Tattoo Girl – part 1

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Tattoo Cat by Something Ferdinand is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Tattoo:  a rapid rhythmic tapping

The girl had a tattoo of a cat on her arm.  The lines of it swirled over her fair skin, and some thought the cat moved as muscles were flexed.  In her vocation as a bodybuilder, her arms were flexed often.

She had started bodybuilding after the divorce.  It might have been a way to exorcise the betrayals, the shouted accusations, the icy nights alone.  The midnight fears.  She might have read the research stating that trauma is a body memory that does not get processed until the body had been convinced it is safe.  She might have been determined to feel safe again.

The cat tattoo had lived in the girl’s arm for several years, even before the end of the marriage. In all those lost days and evenings, in all that empty married time, it had not been flexed.  But now the cat tattoo was active, moving when the muscles were flexed and becoming strong.  So strong.

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Trauma lodges in the body.  This is something that I only learned this week, when I had a chance to hear about research by Dutch-born psychologist Bessel van der Kolk (interviewed in the podcast On Being).  Often we have these traumas in our lives, perhaps starting in childhood, or from something that happened to us as adult, and our typical response is to try to “get over it,” or to move forward with our lives without being further affected.  Yet Van der Kolk explains that memories of trauma are different than “normal” memories – that they tend to be re-lived rather than re-told, and that the re-living keeps them fresh in our minds, keeps the pain fresh and re-experienced, over and over, re-hurting us again and again.

Van der Kolk’s research indicates that, in addition to other therapies and treatments for trauma, it can be helpful to re-connect with the body – e.g., yoga, martial arts, or another physically engaging activity.  To feel the muscles and organs and sinews inside your body, your heart beating, your lungs breathing, your eyes blinking.

We tend to separate ourselves from physical feelings during trauma as a way to survive.  He talked about the response of survivors in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Hugo, cleaning up, clearing out debris, trying to rebuild, only a few days after the disaster, and how he felt it had helped them to become less traumatized by their losses.  (Although this was interrupted by the arrival of FEMA authorities, unfortunately, who instructed them to stop until FEMA had determined what would be paid for and what would not.)

What do you think about physical activity and its effect on difficult memories?  Do you find yourself taking walks, building things around the house or in the garden, practicing martial arts or yoga to help reduce stress? Does it help you feel more in tune with your body and how your body feels?  Or is it more of an overall feeling of well-being that you get from these activities?

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Thank you as always for listening.  And to those cat lovers out there – you know who you are (Tami, Luanne, and others!) – give your feline buddies a purr-coo from me!

My cats Pickles (top) and Carnation (bottom), photo by Theresa Barker

41 thoughts on “Tattoo Girl – part 1

  1. Writing for me gave my trauma a voice and once it was compiled into my book I felt like a weight had finally dropped to the side. I had tried yoga, and other physical things but until I decided to publish I had felt in limbo. I moved immediately to the next which I am enjoying immensely. My writing is evolving and I feel happy. Each of us needs to choose a path that resists suffering again.

    I love the cat tattoo. Mine are a broken chain which I had the day I filed for divorce and the second is a rose and a butterfly which represents my appreciating life’s little moments.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh my gosh, Lyn, thank you for sharing your experience with trauma. It is intriguing to hear that you found writing to be a way out of the weight of the trauma. Reassuring!

      I also think it’s so great that you got your broken-chain tattoo on the day you filed for divorce. And that your butterfly tattoo represents little moments. Thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I am so fortunate that I have not experienced any real trauma in my life. I’ve had my heart broken at times when I didn’t realize what love really was which makes that heartbreak seem so trivial to me now. The death of my parents was painful but again, that is trauma that one must expect and accept is part of life. I am so lucky and I fully appreciate the relatively stress free life that I have. I have always grabbed my crochet hooks whenever I have any negative feelings. The repetitive rhythmic act of crocheting is my outlet. Insert hook, yarn over, pull through one, yarn over, pull through two, yarn over….Toast and Speckle send their regards Theresa. 🙂

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  3. Ah, another wonderful writing, Theresa. I’d like to reblog this. I’m already ready to sleep so on mobile device but if you don’t mind, I’ll share when I’m on laptop.

