A permanent badge of recovery

Sobriety tattoos allow those in recovery to permanently wear a remembrance of rising from the ashes

By Greta Lieske

Sobriety TattooTattoos have always been popular in some sector of the human population for various functions — declaring devotion to gods or spirituality, showing allegiance, displaying a status. Now, getting inked is mainstream.  

More than 45 million Americans have tattoos, a number that continues to grow every day.

Many people in recovery have also flocked to the trend. A tattoo to celebrate sobriety allows those who have overcome addiction to embrace their recovery, but also remember the past.

Dr. Judy Rosenberg, Ph.D., says it isn’t hard to figure out why sobriety tattoos are growing in popularity in the community. By taking recovery one day at a time, each day in sobriety is a milestone. Sobriety “birthdays” are also a popular celebration.

“Every day sober is a victory over the addiction that could have taken that individual's life,” Rosenberg says. “The day someone becomes sober is a marker of a decision to commit to life, and to commit to a journey of recovery. It’s a monumental decision. It makes sense that recovering addicts may want a physical and personal symbol of their decision to choose life over their addiction.”

Rosenberg explains that unlike a bracelet or ring that can be removed, a tattoo is a permanent representation of the commitment to a life change — it’s etched into the skin.

“Physically looking at the tattoo — at times when life's stressors may attempt to lessen the resolve of
the recovering addict — it can remind them of their commitment and quickly bring them back to sober thinking.”

Lucy R. is one of those people. Sharing her sobriety tattoo story with, she says that when it comes to the content of the ink, it’s always personal to the individual.

“I'm now on my ‘second round’ in sobriety,” Lucy explains. “I got sober at 17 and stayed sober for close to 10 years. I always wanted to get the AA or NA symbol as a tattoo, which I think is the most common for young addicts in recovery, but my first sponsor told me not to ‘brand myself.’”

Having trouble labeling herself as a recovering addict, she struggled with her first bout of sobriety, which eventually ended.

sobriety tattoo“I thought perhaps I was just young when I first was using, or perhaps it was a phase,” Lucy says, adding it wasn’t phase and she needed to find sobriety again. “Fast forward six years, and I'm now almost 9 months sober again. Recently, I saw a coffee mug with ‘Love the Moment’ on it. To me, it was a variation of ‘Just for Today,’ something I've always struggled with and something I need to always remind myself of. I got this tattoo on my upper right arm.”

The tattoo is personal, so to Lucy, she’s not “branding" herself with any sort of specific "recovery tattoo."

“I have nothing to hide about being in recovery, and the fact that I did hide it for so many years when I was younger turned out to be my demise. I think recovery tattoos — just like recovery — are totally specific and personal to each recovering addict.”

Do you have a sobriety tattoo? What is it? Tell us in the comments!

Dr. Judy Rosenberg, Licensed Clinical Psychologist, holds a Ph.D. and Master’s in Psychology from the California Graduate Institute in Los Angeles and a BA in Psychology from UCLA.



Herbert  2658 days ago

Roman 10 (X) with the words surrender to mark my 10 years.

mary s-d  2659 days ago

i do not have recovery tattoo ...yet ...because i have not decided what to get or what it shoulda say. however i did do a cover up tattoo to the one i got when i was 16 and living high on drugs and alcohol. the orignal tatt was a butterfly because i wanted to be "wild and free" the cover up tattoo takes up 1/4 of my back and is a page from fairy tale is my kids, a dragon for my older son Ray who was born in 2000 and a dog for my younger son Russell born in 2006. the fairy tale came true because i was able to get clean and sober in 1998 and be able to become a mom. the butterfly is still there,she is underneath, and i had my tattoo artist put a smaller butterfly in this one too. i am still the same person, but i don't do the same things. and i have grown and changed and become something better.

Dan  2660 days ago

I just got a sobriety tattoo! It has my wedding date, my sobriety date, and it says "All is Well.: I got it for my 40th birthday this past July and because my sponsee who is an excellent tattoo artist was moving to Montreal.

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