Sunday, October 17, 2010

“The Story of My Sobriety Tattoo”

I admit it: I get a lot of my inspiration for what I blog about from the ‘Just For Today’ emails. It’s a nice little dose of Recovery each morning. If you’re interested, go to the NA or AA website and sign up. Just a suggestion ;-) Today's was on the subject of truth; how what we think we know can change. I read that and thought boy do I have a story there... But DAMN is it ever an embarrassing one.

I don’t know how it is in other parts of the country or the world, but in the rooms I frequent, there are plenty of us who have sobriety tattoos. I have three tatts, myself: one on each shoulder blade, and a cross with blue fire behind it on my left forearm. The two on my shoulder blades are kanji--one meaning Truth, the other Justice. I got the Truth tatt back when I’d lost a bunch of weight a number of years ago. It was a symbol to me of my ability to accomplish something difficult, the ‘truth’ being that I’m stronger than I might think I am. The ‘Justice’ is a celebration of my finding peace through working the program of Recovery. After spending so many years in so much emotional pain, after so many days of despair and nights of hoping and praying for an end to my emotional suffering, I finally found a way out.

My forearm tatt is my sobriety tatt, though. It started out as something much simpler and then I added to it. The first part was done when I hit six months, I added more at nine months, then finished it after I hit one year. I have it on my forearm, a very visible place, specifically because it is my sobriety tattoo. This path that I walk of being clean and sober is something I’m very proud of myself for doing. And even though the tatt isn’t obvious as a sobriety tattoo, I like having it in a visible place so that, when people ask me about it, I get to spread the message of the power of Recovery. But this particular tattoo is more than just a symbol of my spirituality, it is also a reminder to me of some other very important things.

When I did the first part at six months, I had done a lot of research and picked out a symbol that had been around for thousands of years and that was steeped in meaning. It was a symbol of the earth, of harmony, still used in astronomy and astrology today. After I had it put on, I found out that this symbol meant some other things that I hadn’t been aware of, that it was an extremely racist symbol. Now, anyone who knows me knows that I am not that kind of a person and in fact one of the lesser prejudicial folks out there. I had a black coworker at the time, and we had a good laugh about how maybe I need to expand my horizons and meet more racists, that way I’d be more familiar with the symbology. My sponsor is Buddhist and when I told him about it, he went on his own little rant about how the Nazis had co-opted the swastika. We talked a long time about how symbols and their meanings change over time, how images can mean one thing, then come to represent something else, and then change again. Anyway, at nine months I had it covered up with a Celtic cross like the ones the Presbyterian church uses. But even the Celtic cross still has a hint of racism to it, so at one year I added the blue fire--twelve flames, one for each of the twelve steps--and called it ‘good enough’.

(August, 2009)
I was furious at the time, and am still a little embarrassed about the whole ordeal, but can mostly laugh at myself now. And here’s why: I am not omnipotent. So, not only is my forearm tattoo the symbol of my sobriety, it is also a reminder to me that not only do I not know everything, the things I do know might be wrong.

Great masters have been saying it since long before I was born: the path to wisdom is admitting and accepting our ignorance. It order to learn, in order to gain knowledge, we must first say these three words: I don't know.

As a deeply insecure, raging egomaniac, I need to remember that I don't know everything. And I find it even more helpful to remember that even the things I do know might be wrong. Because it’s not the things we don’t know that get us into trouble, it’s the things we do know that just ain’t so.

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