My Struggle to Love Myself & the Tats to Prove It
by Jealaine Marple
Like many others featured on TIR Tat Tales, I too struggle with addiction. However, my addiction isn’t to a particular substance. My addiction is the self-loathing and verbal, emotional, mental, and spiritual abuse that comes with fighting the demons of depression and anxiety.
I know that using the term addict can set off a potential powder keg of different perceptions and responses, but, at the time I was particularly struggling, it was as if I could not stop punishing myself. I was a walking contradiction.
I was addicted to beating myself up.
I was fresh into my call as a Parish Pastor to a congregation I really loved. Still do. However, the process of getting to this church beat me up, spiritually.
Before I had began work at that congregation, I waited for almost three whole years after graduation to start serving a church at all. (Part of the delay was due to my husband’s job—we had restricted ourselves in a way.) In that time, I experienced a great deal of darkness, doubt, and a sense that God had abandoned me. I sang songs of God’s love, read scripture of God’s presence, and proclaimed to others that God was a God of love and forgiveness, all while not believing a damn word of it myself.
I was wrestling with demons that came with making deliberate-and-conscious-mistake after deliberate-and-conscious-mistake. I was deep in denial that I was worthy of love, grace, and at times, even life.
As my demons became daily visitors, I engaged in friendships that were anything but life giving. They were terrible for my self-esteem and self-worth. I needed to feel needed. I was grasping at straws to get that affirmation anywhere I could, even if it left me feeling like shit afterward.
I was at a continuing education event in Minneapolis when I decided to finally go forward with the two wrist tattoos I had in mind. Even the task of finding a shop echoed the pattern my life had taken: it was haphazard and without much care. (Seriously, I just drove around looking for a place that was open!)
I had ambigrams placed on each wrist: saint/sinner on my left, grace/mercy on my right. I had the sinner portion pointed so that I could read it at all times; I wanted to be reminded of the horrible person I thought I was. I couldn’t forgive myself.
But, as I told people, I had the grace/mercy placed on the right wrist because I’m right handed and God’s grace and mercy are stronger than my sin. However, at that time it was all a lie I told people, hoping someday I might believe it too.
Thanks to counseling, confession & forgiveness, medications, and a lot of trial and error, I've finally arrived where I am starting to believe my original scheme for my tattoos.
As a bookend to the ambigrams, I recently got new foot tattoos. I thoroughly researched how I should situate them. The left says, by grace. The right says, through faith. I actually thought through and had planned out these tats. I placed them each on the right and left feet the way I did, because I usually lead with my left foot and so I walk through life—literally—by grace, through faith.
My demons still exist. There are days that are better than others. But I finally feel forgiven, by myself more than anything. I take peace in knowing that despite what I felt, God never abandoned me.
I walk by grace through faith as proof.
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Rev. Jealaine Marple is the pastor of Elvira Zion Lutheran Church in Clinton, Iowa. Today, she bears her tattoos with pride, living in the hope and trusting in the promises of the Infinite One. Jealaine is happily married and proudly owns another title: Mom.