I Wish I Still Sucked My Thumb

I recently read a great article about a mother worried about her daughter being a thumb-sucker (you can read it here) and I couldn’t help but think of my own childhood and how I was a VORACIOUS thumb-sucker. I’ve always been a very very insecure person, and I sucked my thumb (TILL I WAS THIRTEEN, DUDES) to self-soothe. My mother tried everything to make me stop, including that horrible bitter nail polish that would make my thumb taste terrible (I soaked it off in the tub. Let it never be said I’m not crafty) but I didn’t stop till junior high. I remember with extreme clarity being mocked in school for sucking my thumb in class (I also hooked my finger over my nose, making the screams “NOSE PICKER NOSE PICKER” a common occurrence, which REALLY helped my social status, but I couldn’t stop. I was so scared all the time, so insecure, that sucking my thumb was the only thing that helped. School was absolute hell for me, and I got off the bus in the afternoon sobbing more often than not. I would curl up with a book and suck my thumb for hours, praying that tomorrow would be different.

It never was.

I was the perfect nerd. I had HUGE 80s style glasses (I’ve always been blind as a bat) and of course my teeth were a nightmare. The interesting thing was that my orthodontist did NOT say that it was due to my thumb sucking, but my habit of pushing my tongue against my front teeth. Our water source also had a weird fluoride accent to it, and if you ever saw a kid who grew up in my town, you’d see that we all had weak, discolored teeth. To say my dentistry history was a horror show would be an understatement. I was also agonizingly shy, and at recess, all I wanted to do was to be left alone to be able to read my book. I was EXTREMELY unpopular. But even that was okay with me. I didn’t know how to be social. I was terrified of other people. Still am. So I read my book and sucked my thumb.

Time passed. I changed schools. Things got worse. Junior high is something NO ONE should have to endure, and I found myself getting off the bus sobbing again. But I was now 12. The thumb sucking was dissipating. I only did it in private, whether it was in my bedroom when I was reading or in the shower. I knew I shouldn’t be doing it. It was childish. It was embarrassing. It was now very difficult to do, since my dental retainer had PRONGS on it to keep not only my tongue from pushing against my teeth, but my thumb out of my mouth. Well, that was easy enough. I just didn’t wear it. I was kind of an asshole like that.

Enter age 13. One day, and I have no idea when it was, I stopped sucking my thumb. No one made me, no one put that fucking bitter nailpolish on my thumb, no one said something so horrible I vowed I’d never put my hand near my mouth again (trust me, I had been there, done that already) I just…stopped. And I never did it again. Now. This story does not have a sunshiny ending. I replaced sucking my thumb with other, much more destructive behavior. I developed trichotillomania (the obsessive need to pull one’s hair out) and didn’t have eyelashes for years. After that, I started cutting. Then there was anorexia. After THAT, I started drinking. So yeah, no happy endings here.

What’s my point? Thumb sucking is a self-soothing activity. And god help me, knowing what I do about what my future held when it came to “self-soothing” or as it should be called “extremely self-destructive behavior” I wish I still sucked my thumb. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite poems by Shel Silverstein. He got it. He understood. I wish I had.

Oh the thumb-sucker’s thumb
May look wrinkled and wet
And withered, and white as the snow,
But the taste of a thumb
Is the sweetest taste yet
(As only we thumb-sucker’s know).



I Wish I Still Sucked My Thumb — 7 Comments

  1. Oh, hon…I just wish some of the adults in your life had recognized that need to self soothe and helped you somehow. I get that everyone probably did the best they could with what they knew then but I wish it had been better for you. On the thumb sucking? It seems to run in my family…One of my brothers , a nephew and a son were all long time thumbsuckers..like into the teens..we didn’t shame anybody or thy to “break ” them and it hasn’t had an adverse reaction on any of them. Not even dental problems. they just grew out of it..far later than would seem “normal” but still..no harm done. Just like you they didn’t need to one day. I wonder at the genetic link as there were other kids in all three families that never did so.. It’s one of the many reasons I’m against trying SO HARD to change a kids behaviors when the behaviors are in no way destructive just socially frowned on.. it leads us down that same shaming aggressive discipline that hurts so many of us.
    This was well written..by the by..I’m sorry for your experiences but admire your ability to state all this with out veering off into sappiness. Nicely done.

  2. I loved your comment at the BMC and I love this post. THANK YOU.

    (Will reply to the BMC comment when I have a few (more) minutes, but wanted to read what you shared.

    I think I need to put that poem on her wall.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.


  3. I sucked my thumb for a long time. Not quite as long as you, but still. And my dentist said the same thing to me about pushing my tongue against my teeth.

    It is tricky figuring out how to self-soothe. One day at a time, babe. xo

  4. I totally get it. It’s so hard to have nothing to fall back on when i still – desperately – want to change the way I feel. This week, when my husband was out of town, I made a pan of brownies and ate the whole damn thing. Of course I regret it. But I NEEDED something.

  5. Beautifully written. My baby sister, 22, just phased herself out of thumb-sucking in the past couple of years. I’m always grateful that she is the only one of her close friends to have never suffered an eating disorder. You’ve made me wonder if there’s a link.

    Watching my baby boy suck his thumb warms my heart. It’s a step away from needing me, but it’s a good thing.
    Becca last post: 20 Miles

  6. Hey lady! Wow, thanks for sharing this. I never really thought about the connection with thumb-sucking and other more destructive self-soothing activities, but it makes a lot of sense. I know you’ll find something else healthier, but I know that it was helpful to make this connection.

    I got scared of out sucking my bottom lip before I went to kindergarten–my mother’s friend was visiting us and we had a little talk. She just said I’d be made fun of and I stopped cold. Maybe it was the right time for me to stop, because I don’t know what immediately took the place of that (right now, probably candy–yay stress of grad school apps!). Before that, I don’t remember being confronted about it.

    ANYWAY, again, thanks for sharing this, for you being so open with your life, and writing well while doing it. I’m rooting for you!
    lilnerdette last post: thrown off

  7. I still suck my thumb and I’m an adult. But you’re right. It’s free, legal, nonintrusive, convenient, without calories or drugs, instantly gratifying and more. I’ll do it in public and don’t care who sees me and yes, my teeth formed forward and around my thumb but that just makes it more comfy. 🙂
    It’s silly that thumb sucking has such a bad reputation, especially when compared to other forms of self soothing that are far worse, like smoking for instance which is (incredibly) more accepted!
    I was warned that I’d never get a lover, well, they’ve all been accepting of it and some even thought it quite cute, if you know what I mean.
    So, why not start again. It’ll only take a little time before its magic returns and then you won’t have to wish anymore.

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