Read time: 45-50 minutes. Warning! Potential triggers: contains details of addiction, relapse, cancer, parental abuse, rape, sexual assault and domestic violence.

Relapse/noun – a deterioration in someone’s state of health after a temporary improvement: “he responded well to treatment, but then suffered a relapse”

Dis-ease: any harmful deviation from the normal structural or functional state of an organism.

Watching someone you love be devoured by any illness is utterly heartbreaking; especially terminal diseases like dementia, addiction and cancer. The helplessness in being able to stop their decline or offer lasting relief from the pain and confusion. The toll it takes on the both of you mentally, physically and emotionally. The feeling of your own grief and their impending doom creeping up over your shoulders and back of your head. The tiny glimmers of hope, potential of remission or recovery, then finally, that death of hope. The gaping hole in your heart that grows a little bigger every day. Dreading what will happen in the next weeks, months, and years.

In his book titled “Happy”, Darren Brown talks about cancer behaving like unchecked vines, slowly constricting the life out of a person until there’s nothing left. Russell Brand writes about his dear friend’s addiction in his book “Recovery”, describing it was coiled around her neck like a snake. Both vines and snakes can be ripped away and defeated. Sometimes, they can’t. They twist and bite and crush all the light and life out of a person until only darkness remains. Disease can rip your entire life away before finally killing you.

If you stop growing, you start rotting.

I started writing this confession in 2020 but hadn’t really touched it since Summer 2022. For years I felt like it had missing parts that hadn’t been lived or learnt yet, and I was right. I am grateful to have been able to breathe life back into it after all this time, and publish it ready to coincide with my 5.5 years sober milestone. 🥳

“No one said that we have to write, edit, and hit the presses immediately. We might write a piece and then put it to one side so that it can “ripen.” It may be that we want time and memory to grow our perspective.

Many other times, stories come out that have been actively suppressed by perpetrators over victims. Writers who have suffered the evaporation of their true voices and selves at the mercy of people who supposedly “cared” for them, finally get to speak from their guts with liberating and healing results.”

Martha Manning, Ph.D.

I had spent the entirety of the 2020 lockdowns either keeping to myself and my self-care routines, or spending a lot of time with someone who drank 1-2 drinks most evenings (2-3+ if it was a sunny day). It didn’t bother me back then, mostly because it wasn’t any of my business. I did wonder if they were in the right headspace to be drinking alcohol at all, let alone in the company of someone who is in recovery from alcohol and painfully aware of the damage it causes. My mum was terminally ill at the time and had been for years, with the disease of both alcohol addiction and cancer. Unfortunately, my own mother’s health had very little space at that table during that time.

It’s now April 2023. it’s been over 4 months since my mother passed away from widespread cancer and complications due to alcohol withdrawal. Surely that means I’m closer to a relapse than ever before, right? In truth, the pain of my mother’s death is nothing compared to the trauma that some bad friendships have left behind. I still don’t feel safe to speak out about the details, but you know it’s bad when watching your mother die in hospital finally gives you all the proof and closure you needed for so many things, finally taking the edge off of that betrayal trauma and replacing it with a more appropriate pain. Realising that the friends you thought you could never live without, had also made you feel like you couldn’t make it anywhere in life without them. Friends that claimed to have gifted you everything you have now, only so that they can take full credit for it. People that convinced you that they understood you better than anyone else, to make sure that you didn’t need to spend time with anyone else. They didn’t want the very best for me, like I did for them. They didn’t love me and the universe of my life, they just loved how I would follow them around and made them feel better about themselves, and how grateful I was for their scraps. I told them they saved me, so now I must serve them? Unfortunately, Star Wars isn’t real and Wookie life debts aren’t a thing.

My mother’s death certificate reads “Decimated Malignancy” (widespread cancer) but it was alcohol abuse too. Not in the sense that she was abusing alcohol (which is how “alcohol abuse” is currently defined) but in the sense that alcohol was abusing her. She was trapped in an abusive relationship with alcohol; and abusive relationships can be very difficult to leave and almost impossible to recover from. Her end was a combination of long-term alcohol abuse, cancer, and finally, alcohol withdrawal in the last 2 weeks of her life. The cancer stopped her ability to consume alcohol, then the alcohol withdrawal stopped her ability of fight off the cancer. I’m still trying to process those 17 hours spent in hospital and being by her side when she died. Biggest thing of all, is processing the fact that I was completely alone emotionally in the best last year of her life, all for the comfort of my friends at the time. I had spent all my energy on their lives, and therefore ran out of steam for my own. The same friends that didn’t believe my mum had cancer at all, and that alcohol addiction is a choice rather than a disease. I also knew deep down that they would never help out when it came to something successful that I could potentially be doing, like working a tattoo convention or hosting an event. Something that couldn’t benefit them in any way or make them look virtuous. Somehow, I could never picture them humbly making teas and coffees at any of my future sobriety events, or carrying cakes and rearranging sandwiches. Not without holding it against me in future arguments or favours, of course. The minute I outgrew them was the minute I outgrew the version of me that allowed their self-serving, reckless behaviour to continue. Decades of not speaking up for myself has left me deeply depressed and incurably sick. Alcohol abuse might not be a choice, but I can make a choice to stay sober every day, and try to keep myself as well as I can in the face of living with complex PTSD and chronic illness every single day. After all, I really don’t want to end up like my mother.

Relapse/verb – (of a sick or injured person) deteriorate after a period of improvement: “two of the patients in remission relapsed after 48 months”.

One of the other times I felt this close to a relapse was during one of the lockdowns. I was coming to terms with the pandemic and losing my main source of self-employment overnight. I was processing and grieving the loss of a dear friend to cancer and getting a diagnosis of Fibromyalgia at the same time. I was worried about my mum and how she was taking care of herself in that flat on her own. Amongst that pile of steaming hot grief, my boiler broke and the landlord did very little to fix it. This went on for over 30 days. No hot water to wash my hands effectively, no hot water to clean my kitchen properly, and no hot water to have a bath in my own home (I was bathing at least once a day back then to ease all sorts of symptoms). I didn’t feel listened to or considered, and my basic rights as a tenant weren’t being honoured. I felt ignored and abandoned, two of my biggest core wounds from childhood. Those triggers lit up my nervous system like a firework display, and I nearly hit the big red FUCK IT button and drank my anger, anxiety, and resentment away. I paused, called out an emergency plumber to fix it that day and took the fees out of the rent and ignored the landlord’s frustration when he found out how much it was. That first bath in my own home after nearly a month, still sober, felt so fucking satisfying.

“When the world tells you that getting fucked up is one of the most fun and therapeutic things you can do, respecting your sobriety and taking care of yourself feels like an act of anarchy.”

October 29th, 2017. 29/10/17.

Autumn 2017. The cusp of Halloween. My lovely little sobriety date. No fancy combination of numbers really. It wasn’t set as intentionally as the date of a wedding; I wasn’t thinking that far ahead. Little did I know back then, it would become infinitely more important than I ever could have imagined.

So yes, I haven’t drunk alcohol in five and a half years. Not a single drop; not even a little gulp or a tiny sip. I accidentally ate a piece of really boozy coffee cake once, but that was it! I didn’t realise it was home made with “half a bottle of Kalua” until after I’d shovelled the first bite into my mouth (I discreetly dropped the piece back into the bowl, rinsed my mouth out in the bathroom and gave the rest to my boyfriend at the time). Even my mouthwash and cough medicines are alcohol and ethanol free (because that feels entirely too much like doing shots to me). I’ve not kept booze in the house all this time, and had to pour a half bottle of red wine down the sink after finding it in a kitchen cupboard the day I moved in. I don’t even search booze on my devices so that it doesn’t affect the algorithm. I spent over 15 years drinking that shit and I don’t need to drink it again if I can help it. Why would I make things harder for myself?! When I was due to undergo a major operation, I researched alternatives for morphine and ketamine. I made sure to request them during the surgical consultation, along with the explanation that where possible, I didn’t want to feel any more “unsober” than was absolutely necessary. When the world tells you that getting fucked up is one of the most fun things you can do, respecting your sobriety and taking care of yourself feels like an act of anarchy.

Boundaries around booze are so important for people who have stopped drinking for the sake of their wellbeing.

“Although tolerance can differ, no human on earth is immune to alcohol and its effects. No human is immune to the damage alcohol causes either.”

Why are boundaries from booze so important? Because it’s almost impossible to moderate alcohol, especially if you’ve identified as someone with whom booze is having a negative impact or unnecessary strain on your life. First of all, alcohol is extremely addictive; more so than heroin (and heroin withdrawal can’t kill you, but alcohol withdrawal can). Second, although tolerance can differ, no human on earth is immune to alcohol and its effects. No human is immune to the damage alcohol causes either. Alcoholism and alcohol dependency can creep up on anyone, regardless of what your childhood was like or what you do for a living. Even if you can’t attend social situations and events without drinking or craving a drink, then you are already alcohol dependant socially. Thirdly, it’s a drug – despite being served at family gatherings and kid’s parties. It’s a carcinogenic depressant, meaning that it’s been proven countless times to cause cancer and sink people into very dark places very quickly. Contrary to what alcohol advertising want you to believe – it won’t make you cooler, sexier, more social or sophisticated. It’ll just make you drunk! I definitely didn’t do any of my best dancing while drunk, or have the best music experiences or my best orgasms. I definitely didn’t do anything productive whilst being drunk; like complete my taxes or create my best tattoos (although I regrettably tattooed hungover a dozen times in the first half of my career, I never ever tattooed clients actively drunk or high, thankfully).

“The holy grail of every drinker who is trying to moderate IS moderation. They want to moderate their drinking so they can drink with none of the nasty consequences. One of the hardest things about moderation is brain chemistry. First thing is, our brains have now been conditioned to a certain amount of alcohol, so when we put that alcohol in our system, our brains know exactly how much our brains want of that. So we’re actually working against our biology already. Second thing is, it doesn’t matter how many promises you’ve made to yourself that you’re only gonna have 2 drinks or you’re only gonna drink twice a week, the whole thing about alcohol is that it lowers your inhibitions. When you drink it, all of your promises and good intentions just go out the window. So it’s a hell of a lot of effort for not a whole lot of reward. But we keep telling ourselves and we keep thinking “this time will be different”.

Veronica Valli, author of Soberful: Uncover a Sustainable, Fulfilling Life Free of Alcohol

When I started writing this, I had found myself in a WhatsApp group of 4 fairly new sober people, whilst I was a couple months away from my 3rd sobriety birthday. The person who created the “Sober Babes Club” WhatsApp group was just over a month sober, and the others were a few months and 1.5 years. The creator of the group had explained that I had inspired her to get sober and want to stay sober, which I was really touched by. I had previously recommended books, shared stories and recommended tips to combat early signs of withdrawal. I should have felt part of a group of people whom I felt safe with and that I could trust my “sober side” with, but I quickly realised that I took my sobriety way more seriously than they did. I felt more like a pseudo sort of sponsor figure, without any of them willing to try a 12-step program. We discussed topics like alcohol-free options, how horrible drinking dreams can be and whether you should restart your sobriety clock if you have a “slip”. They still kept alcohol in the house and didn’t have a problem with alcohol being left in work staff rooms.

Personally, I’ve never called it a slip – it’s a relapse. I understand that there can be a lot of fear and shame surrounding the word “relapse”, like it feels too heavy to hold and too loud to say. A “slip” or “blip” sounds cute and quick, like the way a glass of wine slips down the throat and you can put it back down and say “nope, not again”. But it rarely ever happens like that. It usually ends up in falls down the stairs, broken ribs and fractured skulls, concussions and repercussions, partners sleeping on the sofa and pushing the people away that want nothing but the best for you. They have consequences and require accountability in order to heal. The friends that were silently wishing and waiting for you to break your sobriety loudly rejoice; the friends that were loudly cheering your sobriety on are silently nursing heartbreak and worry for whatever may be coming next. “Relapse” sounds like something only big scary hardcore addicts do, not you of course. You’re definitely not THAT bad. Right?

