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My “harmless” addiction

I am addicted.

There’s some on my desk and in my bag. There’s more in the top drawers of both the nightstand beside my bed and the little end table next to my spot on the couch. (There would be some in the glove compartment of our car, if I didn’t think the heat would be a problem.) And of course there’s always, without fail, a substantial backup stash purchased in advance and tucked away, ready and waiting to replenish the depleted stores.

I carry it with me and use it whenever I leave the house – shopping, walking, out for coffee, visiting friends. On the (very rare) occasion that I accidentally forget to bring it, I’m quick to realize my mistake and always return home to pick it up before carrying on with my plans.

I reach for it and use it at the slightest urge, without a moment of thought or consideration as to whether or not I actually need it. If (even in spite of all my precautions) I can’t get my hands on it right away, I run through a range of emotions from frustration to panic to desperation, and concentration on the conversation or task at hand is hindered until I’m able to address the craving.

And my addiction?

My “harmless” addiction is to lip balm.

lip balm

OK, so I’m pretty sure you just a) breathed a sigh of relief that I’m ONLY talking about lip balm and not something much more harmful, and/or b) laughed out loud at the ridiculousness of the situation. And it is a little funny, I’ll admit.

But you know what?

For me, it’s still an addiction.

I’ve openly admitted and joked about my lip balm addiction (I mean, big deal, right?!), and have been alternately questioned and teased about it by friends and family. Lip balm has always been a great stocking stuffer idea for me – as a matter of fact, one Christmas Peter bought a whole carton of my brand-of-choice at the time, wrapped it up, and (only half jokingly) left it for me under the tree. “It’s only practical,” he said pragmatically. And a friend once asked me with a quizzical look on his face, as I pulled a tube of lip balm out of my bag and applied it for quite probably the hundredth time in the same evening, “Why do you do that?”

I didn’t know what to say. Because it feels good when I wear it? Because it DOESN’T feel good when my lips are dry? Because I like the taste? Because I need to have something to do with my hands? Because I’m used to doing it? Because?

But in spite of the odd uncomfortable or embarrassing moment connected to this little foible of mine, I never had a particularly compelling reason to want to quit using lip balm. I mean, good grief, we’re not talking about something BAD, are we?! It’s not like I can’t get through the day without drugs or alcohol or gambling or something even more unmentionable, right?! It’s just lip balm, folks! Get a grip.

Then this week something – actually two things – happened to change my mind.

The first was discovering – through a friend’s advice, some anecdotal evidence, and my own further research – that my beeswax lip balm (or more accurately, the propolis that’s often mixed in with beeswax) could very well be triggering an allergic reaction and causing the skin condition around my mouth that’s been tormenting me for months.

But the second – and quite possibly more alarming of the two – was the sense of panic, anxiety, and even fear that washed over me as I contemplated even the notion of giving up my beloved lip balm.

If it was only a matter of addressing a relatively minor (though frustrating) skin condition, the answer would be obvious. There are plenty of non-beeswax varieties of lip balm on the market that wouldn’t trigger an allergic reaction – I could easily switch to one of those, clear up the problem, and carry on with business as usual.

But I think it’s bigger than that. Because if it’s really, truly, just lip balm, then why am I so afraid?

That my natural, unbidden response to something so seemingly benign was so over-the-top irrational made me realize that this is about more than just clearing up a temporary skin condition. I recognize that it’s time, NOW, for me to ditch this addiction and take back control of my behaviour.

So on Monday night I gathered up every last tube of the stuff and moved them all out of reach so that I wouldn’t forget and grab one by mistake. Since then I’ve been using some medicated creams and a bit of petroleum jelly now and then for moisture – but no lip balm – and I’ll be darned if my skin isn’t starting to heal!

I’ll confess that, in spite of the immediate reward of healthier (and less painful) skin, making this new choice is a challenge. Even while writing this post I found myself, out of pure habit, reaching several times towards the spot where I usually keep a tube of lip balm, and getting irritated that I couldn’t find it before remembering that, oh yeah, I’m not doing that anymore.

But I’m going to carry on and make this happen, because I refuse to be controlled, defined by, or dependent on any substance or habit.

Even if it’s just lip balm.

Do you struggle with a “harmless” addiction?
Please share!

NaBloPoMo September 2014

Laurel Storey, CZT – Certified Zentangle Teacher. Writer, reader, tangler, iPhoneographer, cat herder, learner of French and Italian, crocheter, needle felter, on-and-off politics junkie, 80s music trivia freak, ongoing work in progress.