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).