I quickly realised that my sobriety was different to the other Sober Babes. I tried my best to join in with the group and impart whatever wisdom I could through my experiences in that WhatsApp group, but I always felt like it fell on deaf ears. I received a super cute “Sober Girl Society” pin badge from one of them, and I tried to remind myself that it did feel nice to have sober femme friends I could message regularly. Right..?

I soon woke up to WhatsApp messages like “girls, I fucking relapsed”. My heart sank. Two of them had now relapsed and the third one was okay with not resetting their sobriety clock after a “slip” – so surely that meant I didn’t have anything in common with these 3 “sober” people anymore when it came to recovery? Turns out, I did.

I felt like I had failed my new sober friends. I sat with the discomfort and thought about why those relapses worried and upset me so much. I asked myself if it was something internal that was the cause, rather than external. Suddenly, I remembered:

I tried sobriety nearly 10 years ago.

How could I forget?! I know that generally my twenties were a blur of booze-soaked gigs, festivals, house parties, drunk sex, burnout, and sensory overload laced with heavy notes of anxiety and depression. I spent the majority of that decade either a drunk/hungover art school student living in appalling living conditions or sealing myself inside one toxic relationship to the next, in almost airtight transitions each time.

But how did I forget that I’d tried to live sober before 2017? The first time I stopped wasn’t 2017?

I thought a bit harder, and realised I’d played it down so much that it was so uneventful nobody paid any real attention to it, not even myself. I’d made it such a small feature of my life I threw it away at the first hurdle. It was so small at the time I didn’t even realise the weight of what throwing it away would mean. I had no idea I was even relapsing between then and when I got sober (again) in 2017. Technically, that relapse lasted 4 years and 3 months. I scoured the archives of my social media to find more clues…

August, 1st, 2013. 01/08/13.

My first sobriety date. A bit tidier with the numbers, and it means that I would have been celebrating 10 years sober this year instead of 6. Boo!

The more I searched my social media vault, the more memories kept flooding back…

I was 25 years old. I had moved into a cosy 1 bed flat with my boyfriend at the time. We had recently got a puppy together, we played videogames every night and went for walks in nature regularly. Sounds perfect, right? That’s what happens when you cherry pick a list of truths and omit the rest from the story…

I was a junior tattooer (barely into my second year of tattooing) and a baby bisexual feminist. I had chosen to date this guy quickly after escaping a psychological, verbal and emotionally abusive relationship that ended with a physical attack and becoming homeless overnight. I was comparing this new partner to probably the worst example of my relationship history, which made him seem like he was heaven sent compared to the hell I’d crawled out of. I’d not given myself any time to heal, get comfortable with being single, raise my standards and pick the bar up from the floor. My tattooing career had just started and I was financially vulnerable as well as mentally bruised. After the attack I spent Christmas living in someone else’s empty flat. I then spent the first few months of 2013 working hard to get (somewhat) financially stable again. I found a lovely rented room for myself in a lovely house in a quiet area of Cardiff. I could have kept going with that journey of recovering myself, but then I met him. He was tall, conventionally attractive and masculine looking. He loved anime, nerdy stuff, and Japanese culture even more than I did. I liked that he made me feel protected and safe, and in turn that made him feel more like a man. We moved in together after just a few months dating.

We smoked cannabis together almost every day. We drank most evenings and spent a fortune on snacks, takeaways (and loads of weed). He was obsessed with looking masculine and doing “manly” things – like cooking huge and heavily seasoned steaks and ham hocks for hours and eating nothing but meat all day. He refused to sleep in a bedding set if it had any type of floral pattern on it (despite sleeping next to a woman he had sex with). He would drink mead, toast like a Viking and buy expensive Scottish whiskey from Tesco to “honour his ancestors”. He lived his life with the fervent belief that “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” from the original Mulan soundtrack was playing in the background on repeat. I thought it was all so cute and funny, until it wasn’t.

He was paid a modest set monthly salary by his father as part of his company (I assume for tax purposes) to create “the next big mobile game”. This involved lots of research into visuals, themes and game structure. This “research” looked suspiciously like spending most of the weekdays playing Xbox games, smoking weed, watching porn and drinking in his pants while I was tattooing overtime to make sure we could pay the rent, feed our dog and keep up our lifestyle. One day I got a text at work telling me that he had “found £60 in the house” and had spent it on weed, when we were late and short on rent. I tried to ignore their immature behaviour, problem drinking, and look on the bright side – always finding something to be grateful for instead of tell myself exactly how bad it really was.

He would always leave the same porn page open on my desktop computer. I would come home, fire up my Mac and find a tab open with the same Tumblr page: a seemingly endless supply of hundreds of hypnotic gifs of huge bouncing anime tits. Even though I agreed it wasn’t NOT hot, I started to doubt my body and tried to come up with solutions to how I could feel included (minus a boob job). He regularly stalked his ex-girlfriend that he had affectionately named “crazy bitch” on Facebook, I know this because he left that logged in and open on my computer too. She was tall, curvy and had a gorgeous smile (and rocking big boobs). We were out drinking one night and “crazy bitch” was there – it was her birthday, of course. I wonder why he wanted to go here so much, I thought to myself. I pleaded for us to get an early night and he eventually dragged his feet to the taxi rank with me. As soon as we sat down in the back of the cab, he swung the door open and literally RAN back to the club. I went home. He was returned to me 6 hours later blackout drunk, hand delivered by two of his very tired and apologetic friends. I broke up with him in the middle of the night when he was like that a few times, but he would have no memory of this when he woke up. I would furiously remind him, leave for work and he would always buy me a big bunch of flowers while I was working. I would immediately feel disarmed and quickly forgive him each time, filled with hope and pity. No real effort was made to change, and the pattern would repeat itself again and again.

I was a severely self-sacrificing people pleaser back then, and I internalised all of these problems. I tried to hide my seething resentments with toxic positivity and gratitude. I started filling gratitude journals, took up meditating and regularly swimming (my body was weak but maybe if I lost some weight, my boobs would look bigger?). I told myself I wasn’t good enough as a girlfriend and I needed to double down, try harder and be better. Speaking of double, I had an idea – he clearly wasn’t happy with just the one woman (me), so how about we try adding a second woman? I could find someone with huge tits, I bet THAT would make him happy! Mine have always been small (I love my cupcake tits) but if he had huge bouncing anime tits in real life, I would win the best girlfriend trophy for sure(!). I had an experience with a sex worker in my last relationship, and I thought it might be fun. I plucked up the courage to suggest maybe we could get an escort one day, and excitedly described some boob-optimal positions we could try with her. He physically shuddered and shut down the idea immediately. Instead of feeling excited that I was trying to realise some of his fantasies, he felt threatened and shamed by my show of sexual confidence (and knowledge of that Tumblr page). I didn’t want to admit it at the time, but I was really excited to potentially sleep with a woman again. I was sick to my stomach of toxic masculinity, and felt starved of soft and sweet femme energy.

He felt emasculated by me and we both knew it, I realised I wanted to be with someone else, but we both didn’t have the energy to pull apart the life we shared and start fresh. I worked more and more on my budding tattooing career, trying to level up as fast as I could for the sake of our unpaid bills and my feelings of self worth.

“Compensatory Masculinity is the phenomenon when men exaggerate their masculinity if they feel that their masculinity is threatened.”

“Patriarchal societal norms have pressured men into fitting masculine ideals. When men don’t feel they fit the standard, they will overcompensate in their behaviour.”

This can look like: rejecting products that seem feminine, avoiding doing activities perceived as feminine, lying about their strength/virility to appear more masculine, and even eating more meat and rejecting a more caring existence through being environmentally conscious.”

“Men who receive a lower income than their female partner are less willing to participate in maintaining the household.”

Impact & Environment.

I posted on Facebook 4th August 2013: “Woke up 4 days ago with a complete change of heart: alcohol free, drug free and vegetarian since 1st August. I don’t know how long it’ll last, but let’s try something new! Went out sober last night and had one of the best nights in Clwb Ifor Bach ever. Every food choice I now make is more positive and grateful for a perfect body and health.”

What I REALLY wanted to write on Facebook 4th August 2013: “Woke up 4 days ago with a complete change of heart: I’ve realised I’m not happy. I’m sick of eating meat, I’m sick of the flat smelling like meat, I don’t want to die of a heart attack. Our flat is infested with mould and I’ve been fighting severe bronchitis for nearly 3 months. I’m wasting my evenings and ruining my mould infested lungs smoking weed every day and I’ve realised I’m dating someone who blackout drinks just like my parents did. He’s clearly depressed and I have no idea how to deal with it, because I’ve tried to hide my own depression since I was diagnosed at 19. We’ve had to sleep in our living room for weeks because the cheap extension is damp and covered in mould. I desperately want to be healthier because I don’t know I am immune compromised and have multiple chronic illnesses yet. I am fed up of feeling so shit all the time and have no idea how to speak up for myself. I am in a constant state of sensory overload, AuDHD burnout, chronic fatigue and won’t find any of this out for another 6-8 years. I’ve decided to go alcohol free, drug free and vegetarian since 1st August. I don’t know how long it’ll last, because I have no idea how to set and hold boundaries yet and my self esteem is at rock bottom! I had the courage to go out sober last night and had one of the best nights in Clwb Ifor Bach ever. I wish I could do this every time I go out. I want every food choice I make to be more positive and I desperately want to feel better. I want to be with someone who thinks my body is hot and who doesn’t stalk their boobilicous ex. I desperately want to feel healthy because even though I’m only 25 I feel 65 and I have no idea why. I don’t want to be a people pleaser anymore; I want to start pleasing myself for a change.”

I remember that same month I had my 26th birthday party in Milgi bar in Cardiff (which my sister Esther now owns with her partner David, called Paradise Garden). I drank copious amount of mocktails and was so proud of myself that I was making a healthy change and sticking to it. Sober friendly spaces and tasty alcohol-free options weren’t as common 10 years ago as they are now. However, Paradise Garden remains the same sober friendly space I remember it to be, with plenty of AF drinks and low alcohol options. I remember really wanting to stay like this new version of myself forever, but I didn’t have any tools in place to maintain it.

Low vs. No: When it comes to the debate of low alcohol versus no alcohol: personally, I can’t go low. Why bother? I’m not quite drunk, not even tipsy. I would be breaking my sobriety in the most boring way possible! 97% sober isn’t sober (unfortunately). My boyfriend 10 years ago really wasn’t happy when I knocked our 100% monogamous relationship down to 98% in one night, but I couldn’t have protested “but honey, I’m still 98% faithful to ya! That 2% won’t affect our relationship, you gotta believe me!” What’s done is done.

Maybe it depends on where you’re coming from on the scale. For example, I would LOVE if more people who were drunk 97% of the time (like my mother was most of my life) could safely get themselves down to 3% drunk with the help of professionals. That would transform so many things – not just for the person, but for their families, friends, and the NHS. That would have been something I’d loved for my mum, but her disease was too far gone. Low alcohol options are great for people who drink regularly but want to make sure they don’t get drunk on certain nights (although there’s no guarantee, especially if there’s stronger stuff nearby). Once that “sober seal” is broken, you never know what might come flooding in. In Catherine Gray’s book Sunshine Warm Sober, she lists the evidence surrounding alcohol’s true impact on the NHS and being even more carcinogenic than cigarettes. The true “safe” alcohol amount you could consume being just a small glass of red wine each year. When it comes to me and alcohol, I don’t can’t mess with it anymore because I really know how much it can fuck people up.

