Tattoosday 006: Look Back

Content Warning: The following story contains references to substance abuse, and depression, which may be triggering to some readers.

"Look Back," Lisa-Marie Gilbert

April 29th, 2009 found me laying on my stomach at Forever Tattoo Parlour while my friend Emily held my hand and documented my whole experience with her camera phone. It was my 18th birthday, and it was the first time in several years that I was willing to have anything more than my arms or legs exposed to someone other than myself. And other than some trips to the beach, it would be the last time for several years more.

Several months prior, I approached my friend, Bridget, about drawing a tattoo for me. The concept was simple: a bird in flight looking back over its wing at what it was flying away from. My tattoo artist, Chris, took her simple sketch and turned it into a beautiful piece of art, one that I would be able to bring with me wherever I went.

My little bird has flown everywhere with me in the seven years since I got it. It was with me through the years in which I denied ever having been in an unhealthy relationship or ever having abused substances to cope with my memories and experiences. It provided comfort when I was unable to make other relationships work as a result of my insecurities, doubt, and self-loathing. It flew with me when I finally acknowledged pieces of my history that I had wished to forget. And despite having faded in the years since I got it, my little bird is still perched on my shoulder as I’ve moved into a place of acceptance and healing, a place where I’m willing to share my story.

Even at a time when I was unable and unwilling to acknowledge my past, I knew that I needed to take away something positive from all the negative. While I wasn’t willing to consciously face down what was going on internally, subconsciously the choice to get this little bird told me that one day I would be ready. My little bird reminds me that it’s okay to look back at what has been as long as you keep flying forward towards what can be or will be. 

In December of 2009 I added a bird cage to the opposite shoulder blade to complete the story that my little bird had started writing. Cages may be pretty, appealing, and inviting, but at the end of the day they’re still cages. And I’m not a little bird who will ever be willing to be placed in a cage again. 


About Tattoosday:

Tattoosday is way to demonstrate the storytelling quality of tattoos as well as the healing quality of tattoos.

If you would like to share the stories behind your ink, send us a picture of a tattoo or tattoos that have a significant story tied to your survival in life. Then write at least 400 words (you can write as many as you'd like) about the tattoo, it's meaning, and what it means to you today.

These stories will all run on Tuesdays!
One per week! So you have plenty of time to submit them to us!

The caveat with TATTOOSDAY is that we will not be making you a free piece of art, instead, your ink IS the art we will share with the story—which makes the most sense. BUT we will send you some stickers for sharing your story with us!

CLICK HERE to share your Tattoo story!