After working in the addiction counseling profession for several years I decided to get a tattoo. They seem to be a visual rite of passage for recovering addicts and a part of the culture. I became accustomed to seeing them so much that it wasn’t a struggle making this decision. I’m a recovering addict who’s made a commitment to serve those like myself; I wanted a tattoo to represent this commitment.
But I heard it was painful. Like, really painful.
“Yeah, having a tattoo is great,” my sister said. “But it was amazingly painful to have it done. Well, good luck!”
On top of this, I had heard stories that getting your first tattoo can sometimes be impersonal, including a firsthand account of someone who tried to calm his nerves by talking to the artist.
“You pay me to tattoo you, not to talk. So, shut up,” the tattoo artist told him.
But The Universe/Our Source/God knows what we need more than we do.
A tattoo artist with 20 years of experience in his profession was assigned to my caseload at the clinic. We bonded in the first session due to our similar interest in Buddhist meditation. In the last year of his treatment program, he opened up his own tattoo shop. I knew the Universe had found the perfect artist for my own tattoo.
The next decision: What image was I going to have inked on my skin forever? For years I had thought of a dragon. Being Asian and being called “Dragon Boy” by my friends and family for years, it seemed like the obvious choice. I asked my friend to sketch several ideas for a dragon tattoo, and I thought we had settled on an image. But a month before I was to have it done, he said, “I don’t see a dragon on you. I see a lotus flower.” The Universe was even picking the image for me.
“Okay,” I said. “Show me some sketches and let’s do it!”
But how was The Universe going to anesthetize the pain? I kept asking my tattooed clients about it, hoping they would tell me it really wasn’t that bad.
“Where are you going to get it?” one of my clients asked. I showed him the underside of my left forearm.
“Oh, that’s a painful spot. Yeah, that might hurt, “ he said. Great.
After weighing several options on how to handle this three-hour ordeal (from Happy Place Visualizations to listening to New Age mp3s), I settled on a movie downloaded onto my tablet. On the day it was to be done, I brought the tablet and pulled it out of my bag.
“Oh, you really won’t be able to concentrate on a movie,” my tattoo artist friend said. “Getting the tattoo will be too painful to pay attention.”
“Then, what do I do!?” I said, getting a little panicky. (I was thinking: What if it becomes so painful that I leave with a half-finished lotus flower on my arm?)
“Just talk to me,” he said calmly.
Okay, I’ll be honest. It was painful. When he inked the outline of the lotus, it felt like a surgeon’s scalpel was being pulled across my arm… slowly. When I looked down I was amazed that I wasn’t bleeding.
But ten minutes into the session, a friend of the artist came by the shop to visit, and this friend just happened to be a freshly recovering alcoholic only two weeks sober. He was planning to stay for just a few minutes, but he ended up talking with me for over two hours as I counseled him. Here I was, totally engaged with him as my friend continued tattooing my forearm.
Two months later, I still receive compliments on my lotus flower tattoo, and I can’t stop looking at it. My friend said getting your first tattoo is like losing your virginity, since it’s such a visceral experience. And when I opened up to the will of The Universe, the entire process became an experience I’ll never forget, because The Universe knows what we need more than we do.
Writing From My Core,