I am ashamed to write this out loud, that my mother hit me right up until I was 28 years old. It would be over something small or for no reason at all, whilst she was more drunk than usual, and I hadn’t been keeping close enough attention to her mood and visual/auditory hallucinations whilst I was visiting her. I suspected she was Schizophrenic most of my life, but she wasn’t formally identified until a few days before her death. I wrote more about this in my last blog post: Don’t Tell Anyone.

She would usually whack me in the side of my face whilst I was wearing glasses and sitting down. It would always stun me and really hurt (it’s not just physical pain, either). I have a ridge on the left side of my nose bone where it fractured slightly and didn’t heal quite right, but you can’t really tell unless you smooth your fingers over it. I like to think of myself as a strong woman, not someone who was beaten and bullied by their own mother until I was in my thirties. I still fucking love and miss her though. That’s complex grief and abuse for you!

During summer 2013, just before I got sober, my mother attacked me (I can’t remember why) and I hid in her bathroom whilst I called the police as it was the only door I could lock from the inside. This was exactly what I did when my ex attacked me at the end of 2011. He came home late and very drunk, and when I voiced my frustration he tried to choke me out in a reverse headlock type thing, lifting me off the ground and throwing me onto the hardwood floor when his arms got tired. After hiding in the bathroom and calling the police, I ran out in the street screaming for help. I frantically knocked on as many doors as I could, begging for someone to please let me in. Not one single person came to help, except for two male police officers a little while later (those people that heard me must have been terrified). Both officers shut me in our bedroom alone while they joked and laughed along with my ex in the next room about the lies he was telling them. Meanwhile, I was screaming crying and destroying that room like a stressed-out rescue Husky. They came in to find me shaking and sobbing on the floor, frantically trying to show them my bruises and swollen parts from the impact, along with his MMA hand wraps and boxing pads (I was trying to prove he knew what he was doing, and that he really did do what he did to me). They both explained that he wasn’t going to press charges (he told them I attacked him) and that I shouldn’t press charges either. I’ll never forget what one of them said next, in the thickest Welsh accent: “face it love, it’s Christmas – you’ll be back with him by Boxing Day.” Boxing Day. Such an unfortunate thing to hear on that particular December 23rd.

I never did get back with him. He’s married with children now, to a woman who reached out to me in a Facebook message 10 years ago with the words: “you were right about him”. I refused to get involved, it wasn’t my job to save her. Why did it have to be me? There are incredible charities that can help, like Refuge and Women’s Aid.

Back then, I didn’t know that the abuse from my parents would cause me to relive the same scenes over and over. When I was waiting for the police in my mother’s bathroom, I realised that I’d been in this situation a hundred times before. The police officers arrived. They finally subdued and carried my screaming mother down the stairs from her flat and into the police van. My boyfriend happened to be there at the time, who watched her go into the van at the bottom of the stairs. I must have called him as well as the police. I explained at the police station that this has happened before and it’s nothing new, but I am ashamed to still be involved in stuff like this with my own mother in my mid-twenties. The kindly police officer who took my statement that day told me that I should press charges this time “not just for today, but for all the other days in your life that you couldn’t. She needs to know that how she’s treated you is very wrong”. My mother was given her first formal warning from the police, and I was given vindication from the whole ordeal. The last time she ever hit me was 3 years later, when I hit her back for the first time as a fully grown adult. She promised me she’d never hit me again, and I did too. We both kept our word on that, for 7 years until the end.

Phew. I’ve never published these events before. I have so many more lived experiences that have been pushed down and locked away for years, soaked in my bones and scrawled in notebooks. No wonder I wanted to fuck myself up!

The day after I fled my home after the police told me I’d be back with him by Boxing Day was 24th December. I had eluded on Facebook that some shit had gone down and that I needed somewhere to live for a bit, and someone I knew reached out and said “spend the evening here La, we’re all having a white Christmas”. I genuinely thought that meant that they were having a snowy themed Christmas movie marathon, and not that they were just sitting around drinking and doing cocaine.

So yeah, there I was: a homeless refugee of domestic violence, drunk and trying cocaine for the first time on Christmas Eve.

In the same way I ended up in someone’s house drunk and trying coke during one of the most vulnerable points of my life, I ended up breaking my first sober streak of just over 4 months with a “wine tasting party” of all things. Turns out that wine tasting was just wine drinking. Oops! Who knew? While everyone else was getting subtle hints of floral and fruit notes with oak tannins, I was getting wasted. “White Christmas” and “Wine Tasting” sound so harmless, don’t they?! I woke up hungover and full of regret. But it was fun, right?

I wish I’d been stronger in telling them I wasn’t drinking, and yes that included wine tasting. I shouldn’t have been spending so much time in a bar whilst I was in the first few months of sobriety. I wish I’d surrounded myself with friends who wanted me to stay sober because that’s what was best for me, and not wanted me to get drunk for their own entertainment and excitement.

I felt like a shiny new toy at that bar. Everyone wanted to talk to me, and I felt like lots of people were flirting with me (they probably just wanted free tattoos!). I felt eyes on me and it was really exciting. There were lots of older people that frequented that bar that I considered successful, attractive and funny. Their confidence was intoxicating. I started making more of an effort with my appearance and kept going back. Then came the parties. The lock-ins, the straight from work drinks, afterparties in Cardiff town, hot tub parties. I even had a cocktail named after me. Looking back now it was literally just a Cosmopolitan named a “Latini” (which I now make a delicious AF version of if I’m feeling fancy). By then I had emotionally checked out of my relationship with my “manly” boyfriend, and it was really starting to show. I started having feelings for a few people at once, which was made worse by regular drinking and flirting. I had no idea what was happening, but it felt good at the time. Fast forward to a party that I had brought my boyfriend too, and I felt a hand on my thigh. It wasn’t his, but the partner of someone else. I was so fucked up on MDMA, coke and booze I thought it would be a brilliant idea to kiss her immediately (so THIS is how I can finally get that threesome! I cheered) and time just seemed to… Stop. In that timeless, drug induced blur, I thought was something awesome was happening. Turns out, my boyfriend had walked off and was getting a cab home outside. He was as drunk and high as I was, so what was the problem? Before I could figure out why, I felt a hand grabbing the back of my head that wasn’t hers; it was her partner. Oops. Let’s cool this down and fast forward to the next morning – I shuffled back to the flat feeling horrendous with no idea how I was going to explain or ask about what happened. I told him everything, because unlike his late night blackout escapades, I could remember most of last night. I told him everything as accurately and as calmly as I could before asking “where did you go?” I thought maybe he was watching the 3 of us at some point, or at least doing something with someone else that I hadn’t noticed. Turns out, he went home. It was the first time I’d stayed out later than him on one of our nights out, and it was to have a threesome which I’d hoped would improve our relationship, but without him in it. Oops! I really fucked up. I was relapsing hard. But it was fun, right?!

Our breakup was nasty. That same day, my (now ex) boyfriend posted on Facebook (using my computer that he watched porn and stalked his ex-girlfriend on) about how much of a “slut” and a “whore” I was. “Snake with tits” was mentioned somewhere, and I genuinely felt giddy that he’d given my tits such pride of place in a description of me! He called up all his friends to sit in the flat and stare me down whenever I tried to go in. I couldn’t enter my home and eat or sleep there and was being treated like someone who was a threat to others. He moved out because I asked: his friends were stressing me out, the flat was in my name, and he owed me a few hundred or so for rent and bills. He took our dog, but not before saying I could never see him ever again (I never did). He took all the gifts he had given me during our relationship, along with all the ones I had given him. He flat out refused to pay back the money he owned me. Fortunately, he’d left his cards saved on my computer. I worked out how much money he owed me and made sure to order as close as I could to that exact amount (minus a few quid) and treated myself some new clothes from Disturbia. 

In the months after we broke up, he accused me of having an affair with someone called Ian, and even to this day I have never fucked someone with that name. I barely had enough time and energy to get my tattoo designs drawn on time or hang out with my own friends during our relationship, let alone engage in a physical relationship with someone else. A fucked-up threesome on a weekend fuelled by months of resentments though? No problem!

I felt disgusting and so very ashamed. I deserved to feel as horrible as I did. I didn’t want to talk about the breakup with anyone. My drinking got heavier and started taking drugs more often and working less. I still wasn’t speaking to my mum after pressing charges with the police. It became harder and harder to pay for the flat by myself and moved out to live somewhere smaller and closer to work. It’s taken over 10 years to process and speak out about what happened. I wish I’d had the strength to leave him completely when I had broken up with him those times before and saved us both the misery and grief of letting it rot to pieces. Maybe my trauma was an explanation, but it wasn’t an excuse.

I changed the narrative from “sober” to “detox”. I told myself and others that I just took a break from alcohol for my health. I never said relapse. I got really into fitness and started doing the Insanity Workout at home most days. I wanted to look more health conscious to hide how much of a mess I was on the inside.

I was regrettably used, abused and confused by many people during that relapse. I stopped being the shiny new toy. I don’t hang out with anyone I used to hang out with back then. I made bad choices in business, love, and friendships. I was taken advantage of financially, my email and website accounts were broken into online by someone I trusted and considered a friend, who also broke into my home and damaged my property. I had nudes leaked without my consent and revenge porn made of me that I wasn’t aware of. I was sexually assaulted and raped on more than one occasion, both by strangers in public and people I considered close friends.

Even if I hadn’t relapsed and stayed sober, some things still wouldn’t have changed. I would have broken up with my boyfriend sooner rather than later, but maybe it could have been more respectful and compassionate for the both of us. He stayed exactly the same whilst I was sober for those 4 months, and he didn’t exactly support my sobriety. He didn’t want to stop blackout drinking and smoking weed and I couldn’t date someone like that anymore. He would have kept playing video games instead of working and tidying the flat while I was tattooing, and why should he have to change that? He liked that I was making money, just not in a creative job which was doing better than his was. Maybe I would have spoken up about how I felt about the excessive porn and his ex-girlfriend, or maybe I just would have just left and left it unsaid (until 10 years later, in my confessional writing!). He also didn’t want to ever get married and I (secretly) did. I probably would have still explored my sexuality and tastes in people in a similar way, because after all, isn’t that what your twenties are for?!

That first relapse was filled with lots of self-serving, reckless behaviour and chaotic life choices. It was also filled with lots of selfless kindness, moderation, self-care and balanced choices too. I spent 14 months of my relapse living alone in Cheltenham and cycling around the Cotswolds, for fuck’s sake. I loved waking up early to hike up to the Devil’s Chimney on Leckhampton Hill to watch the sun rise, and I did it sober/not hungover every time. Maybe I needed those 4 years to figure out what works and what doesn’t. To learn about my brain and how the things that have happened to me in the past affect how I respond and react in the present. Explore how I relate to people and the ways that they trigger me. Take time to be single and live independently. To spend time successfully moderating my alcohol and drug use, to see how much I craved more. To spend time unsuccessfully moderating my alcohol and drug use, to see how little control I actually had once I started. Explore my sexuality, to figure out what kind of relationship I wanted moving forward. Spoiler alert: gender is completely irrelevant! Being seduced and later rejected by a beautiful blond woman hurts so much more(!) and that soft and sweet femme energy can still laugh at how your body looks and make you feel shit about yourself. A great set of tits is fun, but it doesn’t make being cheated on and ghosted by that woman any easier! Humans are humans, and they can be mean (myself included). Maybe I just missed my mum, and craved a consistently kind, compassionate and loving mother: full of soft and sweet, caring parental energy. That wasn’t an invitation for someone to mother me by the way. Autistic people struggle with infantilisation from others enough as it is, and I’ve collected more parental figures than rocks on the beach.

