Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Who I am, I do what I do

Emily is one of these remarkable people who is independent and self assured. She has learned to not pay attention to the thoughts and critiques of others. She adopted tattoos as an extension of herself, and while some disapprove, she says...  

My body is more of a canvas. Each image says a little more about me and my likes. Many of my tattoos can be linked to my love of the Asian culture. The Tattoos are the work of many artists. I’m a walking gallery.

Some can relate but others can’t understand my love of ink. Many people, including my parents see all this body art and assume I must work with gangs and perhaps do drugs. But the reality is I’m just defining myself. We all need to learn to be ourselves, accept ourselves.

In today’s world so many are prone to anxiety, depression, loneliness … Some have a hard time accepting who that are, or are still seeking to discover who they are. 

I’ve learned to love myself and the tattoos have helped me in building self-esteem. Some ladies feel the need for dramatic make-up, glamorous clothes. Not that I dislike those things, but the tattoos are so much more personal, more “me”. 

A while back, I took the step of opening a tattoo parlor.  I wanted to share my love of ink and to help others with their own personal stories of expression and self-esteem. So this is not just who I am but what I do. 

Sunday, April 19, 2020

You Are My Constant

The word “Constant” derives its meaning from the Latin verb "to stand with". So something constant is continually standing with you and not wavering. It is often viewed as a good thing. Like a friend who is a constant in your life, it suggests they have always been there for you. But we also need to be our own person; strong and independent. This was what Hillary discovered, and this is her story.
Almost everything in my life has been about my mom.  In so many ways she has been my constant and I have been hers.  My tattoo is in her own handwriting and was taken from a card we shared.   Ours was not a typical mother-daughter relationship.

My mom essentially raised me alone, with my dad out of the picture. This is not so uncommon these days but unfortunately there were other challenges.  Mom regularly dealt with depression and had alcoholism which led to her being controlling and manipulative.  To better understand my mom, you also need to know she had an abusive childhood, abusive dad and abusive husband. Being aware of her past, allowed me to accept her and the challenges she had raising me.

In so many ways I was more of a support system than a dependent. I was pretty much an adult by age 7. I matured quickly dealing with challenges and experiences most pre-teens would never be exposed to. Through it all, I constantly wanted her approval. I suppressed my own needs and desires, to try and be the person I felt she wanted and needed. 
Still, I felt loved, and I always loved her back. I somehow always knew that in many ways she was also a victim of circumstance and underlying her behavior was a desire to do better.  I never blamed her, and accepted my role as more of a friend – “a constant” than a daughter. 

Roll the clock forward, and I’m on my own, seeing a man who I loved. Loyal to a fault, I’d do anything, be anything, to be validated by him. Like I did with my mom, I ignored my own values and tried to become whatever I felt he desired. About this time mom developed dementia.  I transferred my dependency from one to another.  The issue is he was toxic. The man was a terrible influence and leading me into a lifestyle of substance use.  Wanting only to please, I ignored the signs, closed my eyes to the reality and accepted my role.

I should have known better, but I just accepted what was happening. I had no self-worth or independent identity. I was my mom’s daughter and his “whatever I was” but I focused on being what others needed, not what I needed to be.  I needed to care for someone, no matter how I was being treated.

I was fortunate to have a family member visit and apologize for not being there more as my mom raised me. We talked about Toronto and university. They offered assistance and I got excited about the possibilities.  

At this point I realized that he was not going to change his lifestyle or habits for me nor follow me.  I announced my decision to leave, not just my home town but him as well. 

The result was an explosion of anger, a month of self-destructive behavior and more drinking resulting in some physical abuse. This made my decision even harder. Seeing someone who never seemed to care, reacting this way to my imminent departure.  At the same time, his aggressive behavior confirmed this was the right decision.

Latching on to my dream, I still found the strength and courage to leave.  I was now, heading to the big city, finally studying fashion and doing something for me.

Making the decision even more difficult: I was leaving my mom, no longer able to care for her like I always had. Plus, her having once told me “if you ever leave, don’t come back” was weighing on my mind.   

The realization finally came: this was a life changing decision.  I had been ignoring myself, too dependent on the validation of others. Trying to be whatever others wanted me to be.
We kill a daisy, to see if we are really desired, in the game of “he loves me, he loves me not”.  I was tired of destroying myself in an attempt to be desired by others.

We should be accepted for who we are, without the need to change our values. My self esteem grew and I learned that my time pleasing others had given me an inner strength.  I now could be whoever I needed to be, but without ignoring my own needs and ambitions. 

Today, across the miles, I’m still her constant, and she mine.   
I look after her from afar, making sure bills are paid and medications are provided. I visit when I can and know our days are numbered.

