So. Like. This is really personal. This is me being super vulnerable.
And even on a secret-ish anonymous blog I am kind’a nervous about this.
So… be nice guys *said in a high pitched squeak with an unconscious shoulder shrug*
The other side to that is I want to share it.
But – this feels gross. Like, pimple picking is gross. The intensity and details are gross. This whole thing is pretty yucky. But maybe it doesn’t need to be “bad” – in that it is just something that happens… who knows??
So… well… here goes.
TRIGGER WARNING: narc abuse, self harm mentioned
Addiction defined according to…
- Wikipedia: Addiction is a brain disorder characterized by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli, despite adverse consequences
- Psychology Today: Addiction is a condition that results when a person ingests a substance (e.g., alcohol, cocaine, nicotine) or engages in an activity (e.g., gambling, sex, shopping) that can be pleasurable but the continuation of which becomes compulsive and interferes with ordinary responsibilities and concerns
So, I am addicted to picking my pimples.
As far as addictions go – it is unlikely that I will steal or otherwise engage in risky or illegal behaviour to support my habit (other than picking whilst driving which obviously isn’t ideal). It is unlikely that I will loose employment or meaningful relationships at this point, so I completely own that this is a very mild addiction. A relatively ‘safe’ addiction. I say that because I am aware of some phenomenally courageous people battling substance addiction – Check out Under My Skin for her incredibly raw, authentic and brave vulnerability around addiction. In no way do I mean to take away from their journey. I don’t even mean to put myself on the same platform – other than to say that the word ‘addiction’ has meaning for me in this context which is why I use it.
In saying that, the term ‘addiction’ has really helped me grabble with the enormity of this habit. It was first introduced to me maybe 7 or so years ago by a psychologist I was seeing at the time. The term addiction gave all the feelings of compulsion and loss of control a sense of validity. It wasn’t that I was super weak, it was that my brain had rewired itself around this addiction. It also explained why I couldn’t break free from it – despite clearly wanting to.
I first saw pimple picking when I was a very little person. Narc had a special mirror, and would lean on the countertop and spend what seemed like hours doing it. I remember looking at narc with my 4 or 5 year-old eyes thinking that she looked so grown-up, so self assured, as she did this. Which is weird repeating it, but hey, the interpretations of little people!
The special mirror moved houses with us. The habit stayed the same. I am unaware of any pattern to it, but doesn’t mean that there wasn’t one.
Fast forward about 10 years (I am not even sure when this actually started!), and narcissistic abuse was in full swing. Not only that, but now I was aware of the disfunction, which compounded the sense of loss and hopelessness.
I was developing pimples. Hormonal teenager, fun, fun! I was teased for my pimples. She teased me. My brother teased me. People at school teased me. At one point the people at school gave one a name. I don’t remember what it was, I just remember being so shamed out… like, these people couldn’t speak to me on a day to day basis but could reference something on my face. Kids suck sometimes!!
So there was that. There was the obvious incessant belief that if I just popped them, they would not hurt and even go away. Maybe I would be pretty or beautiful or worth more to society if I just didn’t have these pimples. I think that that is fairly common teen angst stuff.
The narc abuse meant that I had no idea, literally none, that there was something I could do about them. I didn’t know that there was different medication I could try or washes to use. I had no idea about any of that! Thank goodness for pharmacists and doctors.
Where this crossed over from being teen-angst-y to more addiction-y was when it was my go to tool to help me stop self-harm. It was then that it became a coping strategy, a crutch. When I felt like self-harming, I could pick at my pimples.
So helpful in the I-didn’t-accidentally-kill-myself-with-razor thing. But unhelpful in the not dealing with the root cause of the problem, thus creating a problem that has continued on. All in all, I think it was a ‘good’ decision to change. Picking was a lot safer than cutting. It was the best that I could do at that time.
And hopefully now, I am in a position where I can make an even better choice. But brain rewiring is hard!
3 types of pimple picking for me.
- Mirror picking. This is the most intense and psychically obvious. I go to the bathroom mirror (usually at home, but also at work, or in the car, or in the change rooms at a store…) and pick my pimples. I am looking for different colour pigmentations and feeling for bumps and lumps which might indicate puss of some form.On a bad day I might go to the mirror 8-10 times a day or more if I am home all day. And it might be for 5 minutes or it could be for an hour. At my most intense times I have picked what feels and looks like every single pore on my face, shoulders and chest. Easily an hour or more.
