How am I doing? Just look at my cuticles.
How am I doing? Well, for a while there I really felt like I had my shit together. I woke up. I showered. I wore reasonably cute clothes. I did my laundry on a regular schedule, I waxed my mustache before my kids made mention of it. I did all the things I needed to to have an outward presence of togetherness. And I had even made progress on my one real vice, the awful and soothing habit of picking and chewing my cuticles.
I know. It’s gross. I also know it’s harder to quit than smoking. The shame of this habit leads me to bite my fingers when I am alone at home or when I am driving. I am not some person standing there at a school event with her fingers in her mouth one second and reaching to shake your hand the next, I promise.
But I am that person who for some reason gets so engrossed in her cuticles that it’s not uncommon during times of stress for me to “relax” by ripping my fingers to pieces. At one point about a year and half ago I had bandaids on almost finger tip covering raw, deep pink, hot, sore and likely infected finger tips.
I thought I had been doing so well lately at breaking the mindless picking and pulling and biting. I was really consistent in moisturizing my hands because I know it’s near impossible to pick at skin if it’s not dry. Then a few days ago a little tiny rough piece of skin on my pinky caught my attention. I loved how it felt when it rubbed it with the thumb on my same hand. Driving while “petting” this rough patch was really relaxing to me, almost hypnotic. It would take a lot of energy to not bring my hand up to my mouth and pull my lips back like a snarling animal and gently get that tiny piece of skin between front teeth and pull. But then on Sunday, for whatever reason I broke and the feeling of satisfaction is not unlike when you have denied yourself some sweet treat and you finally indulge. My finger became my very own chocolate cake. What started as a nibble is now a very real wound I have created on my finger that I have spent the last several days trying to heal.
Again – I know this is gross and I know it’s a habit that is hurting me. But more than that it’s a reflex action to an emotion. For me, at this phase in my awful habit my mind has sort of made this connection that says, “oh, hey there anxiety it’s been awhile. Why don’t we sit and hang out and chill a bit and to keep you from really going balls to the wall we’ll eat this finger together. Okay? That’ll keep you busy.”
And so that’s how I ended up with this awful looking and quite painful finger for the last 4 days. On the one hand (no pun intended) I am really proud of myself that pretty much all my other fingers are intact and have been for a while. On the other hand, (I can’t believe I am writing this) I nag my boyfriend every day and tell him to stop picking at HIS fingers. Can you even believe that?!
Here’s the thing, remember what I wrote up there a few paragraphs ago, about me hiding my bad habits? It’s true. I rarely ever pick my fingers in front of people. But the boyfriend sort of delicately picks and fiddles with his hands all damn day long and it drives me crazy. He has never hurt himself, he has never drawn blood, he has never gone to the extremes I have AND he has never gone into hiding over a bad habit either and so maybe what bothers me isn’t him picking his fingers but rather that he doesn’t feel compelled to hide.
And there it is. The point of all this.
I have come so far in the last years to get back to myself, to uncover new talents and passions, to be comfortable in my own skin but still there is a piece that needs to be acknowledged and worked through and dealt with: the hiding.
I hide the cause of my stress from nearly all of my family and most of my friends. I hide hurtful experiences to me and my kids to protect the reputation and feelings of others. I hide … I actually just stopped typing for a moment to begin to gently peel away my thumb, for the love of God… anyway… I hide what goes on behind the scenes from my kids so that they can look back on their childhood without stress. I hid so much when I was married and I thought that was totally normal because as a teen and a child I had hid not only my behavior from others but also the inappropriate behaviors of others.
Right there, all along, plain as the skin on my hand, has been the answer to the question “How am I doing?” :
I am raw, I am hurt, I am sore and I am healing and I am the only one who can stop the damage from continuing.