My fingers were bleeding. Again.
Even as I pause while typing this, my right hand reaches over to the left hand, longing to pluck at a piece of loose skin on my pointer finger. I worried this piece of loose skin on the drive home yesterday, when I was working out, and while I watched the Winter Olympics with my husband.
But it’s not only the fingers. It’s also my legs, my face, my scalp. All subjected to frequent, almost ritualistic, picking. I’ve scratched and dug at my legs so often that they’re bloody and bruised. My face bears scars from years of attempting to rid myself of imperfections, whether real or perceived.
The face digging began when I was in junior high. The finger mangling started in college. The leg scratching and scalp digging are fairly new developments, added to my repertoire over the past year or so.
The escalation of my finger picking during college prompted me to seek counseling. I felt out of control, and I knew the problem wouldn’t go away on its own. All of my fingers wrapped in band-aids, torn and bloody, I cried as I told the doctor that I couldn’t stop and I actually enjoyed hurting myself on some level.
This initial appointment set me on a road I’ve now been on for over a decade, trying to understand why I do what I do.
While I’ve been diagnosed with OCD for some time, I’ve only recently learned about a disorder that goes by many names, but is most frequently referred to as dermatillomania. In layman’s terms, compulsive skin picking.
Viewing a variety of websites and reading testimonies of those who suffer from this ailment, I am amazed to see my story reflecting back at me from my computer monitor. However, one young lady’s comment resonates: “I have not felt worthy.”
Now that we’ve entered the holy season of Lent, I had to decide if I was going to give something up, and if so, what. During Ash Wednesday service, I sat in the pew, praying to God to help me make this decision, all the while picking my cuticles into oblivion. I pulled a particularly tenacious piece of skin I’d been attacking for some time, immediately feeling the tingle and rush of pain derived from tearing off layers of skin.
At that moment, I knew it had to stop, and I felt that God was telling me that it was time.
Granted, this skin picking is a habit I’ve developed over about twenty years of my life, and I know that it’s not going to vaporize overnight. However, I made a commitment to the Lord to try to change. To truly believe that with Him, all things are possible. I am learning to trust Him, trust myself. I’m learning to combat the self-criticism and feelings of unworthiness with His Word: “When I said, ‘My foot is slipping,’ your love, O Lord supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul” (Ps 94:18-19).
Over these forty days of Lent, I’m giving up my self-criticism. I’m giving up the belief that if I just had enough faith, all of my problems would be resolved. And perhaps most importantly, I’m giving up the belief that I am unworthy.
Amanda C. Bauch, is Relief's Assistant Editor, a writer, and a teacher. She fled the harsh Upstate New York winters and now resides outside of Jacksonville, Florida. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University and is currently working on a young adult novel and a memoir. Her short fiction has appeared in Tattoo Highway, Bent Pin Quarterly, The Hiss Quarterly, and nonfiction pieces have been published in Writer Advice, Empowerment4Women, as well as two print anthologies, Tainted Mirror and MOTIF: Writing By Ear. She is also a monthly contributor to 30 Points of View, a blog/ezine/something-or-rather ( www.30pov.com).