-- Guest Post by Kim --
In my purse I try to always carry:
- knit gloves
- lotion (multiple varieties)
- finger fidget (a toy for ADHD kids)
- cuticle trimmers
And on a good day I manage to remember my wallet, cellphone and keys. At the very least, schlepping all this stuff around is embarrassing (um...why do you have knit gloves in your bag in the middle of summer?) and at the very worst, it outs me as a hoarder, which, as reality television has taught us, belies my slow but steady march towards a life as a crazy old bag lady. But I don’t have a choice, really. They are tools to fight my secret and embarrassing addiction: I compulsively pick my fingers.
I didn’t know finger-picking was a thing, but it is, apparently. I’d always thought it was just a ‘bad habit’. But after my 100th or so yearly attempt to kick the habit I found myself googling like a madwoman in the middle of the night to see if anyone else really struggled with this the same way I do. Meaning: not only do I rip and tear at the skin around my fingers till they bleed and get infected, but, I also really, really enjoy it. That enjoyment is what sets me apart from a lot of people in the world who casually pick or bite at their nails. I feel an incredible calm satisfaction from what looks like an idle and destructive habit.
I’ve always wanted to stop so I figured I’d try for the 101th time with the tools I’d learned about from my googling. I loaded up my bag and my car and my desk at work and I got serious. For a while the tools helped. Trim my cuticles instead of tear at them. Occupy my hands with ADHD toys so I wasn’t ever idle. Wear gloves in the car or at the movies when temptation is at it’s worst. I even wear moisturizer gloves while I sleep at night. (Throw my night guard in the mix and I’ve got one lucky husband). Once I got over the fear of someone catching me looking like a weirdo, and started embracing my tools, I saw a small improvement.
But the real breakthrough came when I started thinking about what was happening in my brain whenever I picked. All the support websites recommend focusing on what is going on emotionally before or during picking. Are you sad, anxious, or bored? When I started thinking about it, I realized that it wasn’t just one thing. Picking accompanied every emotion; when I was happy or bored or scared or really anything at all. So that methodology wasn’t very helpful in determining a cause and effect for my behavior. But turning on my brain and really listening to what I was feeling did lead me to recognize a far more disturbing pattern. Whenever I caught myself picking, I’d think, “There you go again. You’re lazy. You’re not even trying. You don’t want to get better. You’re terrible and this is just a symptom of your shittiness. This is how you’ll be forever because you suck. And, btw, you’re fat.” And there was my Holy Shit Moment. (I know Oprah goes with ‘Aha Moment’, but whenever I have these breakthroughs I actually say “HO-lee SHIT”, so try that on for size, Oprah)
An a cruel inner voice isn’t motivational. It isn’t helping me ‘pull up my bootstraps’. In what rational universe do you motivate someone by berating them? By criticizing their efforts or belittling the success they’ve worked for, even if it’s meager. If a friend came to me and said, I’m having trouble kicking this bad habit and therefore I am shit forever, I’d give her a hug and tell her that I was proud of her for trying at all. And encourage her to keep going! I would never in a million years speak to a friend in the same way I talk to myself. The way I was “motivating” myself was mean and inefficient, and no one deserves that.
When I realized I was treating myself so poorly when picking, I began to notice this behavior in virtually every aspect of my life. Every time things got rough, I kicked myself before anyone else even had the chance. I never treated myself with any sort of love. Every slip up, in life, love and work, was an excuse to tell myself how shitty I was. What an exhausting way to live.
Now, whenever I notice my own nasty, mean criticism, I take a minute and ask myself if that’s how I’d talk to a friend. I'm not 100% cured - I still pick occasionally - but I'm a lot better. And I'm giving myself the time and space to continue to get better. Now, the most valuable tool in my kit is forgiveness, love and patience towards myself. And the best part is, it’s in my heart and head so I can’t leave it at home, like I frequently forget my cuticle trimmer.