It’s 9 pm at night and I walk into my bathroom, turn all of the lights on and stare into the mirror. There’s one, there’s another, and there is a good one. I see the one I want to get first, and I go up really close to my mirror, stare at my face, and begin. The sharp edge of my nail pierces the first layer of my skin and it starts to bleed. As blood is dripping down my face, I wince a little, but then the overwhelming feeling of euphoria comes over me and I feel relief, followed by the feeling of exhaustion and intense guilt. This cycle continues until I’ve picked all of the scabs off my face and there’s nothing left. I have a picking addiction, otherwise known as Excoriation. Many people struggle with what I go through, but no one talks about it. By looking at me from afar or watching me perform on stage, you would never know that I struggle with this addiction that over 40% of the American population struggles with daily. But if you look at me closely, with no makeup on, you’ll see my scars.
I first started picking when I was 5-years-old as a coping mechanism to deal with my parents brutal and ugly divorce. Or that’s at least how a therapist once told it to me. I was once called into the principles office when I was in second grade because my teacher thought my mother was burning me with cigarette buds, which was hilarious because my parents don’t smoke. She looked at me and said, “Honey, does your mother hurt you with cigarettes?” I looked straight into her eyes and said, “No, ma’am, I’m a picker.” She said, “What?” and I replied back with, “I pick my skin ma’am.” She didn’t know what to do with the information I gave her. She couldn’t understand why I had scabs all over my arms and why I insisted on wearing sweaters when it was 90-degrees outside. She refrained from calling Child Protective Services but told my mother, I needed to see a therapist right away. Then there was the time when I was in high school and my arm was bleeding as I got out the pool during swim practice. My swim coach asked me if I had cut myself on the drain and I told him no, and hurriedly ran into the locker room while wrapping my arm with a towel to stop the bleeding. My friends were always too polite to say anything about it to me. No one seemed to want to know why I had scars all over me, or why I carried tweezers in my bag to help rip the skin off my face in the girl’s bathroom during recess. No one seemed to care that I was in a great deal of pain and that picking was my way of telling them, asking them, begging them to help me. I remember a time when I was 11 when I went to get my hair cut, and the girl was washing my hair, she felt a lump on my head. She asked my mother was it was, and my mom said it was nothing. It wasn’t nothing, it was a scab the size of a golf ball, that I had been gnawing away with my fingers for months. I still remember that time and think of how lucky I was that I didn’t get a horrible infection in my brain at the time.
Then there was the time when my mother tried to rid me of my habit that same year, the night before Thanksgiving. I was set to go to Half Moon Bay the following morning to visit my Dad and his family, and my mother decided that would be the night to scare the living hell out of her 11-year-old daughter. She took my arms as I was going to bed, shook me, and told me I had a flesh-eating disease, and it was something I had brought on myself. She yelled and screamed at me to get dressed, and insisted on taking me to the emergency room. I cried, and begged and pleaded, begging her not to take me the hospital. She told me they were going to take me away if I didn’t stop picking, and I remember running into my closet, locking the door, sobbing all night long, and hiding in there until morning. The picking only got worse after that. I picked until I couldn’t feel my skin some days, and stayed up till the wee hours picking my skin so badly, that I had to go to bed with makeup on so my mother wouldn’t ask questions. I got really good at hiding it, conveniently covering the parts of me I picked, and strategically never picking the areas like my legs that people would see in the summer months.
Year and years of therapy later and I still pick. I’ve been struggling with Excoriation since I was three-years-old and most therapists don’t have a clue about what Excoriation actually is. I go through a battle with myself ever single day. I start the day promising myself that I’m not going to pick today, and then something stressful will happen, and most of the time I don’t even know I’m doing it until it’s over.
I hate that I pick my skin. I hate that I voluntarily make myself ugly. I hate that I have scars and that I’m unable to get a handle on my addiction. I hate that I’m ashamed when I look in the mirror. But I can’t stop. I can’t control my hands from ripping layers, upon layers from my skin. Excoriation is one of the most hidden addictions in American because no one knows what do with it. And when parents witness their children doing it, they rarely get to the bottom of why they’re doing it. I love my parents dearly, but I do wish they did more investigating, and more research when I was a child, into the reasons behind my picking. I pick because my parents divorced when I was three years old and I was left feeling alone and like it was all my fault. I pick because I picked horrible boyfriends in high school who couldn’t take no for an answer, and who felt like beating me anytime they got bored or frustrated. I pick because I’m insecure and although I have a highly confident exterior on the outside, I’m very frustrated on the inside. I pick because this addiction is not something someone just gets over. It’s something I will be struggling with for the rest of my life.
I’m ready to rid my habit to the best of my ability and am researching and interviewing therapists who have actual experience with Excoriation addiction and who know the proper tools to help me. I want to share my message and story with the world because mental health and addiction is something that needs to be talked about and needs to be brought to the forefront.
We can end this together if we instill the proper tools in our children and open up our eyes to find out why this disease happens at such a young age and what can be done to stop it. I work on my addiction every single day. I workout to keep me from getting overly anxious, I maintain a proper diet to help me stay calm, I do yoga because for me it’s a form of therapy. I get my nails down so that they’re thicker and cannot shred my skin as easily. I have a diligent skin care routine, although you’d never know it, but it helps keep me from picking late into the night.
I hope that this blog piece helps someone out there who may be struggling with the same addiction I am. I hope we can find a way to end this and help anyone who needs it.
I could write pages and pages on my addiction, but for now, I’ll leave it at this. I’m a happy person, I love my life, I’m beyond blessed and there is absolutely no sound reason for me to pick my skin. But the demons from my childhood creep up into me and take over. The depths of my despair cannot be explained through simple words. I will write many pieces on this addiction and what I’m doing to alleviate it and find a path to healing….
I’m here for you and would love anyone to reach out to me who struggles with excoriation or knows a friend who is struggling with it. No one should have to go through this alone. And while I don’t have all of the answers, I know that talking about it helps immensely.
I’m here for you and I want to help.