    The things I did after the divorce in a strange land where I had to start over from scratch and make my own new friends… some physical activities did help. I don’t know if it was dancing per se or the fact that going out and having some drinks and laughing with new friends that helped. At some point, I did go for two small tattoos (maybe I was rebelling), both crossed (that I thought I was carrying). Another time, to “forget” the emotional pain (no longer from the divorce but another heartache), I had my navel pierced. I can still wear a belly ring to date.

    Thanks for sharing this. Much love and hugs mu dear friend. 💖🤗

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Anne, I love this reflection about your post-divorce activities. Good for you! My daughter’s been thinking of getting a tattoo to commemorate Leslie’s death (my son/her brother) and I’m thinking that would be a good idea – there is something about the physical manifestation of a tattoo that seems to help w healing… I love that you got a navel piercing, too! Please do feel free to re-blog – it is an honor for me!

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  4. Reblogged this on I think, I say, I do and commented:

    This is Theresa’s wonderful writing, which I’d like to share because it resonates with me.

    Looking at the literal sense (as opposed to symbolic), there are still many people who see tattoos, in general, in a negative light. As with many things in life and this world, to generalize isn’t really the good path to take. I know I also forget my good intention but I stop, check and correct.

    Symbolically, what the tattoo represents are many things we do to “ignore” the pain we may be feeling. We sometimes judge those people who resort to unconventional ways of dealing with trauma; we shouldn’t.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Aw, thank you my dear friend. Hubby is one who “jokingly” refers to them as “tramp stamp”. I know there should be some sort of moderation but even that is subjective. 🙂 Oh, and hubby also doesn’t understand trauma and depression although he accepts that they exist.

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      2. So funny! My husband is also not someone who has depression, but both me and my daughter have had it. I’m fiery, he’s somewhat more even-tempered. Guess opposites attract! Sometime I’d love to see you write about how you and your husband met! (I could do the same …) he he

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Oh wow! Soul sisters ☺ There’s always something more that connect people. We are so similar. That works for friendships. Romantic relationships seem to thrive with differences that complement each other.
        Sounds like a brilliant idea. I’m a crazy one so my relationships were, too. I’ve only calmed down with hubby. 😂

        Liked by 1 person

      1. LOL. I like that phrase….”pluck”. It’s perky and rich in meaning. We’re curious, how did that word get brought into your vocabulary? I have never heard it used in this way. Opps, there I go again, getting personal, lol.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes, where did “pluck” come from? I think maybe from my reading as a child – I used to practically live inside books when I was a kid. Merriam-Webster says: “courageous readiness to fight or continue against odds : dogged resolution” – maybe it was in C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, or another book series like that? Oh, and if you have ever seen the movie “Galaxy Quest” (a send-up of Star Trek movies), one of the characters says to another, “Maybe you are just the plucky comic relief? Have you ever considered that?” (or something to that effect, I may be paraphrasing) – so, it’s back in my brain! 🙂 Thanks for asking, that was fun to write about!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Thank you for letting us ask. We love learning about words and there usage. Its something how different regions use words so differently so we are always asking ourselves “what did they mean by that”, lol. This one of the things I enjoyed most about retirement, getting back to reading, no, devouring books, lol. Yes, I did see the movie “Galaxy Quest” and now remember the line. That was a funny movie. Amazing how our brains store so much (good and bad).

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Oh! I love your curiosity about the unfamiliar. I’m excited to hear that words still are used differently in various regional places around the U.S. I think it’s sad to lose those regional variations, like “pocketbook” vs. “purse,” that kind of thing. But, your ear and eye for the unusual or unfamiliar is what makes your blog so intriguing!

        Liked by 1 person

      5. So true and we don’t know unless we ask. People are such a wealth of information and most are all so wonderful to want to share their experiences and wisdom. It funny that you mention pocketbook and purse because its a perfect example of how times have changed the names of things we use everyday but are now called something different. Also like the choice of soda vs pop. I guess there is lots of truth to there’s nothing new under the sun… just a different name for it, lol.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Yes, that’s another one … soda vs. pop. There is actually an interesting (visual) book I read recently, called ” Speaking American* *how Y’all, Youse, and You Guys Talk : A Visual Guide” – see if you can get it from your local library – each page is a visual snapshot for a particular item (such as soda/pop) and what they say in each part of the country. You’d love it!

        Liked by 1 person

      7. This is so great to hear about Theresa. We will definitely be checking this book out and let you know. We don’t know if its an age thing or what but we have this desire to learn where these phrases originate because its all part of the great history of our origins. You’re awesome.

        Liked by 1 person

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