I just I got a tattoo for my birthday. It is an eating disorder recovery tattoo.
My tattoo is a butterfly with the NEDA’s (National Eating Disorder Association) symbol for recovery weaved inside. The world “allow” is underneath. My tattoo is a symbol of metamorphosis and represents my recovery and freedom from anorexia and bulimia.
And although this tattoo shocked some of my friends and family, I had been planning it for months. Nine to be exact.
I’m not an impulsive person. Rather, I tend to over-analyze. For most of my life, I’ve made my choices based on what other people would think.
For example, I knew my mother would disapprove of a tattoo. And even at 44 years old I was worried about her opinion.
So what even made me get this tattoo? Let me explain…
Why get an eating disorder recovery tattoo?
Getting a tattoo has served me in several ways.
First, it’s a constant visual reminder to remain committed to my recovery. Unlike a recovering alcoholic who abstains from all alcohol, a person recovering from an eating disorder must eat food and face her demon 3-5 times a day.
Every. Single. Day.
Now when my eating disorder is triggered or when I’m struggling with a meal, I can simply glance down at my own arm and see the beautiful reminder of what recovery means to me.
The permanence of the tattoo signifies that I’m finally fully and completely committed to remaining in recovery. The tattoo is also a way for me to share my story more openly with those who ask. No longer ashamed of my past and my journey, I am open to sharing the meaning of my tattoo.
I realize I am not defined by my disorder. But it’s helped shape me into the person I am today.
Lastly, the tattoo is a way for me to add something I find aesthetically beautiful to my body. I have spent almost my entire life scrutinizing and hating my body. The issue of body image and body acceptance is the final hurdle and one of the hardest challenges I hope to overcome. The butterfly tattoo on my forearm represents the journey of my recovery and freedom from my eating disorder.
While in treatment, my middle son loved with The Hungry Caterpillar book. As I repeatedly read it to him, I identified with this little caterpillar who had to eat and eat and eat before entering his chrysalis. The caterpillar literally outgrows and sheds its old skin. Much like someone in recovery must push themselves to shed old thought processes, behaviors, beliefs, and coping skills.
I felt like the caterpillar who literally entered a chrysalis and changed shape and form as my body grew and changed. When he emerges, the butterfly is free to fly in this world. Like the butterfly, recovery from an eating disorder is all about freedom too.
The world “allow” is in my tattoo because it has been my mantra over the past two years. For the first time in my life, I have allowed myself to eat what I want when I am hungry and to listen to my body.
I’m finally allowing my body to become whatever shape and size it was naturally meant to be.
Recovery also includes allowing myself to have and express feelings. Allowing myself to ask for and accept help, allowing life to be messy and imperfect. It’s also about allowing myself to live life authentically, despite what other people may think about me.
It is about allowing myself to have needs, to meet those needs, and to prioritize taking care of myself along with the care of the rest of my family.
Recovery is about letting go of all of the things we think we can control (such as weight, body size, and so much more) while allowing life to flow according to it’s plan.
“Allow” is written in the typewriter font as another reminder. As a child, I always loved expressing my creative ideas. But somewhere along the way, I learned to bury my dream of becoming a writer.
Recovery has reconnected me to my true self, my values, and my passions.
For over a year now, I have been contributing to Recovery Warrior’s online magazine with the hope of giving back to the resource that helped me gain my life back.
It has been astounding, overwhelming, and simply amazing to connect with other warriors throughout the world. With the exception of a few close friends, until now I haven’t told people in my everyday life about my articles on Recovery Warriors. I intend to change that by sharing this article with my own friends and family for the first time.
The stigma surrounding mental illness often keeps those struggling silent about their battles. When I initially resisted returning to treatment, my therapist encouraged me to seek help. She used cancer as a metaphor.
As she compared the two diseases, I realized if I was fighting a medical disease vs a mental illness, my path would have been very different. Perhaps family and friends would have stepped in to help, creating care calendars and offering support. But my shame kept me from being open.
But I’m no longer ashamed.
And I hope to help awareness and create change so that perhaps in the future, other women and men will seek support and treatment when fighting to claim their lives back.
My eating disorder tattoo is a reminder
My tattoo is a reminder that every single meal, every single day, I’m choosing to live life in recovery. And I’m choosing to listen to and trust my body despite the false claims diet culture bombards me with.
I’m choosing to value love, connection, and living authentically. I want my sons to grow up in a home where their mother loves and accepts herself so that they will hopefully do the same. I’m letting go of the lie that “thin equals happy” and instead I am focused on seeing other people’s souls.
The most important lesson I hope my sons will learn from me is that the world is a beautiful place, filled with diverse people. And judging others (or themselves) by outside appearances is harmful and wrong.
In addition to the weight I have gained in recovery, I have gained the courage to be myself, connect with others deeply, and find joy and gratitude in the small moments.
I hope when they look at me, my sons see a vibrant, sensitive and joyful mother with a lovely butterfly tattoo, who inspires them to live life fully and authentically.
(Last Updated: July 26, 2022)