I’ve made some pretty shitty choices in sobriety too. I was with someone for 3 months in early sobriety: I’d had a crush on him for years on and off during my relapse. We’d spent so much time as close friends and co-workers, and back then I felt like he knew me better than anyone else. We fought a lot during my relapse. I met up for dinner with him to start making amends. He gave me his ex-fiancée’s custom engagement ring before we slept together, and I honestly thought it was the most romantic thing ever. I thought it meant that he proposed to the wrong person?! His friends noticed I was proudly (stupidly) wearing her undead engagement ring on the middle finger of my right hand and must have said something. He asked for it back a few weeks later explaining “it was never yours to wear”. I realised I’d made a huge mistake. He drank the same as I remembered. He constantly reminisced about his exes and complained about women he’d previously slept with that were annoying or ignoring him. I realised that he hadn’t changed as much as I’d hoped, and I had changed too much. A text he was sending his ex-girlfriend accidentally went to me one day, and I was done. After I finally dumped him, he slept with almost everyone he complained about to me when we were dating and later married one of them. I should have just sold the ring; I really needed the money at the time. Serves me right for trying to make amends too early in sobriety when I was horny!

I’m writing these things for you as a collection of cautionary tales, ones I wish I’d read when I knew far less than what I do now. It’s also a collection of celebratory tales: anecdotes of victory over violence and misogyny, along with some wisdom of long-term teetotalism. It does get better, I promise. It’ll be worth it – “nothing worth doing in life is easy” and all that. It’ll be awkward and embarrassing and humbling and horrifying, and most importantly it’ll be human.

  • Here’s a small list(!) of the things I’ve achieved in sobriety:
  • Modelled for a photoshoot that got me on the front cover of a tattoo magazine (even though the photographer was doing Jägerbombs at 9am) 
  • Learnt about boundaries and how to set them 
  • 7 sober birthdays and 7 sober Christmases 
  • Modelled both nude and clothed for life and portrait drawing/painting 
  • Been published in tattoo/art magazines online and offline, and in galleries and exhibitions 
  • Found out that I am AuDHD/Neurodivergent and discovered that I have multiple conditions and disabilities 
  • Became a podcaster and public speaker
  • Realised that I am someone living with childhood and adult complex PTSD
  • Survived losing ALL of my old friends that didn’t like how much I’d changed 
  • Thrived after getting kicked out of a drug and alcohol heavy studio for getting sober 
  • Identified as a survivor and started speaking out about the abuse I’ve endured 
  • Committed to over 4 years of consistent therapy with a brilliant CBT/ND/Trauma counsellor 
  • Built and opened 4 tattoo studios 
  • 2 years of regular Osteopathy and medical Acupuncture at an amazing Osteopathic clinic
  • Ate apples backstage at music gigs and drank cranberry juice at theatre afterparties 
  • Danced on tables and been the first (and last) one the dance floor 
  • Thrived after being evicted when my dear friend and business partner relapsed 
  • Read hundreds of self-improvement and self-development books
  • Furthered my ongoing education as an intersectional feminist and anti-racist 
  • Bought hundreds of plant babies (and didn’t kill most of them)
  • Adopted my cat Sid (who later became my emotional support animal)
  • Woke up at 4am most mornings for 6 months to train my body for major knee surgery
  • Became a deadlifter and smashed a personal best of 80kg
  • Underwent a knee reconstruction after breaking it hungover and exhausted during a skiing holiday
  • Recovered from major surgery whilst living on my own with hardly any assistance 
  • Escaped a “manipulationship” with someone from my drinking days who was married
  • Hiked up 2 different mountains just 3 months post knee surgery 
  • Got back into deadlifting and smashed a new personal best of 88kg
  • Got into kickboxing to release years of built-up stress
  • Underwent an endoscopy alone when my best friends “forgot” the hospital location they were driving me to and stayed home
  • Survived a cancer scare and got diagnosed with Fibromyalgia 
  • Carried a washing machine up 2 flights of stairs and plumbed it in by myself when I couldn’t get help 
  • Survived a global pandemic without drinking
  • Launched an art subscription service from my sofa in lockdown to pay the bills 
  • Hosted my first booth at a convention: the South Wales Comi-Con
  • Became a runner 2 years post knee surgery 
  • Launched an online merch store with hundreds of items 
  • Became a confessional blog writer then a successful freelance writer
  • Embarked on my dream of having Invisalign braces
  • Got through multiple sober dates 
  • Survived being cheated on lied to by someone who claimed to be single (and sober)
  • Embarked on months of investigative meditation with my therapist to discover repressed memories of abuse I’d survived as a child
  • Spent 7 months celery/juice cleansing to help my health and chronic conditions 
  • Thrived after 2 relationship breakups and 2 “situationship” breakups
  • Got clear about what I was looking for in a partner
  • Raised my standards for my relationships and friendships 
  • Became a wild swimmer and cold water dipper 
  • Survived multiple breakdowns
  • Became comfortable with being a disabled, neurodivergent person with new limits and strengths
  • Met someone wonderful who is sober, AuDHD and a tattooer like me and we got engaged 
  • Reconnected with my mother in her final days and survived her funeral without drinking
  • Became a successful business partner and studio owner with my fiancé 
  • Created a fundraiser for the hospital ward that took care of my mother in her final days
  • Hired one of my best friends as my apprentice and studio manager 
  • Finished writing this fucking blog post after starting it in 2020!
  • Smashed the stereotype that sobriety is boring!

I had ALMOST forgotten what a hangover felt like until last month. After losing nearly a stone in 5 days due to chronic illness, I finally recovered thanks to strong anti-sickness meds from my GP and lots of rehydration packets! Safe to say, I don’t miss that feeling of being sick and dehydrated and my body feeling “wrong” after a night of drinking and “having fun”. Fun shouldn’t have to have an expiry date or be replaced with gross and guilty feelings. Alcohol drags people into emotional debt: drinking to feel better, feeling bad from drinking, drinking to feel better again etc… I drank to “take the pressure off” from my high stress job as an AuDHD self-employed tattoo artist and also to “take the edge off” my chronic illness symptoms and chronic pain from Fibromyalgia, Hypermobility, Scoliosis and other conditions. I didn’t really have any reason to stop, and no one else considered me to be a “problem drinker”. I knew full well what drinking problems looked like, and didn’t want to go there. I was just sick and tired of being more sick and tired than I needed to be!

I wanted to quit when it was MY choice to do so, not at the request of anyone else. Identifying as a sober person alongside stopping drinking in 2017 was the first (second?) step of many, and I’m so glad I took it (and kept going this time).

I am so grateful for the thousands of hours of self-care, fun, therapy, rest, and creative work I’ve been able to do instead (like writing this blog for you to read, thanks for making it to the end!).

5.5 years sober today. Sobriety has given me everything that alcohol promised me.

I drank for solutions and ended up with more problems. I drank to relieve pain and it made me ache. I drank for sophistication and became obnoxious. I drank to relieve stress and became panicked. I drank to make conversations easier and slurred my speech. I drank for fun and injured myself. I drank to relieve depression and sank even deeper. I drank for confidence and became doubtful. I drank for an easy time and became anxious. I drank for sociability and became argumentative. I drank to feel cool and became cruel. I drank for courage and became afraid. I drank to feel sexy and it made me easy prey. I drank for friendship and made enemies. I drank to calm my nerves and got the shakes. I drank to feel smooth and became rough. I drank for sleep and woke up tired. I drank for joy and became miserable. I drank for strength and felt weak. I drank for happiness and became unhappy.

I don’t regret a single hangover I’ve missed.

4 Fucking Years.

Read time: 10-11 minutes. Potential triggers: contains details of depression, anxiety, trauma, drug/alcohol abuse.

Happy Halloween: no tricks, just treats! 🎃🍂 Friday 29th 2021 marked the 4th year of the treat of sobriety, and being free from the tricks of alcohol and other drugs.

“Everyone is welcome to take their own life experiences and version of events and make them into art. These are mine.”

When I was writing Sober October at the beginning of this month, I remembered that I had 4 other posts I’d been working on since 2020. I hate saying “I’ve been so busy” because it feels like such a thin excuse, but honestly I really have. I started writing back in October 2019, a few months before the pandemic hit the UK. In the last 18 months (with the help of others) I’ve moved house, built and opened 2 tattoo studios, successfully applied for a business loan, finally got the official diagnosis of lifelong chronic illness, celery juice cleansed for 7 months, built a life for myself in lockdown, met my partner Chris and, as well as travelling the UK this spring/summer, we now work and live together. Busy, I have been!

The idea of becoming a writer was born from years of scribbling intermittent Morning Pages at the crack of dawn, completely unaware back then that the rambling confusion I was scrawling onto the pages half asleep would be planting the first tiny seeds of change in my mind and heart. These seeds grew bigger, much to my surprise. When they became too large to ignore, I began to tend to them properly with honesty and action.

I started to make big changes in my life that seemed sudden, crazy and out of character to the people around me. I started to grow into the knowledge that one day that I was going to alchemise a lot of my pain, trauma and suffering into healing and inspiration. I’m so grateful to the people who have reached out over the last 3 years to tell me that my writing has really done something for them. It helps me to keep going and keep telling my stories. Everyone is welcome to take their own life experiences and version of events and make them into art. These are mine.

I find writing in a global pandemic and lockdowns easy(!), but it’s been the fluctuation and extreme pressure to work hard, return to business as normal, make the most of things opening back up… but then plunging back down to “stay at home, stay safe”, stopping working and entertaining ourselves. I’m currently hovering on working part time around weekly Fibromyalgia flareups. It’s been like a worldwide game of Simon Says, but with people’s lives and livelihoods. Fucking exhausting, especially for disabled and disadvantaged people.

I’m 4 years sober from alcohol and 4.5 years sober from other drugs. So far, I’ve saved just over £33,000.

This was based from what I was spending on an average week: £150.

£70 a week on booze is easy to do when you’re buying multiple glasses with a couple meals out at dinner, along with a few nice bottles per week to “unwind” with after work (decent meaning slightly better tasting poison with a prettier bottle and better branding). Funny thing is: no matter how much money you pay, it all feels the same the next day (so is the damage it’s doing to your brain and body).

£80 a week on average for other drugs. I definitely wasn’t partying every weekend (some months I was!) but the 3 years before I stopped had started to become increasingly heavy when I inevitably did. There were weeks when I hardly drank or partied at all. In the months leading up to getting sober, I would be teetotal for weeks before blowing it in one spectacularly chaotic evening. I managed just over 4 months sobriety back when I was 27, which I’ll be writing more in an upcoming post called Relapse.

“Funny thing is: no matter how much money you pay, it all feels the same the next day.”

Not to mention the amount of money I’ve saved on lost wallets, taxi rides, makeup bags, key replacements, locksmiths, replacement phone screens. Being neurodivergent means that this still happens, but not quite as often! I still shudder to remember the amount of shots I bought for people I didn’t even know. Those rare but ridiculous bar and strip club tabs. Having to go back the next day to pick up my wallet/makeup bag/keys. All those comfort purchases made during the emotionally vulnerable aftermath; like online shopping and hangover food. The ruthless payday loans and humiliating financial instability (self employment, disability and partying don’t blend well). Now, I won’t split a dinner bill if it’s full of other people’s alcohol. These days, it’s always principles before personalities.

Alcohol is a drug.

One more time for the “drugs are bad” crew at the back! Alcohol is a drug. It’s one of the most addictive substances and the only drug that can kill you if you withdraw from it too quickly. It’s a mind altering, mood swinging, mess making mockery of sophistication, style and sexiness. Poison ain’t pretty, despite the clever branding and advertising. Self destruction is too easy, the real anarchy and rebellion is self preservation.

My 4th soberversary was pretty great: tattooing, presents and plenty of cake!

Live within your means.

The financial gain from being sober is easy to talk about. the biggest gain I learnt in sobriety was how to live within my means, and I’m not just talking about income and expenses.

