My fingers bleed on occasion. Well, at least once a day. The skin around my nails is in a constant process of healing- fresh red pus, a new scab, or a faint scar. I don’t think I’m in the minority of people who bite their nails (or, more precisely, the cuticle and skin around the nails). My sister does it, as does a good friend of mine. We talk about it now and then, laughing away the silly habit. Like eating too much chocolate in one day, we are nonchalant about this nervous skill. The truth is, I’ve been biting, chewing, spitting, and swallowing the skin around my nails for longer than I can remember- at least since middle school. At 31, I think it’s time to face reality and admit this habit is out of control.
Back when I was still living under the impression that biting my nails was more of an eccentric action (rather than plainly destructive), I was actually somewhat proud of the damage I could do. It’s not too far from hearing alcholics or drug addicts talk about how much Vodka they could down in a few hours or how many lines of coke they could snort and still function. Even when they may have admitted the problem and endured rehab, there would still be some distant pride in surviving the self-inflicted ordeal. The greater the damage, the stronger the spirit must have been to survive. My fingers must feel that way. I can hear them now, “Back in 1996, right after a spectacular day kayaking in the Puget Sound, mouth went to town on us, biting each side of each cuticle for at least a half an hour, working the skin just before the bleeding, trying to savor the calluses left over from last week’s binge, prolonging the inevitable need for Band Aids. Oh, but we are still here. Typing away.”
Okay, so when I think about it, I am fairly ashamed of my actions. Maybe the drug and alcohol abusers are, too, when they have to recount the details of their actions. But, I do remember the day when Ed, who had only recently married me, engaged the morbid fascination of my biting (now it’s just a nuisance for him, like any repeated action you live with for nearly a decade). He asked me to bite his nails like I bite mine to better understand my process. Unabashedly, I bit the skin on the side of his cuticle, just like I do mine, hard and precise. His hand recoiled. Shocked at the realization that I actually bite the skin, and not the nail, like “normal” people, we never really addressed the issue again.
For the last two weeks, I’ve taken a page from the AA handbook and decided to take my nail biting day by day. I wake up most days, and say to myself, “I won’t bite today. I might bite tomorrow, but I will just focus on today.” Unfortunately, I’ve yet to get through an entire day without biting. I don’t even know my record. Four, maybe six hours, tops, I would guess. The trouble is, I don’t even know I’m doing it. It’s not like I have to call a dealer (“got any fresh skin?”) or pour a drink. I just have to zone out working, thinking, watching t.v., and my teeth crave their pacifier. I’m still trying, though. I’m thinking about putting picture of beautifully manicured hands from jewelry advertisements in all the places I’m prone to nibble.