How A "Recovery Tattoo" Transformed his Past . . . and his Future
by Mishka Shubaly
Like most permanent, potentially life-altering decisions, I try not to overthink tattoos. I’m a touring musician, so I get a lot of tattoos on the road. Having a fresh, weeping tattoo when you’re in the van is terrible planning, serial bad decision-making at its finest.
I’ve gotten tattooed in a garage in California, a living room in Mexico, a rock club in Brooklyn and, most recently, backstage at one of my shows in England. Stupid stupid stupid.
And I’m looking forward to getting one at my show in Montreal in a couple of weeks.
I always recommend against getting words tattooed on you because the meaning of images tends to morph sympathetically with time while words are relatively static. But when I was on tour with comedian JT Habersaat this spring and we had time to kill in Tucson, I got the tattoo featured here: KNOW REGRETS, followed by a little black heart. It’s not about heartbreak. It’s not about drinking. And it’s not about getting sober. I mean, it’s about all of those in that they all fall under the umbrella of what I think this tattoo is about, but I was trying to reach for something a little grander with it.
It’s a double entendre, a pun as corny as any my dad would make, so let’s start there. The obvious cultural referent is, of course, the ubiquitous NO REGRETS tattoo, a favorite of the YOLO crowd, preferably in Gothic lettering, all capitals, mercilessly sent up in Reddit posts and memes as “NO RAGRETS,” “NO REGERTS,” “NO REGETS” because it’s just so terribly funny that some folks’ parents had less money than our parents did so they grew up to be bad spellers.
Yes, I sympathize with the NO RAGRETS crowd, not because I’ve made a few mistakes in my life, not because I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life, but because I am a mistake stylist, I am a mistake auteur, I am a one-man mistake industry, I am made solely of mistakes to the extent that if you spellcheck ‘Mishka Shubaly’ one of the corrected spellings you are offered is ‘Mistakes Shabbily’ which is almost too perfect— even my mistakes are poorly made.
I am morally obligated to defend the misspelled tattoo splashed across the nearly hairless 17-year-old chest of the high school dropout Kid Rock fan only working in the Lowe’s Garden Center until his hip-hop career takes off. It’s fearless and defiant, even more so than if it had been spelled correctly. NO RAGRETS says:
“I have so much NO REGRETS that even this— a permanent misspelling of a common six-letter word, a phonetically spelled word, a terribly low-scoring Scrabble word—even THIS I do not regret.”
I don’t just sympathize with the NO RAGRETS crowd, I love them deeply, they are my people… and also, Jesus Christ, you poor stupid shitheads. Mine is not a NO RAGRETS tattoo.
Or even a NO REGRETS tattoo. My friend Ron Babcock, another comedian, had an old joke about the perfect tattoo—it would just say REGRET because that’s eventually what you will do with every tattoo and by predicting it, hey, you win! I considered getting a heart with a banner that just read ‘REGRET’ but I already have that heart tattoo that says “WHO CARES?” (Please see the note above about eventually regretting every single tattoo you will ever get).
And I don’t love my regrets, or luv them, or even <3 them. I’ve hurt a lot of people in my life, some of whom didn’t even deserve it. I am still haunted by bad decisions I’ve made. Yes, life is sweet now, sometimes unbearably sweet, and I understand the scifi logic that to undo even one petty mistake I’ve made in my life could jeopardize the whole kit and caboodle… but really? For me to undrink one Jagr Bomb, for me to unsnort one line of drugs I found on the floor, for me to unpuke on one subway platform, that could undo my entire current charmed life? Bullshit.
Here’s where it all comes together: whether it would do tremendous good or tremendous harm, you can’t undo the past. You can only move forward. I’m an alcoholic, I’ve been an alcoholic for a long time, and current wisdom says I’ll be an alcoholic forever. And I’m fine with that.
I don’t draw a hard line between who I was when I was drinking and who I am now because I still managed to make a lot of good decisions when I was a drunk and I still manage to make a lot of questionable decisions now. For me, KNOW REGRETS is not about getting sober, but a much quieter transformation: accepting my drinking years as a legitimate and authentic part of my life, an aggregation of experiences that inform who I am now in both positive and negative ways.
I neither deny my regrets nor obsess over them, I simply know my regrets, I’m well-acquainted with them, we’re on a friendly, first-name basis. We keep in close touch and they help inform the decisions I make today, and I’m even grateful for my regrets, as they allow me to chart a smoother course going forward with (hopefully) fewer regrets.
But not No Regrets, because how fucking boring would that be?!
Mishka Shubaly is a runner, a bestselling author, a rockstar (really!), a speaker, an advocate for recovery and change, and just an all-around great guy. You'd do well to buy his books, because his writing is spot-on stupendous. And fun. Lots and lots of fun. Click on the books below to buy them. (Please, if you do, leave a review on Amazon!)