Living within my means looks like complete honesty and integrity about my limits and boundaries. Those limits are emotional, psychological and physical (as well as financial).

I spent over 30 years of my life without the knowledge that I am neurodivergent and chronically ill. I’ve had to process each diagnosis and disability, and redefine the scope of my abilities. I’ve had to learn to drop the elaborate mask I had created and was hiding behind. I had to stop trying to keep up with the outdated, able-bodied expectations I had put on myself and internalised ableism from society.

Living within my means can also look like choosing not to overbook my work schedule, refusing to watch that extremely triggering film/TV show until I’m ready, or be realistic about how much of my life is being affected by my chronic illness symptoms. It can also look like dumping that person with an avoidant attachment style who won’t go to therapy, can’t seem to stay sober or stop flirting with his female friends. Recently, living within my means meant I had to turn down an offer of a weekend away hiking Snowdonia, because it was happening just 4 days after a 3-week tour of North England and tattoo guestspot in Scotland. Good thing too, because I came back from Lake Windamere with a sprain to my reconstructed knee (hypermobility strikes again!).

It’s hard to talk about the health benefits of being sober when you’re chronically ill. I know that my conditions and symptoms in would be so much worse if I wasn’t sober. In terms of mental health, the benefits have been immense. It’s a myth that alcohol “loosens you up” and makes you more confident, it just makes you drunk! It’s a proven depressant and causes anxiety symptoms to worsen.

Sunshine Warm Sober is exactly how I would describe the year of adventures and self care I’ve had with Chris. I also got back into celery juice cleansing recently, which gave me a lot of extra work to do every day, but a whole load of benefits too.

I preordered Sunshine Warm Sober earlier in the year on the recommendation of my wonderful friend Sammy of @sober_circle and wasn’t disappointed. 💛 Although I fucking love recovery, I admit I still struggle with accepting and tolerating the heavy drinking of the people I love. Catherine’s book made me feel so seen, heard and understood.

She’s armed the book with a formidable weaponry of statistics about the multi-billion worldwide industry that is Big Alcohol: did you know that drinking alcohol is as equally toxic and carcinogenic (cancer causing) as smoking cigarettes? ☠️ and the REAL “safe” amount of alcohol would be ONE glass of wine per YEAR?! 🍷 but you wouldn’t know that, because Big Alcohol makes sure of it.

This is hands down one of the best #quitlitbooks I’ve ever read. Catherine starts this book at 4 years sober, and my sobriety journey and recovery feels so much like hers. She has another book that’s perfect for your shaky (terrifying) first months, and into years 1-3 (The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober).🕊

My favourite line from the book is about detaching from a loved one who is being consumed by their illness (addiction), and knowing when to walk away: “It’s not hypocrisy to detach with love. Three things can be true at once: 1. I love you, 2. I empathise, 3. I can no longer be around you.”

“Sunshine warm encapsulates how it actually feels to be sober… It feels beautiful, mellow, temperate and clear; like a fine summer’s day.”

Catherine Gray, Sunshine Warm Sober.

I started celery juice cleansing in spring 2020. It was a few weeks after getting a lifelong Fibromyalgia diagnosis after fighting through a cancer scare and years of struggle and suspicion. I managed to keep cleansing after the 30 days, and read this book along with 2 more of the @medicalmedium books. I kept it up for about 7 months, but a sudden breakdown in November last year halted my life as well as my juice healing. I lost the ability to feel my lower abdomen and breathe deeply, and suffered constant migraines… I hardly left the house for 4 weeks. I worked hard to try and break out of that breakdown by being super gentle on my mind and heart. I spent it bathing, reading books and playing FFXV. December 2020 gave me so many amazing gifts after surviving what I did, and I’ve grown and learnt so much. Maintaining any “health kick” of any kind is tough, especially for anyone disabled or disadvantaged.

I definitely noticed an improvement in my symptoms last year after 7 months, but not as much as I’d hoped for. At first, I took this as a sign that the cleanse just wasn’t very effective. Now, I feel that it was more of a sign of how deep my chronic illnesses and conditions are rooted in my body, and how able-bodied you need to be to start and keep up the cleanse in the first place. This year I’ve been slowly getting back into healing and cleansing. Saying that, I finished day 30 this morning and I’m looking forward to not cleaning the juicer again tomorrow!

It’s definitely a luxury and privilege to be able to access juice cleansing. Although running a business and juice cleansing is tough, being self employed means I can adjust my hours to fit in juicing, cleaning the machine and making smoothies into my morning routine. I live opposite an organic food shop, and close by to lots of other shops. I can afford lots of extra fruit/vegetables and supplements. I don’t have children to take care of in my daily life. I’m not allergic to any of the extra things I’m introducing into my usual diet, as far as I am aware. I understand juice cleaning isn’t for everybody. But if you’re interested and feeling capable, you should definitely check out the @medicalmedium books and try it for yourself. 💚

300 days of sweetness: Chris got sober just before our first date. Last week marked 300 days, and I surprised him with 300 of these! 💖✨ 

This year’s Halloween is a quiet one: my chronic pain has been unbearable recently. Great excuse to spend the day resting, playing video games and watching horror movies with Chris. Having a partner that’s also chronically ill and neurodivergent means we can fully understand and take care of each other. Even though it’s just the two of us, it’s the first time I’ve had a proper sober Halloween. I’m so grateful for this, and for the life we’ve made together. ♥ 


Tattoos vs. Therapy.

Read time: 43-45 minutes. Potential triggers: contains details of depression/anxiety, trauma, PTSD.

Should self-employed people be overextending themselves when being confided in by their customers and clients? Should we be treating our hairdresser or tattoo artist like a therapist? Why do we shy away from the idea of professional therapy?

One of the most basic and primal human instincts is to avoid pain and suffering at any and all costs. When you willingly expose yourself to the experience of being tattooed, it can bring forth a lot of other pain lurking under a perhaps otherwise calm surface. Having a safe, positive experience of pain and suffering through tattooing can free yourself of fear, empower yourself (through decorating the precious body you live in) and help you understand that tattoos are only as permanent as your skin!

I love the entire experience of being tattooed, from start to finish. I love the preparation and anticipation: saving up, emailing the artist and pulling the appointment together. Booking the travel and accommodation well in advance. Counting the months, weeks and days. Preparing myself: drinking more water, moisturising my skin, protecting the tattoo area etc. Getting an early night with my bag prepared (full of essentials and goodies) the night before.
I love the buzz of the tattoo morning: barely able to eat breakfast due to nerves and excitement; eventually settling myself and meditating/deep breathing whilst travelling and waiting for the appointment start time. Wearing my comfiest clothes and cosiest items: including a blanket, hot water bottle/mini fan, snacks and last but not least, my toy dinosaur 🦖

I love the experience of the tattooing itself: the ebb and flow of endorphins and stress hormones, the introspection of gently observing and noticing pain, random thoughts and other sensations. The relaxed, almost meditative state you can eventually get yourself into. The blissfully subdued and ‘happytired’ feeling afterwards. Hurrying back home to relax and recover: enforced self care.♥
I’ll be writing more about this in another blog post: “Prepare to be Tattooed!”

Sonder [son-der] (n.) –

The realisation that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.

John Koenig’s definition of sonder, which he coined in 2012.

Technically, it isn’t a ‘real’ (English Dictionary) word. In German, sonder is an adjective that means “special”; in French, it’s a verb meaning “to plumb.” In Afrikaans it means “without.” Sönder means “broken” in Swedish. So you can see, sort of, how Koenig might have mixed all those meanings together to come up his own definition, which fills a gap in English. I have been obsessed with his concept of sonder for years, and think about it often.

I want to begin this post by raising my hand up and admitting that I am a (recovering) chronic over-sharer. Guilty as charged! Info-dumping and monologging are two of my biggest autistic traits. I whole-heartedly apologise for my numerous accounts of unsolicited, unwelcome ramblings and rantings as a fumbling, intensely ambitious raconteur. I’m hoping that the reason(s) why you are here is that you wish to understand how to conduct yourself better in tattoo appointments, or that you want to know more about therapy.
I will not be discussing the gory details of my trauma stories here, but I will be sharing some pretty heavy, potentially triggering stuff with you.
I feel like it’s only been in the last 3 years (the entirety of my thirties to be exact) that I’ve started to make any real conscious effort to learn, grow and do better. I’m learning as much as I can about trauma, therapy and mental health; and how best to approach heavy subjects with the people I’m lucky enough to tattoo. When I see you for our appointment, I am a grateful witness to but a keyhole into your entire universe on that one particular day. I hope I can make it a happy, memorable one.

Allow me to properly introduce myself:

I’m Lala: a tall, white, commercially pretty cis woman. I define myself as queer, but am straight-passing. I am disabled (Autism & Fibromyalgia) but can pass as able-bodied. My slim build is largely due to my chronic illness and symptoms, but I pass as physically attractive, according to most conventional Western/European beauty standards.
My ACE (Adverse Childhood Experience) score is 9/10.
In-between my privileged (25/100) Western existence and whiteness, I have faced and survived extreme hardships in my lifetime: homelessness, extreme physical/emotional/sexual childhood and adult abuse, emotional/physical childhood neglect, addiction, family dysfunction, missing education, learning difficulties/cognitive impairment, domestic violence, sickness and poverty. I have also experienced great luxuries and comforts, similar to any normal middle/upper middle class upbringing and lifestyle. I am incredibly grateful to have the life I have now. Having a high ACE score means that statistically, I’m at a considerably higher risk of stroke, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, chronic illnesses, cancer and an earlier death than someone with a lower ACE score. However, if I needed to in most situations: I could pass ‘safely’ as a white middle class, pretty, femme, able-bodied and neurotypical straight woman.
The mask I wear is an elaborate one.

I’ve been tattooing for almost 10 years.

I’ve been working solo for 2 years and sober for 3. Over the past 9+ years, I’ve tattooed hundreds and hundreds of people. I’ve strived to learn as much as I could from everything: progressing each day.

Here’s the biggest thing about 2020: not one single person in modern society has been unaffected negatively by the COVID-19 global pandemic, subsequent civil and human rights movements and political events. They are now intrenched deep into our history. They have changed our human experience; created new trauma and triggered the old. Our routines and lifestyles have been severely impacted.
However, there’s still lots of joy, calm and hope to be found amidst the strife and suffering… If we just remember to be kind, patient and stay in our lane! Let’s use “The Great Reset” to reset ourselves and move forward into becoming more compassionate and careful in our interactions with others.

Do tattoo artists have a tendency to over-work and over-extend themselves?
Abso-fucking-lutely. Why?

Tattooers rely on creating good tattoos and good customer experiences to succeed and thrive. We are self employed, and do not have paid leave for sickness, bereavements or holidays. I like to think that my boundaries are much better now. But in the last 2 years alone, I’ve skipped events, parties and special occasions to be able to fit clients in on specific dates. I’ve sacrificed time with partners, family and friends in order to try and “keep clients happy”. Some of these clients I overextended for still haggled on the cost of my time, complained or half joked about how I work, that I should tattoo them all night and the next day to make sure it’s finished(?!). I had the building my previous studio lived in opened up outside of normal working hours, by the owners who travelled from home on days off. I’ve worked much later than agreed, and given hours of hard work that I haven’t charged extra for. Some clients I treated with extra care still took my hard work, generosity or extra customer service for granted. It’s no wonder that tattoo artists, hairdressers and other self employed people in creative industries have such high statistics of work stress: self medicating with alcohol and other drugs. In business, I am always learning what does and doesn’t work. The biggest thing I’ve learnt is that I only have a finite amount of time and working years left. If I am to keep working consistently and at my best, I need to be mindful of the clients I work with, and maintain my professional and personal boundaries – so I can stay sober and stay sane!

