After contemplating getting my first tattoo for the past year, I finally found someone I think is the right artist for me, so I sent her an email. I received an automated response asking me for details: what I’m thinking of getting, the size, the placement and pictures that could help the artist see my vision. As soon as I started writing down the information she requested, I felt a sensation come over me. I felt uncomfortable. Awkward. I started second-guessing myself. Second-guessing her. And then as I clicked, Send, I realized what the feeling was: it was fear.
Fear is a feeling I know intimately. A feeling that has been ingrained in me since birth. A feeling anyone who suffers intergenerational trauma knows inherently well. When, “Look both ways before you cross the street,” becomes, “Don’t cross the street.” When, “Try something new,” turns into, “Fear the unknown.” So many barriers. So many fears. And not without reason. For if you and your family know trauma, you know there is a lot to fear, but what I’m learning is that when I face my fears — the reality of what really happened to me — I can see that I’m safe now. That the worst is over. And that I can learn to trust my intuition. For the first time ever.
When fears are repeated for generations, they become patterns of thinking. They embed themselves in our brains as right and wrong. It is right to see a medical doctor if you’re in pain (even if you’ve tried 20 and they don’t know how to help you). It is wrong to trust yourself and try something natural instead (even if it helps you). It is right to go to work and earn a living (even if you’re miserable). It is wrong to think you can do something different on your own (even if it brings you joy). It is right to fear traveling to new places (even if you’re adventurous). It is wrong to trust your instincts (even if you can).
It’s why the fear came over me when I sent the email about my first tattoo. Because I was taught it was wrong to get one. But it’s something I’ve always wanted. Something I’ve spent that last year drawing and creating and imagining as the marker on my body that will help me see how far I’ve come. Keep me from going back to the underworld. Help me be present. Stay focused. Be grounded. Remind me that I’m safe.
And I realized that the fear I felt wasn’t a hesitation because the tattoo was something wrong, it was because it was different. It was a change. And if you suffer from disorder or if you’ve suffered a trauma, you’ll know that change often feels bad. Which is part of what keeps us from facing our fears — because it means things will change. But change doesn’t necessarily mean bad, dangerous or wrong. It’s just something new. New is simply new. And while there is a fear that comes with newness, it should propel us into the unknown, not keep us from moving forward.
And even if change feels bad, it doesn’t mean it is. It means our bodies don’t know that change is safe. And that different is safe. So we keep ourselves frozen. Stiff. Immobile. But we need to move. It’s the only way we will unlock all of our pain and see our truth. See who we are. Shed our old selves and see the beauty in who we’ve become. Not what happened to us. That is our past. We’ve generated great power from the battles we’ve fought. It’s time to own our power. To stop being afraid. Stop letting our fear of change prevent us from growing.
We are not weak because we were not taught to step into our power. Arguably, we are stronger for still surviving. And we don’t have to back down when confronted with change and fear. We can step up and stare them in the face. As my spiritual healer always told me, discomfort does not mean danger. And we are not necessarily in danger because we are feeling fear. Sure, we may feel uncomfortable with the newness of facing our fears. But while the shadows sometimes mean there are monsters under the bed, it is only when we confront them, acknowledge them, that they begin to fade away. Lose their power. Finally giving us back ours.