Along with memories of our times together I cherish a special collection which was started four generations ago.   Handed down to me, are about 400 sets of unique salt and pepper shakers.  My mother guarded this collection and it has become a special treasure to me.

After living this experience, I offer to others in a toxic or abusive relationship: Do not lose sight of who you are and who you want to be.  Be true to your goals, value your self-worth.  It may seem easier to remain a victim than make the hard choice and stand up for yourself. BUT, take the time to think about your dreams and where you want to be. Till you make a choice, the cycle will never end.  We need to exchange the situation we know all too well is not right, for a different life, with a perhaps unknown future. In that uncertainly, we can find our inner strength and finally a more peaceful existence.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Death Before Dishonour

Paraphrasing Emily’s words: 

People made fun of my “shitty tattoo”.   They asked if it was done by an amateur.  

What very few people know what makes this tattoo special is it was drawn by a Vietnam war vet with only 2 fingers.   You see it is a commemorative piece for a man that was a real father to me. He hated tattoos and said if I ever wanted a meaningful one, he suggested the military slogan "Death Before Dishonour" and he wrote the best he could, what it should look like. 
The tattoo artist replicated it exactly, I just added his initials.  

I want the world to know that man saved my life...   
His name Was Kennith McNabb...
He was the family I always wanted and never had...  
He was my rock, and the first glimmer of hope I had in my life was when I met him.

Death Before Dishonour Tattoo Image
My mother was at the Ottawa Rehabilitation Center after losing one of her legs. One day when I was there visiting her, we were out on the patio having lunch.  I looked over my shoulder to see a man struggling to light his cigarette and dropped the lighter, I quickly ran over and lit it for him... My mom realized who it was (she was a social butterfly) and asked him to join us...  

At first I didn’t know what to think, he was quiet and let my mom do all the talking.  Then I asked him a question and realized that he spoke very slow and softly due to multiple strokes he had had.  At first to look at him it made me sad, he had 2 fingers on each hand, (due to frostbite).  Aside from the strokes he also suffered he had recently had his only remaining leg amputation as well.    But the more I listened to him the more I realized how amazing this man was. 

A Vietnam Veteran  born and raised in Buffalo NY. Lost one leg in the way, then Diabetes cost him the 2nd Leg). He had moved to Canada after the war and became a Social Worker after attending Carleton University. 

He was amazing to talk to;  a great listener. After meeting him the first time I decided to start making a conscious effort to pop in and see him when I was visiting my mother. 

When he was released (and I was 15yrs old) he offered me a job at his house doing lawn work and some cleaning around the house for extra money... Eventually this turned in to regular visits and I started taking care of his entire house plus prepping his meals for the week ahead …  after always a good chat. He would let me vent about my life and stuff going on at home - he was the only person to know about my abuse and the first person to cry for me. 

He made me feel amazing like a princess, eventually he started taking me shopping for school clothes and stuff he took care of me like I was one his own daughter, and one day I called him Dad and to both of us it felt right, for the first time in my life I had someone to call Dad and he acted like a dad, always taking care of me...  

One day when I was reaching up to the ceiling to dust off some spider webs he noticed a glimpse of one of my tattoos on my back, and told me to show him and I did.. He HATED it!!!  After yelling at me for a while about it he said " Emily you're a real life solider, and IF you ever get another tattoo I want it to say "Death before Dishounor ", which he said was one of the oldest army slogans."   I told him if he wanted me to get it he had to draw it out for me and he did....  

Years later we were still as close but I was 20yrs old and I was still taking care of him and his house, except I was old enough to go to the legion with him once a week for a beer... One day in July I was on my break from work so I thought I would call him to confirm our weekly beer date and got no answer on his phone so I left a message... After a couple of hours from not hearing back I worried but thought I will try him back later...  two days passed and I still hadn't heard from him and I started to worry, he was not answering his phone...So I called the local pub which he frequented and got one of his friends to go check on him.... I received a phone call from the person I sent... He was found dead in his bed, he had died of a heart attack in his sleep... I was instantly mortified and left work, not knowing where to go I went to his house (he had already been taken) and I slept on his back porch to feel close to him.. My rock my glimmer of hope was all of a sudden gone... 

A couple days passed and I received a phone call from someone who had claimed to be his cousin. The thanked me for my services and that was it... 

I continued to struggle in the years to come with my emotions over such a loss...  Then one day I looked at that piece of paper that he had prepared for me. It was time...  I sat in my friends barber chair handed him the paper and told him that's what I want...

I finally got "Death before Dishounour" tattooed on my body on the same shoulder I looked over and found him for the very first time.  To this day I have no closure over him, but I will forever have his words on my body and will always be proud of that.