As your tattoo artist: I believe I have a duty of care for you. I will do my best to make sure you feel safe and comfortable. I will strive to treat you with dignity and respect, pay my best attention to you and how you’re feeling, and stop when you’ve reached your limit. You’ve given me your precious time, money and skin to work with, and I understand how big of a deal that is. I want my behaviour to reflect this as much as possible. I understand that I am responsible for the energy I bring into the tattoo appointment. I want to arrive well-rested, clean(!) well fed, relaxed, prepared and on time, every time. The same goes for you! Sometimes life happens, something unexpected comes up. Sometimes we have to cancel, start late, reschedule or finish early. No big deal. Tattoos are non-essential, a luxury. I promise to do my best, and hope you will too.

It’s one of the biggest reasons I have a private studio: I bring treats with me to work sometimes, provide a great sound system, aromatherapy, heated seats, decent tea & coffee (COVID regulations permitting!). I’ll ask you what music you want to listen to, and understand how important that snack break is. If you’ve been really lucky and we’ve both had the time, I sometimes order takeout to the studio!

However: if you can’t work with me, then I can’t work with you. It takes two to tattoo!

I believe that tattooing shouldn’t be more uncomfortable than it has to be. This includes both of us!

I always strive to make amends if I run late, or make a mistake. despite how hard I try to get everything right, it’s impossible to please everyone. Last summer whilst doing a routine tidy up during a late afternoon tea break, I threw away a cold, half-empty takeaway coffee that had been sitting in my studio for over 5 hours. The client was visibly upset and frustrated to learn that the coffee she’d brought with her early that morning was now gone. Even though I was confused and shocked that she would still want to drink it (I had also just made her a third cup of tea), I apologised profusely and memorised her order for next time. I woke up an hour earlier and found a Starbucks at 8am before the next appointment, to make sure she had a complimentary fresh cup of coffee ready to start the new day. I also gave her a heavy discount twice, in a desperate (stupid) attempt to keep things amicable. Unsurprisingly, that woman became a complete living nightmare: she and her boyfriend’s harassment and accusations ruined my mental and physical health for 6 months, ending in a cancer scare and being unable to work full-time. I sometimes wonder if I’d just shagged them both and given them what they really wanted, it would have been a different story.
(Calling all FetLife couples: exit on the left please!)
Around the same time, I learnt that another client had wanted to sue me: claiming that a human error on my part was “illegal” (I got her name mixed up with another person with the same first name, both had recently married and changed their surnames). I mistook a cancellation email from said other client as herself and refilled the day. She suggested (demanded) that I tattoo two people back to back for 12 hours that day so that she could keep her original appointment. I refused to work 2 long sessions that day, and later received flowers and an apology. I have never made a mistake like that before, nor have I made it again since. Taking on an assistant this year was one of the best things I’ve ever done.
I had to cancel on a client last minute due to a Fibromyalgia flare up recently, and I was told that “maybe I’m in the wrong job” and that she was going to “write a bad review”. Jokes on you huns, I’m not Starbucks, I’m literally one human person. I don’t have a review system (not anymore!), and yes I’m autistic and chronically ill. When I’m bad, I’m really bad. But when I’m good, I’m fucking exceptional.

“Because you’ll only end up bitter if you try to keep everyone sweet.”

Chidera Eggerue, How To Get Over A Boy.

This summer, during a brief stint of online dating and asking a few people out on dates, I asked someone out for “mocktails sometime”, who had instigated a conversation asking about my fibromyalgia diagnosis and sobriety. They received the request positively, but a date/plan was never made. 3 weeks of intermittent, vague half flirting later, they told me they really wanted to book in for a tattoo (cue eye roll). 12 days later, they actually made an appointment, which then fucked up my plans of taking them out on a date, making a mess of my professionalism.
However, I really wanted to create the project, and was already working on a couple of design commissions with a close friend of theirs. I decided to focus on my job and paying my bills, and ignore my libido (which I’m pretty good at!). Unexpectedly, they tried to resurrect my dead date offer nearly 2 months later: suggesting we could go for “drinks” straight after tattooing. Also, after finding out I had the day off booked the next day (starting the project and professionally tattooing someone I’d asked out and got turned down was going to be hard work), they ‘joked’ that I could maybe tattoo them all night and the next day too(?!). No mention of any extra money, of course. Along with a hard eye roll, I turned both excruciatingly exciting offers down. Impressively, I somehow felt even more used and rejected than if we’d just fucked(!). They continued to try and flirt with me while they knew I was now dating someone else (and at one point, tried flirting with my best friends). This dragged on intermittently for ages. I finally came to my senses 3 months later, grew a backbone and stopped being so fucking polite and “nice” – I dropped both the design projects with their friend, returned the hefty commission deposit and stopped responding to their messages. A few days of silence later, I noticed that I was tagged in a grand online gesture: showcasing and promoting the tattoo work I made 3 months before, gushing about how I was “genuinely one of the best talents out there”, “a completely gorgeous person, inside and out!” and they were “very very lucky”, also managing to boast that they sat for “10 hours plus”.
I laughed at the unbelievable avalanche of audacity: I blocked them on social media shortly afterwards, filing the whole interaction and mishap under “manipulations of my professionalism/autism for their own gain”.

I wondered how many people looked at this self employed, chronically ill and autistic woman living alone, during a pandemic, whilst plotting how they could benefit from it.

Here’s the thing: I don’t actually owe anyone that duty of care in my profession. There are plenty of tattoo artists out there that don’t provide the level of customer service that I do, and clients keep going back again and again. I offer and provide those things to you freely, in the hope you can appreciate how much I love and respect my job. I am able to take care of people more if I’m taken care of first. The UK has a strange attitude to tattooing, generally speaking: how cheap and how fast a tattoo can be done, is valued above how much time and how much care the tattoo artist takes to complete said permanent, sterile and professional procedure. In the UK, the general public are willing to spend more money on their hairstyle and iPhones than they are on their tattoos (hair grows back and phones go out of date!). Also, not many people can even tell the difference between a good tattoo and a bad one, let alone a good tattoo and a great one.
In tattooing, I believe I need to respect the weight of the task at hand and make sure I’m taking care of myself, and you should be making sure you are too. I wrote more about self care in a previous blog post: Life is too short to suffer.

We may carry it well, but that doesn’t mean it’s not heavy.

Almost all of us are anxious and depressed, I think that’s more or less a given now (especially after 2020’s utter bullshit!). Modern living isn’t designed for human thriving. We feel stressed on a daily basis and suffer prolonged fatigue from stress. Many of us have psychosomatic health problems due to stress, and excess stress hormones building up in our bodies (adrenaline, cortisol etc).
Tattoos have been used medicinally for over 5000 years. Today, when used similarly to acupuncture therapy, tattoo sessions could help relieve stress in everyday life. Tattoos have also been found to reduce cortisol levels: this improves the immune system and also helps provide stress reduction, enabling tattoos for depression and anxiety to possibly be useful.

During my entire tattooing career, this profession has often been referred to as “therapy.”

“Tattoos are my therapy!” “Another session of ink therapy”, “Who needs therapy, *eye twitch* when I can just get more tattoos?!”, “I don’t need therapy *sweating, shaking* I just get more tattoos!”

These cringeworthy results came up from a quick online image search.

Joking aside, should these dialogues be happening? Think about it. Are tattoos really a form of therapy, or are they just therapeutic? There’s a big difference.

Are any of the tattooists you choose qualified therapists? Should they have to be? Do you treat them like they could/should be? Offloading on self-employed people in creative industries whilst they’re up close and personal is killing us and our creativity. Seriously, I’ve lost tattoo friends to suicide. It’s no surprise that work pressures contributed massively.

“Therapy” has replaced “Tattoo” as the new taboo.

Isn’t it just cooler to say your tattoo artist is your therapist? You can talk about how “edgy” and damaged you are, without admitting that you’re actually feeling completely on the edge and broken inside. You get to mention your tattoo artist in a reply to a mental health enquiry (“yours”, as if belonging to you) in a way that implies you spend many many hours with them, and that you have a super candid, relaxed connection with them. Extra cool points. Also, I’ve noticed a lot more cishet men are happy to mention me when it comes to the subject of therapy. Historically, cishet women are expected to naturally overextend themselves (I’m not hetero but I pass as straight). We must be agreeable, be accommodating, be polite, be caring, be a “good girl”. Extra emotional labour comes as standard, lest we risk looking like a cold heartless bitch.

Trauma Porn:

Car crash TV in spoken form. The modern world is obsessed with trauma stories. Murder, crime, drug abuse, paedophillia, sex trafficking… If you haven’t directly experienced it, you might want to live vicariously through it. The shock, the disbelief, the adrenaline rush. Maybe you’re reliving it, or escaping through living inside someone else’s. Maybe you feel the need to share it excessively, like a protagonist shares their backstory in the movies.

“We have learned that trauma is not just an event that took place sometime in the past; it is also the imprint left by that experience on the mind, brain and body. This imprint has ongoing consequences for how the human organism manages to survive in the present.”

“Trauma results in a fundamental reorganisation of the way mind and brain manage perceptions. It changes not only how we think and what we think about, but also our capacity to think.”

— Bessel Van Der Kolk, The Body Keeps The Score.

I’m a huge advocate for mental health candidness. But how candid should we be during a tattoo session?

Unloading leads to Overloading.

Have you ever vented and (without warning or asking consent) dumped a long, angry rant, an exhausted confession or anxiously revealed an awkward or terrible secret to us while we’re trying to concentrate? Did you become stressed/upset/angry/fidgety whilst you did this? Did you stare at your tattoo artist, directly in the eyes/face whilst they were focused on tattooing your body? Did you wonder why the appointment took longer that day? Did you turn up unprepared, miserable, stressed or angry? Have you ever wondered why the artist became anxious/hurried, or took longer than you expected to finish the piece completely?
There’s a really good reason why counsellors/therapists always sit a certain distance away from their clients in therapy sessions, and limit the sessions to 1 hour.

“Don’t arrive cold and empty in the hope of being filled up with warmth and joy. Don’t expect people to accommodate your bullshit either.”

— Brené Brown.

If you expected your tattoo artist to overextend themselves to tend to your mental health, in a similar way a therapist would, did you at least tip them after the appointment was over?!

Good tattooist, bad therapist

I might be the right tattoo artist for the work you want doing, but what if my style of mental health approach makes you uncomfortable? For example, I’m probably going to discuss my sobriety if you discuss heavy drinking (I’ve been sober for 3 years, I understand everyone’s lifestyles are different but obviously don’t share that same enthusiasm anymore). I’m going to naturally defend the person with autism that a neurotypical person has just started complaining about to me. I’m going to have to fight through being triggered by a man talking about being physically abusive to people. I have my own biases and experiences. Over the years, I have tried a number of different therapists. I didn’t connect with them, didn’t feel understood by them and didn’t feel I could trust them. They also presented me with information and ideas I wasn’t able to process and take onboard at that time. If you treat a tattoo artist like a therapist, and are adverse to the idea of real therapy with a real therapist, you risk the same thing happening during the completion of a tattoo project. I may also have to adjust my responses in conversation as a matter of good customer service, not because it honestly reflects any of my particular beliefs and opinions.

Do you really want a tattoo session to be like a therapy session?

Trauma overwhelms listeners as well as speakers. If you’ve never been to a professional therapy or counselling session, or haven’t been consistent with your therapy: your family, friends and coworkers may become your therapist. Not only are these people biased because they love you, they are probably under-qualified and (deep down) unwilling. They will be fighting through their own demons and inner struggles too, maybe trying to recover from codependency and generally trying to rescue others from difficult emotions.
I discuss alternatives to therapy a little later in this post.

“Visiting the past in therapy should be done while people are, biologically speaking, firmly rooted in the present and feeling as calm, safe and grounded as possible.”

