When a tattoo artist on Tinder asked if he could tattoo me, I thought, why not? I had just returned to my native Uruguay and had real estate on my body (I already had 24 tattoos) for depictions of myself homeland, a Spanish term used to mean pride in one’s own country.
I have artistically directed three tattoos but didn’t ask about his experience or his tattoo parlor before the tattoo date. Big mistake.
When I got to his house, I immediately began to wonder what I was doing there and whether I was putting myself in danger. When he led me into his bedroom and told me he was self-taught and learned by tattooing his thighs a few months ago, I knew I should go. But my dedication to making things through held over a lurking sense of fear.
When he started to work, I became increasingly nervous. Not only did he smoke cigarettes while he worked, he also took a couple of hits from a joint. When I asked him to stop because of my asthma, he barely recognized me. It is legal to smoke cannabis in Uruguay ̵
In the middle of the second tattoo he said something that set off all of my alarm bells.
“I started tattooing because I love to hurt people,” he said with full force as he pulled a needle over my chest. At this comment I began to seriously question his psyche – and the situation I had put myself into. It was clear that he felt entitled to put a woman in a position of fear while permanently marking her body.
As soon as he finished the second tattoo, I jumped up from the chair, paid him what he owed, and left with no explanation.
I’ve always had a strong sense of spontaneity. I am fearless and will do almost anything to make a good story that I attribute to surviving multiple sexual assault cases.
A story of traumatic experiences drives me to adopt a devilish attitude, especially in situations with men like this.
“Traumatic events can lead to a complex change in the way someone makes decisions, such as accidentally engaging in reckless acts that lead to high-risk situations,” says Dr. Suzanna Chen, psychiatrist. “Survivors can act strong or brave to unconsciously try to fix what happened and get rid of the feeling of powerlessness.”
Unfortunately, my desire to prove my strength often leads me to put myself at risk, a dangerous catch-22.
“Risk takers tend to have a lack of self-control and self-esteem,” says Babita Spinelli, a licensed psychotherapist. “Recklessness focuses on short-term satisfaction. It prevents us from looking at the bigger picture. “
What sets this experience apart from previous mistakes is that I’ve finally found the nerve to break things off and get myself to safety. The annoying verbal and physical cues the tattoo artist gave me were just too much to ignore. Ultimately, my sense of security prevailed over my impulse to see things through.
Spinelli says it takes strength to walk in the middle of a situation that you intentionally participated in. “We can get so involved in a situation that it is often difficult to get off the hamster wheel. We might also fear consequences if we go, ”she adds.
It has been 6 months since the tattoo date and I have no regrets about the tattoos. He etched a laurel (an herb found on Uruguayan coins and a staple in our kitchen) on the back of my neck and the Uruguayan country motif Libertad o Muerte (freedom or death) on the side of my chest. This sentence has a deep meaning for me – nothing is more important to me than my freedom.
Though I don’t miss the irony that I put myself into a potentially fatal scenario to get these words permanently on my body.
If there’s one thing that taught me that night, it’s to think more critically about the situations I first put myself into. When I think I need to see through something, I realize that I shouldn’t be doing it at all.
“By not indulging in the desire for recklessness, we protect ourselves from a decision that could be detrimental,” says Spinelli.
It’s a constant challenge, but I try to better weigh the possible negative outcomes of a situation before moving on to a decision that may be inconsiderate. I now see the strength to say no in situations that pique my interest but ultimately aren’t wise for my safety.
Lola Méndez is a Uruguayan-American freelance journalist who writes about sustainability, travel, culture, social justice and more. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter @LolaAnnaMendez and read her responsible travel blog, MissFilatelista.com.