I have been trying to define if it is conscious or unconscious. This is absolutely the most conscious of the three choices… however it isn’t always conscious. I could be brushing my hair, walking past the mirror going to the toilet, cleaning up the bench – when I start picking. At other times it is my processing tool. If I’ve had an intense conversation or a bad day at work, and/or if I am super tired these are times when I actively ‘choose’ or gravitate towards longer picking sessions.
- Picking without a mirror. This is when I’ll be sitting in bed, or about to hop in the shower and find a pimple on my shoulder or leg or something. This is different than the above scenario because it is rarely an ‘all out’ thing like the above. Usually it will be one or two pimples and then I’m done.I would like to say it is conscious, but perhaps it isn’t. I’m not really sure!
- Scratching, searching and picking. This is the unconscious hand wandering all over my face, neck, head, arms, chest, and shoulders. This would happen probably realistically 60-70% of the day when my hands are not preoccupied (i.e. typing or writing etc)… I actually wouldn’t be surprised if it was higher than that.A psych has asked me if I ever get surprised that my hands are picking, like somehow ‘come to’ and realise my hands are searching. And the answer is not really – because it just always happens. Boring school assemblies, driving in the car, watching movies, waiting for the internet to load – all of it. And it is all the time.
But it isn’t a conscious choice I don’t think. I don’t sit down and think, oh my face feels funny, I wonder if I have a bite or something on my cheek, I’ll just check. It’s just done, all the time. With no justification, or purpose.
The annoying part is that all three lead into each other and feed into the habit. The constant searching alerts me to any bumps – which may need mirrors, the mirror picking leads to scabs which results in more searching, and the without mirror picking keeps me entertained in the meantime.
So the first part of my action plan is to acknowledge that this will be uncomfortable. I have used picking as a crutch for so many emotions and feelings, and changing this will be uncomfortable. Feelings can be uncomfortable (aka shitty). And that is okay.
Secondly what I am focusing on is the mirror picking for now. I’m not even going to broach the scratching/searching/picking thing yet. One step at a time. Also, one realistic step at a time. So if I have an epically painful pimple, I am okay (at this point) in going to the mirror and picking that single solitary one. Tiny little baby steps.
Thirdly before I head into the bathroom, I have been consciously saying to myself that I don’t want to pick. Because I don’t. I acknowledge that picking has given me a lot – in that it’s been a strategy I have used for maybe 15 years… so it had value. And in all awkward honesty, I really enjoyed (enjoy?) popping pimples. It’s just that right now, it’s out of control, and not healthy or helpful. And I don’t want to anymore.
Lastly, mistakes are okay. Lapses are okay. No beating myself up. Just patient watching and observing.
Progress so far?
I decided this yesterday amongst a possibly related / possibly unrelated existential crisis 🙂
Yesterday I purposefully choose to pick two pimples. I picked four. But I only went to the mirror once, on purpose. One time. That’s a massive deal. And I only picked two extras. I am really proud of the self-awareness / self-control (??) to stop after the two extras, because the day before – it would have been 15 – 30 extras. No joke.
Today I picked one of the above ones. It is hurting without any fussing (okay, a little fussing). But I also walked straight into the toilets at yoga and went to the mirror looking for a pimple to pick. That was unconscious, and took me by surprise. I didn’t pick – I went to the loo once I had realised where I was.
Today I found myself consciously closing the sliding mirror thingy in my car – and making purposeful decision not to look at it.
I did look at it the car mirror when I got to the shops, and I did pick one.
So … like… already it’s pretty obvious that this is a very intense process. I am trying to be gentle on myself, but as I have written that list, it’s hard not to be a little disappointed. So I will keep going. On tiny little steps. With love, and non judgement… and totally compassion. As I try to rewire brain wiring that I didn’t even know existed!
Wish me luck!
And by-jeepers how freaking phenomenal are all the mind-blowingly amazing people that have battled and overcome/are overcoming substance abuse?!!! My hat goes off to you! I am in awe! This is hard.