— Bessel Van Der Kolk, The Body Keeps The Score.

In the last 18 months, I’ve had about 28 sessions of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). During a Skype therapy session in the summer, I admitted to her that I was “afraid of the impending stress of returning to work after 4 months in lockdown”. Totally understandable, but I had no idea how to navigate it. I’d become visibly distressed and upset admitting this to her, so she suggested we did a short guided meditation together. She then explained to me the difference between stress, anxiety and fear.
“Stress can be reduced, anxiety can be managed and fear can be confronted and worked on.”
Stress can be defined as the degree to which you feel overwhelmed or unable to cope as a result of pressures that are unmanageable. You can reduce stress simply by reducing unrealistic deadlines, introducing better time management and a work/life balance, streamlining work days and increasing self care, quality sleep and rest.
Anxiety is an emotion and medical condition, characterised by feelings of tension, irritability, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure and heart rate, sweating and IBS. You can manage anxiety through relaxation and grounding techniques: such as meditation, journaling, running, making healthy changes to diet, reducing screen time, alcohol and caffeine intake and increasing self care and rest.
Fear is a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil or pain, whether the threat is real or imagined; it is the feeling or condition of being afraid. Fear is a great teacher that alerts us to something that requires our attention and care. Although fear is completely natural, persistent fears can be explored and solved in talking therapies.

I use this as an example to show how effective CBT is in breaking down problems.

They say that a problem shared is a problem halved, but a problem shared in therapy has a chance to be truly understood and solved.

Surely that’s better than just venting to a co-worker, hairdresser or stranger on the bus?

I am required by law to provide a sterile and safe working environment. The rest (like customer service, music quality and conversation) is up to me. I’m trained to offer first aid, and in the last 2 years alone I’ve spent over £1,000 on private therapy sessions. I’m legally required and obligated to provide first aid to clients, but not therapy. For the same reason I don’t expect clients to book in for tattoos based on my first aid experience, I don’t think clients should book in for tattoos based on my therapy/mental health experience.

Getting tattooed doesn’t have to be this great big grand experience, full of big loud feelings and heavy taboo subjects. Getting tattooed can be calm, respectful, even gentle. I want to create an environment full of music, (maybe some singing), peace, fun and focus: for both of us.

A good tattoo session is one that leaves both of us worn out, sore but feeling uplifted and positive. We arrive back home feeling “happytired”, not totally drained and exhausted, and with a fuzzy head from too much sugar, not from a “vulnerability hangover”. Tattooing can be a positive, healing experience, for both the client and tattoo artist.

Sometimes I have to break out of “customer service mode” and ask politely if we can change the subject. Sometimes I have to say “that’s not something I want to talk about when I’m tattooing”. I want you to be able to say the same if you’re uncomfortable.
Speaking up about the conversation ‘going off-piste’ is extremely hard for me to do, and usually when it’s got to that point I’m already at a considerable level of stress. It’s difficult to “stay in your lane” and not offer advice, when clients confide in you or present you with a dilemma they’re stuck in. I can easily say, “please could we not discuss this anymore, it’s making me uncomfortable”, but how would that feel if I said that to you, on top of the pain of being tattooed?! Maybe we could both be more mindful of conversations going forward.

As tattoo artists, we have to concentrate while clients tell us intense stories and vent their anger/sadness/frustration/hopelessness while we’re creating incredibly intricate (permanent) work with tiny needles.
We have to be constantly engaged in both what that you’re saying and doing, and intensely focused on what we’re saying and doing, for hours and hours. I’ve had clients turn their heads to face me completely when I’m working in close proximity to their face: examining my eye makeup, my hair, staring at my chest, my legs, examining my tattoos etc. I now wear extremely unflattering scrubs, two sizes too big: for hygiene, comfort and feeling safer. I’ve felt clients intensely looking into my eyes for the entire time I’ve got my head down working, as if searching for a level of attention, intimacy or engagement that I simply can’t give them because I’m trying to do my fucking job create a good tattoo – the one and only thing they’ve actually asked and paid me to do! It’s nice to look, rude to stare.
I get it, you’re curious and anxious and that’s okay.♥ Tattooing can be a really scary, exciting and horrible experience. I’ve been tattooed many times by many different people, and have had both good and bad experiences. I can put up with all of the above, to a certain point. It’s all part of the process and trust me, I really do fucking love my job! I’ve worked so hard to be able to do this for a living, and I’m so unbelievably grateful to be where I am today.

“When we share vulnerability, especially shame stories, with someone with whom there is no connectivity, their emotional (and sometimes physical) response is often to wince, as if we have shone a floodlight in their eyes. Instead of a strand of delicate lights, our shared vulnerability is blinding, harsh, and unbearable…

When it’s over, we feel depleted, confused, and sometimes even manipulated.

Sometimes we’re not even aware we’re oversharing as armour. We can purge our vulnerability or our shame stories out of total desperation to be heard. We blurt out something that is causing us immense pain because we can’t bear the thought of holding onto it for one more second.”

— Quotes from Brené Brown on “The Vulnerability Armoury”.

I haven’t published any blog entries since February this year. I began writing this post straight after Grief and Growth, as I was feeling exhausted from overextending myself to clients whilst dealing with a cancer scare, a breakup and moving homes. I was still battling unknown health complications every day. I was very tired, and very scared. As the pandemic crept into the UK during March, I moved what I could into my new place and kept my head down. I worked as much as I was able to, making sure that I had some savings to rely on should “the worst” happen – both with the pandemic, and my own health.

2020 has been a fever dream, right?!
Such an exhaustingly scary year.

As lockdown began to ease in July, most of us were chomping at the bit to get back to “normality”. After spending my quarantine months building a paradoxical paradise inside a global shit storm, I wasn’t looking forward to the idea of going back to my old “normal”. For the first time in nearly 2 decades, I’d truly started to relax. Lots of other over-worked, exhausted and recovering people-pleasers felt the same.

Bleed & Bloom.

Before you can start healing, you need to admit that you are hurting and bleeding.

I opened my own studio in 2018: in the midst of a breakdown, knee reconstruction, autism diagnosis and intensive CBT therapy. I wrote more about this in a previous post, Rejection and Redirection. Despite trying to heal and working extremely hard, I was still bleeding.

After suffering for most of my twenties, dragging around (diagnosed) depression, anxiety, complex childhood and adult PTSD, and (yet to be diagnosed) autistic burnout and chronic illness, I got sober at 30. Piece by piece, things started to connect; the muddy water slowly began to settle and become clearer. I could see a way out, gradually. I started weight training, ended some big toxic friendships and relationships, opened my first independent tattooing business and got the knee reconstruction I desperately needed. I finally found the right therapist for me: she allowed my life to start making sense. Slowly but surely, I started to finally breathe, bleed and process those 3 decades fearlessly. I got my autism diagnosis, and started to pursue a chronic illness investigation/diagnosis. After bleeding openly to my therapist, a small group of my dearest and most trusted friends (and yes, some of my clients!), I published some of my writing last year. I poured the last drops of my angst-soaked blood into my new blog, along with careful and caring introspection. It was a calm catharsis, and I felt released. I’ve continued with inner trauma work and self care, and finally got the answer to my lifelong chronic illness mystery with a Fibromyalgia diagnosis earlier this year. I’ve become a runner and have been celery juice cleansing for 7 months to heal my body and mind, and further process trauma and years of physical/emotional damage from almost constant, unrelenting stress. Feel it to heal it!

We’re not qualified, but maybe we should be? I feel that being trained in “mental health first aid” for tattoo sessions would be as useful as being able to provide medical first aid. This crucial medical training, quite literally, saves lives. Tattooing is an invasive procedure that can put you in a vulnerable and risky position: physically, mentally and emotionally. Nobody plans on having a seizure, or passing out, or injuring themselves at the studio through an accident; nor can they consciously stop it from happening. Same goes for an unexpected mental health crisis. Saying that, if tattoo artists choose to spend the extra time and money learning new coping strategies and skills regarding mental health, we shouldn’t be relied on for them – the same way we shouldn’t be treated like a GP/paramedic for our first aid skills! Before the pandemic hit this year, I had planned to study an entry level counselling course (recommended by my therapist upon my request). I wanted to be able to process and handle some of the heavier interactions with clients more lightly. I also had my first ‘guided imagery’ trauma session planned, which I was really looking forward to experiencing. I hope I can still achieve these goals next year.
I’ve read a handful of books recently about trauma, therapy, stoicism and self-improvement this year in the meantime. I have lots more books on my list, and am launching a book club in the new year. Stay tuned!

Expert tips for tattoo sessions & alternatives to therapy sessions:

I’m doing the work, and if you like, you can too: I’ve learnt this stuff from my own personal experience, access to books and the internet. I’ve lived on my own for the best part of 8 years. This has meant I’ve been able to take lot of time to dig deep and get to know me, and educate myself further on things I wanted to know more about. Tattooing full time and being self employed has meant that most further education has been out of my reach; but books, YouTube videos and podcasts have always been an option. I’ll be sharing a more exhaustive list one day, but for now: here’s two books that you can read before embarking on therapy, and later can compliment whatever step you choose next.

Resiliency Resources: Daring Greatly and The Body Keeps The Score are fantastic books for understanding vulnerability, shame and trauma. Brené defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure”, 3 things which require a tremendous amount of bravery and courage.

I feel like I’m really late to the Brené Brown party, as I only started listening to her podcasts and TED Talks last year. I now recommend her to everyone, and Daring Greatly is the book I wish I could’ve read 10 years ago. I couldn’t put it down, and managed to read through it during a few long baths and one cold November evening. This is an essential read if you want to learn how to protect your energy and your well-being by learning when and how to be vulnerable with the rest of the world.
I’ve learnt a lot about integrity recently. Brené describes integrity as “choosing courage over comfort; choosing what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy; and choosing to practice our values rather than simply professing them.” I’ll be writing more about this in an upcoming blog post about integrity, internalised misogyny and the military: “Invented Integrity”.

The Body Keeps The Score is the book I’d been preparing myself to read for 3 years.
It’s natural to want to progress from therapy sessions to research case study books and counselling courses etc. “Research” eventually becomes “me search”.  Such is the way of healing: to want to ‘level-up’, expand your knowledge and share with others once your mind has start to clear and your own cup has been filled. I started reading this book after Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly – she’d given me that last little push that I needed. My darling cat, beautiful flat and my best friend next door have been wonderful anchors during the deep dives of trauma recall. Also, playing through FFXV whilst eating chocolate kept my inner child feeling happy and safe.
I can’t recommend this book enough if you want to finally confront the boss level of your suffering and recover. I now have a greater understanding of myself and others, particularly ex partners that I was so hurt and confused by before. In understanding, there is forgiving. Approach this book with patience, bravery and plenty of self care and respect, and make sure to reward yourself often and read something lighthearted and uplifting afterwards!

Here’s 3 conversation pro tips:

Number 1: pretend your tattoo appointment is a PODCAST.♥

A calm, compassionate, sometimes candid but mostly positive (public) podcast – along with lots of breathing space and intervals of quiet, retrospective focus. Also, less time talking can mean more time tattooing.

Be mindful of the conversation you’re creating.

“When it comes to vulnerability, connectivity means sharing our stories with people who have earned the right to hear them — people with whom we’ve cultivated relationships that can bear the weight of our story. Is there trust? Is there mutual empathy? Is there reciprocal sharing? Can we ask for what we need? These are crucial connection questions.”

— Brené Brown, Daring Greatly.

