Have you ever heard that term? I know what you non-inked folk are thinking, namely “WTF?!?!?!?” How can getting tattooed be in any way therapeutic?
Well, believe it or not in a way getting a tattoo is just that. Of course, the experience varies from person to person, but tattoo enthusiasts almost universally agree that tattooing is one of the best modes of therapy around.
For me, the tattoo process is both an upper and a downer all at the same time. The anticipation before the session gets the adrenaline pumping and then you get underway and the endorphins kick in and it’s quite a hell of a rush. On the other hand, the pain involved really requires intense focus and as such it really centers me. In such a way it’s almost meditative. When I’m having ink slung on me I’m in my own little world, escaped from the horrors of reality and just focused on me. It’s one of the very few times I’m truly at peace.
Over the years I’ve tried a number of different therapies: counseling, drug therapy, among other things. For me, nothing, and I repeat NOTHING works as well as ink therapy. I just wish I had an unlimited amount of canvas and all the money to have all the ink I want. If I did, I’d be in the tattoo parlor every day. It’s one of the only times I have a state of Zen in my life. As the type of autistic whose head is constantly racing, the value of this Zen state cannot be overemphasized.
I also see tattooing as being a mode of harm reduction for self-injurers. The reasons people self-injure using the mode of their choice are the same reasons tattoo junkies get tattoos. Self-injury releases endorphins and adrenaline the same way getting a tattoo does. It’s done to induce physical pain in an attempt to lessen emotional pain. I know as soon as the needles pierce my skin I immediately feel emotionally better. You tell me what’s worse: getting pricked with single-use sterile needles or cutting with a potentially dirty razor blade? That’s what I thought.
As a final point, while writing this post I have been talking to a very good friend of mine who pointed out to me that some of the women in her life have gotten tattoos as a way to reclaim their bodies after abuse, assault or trauma, and that also makes total sense. Those who have endured abuse, assault or trauma have had their bodily autonomy violated and nothing expresses total bodily autonomy quite like a tattoo. When you get a tattoo, you’re saying “this is *MY* body and *I* will decorate how *I* see fit and I don’t give a fuck what you think!” Tattoos (and other body modifications for that matter) are about the most powerful statements of self-ownership.
In that light, perhaps “ink therapy” should eventually find its way into medical literature as a treatment option for those suffering from emotional/physical trauma, self-injury and depression or some other related mental illness. In a way, ink might possibly have saved my life. It returned some semblance of normalcy to my otherwise troubled existence, and for that reason I will be forever indebted to those who introduced me to the wonderful world of ink.
So yes, in my opinion ink therapy is absolutely legitimate and for many of us (myself included) it is an essential ingredient to a balanced life. It is as much an antidepressant for me as drug therapy (which does have its place I should say; don’t get me wrong – I will NEVER trash or question the value of antidepressant medications for those who need them). We all do what we need to cope, and if the sweet sting of a tattoo machine helps that, is it really a bad thing as long as it is done by a professional in a clean environment and with sterile equipment? After all, risk is very minimal when done in such a setting, provided proper aftercare is followed.