Tattoos that heal: How this artist is transforming the scars of self-harm –

Posted in Tattooing on Jun 29, 2021

Laura Casey, owner of Lady Lo's Custom Tattoos in St. John's started the Two Arrows project to help survivors of self-harm. (Mark Cumby/CBC)

Bill Barnes' struggle with self-harm began around age 11 or 12.

"Initially, for me, it was a way to just kind of instantly come out of my brain," he said.

As an adult, Barnes has for years considered covering the scars he bears from self-harm.

He just wasn't quite sure how to go about it.

Now, as a client of the St. John's-based Two Arrows project, he's had the scars on his arm covered with a tattoo. These days, Barnes can roll up his sleeve and reveal a crowperched on the thorns of a rose.

Laura Casey, a tattoo artist who runsLady Lo's Custom Tattoos in St. John's, began Two Arrowsto help survivors of self-harm.

She said the goal is simple."It's tattoos for healing," she said.

"Self-harm in a lot of forms is a lot more common than people think," she said. "I think with, you know, the cutting, it's a level of distressit's a level of mental distress that is kind of taking a physical form."

Casey offers freeconsultation and tattooing services to Two Arrows clients. She currently devotes one day a month to the program as a volunteer, and typicallyhelps one to threepeople every month.

WATCH | Bill Barnes and Laura Casey describe the impact of the Two Arrows program:

Casey said demand is high, though, so she's started a pay-it-forward program. All donations from the program expand Casey's capacity to serve Two Arrows clients free of charge.

The name of the project is rooted in the Buddhist parable of the two arrows, or Sallatha Sutta, which illuminates the nature of suffering. According to the parable, the first arrow symbolizes an unavoidably difficult life eventsuch as illness, death or the end of a relationshipwhile the second arrow represents negative emotions that mayarise in response to these events, such as shame, anger and self-criticism.

The parable teaches that while the first arrow is likely inevitable, the second arrow can be a choice. Instead of shooting the second arrow of self-judgment and deepening the first arrow's wound, the parable offers an alternate path toward healing and self-compassion.

It's this healing path that inspired Casey's project. And for Casey, there's hope in reclaiming power from the potential shame surrounding self-harm.

"It needs to become a conversation when we make connections with other people. When we can, you know, be honest about the things that potentially have caused us the most shame and strugglebring that out and take that bit of power away from it. I think there's a lot of good in that," she said.

Before receiving his tattoo, Barnes said his scars were always on his mind while interacting with everybody. He feared that people were thinking about his scars or that they would ask questions.

"Now that's not there anymore," he said. "So it's been a huge step in my process."

And though covering his arm has helped him find peace and healing, Barnes doesn't feel his tattoo has erased his scars.

"You know, my scars are a part of me," he said.

"In a way I kind of see them as battle scars because this was like a particularly bad time that I managed to get through. I guess it's not really in a way to cover them up, but kind of incorporating them into a beautiful piece of art."

If you are in crisis or know someone who is, here is where to get help:

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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Tattoos that heal: How this artist is transforming the scars of self-harm -

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