Friday, February 25, 2011

oral fixation

Since I can remember, I've had an oral fixation. Freud said that “if a nursing child's appetite were thwarted during any libidinal development stage, the anxiety would persist into adulthood as a neurosis.” (That's a quote from Wikipedia, a source which, despite its poor academic reputation, I always consult if I have no idea what something is or how to explain it.)

I'm not sure if my mother actually did thwart my appetite while I was nursing, but something must have happened that made me want to put EVERYTHING in my mouth. I know that sounds dirty and sexual, and in the literal sense of the word, it IS dirty (how many coins have found their way into my mouth, and how many people have handled those coins? I shudder to even consider it).

Although I am not conscious of my earliest days, I've seen pictures of myself as a baby, chewing on wooden chairs, eating the cats' food, and shoving the whole family's toothbrushes in my mouth. As I progressed into elementary school age, I was an avid reader as well as an avid chewer. I would check out dozens of library books, and then tear out the corners of every page and eat them. My parents had to pay the library for all the books I destroyed.

I was able to cool it on the public property, but over the years I've eaten straw wrappers at restaurants, bits of napkins, the fringe from a torn out piece of notebook paper, the stick that a sucker comes on, and pen caps. I've sucked on coins, chewed gum, and smoked cigarette after cigarette. For a while I had a Camelbak water bottle, and I can't even describe to you how dependent I was on that thing. Something about that nipple top … well, I won't go into it.

The single habit that has been the mainstay of my lifelong oral fixation is biting my nails. One of my best friends once told me, “You are the most intense nail-biter I've ever seen. You twist and contort your hands in all kinds of ways just to get that nail.” And it's true! I catch myself, even in public, even at WORK, holding one of my hands with the other in some unnatural position so I can bite successfully. But it's not enough sometimes just to bite the nail. I rip out hangnails, cuticles, and I really get into that nail bed. Drawing blood is not uncommon.

I bite when I'm nervous or bored, usually. If I'm just hanging out, relaxing by myself, my nails are safe. But if you insert a little anxiety into the situation, I start a-chewin'. Put me in a room of people I don't know, and I'll kill my fingernails before I say a word to any of them. Set me on my lifeguard chair with no one to talk to for thirty minutes, and bam! Any and all white tips (oh how I covet those white tips, the ones you probably have on your nails and don't even think about, the ones I have scarcely seen on my own nails in years) are eaten away.

For as often and as obsessively as I do it, my nail-biting is one of the things I'm most self-conscious and embarrassed about. I remember one day in high school when I looked over at a girl who was biting her nails, looking at them, biting again, looking again. I thought she looked so gross and awkward, and I'm sure I look even more gross and awkward when I'm gnawing away at the sensitive skin underneath my fingernails.

I'm telling you all this because I am attempting to kick the habit. So far it's been about a week and I've only bitten a couple times. It's so tempting! I even had to put a band-aid on my finger the other night at work to make sure I wouldn't destroy it. And I find myself just kind of playing with my hands now, looking for something to occupy them. I guess a few setbacks and growing pains are inevitable.

But I am determined. It might seem trivial to non-biters, but I am really looking forward to my life without the compulsion to bite, chew, and tear at my fingernails. I honestly believe that when I can stop forever, I will feel more free than ever before.

As for right now, I have a phone call to make. I need to talk to my mom and find out what the hell she did to thwart my appetite in my libidinal development stage.


  1. I swear I did nothing to thwart your appetite in the libidinal development stage (whatever the heck that is!). Good luck kicking the habit. You can do it - I believe in you.

  2. Give yourself a reason to quit. I was a nailbiter when I was a kid, too. When I decided to start fingerpicking my guitar, I stopped. Period. You can too.

  3. Quitting? Hmmmm? Do it until you are sick of it. It will stop for you. Oh yah, it hasn't worked for me yet. :-) Keep up the good blog.