I confess: I worry and think about clients outside of work. I have a really good long term memory, and am haunted by some of the things clients have told me. Vicarious trauma can be extremely powerful. I’ve lost nights of sleep, wondering if that person that confessed about wanting to end their life in their last session (who hasn’t responded to my last 2 emails) is still alive. I worry about clients getting home. I hope and pray that they’ve stopped cutting, stayed sober or left their abusive partner. I have to find a balance between caring and caring too much. Sometimes, the calmness of my tattoo studio, my (hopefully) reassuring presence, the music or the pain of the tattoo session can be enough to make people blurt out things I’m sure they never ever planned to tell me. Adrenaline is a hell of a drug!

I want my studio to feel like a safe space. However:

Maybe think twice before ‘slagging off’ an ex who is a long term client of mine, or fiancé’s ex wife, or ex husband and his partner when I personally know them (it’s exhausting and stressful). Explore why you feel the need to lie about achievements, hobbies and stories, in an attempt to please or impress me (my validation should be irrelevant). Consider holding back on the gory details of your weeping divorce. Please do not tell me that story of how you beat someone up on the weekend in your hometown, or strangled your last manager “because he deserved it”. Maybe think twice before admitting that you’re having an affair, 10 minutes into your first day session. You might want to explore why you would show me unsolicited, treasured wedding photos of you and your ex husband from 10-15 years ago while I’m tattooing, when you know I have his new fiancé booked in next week (what are you trying to convince me of?). Maybe don’t disclose to me (while I’m trying to concentrate) intimate details of your sex life (yikes, very distracting) or that you and your partner are looking for a third person to join your relationship (double yikes, and what the hell happened to asking people out to dinner?!)

These are just a few examples. There have been hundreds more, and far worse. Although these confessions and are overwhelming at times, I am honoured and grateful to have been confided in and trusted with them – to keep the innermost personal details secret and safe. If it’s unlawful or dangerous, the same rules should apply in tattooing as it should for therapy: and ask yourself why you would confess to dealing drugs, beating people up or other various crimes to someone who’s 3 years sober, obsessed with Star Wars and designing cute merchandise.

Oversharing is one of the most common trauma responses.

I get it, some tattoo appointments turn into a bit of a venting and ranting session, and that’s perfectly okay. I discuss some real heavy, intimate shit with some clients. Especially when I’ve been tattooing them for years and they feel more like a friend. I don’t want this blog post (handbook?) to echo hints of toxic positivity, like “good vibes only”. I’ve always been more “all vibes always”, and believe most vibes can still exist freely without altering the tone of the session.
Shit happens, life happens, and it helps to share and get it all out. Being human can get really messy sometimes.

Sometimes, I feel like I have to mirror the person ranting to join in and make them more feel comfortable during the appointment (mirroring is a big part of my autism too, one of my biggest autistic traits). But when I catch myself ranting or revealing too much, I know that I need to wind my neck in. I start planning to increase my self care when I get home, and try and get to the bottom of why I keep bringing certain events, people or situations up to others. Maybe I’m full of pent-up energy, or I simply need to book another therapy session to explore it.

Mishaps are like knives, that either serve us or cut us, as we grasp them by the blade or the handle.”

James Russell Lowell.

Number 2: always remember the 5 minute rule.♥

The 5 minute rule can be really helpful for people on the Autism/ADD/ADHD spectrum, or have social anxiety/panic disorders. If you’re feeling nervous, it can be easy to try and make conversation by pointing out things you notice. If it can fixed in 5 minutes, it can be helpful to mention. Pointing out someone’s hair is out of place, food in their teeth, or that their makeup is smudged is easy to fix. Pointing out the shelves in my studio or my teeth are crooked, or making a comment about my height, weight, tattoos or my choice of socks: not so easily ‘fixed’ in 5 minutes! Telling me that your dad thinks I’m “not a legitimate business owner” because I “don’t have a landline”, is more likely to create a big ball of awkwardness rather than an interesting topic of conversation!

Number 3: Karaoke, anyone? 🎶

Seriously though, if you’ve been tattooed by me in the last few years you’ll probably notice that I sing while I work. Since I got sober, I sing all the time (not even that well, but it feels great!). I have a default playlist of hundreds of songs that I love, and love singing along to. Devin Townsend, Santigold, Taylor Swift… I fucking love musicals too. In the same way that exercise boosts endorphin flow, singing releases those delicious ‘feel-good’ chemicals – resulting in a sense of euphoria, enhanced immune response, and a natural pain relief. Singing also triggers the release of oxytocin, which helps relieve anxiety and stimulates feelings of trust. If we can sing a musical together (even badly!) or harmonise even for one moment whilst we’re working, my god it’s the fucking best feeling ever. I remember ‘tattoo duets’ so fondly – Phantom of the Opera, Greatest Showman, Six or Little Shop of Horrors (in their glorious entirety!). The days that Phoenix, CHVRCHES, Florence & The Machine or Tame Impala have played during the whole appointment are absolute bliss. Tell me the songs that set your soul on fire and make every pain of living disappear in that moment! Fancy reliving Glastonbury 2011? I was there too, let’s go back! Fancy reliving the days when you were a 16 year old mosher/goth/chav? Fuck yeah, let’s do it!

If singing still isn’t your thing: talking, headphones or peacefully listening to the music works for me too.♥

“The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.”

— Almost Famous.

Moving forward:

“Never look down on anybody unless you’re helping them up.”

Jesse Jackson.

Merry Crushmas! 🎄

Christmas is in 10 days. This entire year has finally caught up with me. I’m currently fighting through a breakdown, autistic burnout and fibromyalgia flare-up: but I’m still sober and working hard to focus on my self care full-time. I haven’t been well enough to tattoo for 5 weeks now, but hope to return soon.
I’ve survived a cancer scare, breakup, breakdown, severe financial hardship, lifelong medical diagnosis, moving house, death of a friend (and I’m just talking January-mid March 2020 here). 
I not only survived lockdown, I fucking thrived in lockdown. I kept up regular weight training/hiking/meditation/yoga. I had so many baths(!) and kept up with my appearance. I launched an art subscription club. I started juice cleansing and was taking 20-30 supplements a day on top of an improved diet. I brushed up on my limited Japanese. I smashed all my laundry and KonMari folding everything! I tried online dating again. I left my old studio, built and opened a brand new studio. I did a fuck tonne of unproductive shit too, my flat was a mess as soon as I went back to work. I did this to stop spiralling, adapt to the new normal and set myself up for the future.
Despite doing all this work, I was criticised for not answering emails in a timely fashion, not producing enough artwork, not producing the ‘right’ artwork or entertaining content, not tattooing enough or being professional enough – after emerging from 4 months in UK lockdown during a global pandemic, after what I went through in the months before?
The frustrating side effect of doing “the work” was that people assume you are bullet-proof. They assume that the stuff you’re carrying so well isn’t excruciatingly heavy.
Most people’s biggest achievements in lockdown were sitting around on furlough, completing Netflix, making banana bread, not drinking themselves to death, not shaving their head or managing not to murder their partner and kids (hey, that’s okay too).
I am so grateful for the positivity, support and admiration I receive about my tattoos, art and writing over the years – but please don’t put me on a pedestal. Expectations are planned disappointments: it makes it impossible for me to be human without you becoming disappointed and disheartened. I am absolutely not above anyone, ever, and shouldn’t be.
If you’ve ever put me on a pedestal, please consider me knocked off! It’s inhumane and stops me exercising my natural human birthright to make mistakes or say something that upsets someone somewhere. It saves us both lot of guilt and a lot of resentments.
Holding me to the same high regard and level of customer service or professionalism that you’re used to, during a global pandemic, is absolutely insane.

Upside to breakdowns: I’ve spent the last 5 weeks in the bath, writing or playing FFXV. After years of pushing the tradition away, I’ve got myself a (very small and modest) Christmas tree. I managed to make space in amongst the orchids, and even have tiny little presents to go underneath. I treated myself to slippers that show off my toes: after suffering from chilblains and unhealthy toenails for ages due to fibromyalgia, before celery juice cleansing and starting to heal (reflexology sessions have really helped too).

Let’s use this Winter Solstice and New Year to move forward into a Great Awakening along with The Great Reset: let’s all agree that we’ve experienced collective trauma, suffered together.
Let’s have more honest and open conversations, but keep them kind and compassionate. In tattooing, customer service needs to be seen as customer collaboration – with effort on both sides.

If you want to talk to me in person about something heavy and honest, get help finding a therapist (or maybe an autism or chronic illness diagnosis), talk about recovery or sobriety in more detail, ask about getting into tattooing or just connect with me on a deeper, more personal or vulnerable level – you can book and pay for a consultation with me (via video call or at my private studio). You can also buy some of my art prints and arrange a date/time to collect them from me in person.♥ Make sure to mention what you’d like to discuss beforehand, so I can understand the context and prepare for it.
Respect me, my time and my energy, so that I can provide more of it to you more easily:

My Name is…

Welcome to Confessions of an Auteetotal Tattooer! (read time 3 minutes)

One of my professional online personas is a Slowpoke: a Psychic/Water type Pokémon in the Dopey category. Abilities include Oblivious and Own Tempo, and their hidden ability is Regenerate. A pretty honest depiction, I obviously don’t take myself too seriously – neither should you!

I’m a lifelong illustrator, graphic designer and Tattooer of 8 years.

I am based in Cardiff (South Wales), and work by appointment only at my private, professional little tattoo studio inside a big, professional gym that provides all my training and physio.

Why should you read my blog? Well, for a start I am:

  • A professional, successful artist: newly diagnosed as Autistic,
  • A High-Maintenance Sober Chick™ and proud,
  • Telling you my stories and experiences, in my own way.

I’m now using my memories and experiences to tell stories, that can be used to help and educate others.

I use memories, but I will not allow memories to use me.

— Deepak Chopra.

It’s important to say, I’m just starting out.
All over again, in many ways.

As part of my Recovery, I’ve finally been afforded enough time and resources to process most of what I’ve been through – and I can continue to process, neutralise and recycle. If I can turn all of that trauma, pain, suffering and shame – into something whole, beautiful, useful and helpful for others, then the process can be completed.

I’m knowing, learning and speaking up about what I’ve been through, and most importantly: why I went through it. 

In writing this blog, I hope to:

  • Recover out loud to help those struggling in silence,
  • Raise awareness for Autism & chronic illness,
  • Connect with & support people going through similar stuff,
  • Promote mental wellness, and help others to survive & thrive,
  • Prove that if I can do this, anyone can (in their own way).
My other online persona is a Lala Inky MLP. Proving that it is pretty obvious I am Autistic, despite creating this nearly 2 years before I was diagnosed(!)

I’ll be mostly writing stuff about:

  • Art & tattooing
  • Recovery & sobriety
  • Surviving & thriving
  • Boundaries & business
  • Autism & trauma
  • Therapy & psychology
  • Breakdowns & growth
  • Re-writing & re-branding
  • Self-care & self-love
  • Also, a bit about crabs in buckets…

One of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we all learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why I started, and articulating my goals will inspire me to keep going and may just give me a few other post ideas.

Sometimes I take myself a bit more seriously. From a recent photoshoot with Clare Wilson, I was going for “Professional Vampire/Executive Overlord”.

Where shall I begin?

Well let’s start with the origin story of my name, Lala Inky.

I got a nickname of Lala when I was in high-school and it just stuck. I was bullied mercilessly as school, and this was the only name I was actually okay with. One of the reasons for the name was Jar Jar Binks, arguably THE worst and most annoying Star Wars character in history. Naturally, I was called La La Binks for the duration of the Phantom Menace hype 20 years ago. I was going through so much horrific abuse at home and in school, that being named after a super annoying, fictional character was totally fine by me. It worked out great – they started to focus on that instead, and I got to practice self-deprecating humour as a distraction. Somehow after a few years it morphed into Binky, and I still use my “lalabinky” email address to this day.

When I started tattooing 8 years ago, I wasn’t going to waste the opportunity to use over a decade of stupid names to my advantage.