Tattoo Therapy for Veterans

I get asked a lot if tattoos hurt, I’m used to the question. I always smile a bit and say yes, obviously tattoos hurt. I didn’t know why I was smiling until I realized I enjoy the pain and the tattoo process. Actually, I love the pain of the tattoo needle. It’s therapy for me, tattoo parlors have always had more healing power for me than therapist’s offices.

At tattoo shops there is lots of art, jokes, music, and interesting stories. You’ll see ribbon tattoos for cancer patients, portraits of loved ones, and everyone from teenagers to grandparents getting their stories inked. There are powerful tales of transformation, addiction, travel, experiences, nonsense, empowerment, comedy, and heartbreak. You’ve heard of traditional therapy and maybe you’ve tried it. If you haven’t tried tattoo therapy, today’s the day.

Walking into a tattoo shop always gave me excitement and leaving provided relief. The pain reminded me I was still alive. I got the feeling that I was seeking but not getting from my VA counselor.  There’s a natural high and an accompanying rush of adrenaline, dopamine, and endorphins. It’s like a runners high leaving the shop or getting of work for the weekend. Every tattoo completed demonstrates you’ve embraced the pain and are forever changed.

It’s an escape from the real world you don’t get in doctors’ offices. Every tattoo is a form of therapy, symbolizing something or nothing.  I’ve gotten a drunk tattoo outside a military base, it shows who I was at the time, an impulsive young Army private.  But I also have a meaningful Doc Holiday tattoo to symbolize coming back from my first deployment and driving to Tombstone Arizona with my best friends in an RV. My Doc Holliday tattoo reminds me I always have at least one more fight left in me.

Tattoos throughout time have always had a home on warriors. The world used to tattoo its criminals, to mark and shame them. That’s led to a negative connotation associated with tattoos that a lot of “respectable” people still have today. My mom freaked out at my first tattoo but if you’re not upsetting your parents as a teenager than you’re not living.

Militaries throughout history have long had a love affair with body art. Samurai in Japan started tattooing themselves for a practical reason, to identify where to take their body if they fell in combat. You’ll see practical uses in today’s warriors, I have friends who have their blood type tattooed on them. Some cultures even gave their fighters their first tattoo when they brought home their first enemy head from battle, Native Americans inked their victories into their skin. Veterans are strong people and strong people express themselves.

John in Colombia, I still got a little space left to fill but not much.

The military is a culture as much as a profession and there will be hundreds of varied tattoos in any military formation. We love laughing at the bad military tattoos as much as we love the good ones. Veterans understand commitment, we live it when we swear our oaths. Tattoos are a commitment and veterans don’t shy away from commitment. Modern veterans are tattooed veterans, we have more tattoos than civilians. Our tattoos serve as visual reminders of our experiences, the good and the bad.

Your body is a canvas, don’t go to the grave with it being blank. Fill it with your memories, your passions, and your dreams. Commemorate your service with a tattoo, the military is loaded with symbolism, and it isn’t hard to think of something to get inked.

Transformation is key for veteran betterment. We want to remember our friends, where we served, and what we did. Don’t only put your service on your hat, put it on your skin. A lot of veterans get military tattoos when they get out of the military, because it provides closure and acts as a permanent reminder of who we are. They provide a boost of confidence that’s addictive. Tattooed people are comfortable in their skin. For me it was like pringles, once I popped, I couldn’t stop. I view my tattoos as my life story, I do them for me and I’m going to keep doing them. You should too and you might find the tattoo chair more healing than the therapist’s couch. Start tattoo therapy today and let me know how it goes.

I think veterans should always have a tattoo planned and a trip planned. Check out my article on Travel Therapy For Veterans. Veteran Ink on IG has some inspiration an sometimes does giveaways. Make sure to follow me on Instagram and TikTok where I’ll be posting more travel, tattoo, and veteran content. Get that beach body ready this winter, go hit the gym and tattoo shop.

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