This tattoo was born out of freedom. Freedom manifested from having space. Space to hear my inner voice more clearly while spending 2 months (and continuing), in solitude on the West Coast of Canada, on Vancouver Island.
We all carry pain. Healing from this pain takes the courage to step into it, give this pain a voice and allow this part that carries the pain to heal, and finally be free…
I’ve been working on myself since I was 27 years old. What I’ve learned since then about therapeutic process, good therapists, bad therapists, bandaid therapeutic tools and root causes therapeutic methods, diagnosis, mis-diagnosis, prescription drugs, addictions, anxiety, depression, mindfulness, CBD and living in a habitual state of fear has made me into who I am today…..
A healer…. one who has walked into the pain and through to the other side. A healer who has space for others, to hold for them on their healing journey. This will manifest with my Reiki practice when Michael and I finally settle in Nova Scotia.
The Voices – The Parts
In my thirties, deep into the therapeutic process, I was diagnosed with about three or four DSM-IV labels. Quickly added, the DSM – IV, now the DSM-V is a diagnostic tool for classifying mental disorders. It was a very confusing time for me, this litany of diagnosis, but I appreciated the labels as I finally knew what was “wrong” with me. Problem was, I was mis-diagnosed… a few times…..
One diagnosis was DDNOS – Dissociate Disorder Not-Otherwise-Specified. That was scary for me – because I thought I had a multiple personality disorder and was freaked out by it! I didn’t black out or go into any fugue states. I just felt like I had different parts within me, who carried different roles. Different parts would come out depending on the people I was around – to either keep me safe or they felt safe enough to come out. Inner child work addressed this, with a mixture of some archetypical work and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy too. It was a very messy time, for many reasons.
For the first time since I was 27, I recently found medicinal support that truly helps with my anxiety – CBD. This leveling out, relaxing out of the chains of hyperarousal, allowed me even more space. I am now out of my head and can be present in my body. I can practice mindfulness. I can be present, in many moments throughout my day. Being in my body – with my breath.
Of all the diagnosis given to me – PTSD was correct. I had learned how to live with it over the years. Not always successfully, evidenced by my struggles with addiction to alcohol – wine. While I’m not a psychiatrist, I know enough to recognize triggers that bring me into flight, fight or freeze mode. So much so – blood rushes to my core, an instinctual response to protect my internal organs – and I become cold and shaky while breathing through the anxiety attack. Breathing to move out of the dissociated state to bring myself back into my body. Ride the waves – tsunami sized waves of fear.
This solitude on Vancouver Island, this safety of being absolutely alone – relaxed with CBD – brought about the surfacing of parts, their voices Loud and Clear on these Tsunami Sized Waves.
Fear screaming the loudest. Clutching and constricting in my chest.
Intense. Yes. And exhausting. CBD doesn’t numb or stop anxiety. It gives me the space, a relaxed, non-reactive being to lean into anxiety and ride it out. For me, a transformative miracle.
Internal Family System Therapy
I needed therapeutic support during this transformative miracle. I found it here on the island. Quite possible the best therapist I’ve ever worked with…. and there have been many for me over the years!
Timing is everything…and this therapist fits. Part of me wants to rant about the differences between privately paid therapists and government funded therapists – the latter my only option in past years – and the messiness of that. But, private or government funded, there will always be burnt out therapists and exceptional ones. That is not the theme of this blog.
I’m stepping into a therapy called Internal Family System Therapy. It is, to me, very similar to inner child work with a bit of archetype mixed in too. My therapist says this type of therapy hasn’t caught on in Canada yet, but is very popular in other parts of the world. It has been around for 30 years or so.
The gist, as I understand so far, is that we all have parts – who have roles. These roles may be outdated and creating maladaptive behaviors in our lives that are hindering our ability to self-actualize. It is a deep dive into an awareness of our actions, why these actions/roles/parts are played out and what emotion motivates them – what role the emotion/part is serving.
The first part of this journey began in February 17th, 2020 – when I started living alcohol free, with the support of One Year No Beer – OYNB – and the 28 Day Challenge.
As of today, I am 145 days living clean, without alcohol. This accomplishment is the foundation of creating the safety to allow the vulnerable, fragile parts to step forward. This is a sacred accomplishment, on so many levels.
