Habits: MY WORST HABIT – AND HOW I GOT RID OF IT: (Warning: some readers may consider this disgusting.)

By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   August 2, 2022

I used to pull or bite bits of skin from certain areas of the backs of my hands. Sometimes I would then just flick them away, but often I would chew and actually eat them. Those abused hand areas naturally became tough and red and ugly, and sometimes people would comment on this. My mother, with her gift for pulling no punches, called me a “cannibal” – but nothing deterred me for long, and nobody really did anything about it. (Remarkably, even today, this practice is apparently considered so nasty that I can’t find it included in any list of bad habits.)

It began sometime in my teens. But, incredible as it now seems, I didn’t find a way to rescue myself until I was well into my early thirties.

So, what finally made the big difference? The answer seems to have been a combination of moving into a new environment and enjoying an unaccustomed atmosphere of freedom. What I’m referring to is the “Hippie” milieu of San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district, where I moved after my last teaching job – (one so good, on board a “floating university,” sailing around the world, that it spoiled me for any other). Having been a student or a teacher for a large part of my life, my whole personality responded gleefully to the relative lack of restriction and controls which I found, for a regrettably brief period in the 1960s, among the people who were known as Hippies. 

Indulgence in then-still illegal drugs, like Marijuana, was an essential feature of this scene. But my own style of participation was to set up a kind of “soap-box” in Golden Gate Park, just where Haight Street began, and every afternoon, I mounted this platform, and used a portable microphone to address an “audience,” assembled, in various postures of relaxation, on the grass, which sloped down towards me, making the whole area (officially the eastern end of Alvord Lake) a kind of natural amphitheater. For subject matter, I simply talked about whatever was in, or on, my mind, from world affairs to what I’d had for breakfast.

There was, of course, no censorship, and this seemed the perfect opportunity to employ the entire world as my personal counsellor. There were various problems I’d long felt bedeviled by, including my relationship with my parents, and with the inamorata with whom I’d broken up some time previously, after we’d been together for four years, but whom I could not seem to get over (and, to some extent, never have). 

But there was also that personal very bad habit of mine, of skin-picking, which I had never really discussed with anyone before. So, instead of telling nobody, I now told EVERYBODY! I spared no details. I didn’t ask for help or advice, just (as the then-popular expression went) let it all hang out.

After that climactic revelation, I can’t claim that I experienced a dramatic overnight cure. But, over the next few weeks, my symptoms did gradually diminish, until I found I had simply lost the desire. 

If only there were such an answer for all bad habits. But my particular case required the very unusual combination of circumstances I have described. Nowadays, however, there are all kinds of methods for dealing with all varieties of unwanted behaviors. You are probably familiar with the Alcoholics Anonymous mantra, boldly stating that “My name is –––– and I am an Alcoholic.” But this is usually declared only in closed meetings, and only to other Alcoholics.

Much more open have been the techniques used to help smokers give up their nicotine habit, though these methods also tend to involve sufferers helping each other. Thanks to such remedial opportunities, smoking in public is no longer the major issue which once afflicted society. But it must be said that these kinds of problems seem to multiply with the remedies. For example, who could believe that, for Americans of an earlier time, one great social evil was public spitting?

A particularly bad habit which I had to witness and live with was one suffered by my wife, Dorothy. In the later years of our long marriage, she became a terrible HOARDER. I shudder to think of it now. 

But, having begun this piece with something vile, let me conclude with a reminder that it’s OK to kiss a nun, so long as you don’t get into the habit.  


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