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Tattoo Removal

Removery ambassador, Olympian, and former Hockeyroo Anna Flanagan opens up about her battles with addiction and how removing two tattoos is helping her heal from the inside out

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Follow Anna’s amazing journey to Removery here

The first time I ever picked up a hockey stick, I was just four-years-old.

My mum and dad both played hockey, and they very quickly saw that I had been born with natural talent. In fact, it was mum and dad, who encouraged me to pursue my dream of one day playing for Australia.

From then on, wearing the green and gold was all I ever wanted.

Performing on the field was my “safe place”. I loved the feeling of winning. My school friends were all sporty, and they would always be cheering me on.

Looking back now, those school days were some of my happiest memories, but there wasn’t a lot of balance.

When other 18-year-olds were going to parties, I was training.

I fell into a negative type of “emotional cycle”. If I was playing well, I was euphoric, riding the highs and loving life. If a game didn’t go my way, it would feel like the end of the world. I’d obsess over what else I could do if I didn’t succeed at hockey. I was constantly seeking approval, and if I didn’t get it, it would really hit me hard.

It wasn’t long before I started to feel completely out of control, and started fixating on what I was eating. I knew I needed to be in charge of something and I could control that. As a result, I stopped going out for dinner with friends and just thought about food constantly. I couldn’t stop.

At such a young age, I simply didn’t have the courage, or strength of mind, to tell anyone I was struggling.

While I was falling apart on the inside, on the outside I was winning, literally and figuratively. I scored major sponsorships, represented Australia in the 2012 Olympics, and – a year later – was named World Young Hockey Player of the Year.

Right up until my early twenties – as an athlete – I’d avoided alcohol. But, at the end of a major tournament, I’d go out to celebrate the incredible high of winning; it was never just one or two [drinks]. It was always the party to end all parties. I’d wake up the next day thinking, ‘well… I’ll never do that again’. And I wouldn’t touch alcohol for months.

In 2014 – around the age of twenty-two – I played in both the World Cup and the Commonwealth Games. But, off the field was a completely different story.

I moved to Holland, alone in a country where I couldn’t speak the language. I wasn’t allowed to go out. It’s not a good look for an athlete to be in bars every night, so I’d stay home alone.

This is when it all started.

I remember having my first bottle of wine by myself, which for someone who doesn’t drink a lot, hit me hard. I didn’t even notice it progress to two bottles… then three.

Alcohol became a friend at a time when I felt lonely and isolated. I didn’t realise then that there would come a time that I couldn’t stop – even when I wanted to.

I started to withdraw and, as a result, my performance on the field started to suffer. I was selected as a reserve at the Rio Olympics in 2016, so even though I could only play if someone got injured, I still had to be there and do all the work.

By this time, I started to become quite impulsive and reckless. I was even pulled over by the police, which led to me being dropped from the Olympic squad just before the tournament began.

Back home in Australia the same media who had built me up when I was doing well, cut me down. I got slammed – and rightly so – but, at just 24-years-old, I just didn’t know what to do with all the fear and resentment I was feeling.

One day I saw a tattoo parlour, walked straight in, and got some script on my back. As soon as I’d done it, I knew it was a mistake. I’d had tattoos in the past; some I love, some that remind me of sad times, but this was pure anger. I wasn’t thinking – I felt completely out of my depth.

The next few years were very dark. I went from job to job. I tried to work in sports media, but it didn’t fill the void hockey left behind and I stopped training. That was huge for me. My whole life had been about getting up in the morning and training. Without it, I had none of the structure I’d leaned on, none of the support.

In reflection, I realise now I’d never given myself a chance to fully grieve over losing hockey. I went straight into survival mode, planning my next move. But I was never satisfied. I was even homeless at one point. I’d gone from having everything to having nothing.

The straw that broke the camel’s back happened about two years ago in 2019. I’d just left another job, which I disliked, and was clinging onto a relationship which I saw as the one thing that would save me.

When that ended, it was like something snapped inside me. I knew I had to do something. It was my rock bottom. I checked myself into rehab the next day.

For the first time in my life, I felt like I wasn’t hiding. Everyone – from the staff to the other clients – was honest, so I felt like I could be truthful too and say, ‘I have a problem and I need help’. All the shame, and the hiding, started to go away right then.

However, it was three weeks later – when I came home – that the real work began. I knew my journey was going to be a day-by-day process, and I learned the hard way that it was one I’d be on forever.

Slowly, with the help of friends, family, and my support team, I started to mend. I got a new job that I love, I started a beautiful new relationship, and I moved into a new house near the beach.

As things started to come together, I looked at what else I could do to let go of the pain of my past and give me a fresh purpose in life.

It was then that I realised that two of my tattoos were a constant reminder of being in a sad, angry or shameful place. I knew that having them removed would help me move on from my past and embrace a future that I hadn’t thought was even possible.

That’s when I discovered Removery.

Removery is the world’s tattoo removal experts. They use the latest laser technology to remove tattoos. Their ethos is all about helping people love themselves again from the “inside out”, which is exactly what I needed to do.

The physical signs on my body were a constant reminder of where I used to be, not where I am now, or where I’m going.

When the team at Removery told me they could help me remove my tattoos, it felt like another step forwards in my recovery – a chance to change my narrative and start a new story.

Today, I’m working, I’m healthy, I’m sober, and I’m grateful. But best of all I now help other women, who are battling addiction.

Giving back, or mentoring other women has become a huge part of my life and is something I hope to hang on to each day.

I was heading down a very dark path, but I’ve done a complete 360. I’ve got amazing support, which gives me the ability to help support others.

I’m the happiest, and healthiest, I’ve ever been.

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