You can read my journey with addiction in these blogs:
Began with a wave of possibilities. I was trying to make sense of why now? Why this sudden resurgence of the crazy making feelings I had in my thirties? What was happening to me?
Then it hit me while I was on my usual morning run…. rebirth. Rising from the ashes. Triumphant. To FINALLY be free of the pain that had not yet been fully healed.
Tattoo. Phoenix. It was time… My inner healing circle was not complete. It was time to gather again….
This tattoo would be my rite of initiation to be reborn…to move even closer to self-actualization.
I learned of restorative circles, Restorative Practices, at one of my first schools, Citadel High School. I was already familiar with the healing power of circles from participating in many group therapy sessions over the years. But this, this healing practice was mainstream – in schools to heal relationships and communities. I fell in love with the possibilities Restorative Practices could bring to schools and communities…
Fast forward to July 2020, and during a session with my therapist, as we discussed the parts wanting to be heard, I envisioned a restorative circle. A restorative circle where all my parts would sit, and wait their turn to be heard. Whoever’s voice was the loudest in the circle would hold the eagle feather. Whoever holds the eagle feather had the floor, it was their turn to speak. It was a powerful moment.
A few days later, again during my morning run, I had a wave of insight.
My Phoenix Rising tattoo needed something to rise out of. But what?
A restorative circle made of eagle feathers.
Everything fell into place, rather quickly actually. Surprisingly so. On a Friday, I stopped by a local tattoo artist studio, Queen of Hearts Tattoo. I met Stef, a tattoo artist. We talked, she was booked solid but offered to fit me in. We emailed ideas. Met for a consultation. Six days later from my original visit to the shop, I was on the table…
There were many photos of a Phoenix found online. I wanted feminine, yet with a BC aboriginal vibe. Color not necessary. Wouldn’t work with my olive skin anyway, I thought. Stef suggested not using color, and I agreed. I wanted the head of the Phoenix to have an eagle form. Eagles had to be a part of the tattoo.
These are a few pictures picked as an outline:
Thank you Stef… you saw what was in my my mind and made it a reality, with so much more!!!!
When I look at my tattoo…. I see a Phoenix born of a First Nation’s eagle, a mighty hummingbird and a feminine, flourishing peacock; all rising from the healing, restorative circle of eagle feathers: one feather First Nation in design, the other feather a traditional eagle feather.
In Native culture:
Phoenix: Bird of fire and rebirth
Eagles: Strongest and bravest of birds
Hummingbirds: Are healers or a spirit-being who help people in need
Peacocks: The epitome of beauty – graceful power about lessons in self-love, honor, integrity and rebirth
Below is my drawing, my offering to the consultation with Stef. The other tattoo artist in the studio, Chantelle, thought my drawing was a vagina! Very funny moment! Needless to say, my drawing skills did not contribute to the tattoo…
I forgot that tattoos hurt! I had my first one done about 25 years ago. This tattoo, thankfully, was relatively painless. I almost fell asleep!
Whatever your subjective bias is about tattoos, tattoo studios and artists, you can forget the rugged, chain smoking, tough, scary guy image at Queen of Hearts.
This studio is two beautiful women who love tattoos and art. Stef like skulls. Chantelle like turtles. We listened to 80’s classic rock and laughed at different silly things. Very chilled and relaxed. My tattoo took an hour and a half to complete.
Powerless to Empowerment
A major walk-away during this entire process of healing and tattoos, is the mindset of control. Truly, TRULY understanding what I have control over and letting go of the rest. Before CBD, I always felt out of control, steeped in fear, pushing through every day with very little moments of respite.
Now, with CBD I am relaxed enough to have the mind to see and be in my reality.
The only thing I can control in this world is me. And even that is fleeting as I have no control over aging and disease. All I can do is take the best care of my physical body, my mind and my heart.
Everything else in life is a navigation of moments. To be in those moments.
To ride the waves.
And hopefully, on some small level be a force of loving kindness in this world…
About me: Stephanie Wells
I’m a Reiki Master Teacher of Usui Shiki Ryoho – the Usui System of Natural Healing. I was attuned in Levels I, II & IIIA in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. During a 6 week stay in Mararikulam North, Kerala, India I was reattuned in Levels I, II, & IIIA as well as acquiring my Level IIIB Master Teacher attunement.