Habits I’ve Broken
1. Sucking my thumb
I formed this habit between the age of 1 and 6. My front teeth were getting pushed out and my dad had started calling me Bugs. My mum was always telling me I needed to stop. One day I decided enough was enough. I went to sleep that night without my thumb in my mouth, and the following day I told my mum. She was so proud of me, there was no way I was going to ever suck my thumb again.
2. Picking my fingers
My grandma did it and my mum too. The ends of my grandmas fingers were swollen to almost double the size, she’d been doing it so long. I remember starting to do it when I was 8. I made the conscious decision to pick the skin off the side of my thumb. The next day I carried on doing it, and the next and the next. As the skin gets raw it becomes more and more pickable. I remember in Year 5 I could no longer hold my pen as the raw skin on raw skin stung too much.
As I got older the habit became unconscious and linked to stress. Anxiety at my ex-boyfriend’s friends being mean to me, boredom in lessons, waiting to buy a drink at the SU. It hurt all the time. I tried to give up a few times and almost managed it, but the habit was so subconscious, I thought it would be impossible.
Then in 2015 I’d had a drink on a Sunday with my friends in Brick Lane. I was picking and picking and it hurt and I couldn’t concentrate on what we were talking about and it felt really bad. I wasn’t having fun. I said goodbye and got the bus, reaching into my pocket for my Oyster. My raw thumb caught on my pocket and it hurt and throbbed and bled. Something snapped then.
I woke up the next morning, coincidentally my first day of jury service at The Old Bailey. ‘“I’m not going to pick my fingers today, I’m not going to pick my fingers today, I’m not going to pick my fingers today.” I said it over and over in my head. I really meant it this time.
At jury service I sat, bored, listening to a woman in a suit reel off phone evidence relating to an armed robbery of a KFC in Edmonton. My hands drifted together constantly but I forced them back to my side. As the days went on the decades-damaged skin started to heel, making it flakey and hard and even more pickable.
Three weeks later, by the end of jury service and through sheer force of will and constant awareness to stop myself, my fingers had heeled and the constant drifting to pick had stopped. I told my mum, she was so proud of me. I knew I would never pick my fingers again.
I started smoking on a spontaneous trip to Brighton when I was 15. I was with friends, drinking JD and stealing their cigarettes. After I got back to London I bought my first ten pack of Marlboro Lights and that was it. My mum found out I smoked approximately three weeks later, after I’d written ALICE AUSTIN in large letters on my pack of 20 so they wouldn’t get mixed up with my friend’s packs.
“They’re Flo’s!” I weakly exclaimed before I realised they clearly, clearly weren’t. My mum literally sent me upstairs without dinner that night. Old skool.
She told my dad shortly after and my habit continued. My dad was upset but also generous, giving me packs of cigarettes that he’d bought in bulk. From the age of 16–24 I told him I’d given up a few times but I never really had and had no intention to. I loved smoking. I loved rolling. They weren’t even that expensive. I loved the excuse to step away from my desk every 3 hours to go outside. I loved smoking after meals, while waiting for friends, for gossip breaks in night clubs.
I had no intention of giving up before my hero Grandma passed away. She had an illness called Pulmonary Fibrosis which was partially related to her smoking dozens a day for 30 years. Although she’d given up over 20 years ago it had still effected her health. Honestly, that isn’t why I gave up.
I gave up because she was planning to write me a letter to ask me to stop smoking. Her condition escalated so fast that she didn’t have the chance to write that letter to me, but the day she died my aunt told me that she had intended to.
Damn. Fine. I’ll try to give up smoking. My aunt told me it had taken her three attempts before she had finally been able to kick the habit, and that made me feel better. I was more scared of trying and failing than of actually quitting. That was a Saturday.
I decided to finish my packet of tobacco and then give up, I hate waste. So that Monday 15th February 2016 I went into work as normal. 11am came round, time for my cigarette. A colleague came over to ask for a lighter. “I’ve quit.” I said. The pure, unprecedented smugness I felt at saying that was unexpected. She looked slightly crestfallen and found a lighter elsewhere.
The rest of the day was hard but I didn’t have a cigarette. The next morning it got to 11am and I really wanted one. But then I thought, what would be the point of getting through yesterday if I have a cigarette today? And that carried me through each day that week until it got to Saturday night. A house party. Shit.
I’d announced to all of my friends that I’d quit smoking. As everyone began gathering outside and the party slowly moved into the garden, the only reason I didn’t have a cigarette was because of that feeling of pure unprecedented smugness. Everyone was so impressed, including me. Plus I’d stopped picking my fingers a few months earlier, I knew I could do this.
I got through that week without a cigarette, and the next, and the next. I called my mum.
Originally published on No Filter Zine.