Why I Got a Tattoo

 I gave my first Toastmaster’s speech this morning. Thank you for all your support and encouraging words from yesterday’s post.   While it wasn’t perfect, I am happy I showed up and finished.  🙂

In my speech I shared why I got a tattoo.  I think this may surprise many of you that know me. This year has been one of many changes for our family and me personally.  A few months ago, Catie and I chose to get tattoos together, representing the beginning of new chapters in our lives.  I share in my speech some of the deep meaning behind my tattoo.


Here is a written copy of my story, if you would prefer to read it.

Why I Got a Tattoo

If you would have asked me a year ago, I would not have imagined I would be standing here today or that I would have a tattoo. Thank you for the opportunity to share my story.

The black monster called fear has plagued me since my earliest memories. For instance, as a child left alone with my younger brother and sister late into the night, I felt responsible for protecting them. I was afraid to fall asleep because if I did someone might kill my parents and impersonate them and I wouldn’t know.

As I grew, my fears grew with me. I became quiet and withdrawn, covering my anxiety by acting silly and poking fun at myself to get a laugh. At age 17, on the day I took my driver’s test, I writhed in severe stomach pain on the kitchen floor—pain that went away immediately after I passed the test.
In speech class, my teacher called me Caroline the entire semester, and I was so shy and scared I never corrected him.

In adulthood, fear continued to sap me of opportunities, and joy. I tried to control my environment and those around me so I could be free of germs, crowds, spontaneity. Fear, my constant companion choked my life, and I wasn’t even aware of its presence.

There is a saying that says, “Real change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of changing.” I reached that point about a year ago. My family began to plan a three-week vacation overseas—and I dreaded going. Try getting sympathy from your friends when you tell them you are going on vacation to Europe. I reached out for help and attended a Making Peace with Your Past Retreat that began a new chapter of my life.

To overcome fear, you must face what you are afraid of. In May, we took the vacation to Germany, Greece, and Italy. Over and over, I repeated affirmations I’d written ahead of time.

I will pack – fly and arrive. There will be long lines, tight spaces and lots of people. I have tools. I a strong. I will go into the uncomfortable because freedom is in no other place. I will love lavishly. I will care well for myself. We will return with memories. It will be stressful. It will be fun.

I faced many of my fears. On crowded buses, people push into me on every side. I clutched my purse as I feared strangers would steal it. There were long lines at TSA. And I had to deal with germs in public bathrooms. We took eight flights in twenty days and on the seventh flight, I didn’t burst into tears as the plane took off. And I found what is on the other side of fear–freedom and life.

In the process, I discovered who I am. A few years ago, I would have described myself as a teacher, a writer, a mom, and a wife. I am married to my college sweetheart–25 years this coming May. I have a degree in elementary education, and I homeschooled my two children for over a decade. I built a blog called Filled to Empty that encourages busy and tired women to care for themselves so they can love well.

I’ve learned those words are nouns that tell you what I do—not adjectives that tell you who I am. To find adjectives the phrase needs to start with “I am” not I am a.” The three words I use to describe myself are I am curious, passionate and optimistic.

My curiosity drives me to learn as much as I can about everything. As a young child, I dreamed of living next door to a library so I wouldn’t have to wait for mom to give me a ride. I could walk over and return 50 books and then check out 50 more. Now my Kindle and the Internet are dreams come true.

I am passionate as fire. I have a progressive retinal eye disease that made functioning in daily life increasingly difficult. My eyesight even while wearing both glasses and contacts at the same time would no longer meet the minimum requirements to renew my driver’s license. I was heartbroken because whatever I do at life I do with all my might. To my delight, two years ago, I became a candidate for a surgery that restored a good portion of my vision, and I am now able to drive and function relatively normally. That has spurred me not to waste a day I am given.

I chose to live life like Winnie the Pooh with optimism, and joie de vivre or the joy of life. Winnie the Pooh has some great quotes. “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.” And “Nobody can be uncheered with a balloon.”

After living too many decades chained by anxiety and depression, breath and joy taste so sweet. This drives me to encourage those my life touches. I want people to know that they matter, that they have value and worth. Albert Einstein said, “I have no special talent, I’m only passionately curious.” My passionate curiosity has lead me to a life-long love of learning and books. I enjoy writing non-fiction, short fiction stories and have joined a writer’s group. I dream of being a published author. I think that writing and speaking are two sides of the same coin. I’m excited to join Toastmaster’s and follow the path wherever it might lead.

My tattoo is a symbol of the new me. It’s a physical reminder that I have put a stake in the ground and I am not my fear. I am not my panic attacks. My tattoo says, “Breathe”. When I panic I can’t get a breath. My tattoo reminds me I have the power to overcome. I just need to take a breath.

The T is a cross because my ultimate freedom comes from my Christian faith. I couldn’t have found life and hope without it.

The word Breathe is followed by a semicolon. The semicolon tells me that could have chosen to end the sentence with a period, but I didn’t. It’s not over. I am not powerless. I am no longer a victim. I have a choice. I have a voice.

I am here at Toastmasters today as a step in my journey, facing my fear of people. I lived too many years wearing a mask of who I wanted to be–curious, passionate, and optimistic on the outside while turmoil and pain wracked my inner life. I could teach and lead meetings, but when I went home, I spent the rest of the day in bed with a migraine. One of the quotes I read on the Toastmasters website was that this is a safe place to try new things. I used to lead and overachieve as a way of coping with anxiety. I am excited to try and not be perfect. My tattoo reminds me that I am not chained to my past but I have the power to fully love and be loved. Thank you for welcoming me to Toastmasters, I’m excited to take the next step in my journey.


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