When Ariel Carroll went in for her latest tattoo—one of ten decorating her petite frame—she brought a poem she had written, a collage, and music for meditation. She asked tattoo artist Philip Milic to "create with intention." He knew just what to do. What resulted is a full back design, beginning at the base of her spine, extending up to her shoulder blades where the outstretched wings of an angel cover her upper back in an embrace. It had been a year since the friend who called her "angel" died in a fire, a tragic accident Carroll couldn’t quite process while caring for two babies, moving to a new city, and grappling with emotional trauma she had buried inside since her childhood. "We had that in common [a history of abuse], and when we found each other, it was an instant connection," she says of the friend. "We were helping each other through it all. And then he was just gone."
Carroll wanted a tattoo to memorialize her friend, but she says the process has given her so much more. As she winced at the pain of the tattoo gun—yes, it almost always hurts—her internal wounds began to heal. "Getting out of your head and into your body is profound," says Carroll, a poet and mother of two who lives in Sacramento, California. "Whenever you suffer through something physical and come out the other side, it helps you deal with emotional pain. And then you're left with a permanent reminder to keep feeling."