When a holiday abroad and a traumatic attack collided, Roseanna’s tattoo to commemorate her sister turned into a painful reminder she couldn’t escape. The chance to clear it gave her the freedom she needed to set herself free. Here is her story.
I’m Roseanna and I’m a creative living in London. I was always the kid that changed their hair colour every week and did different stuff to my appearance. I was drawn to tattoos and knew I wanted one. I always thought tattoos had to mean something. I had a twin sister who passed away when we were three months old. She was my identical twin. My mum and dad broke up after she passed. Things like that can be so devastating and traumatic that sometimes it can be easier for people to just shut down. But for us, we always spoke about her growing up. I always knew about her. We go to her grave every year. I feel very lucky that that was the case. I’m so grateful that we always talk about her.
I got my tattoo when I was 16. I was still trying to process everything with my sister, and what that meant for me. I always felt like there was a bit of me missing. At the time, I was going to Turkey with my mum. We never really went abroad and while I had been away with my dad, my mum and I never really did holidays like that. It was a really special thing. She was a single mum and working as a nurse, and I was so proud of her doing this family holiday. I said to her, I want to get a tattoo to remember my sister. At that time, the best place to get a tattoo was on your lower back. I didn’t really have a concept of what to commemorate her with, I was so young, so I went with my sister’s name on my lower back. My mum wasn’t sure at first, but once we were out there I was a very persuasive teenager and I don’t think my mum had much choice in the matter [laughs]. I was very determined.
I got the tattoo on my last day of the holiday. On the same holiday, something terrible happened to me. I was attacked.
“The series of unfortunate events that happened became what the tattoo would stand for; it was never about my sister, it was about everything that happened to me on that holiday.”
We were in this tiny, seaside town staying at this resort. Because it was so small and built as a family resort, my mum and I felt really safe there. I was at that difficult age where you can only protect teenagers so much, and then at the same time want them to have their freedom.
For a long time, I didn’t really understand what had happened to me. I think getting the tattoo, just after that had happened, I needed to do something, to take control. That’s how those two events unfortunately became really linked. And while it probably would have become a tattoo I grew out of anyway, that series of unfortunate events that happened became what the tattoo would stand for; it was never about my sister, it was about everything that happened to me on that holiday.
After everything that happened in Turkey, I shut down. I didn’t know how to process it. At the time, my mum and I had a different relationship. I was 16, and we didn’t talk about everything. I wish I had told her what had happened, but I couldn’t. I felt so ashamed and like it was my fault. I called my best friend when I was there, and told her what happened. That was the only time I told anyone. When I got back to London, I think I knew something wasn’t right. I felt weird about my tattoo.
Then when I was 18, I thought if I changed my tattoo and made it different maybe it would help. I was on a tattoo artist’s waiting list for ages, then at the last minute she cancelled on me but said another artist at the studio could do it. I wanted to see her because the experience would be quite different from the first time I got the tattoo; I had researched her, seen her style and really liked it.
“Because it was on my back, I ignored it. It never felt right on my body.”
Then when she passed me over to another artist, he just didn’t listen to me and what I wanted. I was still really young, and I found it really hard to say, ‘ this wasn’t what I wanted’ or ‘the design is turning out much bigger than I thought.’ I waited so long to change my original tattoo already, then there was the last-minute cancellation and I was just too overwhelmed. I went through with it just to make the original design somehow different. Again, it felt like something was done to my body that I hadn’t consented to. It was really unfortunate. I wonder sometimes if I had gotten the original tattoo artist that I wanted, would I have liked it more? I felt silly, and like I had to like it.
I didn’t think about my tattoo for a long time after that. Because it was on my back, I ignored it. I didn’t want to ever see it and I didn’t have to. It never felt right on my body.
I didn’t get another tattoo for 12 years. I realised I would like to get some tattoos that I really liked, and it felt worse to have just one big one that I hated. I wanted to get tattoos that felt more like me. I started to get a few more, like my dog, Bunny, on my side so she’d always be by my side.
Several years later, I went to university and I met my first proper boyfriend and fell in love. He made me feel safe, and that brought up a lot of what had happened to me. Your body holds onto these things, and I think I was in the right and safe place for it to come up. I had a panic attack, and had vivid flashbacks come back. I could never picture them before. When it came up now, it was like it had happened yesterday.
That was the start of me processing what happened to me. I told my mum the next year. When I told her, it made so much sense why I hated my tattoo. I decided I need it gone. I’m quite an all or nothing person. But I think that was a part of processing it. When I let that feeling sit a bit longer, I realised maybe if my tattoo was different and my choice this time, I would feel better.
I looked into tattoo removal and went a couple years ago. I had four sessions, but it was so painful and so expensive. My boyfriend was so supportive, but we were scraping by. I always thought I’d go back, but it wasn’t a priority.
Until now, thanks to Second Chances.
SECOND CHANCES is here to help
We are honoured to help Roseanna continue her tattoo removal journey through our Second Chances programme. Like Roseanna, many people have tattoos that no longer represent the person they are today. They may have tattoos that are triggering or that take away confidence instead of inspiring it. They may have reminders of past memories, ex-lovers or friends, radiotherapy or gangs that are stopping them from moving forward with their lives. We want to give those people a SECOND CHANCE.
To nominate yourself or someone else for our SECOND CHANCES program, complete the submission form with your tattoo story and what it would mean to you/your nominee to receive treatment with us.