I have a tattoo on my inner left wrist that says LOVE. Lately, I have been staring at this tattoo and have been wondering ‘Why?’ Before anyone thinks that this is a post about tattoo regret, I will have to sorely disappoint you. This post doesn’t come close to that as I don’t regret my tattoos and I am quite sure I never will because they all hold meaning to me; even if the message gets lost or ‘logged’ at some point along the way. No, when I say that I have been looking at this tattoo and wondering why, I’m talking about the message this tattoo represents and why I still struggle to accept it. But I should probably start from the beginning…
When I was younger I used to hurt myself. Honestly, I can’t tell you the moment I started to do it. I cannot tell you the exact date, what time it was or where I was (although I was probably hiding behind the locked door of my bathroom). I can’t describe how I was feeling or what the trigger was that made me start; but I started and it took me seven years to stop.
From as long as I can remember, I have felt a deep-rooted sense of inadequacy, not just in my physical appearance but also in the make up of what made me, me. Whenever I thought of myself I always fell short. I was never good enough in every way and I was always just on the wrong side of ‘right’ and ‘okay’. Perhaps it was the insecurities of my physical appearance that enabled the growth of the insecurities of my person; but whatever it was all these insecurities just grew and grew and grew and I got sadder and sadder and sadder.
I was unhappy and desperate to feel something other and for some reason, this was the only way to make me feel better. It was the only way that I knew to make the focus on my inner pain stop because although temporary, there was a different kind of pain for me to focus on. That outer pain was like a release of the angst and hurt and frustration that was locked up inside of me and it felt good every time. As horrible as it sounds, it made it easier for me to cope with myself – to cope with how much dislike I had for myself both inside and out.
It was when I was at university that two things happened. One, I discovered To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA). Second, a girl who I met at the beginning of the school year who quickly became my best friend sat me down and gave me a good long talking to. Not in a mean way, but over time through numerous long talks and lots of crying, she helped me process my pain. I had never really had an outlet for my feelings; everyone knew me as the bubbly, smiling, happy girl because I was good at ensuring people never saw the sad me. I never had a person who I could comfortably talk to about how I felt about myself and how I coped, without thinking I was a suicidal nut-job they had to stay away from. Eventually, I decided it was time to stop hurting myself and to try loving myself more. Who cares that I’m not that pretty or that I’m not as smart as every other person around? Who cares that I’m slightly overweight and awkward and can’t wear cool and sexy clothes like other girls? It was time for me to start believing that I had redeeming qualities – there must be a reason people like me, right?
So I got LOVE inked over the scars on my arm as a reminder of what I’ve been through, what I promised I wouldn’t do anymore and what I promised I would try to do more of. I needed to love me, for me.
Coincidentally, seven years has passed since I stopped and so we come full circle to the beginning of this post. Lately, I’ve been realizing not much has changed, particularly in the way that I see and think of myself. What are words inked onto the surface of my skin if the message doesn’t sink through to my heart and mind? It is obvious to anyone who knows me now that I am still struggling (really struggling) with self-acceptance. It has been especially difficult since coming back ‘home’ and finding myself alone in my own companionship more often than not, which gives me ample time to think.
Work has been incredibly frustrating and I know it has only been three months but every day that I step into my office is one more day that I realize it’s for me. The work is interesting enough but I don’t feel suited to the job and my inability to wholeheartedly invest my energy into work makes me feel like I’m letting everyone down. If my lack of passion doesn’t make me look like I am stupid/lazy/outright incapable, it definitely makes me feel like I am all that. I’m trying to understand and yet the concepts keep slipping through my grasp.
I have also been struggling on a personal level to feel a connection with my island ‘home’. I’m trying so hard to make this place MY home and to try to be more Indonesian (whatever that means) and yet nothing changes. Sometimes I feel that the longer I’ve been here the more I feel like a fish out of water; stranded on dry land without anyone to pick me up and bring me back to sea. I’ve met others like me who’ve grown up abroad and have now returned to make a home here and they’re so happy. They’ve found their connection to home and they’ve found the balance between being simultaneously a local and a foreigner. I watch and I listen to them and I envy the picture they paint of confidence and happiness.
They’re the same as me and yet so different that I can’t help but think what’s missing in me that I can’t be like that? It makes me wonder if I’m not trying hard enough to fit in and be happy here. Am I too much of a snob? My inability to feel comfortable ‘at home’ makes me feel like I’m doing everything wrong and I don’t know how to change that. I look down at my LOVE and I feel myself being sucked back into the same mental space that I was in seven years. I fear that I’ve just uncovered the black hole I thought I had so long ago left behind.
I don’t mean for this post to make me sound ungrateful for the things that I have in my life. I’m blessed to have the life that I lead and to have the opportunities that are available to me. I’m very grateful to have a strong support system with loving friends and family. I know I get to experience many things that many others have not, others will not and others don’t have the chance to choose. I am lucky and I know that. I just wish that sometimes it could be easier for me to be more grateful for me, the way that I am, not wishing to be anybody else.