I have been getting tattooed for the past 17 years, but I never understood why.

I think I have found some clarity, so I figured I would offer that perspective.

If you have tattoos, it may make sense to you as well.

For perspective purposes, I want to note that about 70% of my body is covered in tattoos.

The answer I gave was never good enough.

If there’s one thing that brings about an immediate sense of dread, it is when people ask me what any of my tattoos mean.

I have had to navigate this so many different ways, but 90% of the time, any answer I give isn’t good enough.

Some people will continually try to pressure me into a response.

Amid these questions, I get stuck in conversations where people tell me they got tattoos or want to get them.

Because they “think it would look cool” or that they “just got one for fun”.

The expression of my private scars.

My experience is very different than that.

The tattoos I have on my body are reminders of different experiences within my life.

Every single symbol on my body has a significant meaning.

These permanent expressions of art are depictions of deep, internal struggles that deal with spirituality, mental health, life and death, sobriety, and racism.

Though these permanent scars are visible to the public, their meanings are not for public consumption.

The only way I could feel anything at all was to inflict pain on myself.

I frequently question if getting tattooed is just a replacement for the self-mutilation that was so prevalent in my life during my younger years.

I try to tell myself it isn’t, but I am not entirely convinced.

I remember times where the only way I could feel anything at all was to inflict pain on myself.

I didn’t want anyone else to know about these actions, and I didn’t do it for attention.

I did it to convince myself that I was still human.

The escape that helped the when I thought about killing myself.

I genuinely believe that there were times when getting tattooed.

Helped in creating a diversion for myself in which I chose to get tattooed instead of taking my own life.

As I am writing this, I think it is helping me uncover why I become so immediately uncomfortable when someone gets on the subject.

I feel inauthentic giving a surface level explanation about something that is such a blatant expression of the things that have tormented me the most.

They are small portrayals of silent screaming.

I find it hard to figure out who I can trust with the descriptions of these scars.

The pain involved in their creation is something very personal to me.

The pain is something I am intimately familiar with, and it is a pain that is specific only to me.

Figuring out how to paint verbal descriptions of my pain is not only exhausting to think about.

But it is also something that unlocks a particular type of unfettered fear within me.

I used to tell myself that I was an open book.

But I am realizing that I only allow individuals to see specific chapters.

In order to maintain those private areas of my life that refuse to be read out loud.

I am understanding now why my aggravation is so deep.

And pervasive when it comes to being asked about my tattoos or when people make light of tattoos in general.

They hold such deep meaning to me.

And there is part of me that wants others to understand that.

However, there is a more substantial part of me that demands I maintain my silence.

To protect the value I find within them.

I want people to understand that I have clawed my way through struggles they may never understand.

But I don’t want to offer them an explanation about it.

I feel like I owe them nothing.

But want them to understand everything at the same time.

I want my internal chaos to be put on display.

But I don’t want people to think that they are entitled to get an explanation as to why I chose to do so.

I want people to understand that there are times that I will seek out pain in order to remind myself what true peace feels like.

They say that pictures are worth a thousand words.

But the images that have been so violently assigned to my flesh are ones that speak of thousands of emotions of which I still struggle to put into words.