Needle therapy |

Tales of the unexpected, discovering something you didn’t intend to while getting tattooed

Alice Snape nude

I feel intoxicated, out of control almost. I’m in a place beyond my body. It’s almost meditative. I don’t go to a tattoo artist for a therapy session, but there’s something about getting tattooed that feels like it’s turning you into the person you always should have been. My body feels so much pain as the needle goes over my soft skin, again and again – dragging, burning – that it releases something. Breaking down barriers, taking me to places that I didn’t realise I needed to go to.

I know when I sit in the tattoo artist’s chair, and expose my flesh to their needle, that it’s going to hurt. I think about my body as the ink plunges into my skin. Marking it so it will never look the same again. Hiding my flaws, making me, bit by bit, a little more like myself – how I feel I should have always looked.

Perhaps it makes me more honest, more open. I put my trust into that person to mark my body, an emotional bond that isn’t comparable to everyday friendships or encounters. I might chat to my hairdresser about holidays, but a tattoo artist is akin to a lover. There’s exposed flesh and intimacy, touching, skin to skin. And the pain. Pain mixed with pleasure and transformation.

There’s something about it that brings out secrets that I’ve never told anyone. During a particularly long session years ago, as the needle dragged over and over a painful place on my shin, I told my tattoo artist all about a moment back when I was at university, an incident I had all but buried. I was shocked when the words left my lips. I told her all about this guy randomly pushing me over, in broad daylight, while I was walking down the street. Afterwards, I had started having panic attacks, which I’d associated with the stress of my masters. But talking about it with someone who didn’t know me too well helped me to connect the dots. It helped me to move on.

Now I know when I go under the needles, I don’t just expose my flesh. I expose my feelings, I let the act consume, I use it as a therapy and leave, changed, but feeling as I always should have been.

By Alice Snape, first published in Oh Comely issue 46 as part of a series called Tales of the unexpected.
Photo by Alison Romanczuk

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