I have a slight obsession with freedom. My tattoos speak for it. I have five tattoos all of which symbolize freedom.
One is a tattoo on my right wrist of the word Moksha in cursive with pink autumn leaves, the moon and stars around it.
I got this right before I moved to New York after I got out of the military.
I was a photojournalist for the Navy and while on deployment I took a class on religions. In Hinduism they have many ideas and one is moksha; freedom from suffering.
This reminds me that I am immortal. That I can be free any moment from suffering, from the past and from the cycle of pain.
The other tattoo is of a heart with wings and a banner in the middle with the words Set Free.
I got this when I was seventeen right before I joined the Navy. I remember sitting on a small stool for hours for this tattoo.
It was so important to me to have this tattoo. It symbolized my journey forward from the past.
There was a man beside me that I looked up to and saw as a Father.
He was a born again Christian. With tattoo sleeves of Jesus Christ on his arms.
He was also a former drug addict. And biker gang member.
His name was Glenn. Glenn Johnson.
He was a father of two that he knew of. I lived with him and his family for two years until I joined the Navy.
They adopted me when I was sixteen.
I remember sitting at the dinner table doing my homework while he made dinner.
He paused from his meal-making and said, “Emily, what if I told you that I wish I had you years ago before my wife?”
He couldn’t be serious.
How could this happen to me again?
Is there something wrong with me? Did I ask for this?
No thought really could make sense of his question. No thought could give me answer that made me feel better.
My Set Free tattoo was a symbol of freedom.
A celebration of me finally being free from them.
From him. From the past. From memory.
The thing about freedom from the past is not that we never remember it.
Or that we forget.
I tried to forget what happened to me.
Even now I am still recollecting fragments of memories.
We can never be truly free from the past because it always is a part of us. But we can be free from the power it can carry in the present and in the future.
I have a sparrow tattoo on my left wrist. I love birds. They also symbolize freedom.
Down my left forearm are the words Fortitude; courage in the midst of adversity.
A reminder that even in my darkest moments, in remembering, in sadness I can still be courageous. I can still find the silver linings to every storm.
Get the picture?
Tattoos tell the story of memory. Of time.
Of what I have overcome. And also what I must remember.
Remembering gives us information.
Here we can go back in time like magicians and manipulate experiences.
Say what we always wanted to say. Visualize the conversation we always wanted to have.
Overcome the fears, heal the past, write a new story for the future.
Remembering also gives us the truth. There are no lies in facts.
It gives us grief, joy, happiness, laughter, anger, rage.
It gives us moments of softness. Tenderness.
Forgiveness and acceptance.
When we remember we have the power to see life from a 360 degree view. That is how powerful the mind can be.
Remembering gives us insight into growth. Into who we were.
In my journey of healing from trauma there have been many times that I didn’t want to remember. My brain tried to keep my safe from seeing, feeling or experiencing memory again.
It is only now in the journey of being brave to face it again in a new light that I can sit with the memories that once were terrifying to feel again.
A tool that has been an anchor in my healing and writing process that I would love to share with you is from the book Wild Mind.
The author shares a writing prompt: “I remember. I don’t remember”.
I practiced writing my story using this writing prompt and uncovered so much more.
My invitation to you is to brave your story. To go where your mind may fear to go.
To ask for support in the process of remembering and to gather all the tools you need for this quest.