My father was an alcoholic. When I was young, he often came home blackout drunk. Many times he was so inebriated that he forgot where the bathroom was, and he urinated in my bed. I woke up in a pool of spit and urine more than once. He was not much better when he was sober. He was eloquent with insults, and he took pleasure in belittling me in front of others.
My self-esteem was nil by the time I attempted my first suicide at thirteen years old. I was a textbook example of a girl with daddy issues.
Despite the emotional - sometimes physical - abuse I endured, I fared well enough in my formative years. I did well in school, and went to university. I dropped out when I met my former husband.
At the tender age of twenty-one, I was quite madly in love. It wasn't long until I was pregnant and married. My former spouse was affectionate, and he gave me the attention I desperately craved from a male figure. We successfully carved out the American Dream.
We were a young couple with a combined income of six figures. We bought a house in an affluent neighbourhood; we settled in with our daughter and two dogs. Then reality set in: we had grown into very different people.
I did not want to feel the pain of my marital woes. In my teenage years, I cut myself to escape the torment of my thoughts as it was easier to deal with physical pain. I couldn't start cutting in my mid-twenties because it would have been hard to hide, and I didn't want to deal with questions. I sought pain therapy in the obvious form of tattoos. I knew nothing of tattoo culture then, so I chose very basic bird silhouettes for my first tattoo. I was a little disappointed because it was not very painful. Fortunately it still provided catharsis, however briefly.
My marriage fell apart swiftly. We were both unhappy, and I started to drink to numb the pain. I augmented the distraction with getting more tattoos in a short period.
The alcohol abuse also increased steadily until I could consumed an entire 500mL bottle of Jameson in one day - sometimes more. I knew no other way to cope, because this was the example my father set for me.
I separated from my husband six months after we bought the house. I ignored my problems and immediately jumped into an emotionally abusive relationship, despairing for male attention. My daddy issues reared its ugly head, and I enabled it. Unsurprisingly, the alcohol abuse did not subside. Apart from my parental duties (which I did very well despite the drinking), tattoos became the most benign ritual in my personal life.
Months passed and I realized that I was no longer just after the searing pain of a needle on my skin. I met people who had similar walks of life at the tattoo shop. My tattooers became my friends, and instead of focusing on loss I fostered human connections.
I found myself frequenting the shop even when I wasn't getting tattooed quite simply because I felt at home. The heavily tattooed deal with flash judgments on a daily basis. Hipster culture was just starting then, and it was still a bit unusual to see heavily tattooed folk.
I realized that my friends' experiences led them to be the least judgmental group I have ever encountered. My need for physical pain became a combination of therapies: group, art, and pain therapy.
Having been a serial monogamist, I never had the chance to properly meet myself. About a year into it, I left the aforementioned emotionally abusive relationship. I found the courage to embark on the journey of getting to know myself. I sought help for my drinking and depression, and I traveled as much as I could. I wandered the forests of Bavaria, the cobbled streets of Bruges, the skyscrapers in Chicago, and the breathtaking sea cliffs of the California coast. Slowly but surely I became more free, and above all I chose happiness.
My life today is nowhere near perfect, but I am happier. I am healthier. My tattoos represent the story of my life, which I tell to those willing to listen. Alternatively, they shield me from those who would judge me on the basis of my appearance. Tattoo culture helped me heal through art, and I am grateful for its contribution to my life
- Angela Pineda
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