There was a time when I looked in the mirror and could see only what I perceived as deformed, disgusting rolls and misshapen skin. In the throws of an Eating Disorder I was in the trap of seeing myself not as I was, but what I hated. I avoided mirrors, but also spent time in tears in front of them. When using the restroom it was normal to lift my shirt to be certain I hadn’t visibly gained weight from earlier in the day. I would say hateful things to myself hoping it would encourage me to avoid food for another few hours as my stomach sounded for food. My body was a source of scorn and ridicule and I was the aggressor. The worst offender. And I was living in it.
Finding Strength In My Tattoo
I was not overweight. I was starving and weak. I was taken by friends and family to an inpatient facility for Eating Disorders where I learned to manage my depression and anxiety. With great relief I was diagnosed with an eating disorder, and months later I was discharged with knowledge and support to continue recovery. When I look in the mirror now, I see an assault rifle silhouette on my right arm. It’s symbol of strength and defence, though now frequently more offence; a reminder to always be aware and clear sighted to potential trigger and trip-ups in recovery. It is one of many I’ve received in the last decade, but not the only one to remind me of my time in treatment or recovery.
The Deeper Meaning
In the years after my second hospitalization I’ve added more tattoos to my arm, completing a full sleeve. Some, like the ampersand on the outside of my elbow, are a symbol of my love of writing and design. The waterfowl compass on my wrist is an homage to my late father. They are meaningful and have stories, and as a collection represent parts of me I will never forget.
Freeing Myself From The Negativity Once Found In The Mirror
The mirror which was once a source of hatred. A sounding board echoing my negative thoughts back at me. Now serves a different purpose. I look in the mirror to style my increasingly salt and pepper hair, check my attire before I leave for the day or write funny messages with soap to my wife.
I’m a visual person. I remember directions with a series of shapes and figures. I use, less frequently than I would like, written lists as a reminder of what I’ve eaten on various days. I like the look of meaningful art covering my skin, and I like looking in the mirror and seeing a skull on the front on my shoulder with a spoon and fork where crossbones would be. Body image, typically, is an issue for those with an eating disorder. The most significant thing I’ve done to reverse my incorrect perspective of my body was seek professional help. My experienced medical team saved my life and showed me a way to live not controlled by food.Likewise, my arm is not covered with eating disorder tattoos, but many different images all representative of who I am. Each one cannot define me, but is a piece in the tapestry that is my body image.
About the Writer: Adam Pope is an ED survivor, writer and advocate. His works cover a variety of topics ranging from coping with eating disorders, overcoming addiction, and feminism. He also occasionally writes fiction and actively engages in freelance journalism.
Photo by: mytat_2s
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