My grandmother and I were having a cup of coffee at my sister’s house the first time she saw my tattoo. With pure horror shaking her voice she said, “Sosha, what in the hell is on your arm?” I told her, attempting to sound both nonchalant and confident, that I had gotten a tattoo. Her eyes widened in shock and then she immediately licked her thumb and tried to rub it off.
My sister, Angie, the wild child of the two of us, watched this unfold from the other side of the kitchen with barely containable glee. Therefore, I did what any self-respecting big sister would do and threw her directly under the Gran-piloted bus. I blurted out that I didn’t see what the big deal was since Angie had a bunch of tattoos.
Gran looked at me with a mixture of incredulity and disgust and said, “Well, of course, she does. Your sister has always done exactly what she wanted. I didn’t expect this from you. Have you lost your damn mind?”
And, there you have it. A tattoo wasn’t expected of me.
I get it. The tattoos (I’ve added another one) haven’t been the only changes that I’ve made in the past couple of years. They were just, as my best friend put it, the most “bold” due to their permanence. She’s right — they are. They aren’t small tattoos tucked away on a part of my body that not many people see. They are both on my left arm.
Although I believe that both of my tattoos are breathtaking works of art done by the insanely talented Dani Blalock of Haylo Healing Art Lounge, they are so much more to me. They are beautiful reminders that since I was able to climb out of a childhood filled with poverty, addiction, shame and lies, that I have a responsibility to use whatever talents I have been given to write my story and to write it boldly.
For the first three decades of my life I was anything but bold. I played it incredibly safe. I skirted the truth about my past filled with free-lunches, food stamps and watching my parents descend to a violent vortex of abuse and drug addiction. My past made me unworthy in my mind — of a good career, of loyal friends and of love. Therefore, I whitewashed it and disassociated with anything that could be associated with my beautiful, flawed, charismatic, felonious, drug-addicted, welfare-scamming parents.
I moved to Charlotte after college and threw myself in its corporate culture. I worked hard and I was successful. However, the dishonesty about who I was coupled with immersing my slightly wild, extremely passionate, enthusiastically creative true self deeper and deeper amongst Charlotte’s khaki pants, blue blazer and loafer set made me tired and very unhappy.
Lying is exhausting.
As I held my daughter during the first hours of her life I decided to quit: my job, the buttoned-down, aloof persona, and most importantly, I decided to quit the lies. I knew that the magical little creature in my arms loved me. She didn’t care about my past and it was in that hospital bed that the real me started to emerge.
During our late night feeding sessions, I started whispering the stories of my past; the addiction, the abuse, the poverty, the shame, to my precious little girl. It felt good to just admit them. As I grew more comfortable with owning my past, I started sharing quick stories with my friends.
Eventually, I got bold enough to write them down and share them with a small circle that grew bigger and bigger. It was utterly terrifying at first. However, the more I did it, the better I felt. I could feel the broken parts of me that I had kept covered with sweater sets and bobbed hair start twisting and turning so that they would fit back into place.
As I continued to own the gritty sections of my life, I started to make connections — deeper ones with my friends and family and new ones with strangers who had lived similar lives of shame and secrecy.
Once the inside of me started to heal, I felt that I could transform the outside to how I had always wanted to look but had been too scared to do it because I thought that it would expose me.
In addition to the tattoos, I dyed my hair platinum blonde and cut it into a mohawk, a modest one by mohawk standards, but a mohawk nonetheless. I traded in my contacts for a pair of Wayfarers, threw away my loafers and high heels and replaced them with Vans and Chuck Taylors and I now have a shiny silver hoop protruding out of my nose.
All of these physical transformations help me feel bold. When I’m struggling with a story about my past or feeling sorry for myself because I haven’t landed a book deal yet, I can take a look in the mirror and be reminded that I am being true to myself for the first time in my life. The mohawk, the tats, the nose ring — they all remind me that I am loved and that I am worthy.
I wish that I could say that the transformation came with resolute certainty. But, it didn’t. I fretted that my loved ones would think that I was trying too hard, that I was a poser or that I had indeed lost my damn mind.
However, all my worries were put to rest when my husband, who is much more succinct, left me a note that said, in part, “I love that you have found ‘your you’ and that you are so happy.”
Photos: Sosha Lewis