When I say "adult thumb-sucker," what’s the image that comes to mind? Be honest. Is it a buck-toothed, socially awkward, reclusive troll?
But that's not what I look like. And no, I’ve never had to wear braces.
I've been a thumb-sucker for most of my life. Through childhood, university, marriage, parenthood and as an acclaimed CBC TV journalist with her own national radio show.
And truthfully, life hasn't been so bad. The only evidence of my secret is the small callous on my left thumb.
For me, popping my thumb in my mouth calms me down. It helps me think. It helps me fall asleep. And while my childhood was plagued with guilt, shame and the fear of being discovered (my family wasn't particularly supportive of my habit), the older I got, the more it started to dawn on me that my thumb was nobody’s business but my own.
And let me say this: If you, dear reader, aren’t an adult thumb-sucker, I guarantee you know someone who is.
Possibly several someones. There’s a lot more of us than we let on.
I discovered this shortly after my son was born. I was taking an infant massage class at our local breastfeeding cafe, and a fellow mom was complaining that she didn’t know what to do about her older child’s thumb-sucking.
For the first time in my adult life, I felt compelled to speak up and out myself. And suggest that maybe her daughter would end up like me -- not a buck-toothed troll but a relatively normal human being who happens to have a socially unacceptable but otherwise harmless personal habit.
What happened next blew my mind!
Four of the other moms spoke up and confessed to being adult thumb-suckers too. That’s right. Five out of the seven moms in the room had continued to suck their thumbs as adults.
And that’s when the last vestige of guilt and shame finally dropped away, and for the first time in my life, I was completely at peace with my habit.
So why did I quit?
I should mention at this point that I’d spent most of the first 25 years of my life trying to quit. I’ve worn one of those retainers that has rounded spikes that poke downwards from your palate and block access to your thumb. My parents used to tape cloves and chilies to my thumbs to prevent nighttime sucking. I tried everything from meditation to bitter nail polish. Some solutions worked for a while but eventually I’d succumb -- if not to the urge itself, then to the curiosity about why I’d been so drawn to it in the first place. And then I’d get addicted again.
But in November, 2014, I did quit.
And it was the easiest thing I’ve ever done.
The process violated all my expectations and preconceived notions about how habits must be broken, formed and replaced. 2014 was also the year I decided I was never going back to a 9-to-5.
I’d been working in the media since I was 12, and I knew whatever I chose as a business had to include my two biggest passions: storytelling and helping people. After deleting my weight in crappy press releases as a journalist, I knew I'd be helping both sides if I could somehow help entrepreneurs actually understand what producers and writers were looking for and how to package their message in a mediagenic way. I knew I wanted to build something scalable, so I decided the best way to accomplish my goal would be to build an online course called Baby Got Booked.
Problem is, I'd never created an online course before. And I didn’t actually know anyone who was living the life of online passive income either. So I had no blueprint.
The deeper I got into course creation, the more my demons surfaced to taunt me with past failures. I found I was having, on average, three freakouts a week. I was plagued by self-doubt and fear. Things weren’t helped along by the fact that my husband, the sole, stable breadwinner, was told his job was on the chopping block, and that we had unexpected emergency home repairs that led to litigation with our condo association. Oh, and let’s not forget all my helpful family members who’d call and ask (with genuine concern) why I thought I was going to succeed with this venture when so many of my past ideas had failed.
Through this maelstrom of negativity, there was a small voice at my core that assured me that the only reason I’d fail was if I gave in to the fear.
So I decided I was going to succeed.
I started to build a toolkit -- inspiration, practical strategies, health-focused stress-busting mechanisms and ways to flex and build my decision-making muscle.
Because when you can make decisions that stick, you can change the world.
I started to take cold showers -- in a Montreal winter. I made working out a priority every single day. I repeated that thought -- I need to build my decision-making muscle -- over and over like a mantra.
Also, I asked myself: What would be the hardest decision for me to make? What would be the hardest habit for me to shift?
And so, on a cold November morning, stepping out of my icy shower, I vowed that I would be the kind of person who could stop sucking my thumb. Just because I decided to -- and not for guilt or shame or any of the other reasons that had motivated me in the past.
Because people who can make decisions that stick can change the world.
Was I tempted to return to old habits? Sure. But each time I looked past the urge at the strong, fierce woman I knew I wanted to be, it became easier and easier to just say no.
And I found I didn't need to "replace" the habit.
Nor was I cranky or tempted to reach for food to fill the void. There was no void. Only this clarity of focus about the kind of person I wanted to be.
Today, I'm her.
And it’s just the beginning.