My first tattoo was my golden birthday present to myself (when I turned 25 on the 25th) after struggling with a bout of self-harm temptations. It was all I could do to keep myself away from the razor in my bathroom. I listened to NF’s “Therapy Session” on repeat for hours, watching the music video and letting the reality of the memories of abuse, self-hatred, and paralyzing fear wash over me in cathartic tears and numbing trembles.
I imagined being tied down with invisible ropes to keep me away from the bathroom, or from any other sharp implements in other places throughout the apartment. I begged the Lord aloud and in written prayer to take this temptation away—I didn’t want to die this way, I didn’t want to hurt Him or those who loved me by hurting myself, but I didn’t know how to drown out the evil voice inside me that cried out intolerably for pain.
My birthday came around during these terribly trying weeks.
I’d just learned about the semicolon movement, and the power of punctuation to encapsulate the will to keep living struck me like a dart to the heart. Being a writer, and a suicidal one at that, I couldn’t ignore the odd coincidence of finding this movement now. A semicolon as the punctuation to keep a sentence going that could have been ended was a powerful parallel, and one I needed desperately in my life. But I didn’t know how to apply it, I wasn’t sure about committing to a tattoo of it, and I hoped that knowing about the movement at all would help, somehow.
I spent my time browsing through photos of semicolon tattoos, and I was blown away by the beauty and poignant vulnerability of people’s stories about getting these tattoos as a testament to their choosing to keep living. But my own wavering courage in the face of the daunting reality of my life didn’t leave me; I still clenched my fists shut in perseverance when I felt the sickly-sweet fire surge inside me each time I passed the bathroom with the beckoning razor.
Then, the weekend after my birthday, I found what I’d been looking for. One phrase, written on someone’s arm, that resonated in me like the sweetest bells of Heaven, as though they were created, uttered, and written in ink only for me:
I am more grateful for the reality of these words permanently etched in my skin than I can describe.
I knew I wouldn’t have the heart to mangle or butcher such beautiful words in my flesh, such words that still resonate in my heart with a deep tenderness and poignance even to this day. I’ve never regretted them. Not for one second. Even when the temptation to harm myself eventually faded to a dull echo, I looked on these words of my own handwriting, traced so well by the tattoo artist, as a blessing from God. I’m constantly reminded when I look down at them that it can always get better, even when the world is falling down around me.
Lori Alexander at The Transformed Wife, in her delicately titled post “Men Prefer Debt-Free Virgins Without Tattoos”, has declared for all the world to hear that women accruing such terrifyingly human things as debt, sexual encounters, and tattoos will forever be pariahs to the other gender, to marriage, and to God Himself.
The post itself, just from a surface perspective, is poorly written, terribly executed, and weakly defended.
It is a pitiful attempt at quoting examples of testimonies from women to “prove” that the feminine are better left to be their husbands’ playthings. Wives, according to Lori, are meant for their husbands alone, to mold as though he were God; the woman’s intelligence, experience, livelihood, and physical flesh are for his use and providence only. Lori doesn’t mention tattoos once in her post except in parentheses, and this sent a chill to my bones. Apparently, tattoos are so evil they aren’t worth more of an explanation or an acknowledgement.
Tell me, Lori, since you are so harsh on your own gender, how I’m less valuable and desirable in marriage because I was raped as a child and no longer have my hymen to surrender.
Tell me that leaving home to find healing, catharsis, adventure, and family in college (none of which I had ever really known before) wasn’t worth the temporal reality of the debt of this world.
I could go on. But there are many others who have written against Lori’s claims much better than I can, so I will just put in my two cents in defense of my ink and its place in my heart.
Tell me it would have been better if I hadn’t gotten my first tattoo.
Tell me I’m less of a woman, less of a Christian, disdained by man and by God, because I have ink in my skin that has kept me from self-harm, from the temptation to slice through my veins.
Tell me it would have been holier, meeker, more righteous to suffer through suicidal temptations, perhaps even to give in to them, than to have a message of hope ingrained in my wrists.
I know what your answer will be, and I don’t give a damn.
Your terribly cruel words cannot stop His love, Lori, no matter what you say. He still sent His Son to die for me, and for you, and for every single person who ever existed in this world, their physical, marital, or financial states notwithstanding.
I’m a debt-ridden, non-virgin, tatted woman, and I’m proud to be one. And I will be the first one to march into my church and declare this to my true Father Above, laying flat my wrists for Him to kiss, knowing He will still smile down upon me with all the love He holds in His heart, knowing He will still embrace me to Himself as one of His own.
Jennifer Riley is an emotional writer, engulfing people in her tidal wave of life experiences and interpretations on her blog, “Into the Mysterious Dark.” She’s a bad Catholic, a good sinner, and a pernicious writer who tries to find who she is to herself and to God through her words.