Talking Tattoos

For as long as I can remember I’ve fancied a tattoo, but I doubt I’ll ever get one. The closest I’ve come was a sweet little heart – a temporary tattoo clandestinely applied in a friend’s “underground tattoo parlor” at a women’s retreat.  My conservative husband was a bit taken aback when he discovered it and asked, “Is…. is…. is… it…. per… per… permanent? With as much coyness as I could muster, I demurred, “What if it is?” He responded with brave resignation, “I’ll… I’ll… I’ll… learn…to… live… with it…” What a guy!

But, generally, the women at the Lighthouse, a faith-based, residential treatment program for those recovering from substance abuse, have lots of tattoos. And far be it from me not to take advantage of that for an art activity. So we introduced the “Talking Tattoo” art and writing project. Each of the women was to choose one of her tattoos (or “borrow” one from someone else is she didn’t have one of her own) and write from the tattoo’s perspective the significance and relevance of the tattoo to the woman’s life. Not surprisingly, many of the stories were poignant. One especially so.

Monica opted to write about the tattoo memorializing a child she’s lost custody of. The swirly calligraphy was intentionally tattooed on her inner right arm where she cradled her daughter. It is a permanent reminder that Emily Kate will not be forgotten; she’s written on her flesh and always in her heart. 

 The second part of the art activity was to design a tattoo they might get in the future that would be symbolic of their recovery. Keira’s drawing really impressed me. A broken heart on the mend floats over a RIP grave stone with a smiley face surrounded by colorful lines. The lines represent the knives and other sharp objects she cut herself with that she intends to bury as part of her recovery. I am constantly humbled and amazed by the heartbreaking honesty and courage of these women.



Trisha doesn’t have any tattoos but she drew the one she’d have if she had one that marked her life before beginning recovery – a wounded heart with scary skeleton wings. The tattoo that symbolizes her recovery has transformed the skeletal wings into the entwined arms of a heart centered cross. The transformation continues  with the recent arrival of a baby.

Sonia decided to draw the tattoo that marked where she was right now in her recovery. As you can see from the image above, a blue jay, symbolic of the man she loves, who is in prison and a peacock representing the prideful nature she’s struggling with are confined in a bird cage menaced by a red dragon. But, she is quick to point out, there is no padlock on the cage door. She is free to fly away if she will. She’s dealing with the one day at a time reality of recovery.

Like me, not that you would, but if you were to design a tattoo that was symbolic of where you are in your life right now, what would it look like? What story would you write from the tattoo’s perspective about your life? As the future unfolds, how might your story be different? What kind of a different tattoo design might then be symbolic of that? 

 Sure hope we get some interesting comments on these unusual prompts.

7 comments to Talking Tattoos

  • lisawlamb

    I’ll take a butterfly tattoo, Lynne. God is bringing so much new and wonderful into my life! And it will be a monarch, to honor my past in Santa Cruz. Love reading these posts, Lynne!

  • Maureen

    As usual, amazing and touching. We need to talk about you coming to VCC to do something fabulous.

  • Sandra

    I’ve never been brave enough to get a tattoo. A 31 year old man died recently while surfing. His close friend had a king snake tattooed on his calf, commemorating a time in 3rd grade. I work with young people and see many tattooed memorials. I’m not a particularly visual person, so I’m surprised that your post calls to mind the vision of flying down a snow hill in a round “dish” with lots of arms and legs flying. I have no idea where this visual comes from, so I will have to do as your students do…think on it. As always, a thought provoking post!

  • Jesus has tattoo’s on his hand with our name right next to the nail scars.

  • Robin Rice

    It would be a chinese symbol for energy, very small on the inside of my wrist where I could look at it when I needed to meditate away bad thoughts. I would really like to get this but I don’t like PAIN (or needles.) My kids actually bought me an airbrush tattoo kit for Christmas a couple of years ago. But I haven’t used it yet! Maybe it’s time.

  • I have three real tattoos –
    I Celtic cross symbol on my left ankle that is from a church in Wale’ –
    where part of my family is from.
    A sparrow with a sash in it beak that reads, “Freedom in Jesus Christ” – the
    text is in Welsh.
    And the word “Beloved” on the inside of my wrist.

    All three have great meaning to me – Being grounded in faith and a sense of who I am. Realizing that in freedom I can be opened up to serve – even though I feel like a humble sparrow. And that I’m beloved and need to “be love” wherever I go.

    I’ve been thinking on a 4th for the inside of my right wrist possibly – Ubuntu – meaning there is no future without forgiveness.

    All these “tattoos” have stories as well as the ones I can’t see quite yet.

  • Linda Strickland

    Lynne, amazing; I am so glad to see and experience your work through this site. I was captivated by the opportunity you took with the woman who was thinking of leaving–“a word in season.” I will definitely be following along 🙂

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