She is particularly interested in the motivations behind peoples’ musical expression and the commonality that brings us all together in that experience.

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    Photography: Natasha Ferre

    Natasha had worked in the TV, film and web content creation space for over 20 years. She loves to work on content that makes a difference in the world and is overjoyed to be a part of Unimed living.