Thumb Sucking and Telephone Wires

I spent a good portion the early 70s on the floor of the family car eastbound on the TransCanada, enduring the mind-numbing 9 hour drive to visit our Saskatchewan relatives.

Why the floor? As the “baby” of the family,  I was assigned the middle spot in the back, justified by the fact that my legs were shorter and therefore less affected by the “hump” on the floor.  It was fine with me, actually I felt rather lucky to have a special place in the car and the family.  Within an hour or two us kids would have re-arranged our pillows and blankets – each older sister leaned against a door, while I would set up a little camp on the floor of the car using the axle hump as my headrest or draping my little pre-school body over it in various contortions of the bored variety.  My sisters thought it was sweet of me to relocate down there, but I was partly motivated by the fact that it was easier to hide my thumb-sucking  from my mom.

“Are you sucking your thumb?” my mom would ask from the front, craning her neck. I’d bury farther under my blanket. She’d redirect to my sisters, “Girls, is she sucking her thumb?” “No,” my oldest sister would lie. She used to tell me they shouldn’t try to make me quit because it was cute, so I kept sucking and she kept covering for me. Now I see that as all kinds of passive aggressive on my sister’s part, but at the time I was thankful.

(Sidebar: has anyone done a study on how many thumb-suckers grow up to be addicts? It seems to me I’ve always has some self-comforting habit whether it be my thumb, cigarettes, booze….)

Back to the floor of the family car circa 1971.

One of my favourite ways to pass the hours on those long drives was to watch the wires dance for me. At that time, every road was lined with poles and wires that delivered phone service and electricity.  I knew that if I was too bored, I could look at the lines as our car drove by them and eventually they would feel sorry for me and start to dance by moving up and down, crossing over each other, waving a gentle lazy pattern for me to help pass the time.  I had tried asking the wires to dance while I laid on the grass in our farm yard but those wires never moved. They only did it while I was in the car and only if I was very bored and sleepy. It was so nice of them.

Of course, they weren’t moving at all.  It was just an optical illusion created by the changing perspective as we whizzed by.  It look me years to realize; it dawned on me slowly.  First, I came to understand that the telephone polls weren’t capable of pity, but still felt I was seeing something unique.  Then, perhaps around age 7, my mind began to unwind how this magic occurred and most alarmingly, that it wasn’t only me who could see it.  I wasn’t special and this wasn’t real.

I tell you all this because it parallels my understanding and self-awareness about drinking.  I had allowed my brain to perceive an untrue reality because of the way things looked and felt.  Now I am starting to see it all clearly and realize that I was following a very human pattern into a behaviour.  At first it made me angry, then embarrassed, and now it makes me hopeful, because if I “patterned” my way in I can “pattern” my way out.

I admit it – when it came to drinking I thought I was justified and that my situation was unique and special. Now I know better.

In the mid-70s, when the lines came down and the poles were carried away, ditches were scattered with the beautiful glass transformers which insulated the lines atop the poles.  They were thick clear glass in the shape of a thimble, either clear or blue, and about the size of a fist.  We would comb the ditches for them and bring them home as treasures, lining them on the window sills. All are now useless except to serve as a reminder of another time.

For me, from now on, they will always remind me of my own transformation.

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11 comments

  1. I stopped drinking on my 50th birthday in March 2017 although I had been trying since January. I went through the mourning period you described from Jan-March. When I finally surrendered to not drinking on my birthday, the desire surprisingly disappeared from that point forward, but I felt so lonely in my private journey. My husband was the only one who knew, and then a few close friends. I tried AA, but it didn’t feel quite right. I am currently in a recovery group called Re-Generation thru my church, and I am working thru the who/when/how of sharing my story with those in my life with whom I want to share it.

    I stumbled across your blog yesterday and started reading from your first entry. I will continue reading all of it, but just wanted to say thank you for your eloquent, open, and tender perspective. I relate to all of your journey: thumb-sucking in the backseat while watching the wires dance for me; happily married to my high school sweetheart for 27 years; being very active and enjoying alcohol together socially before kids; having two boys and being an over-achiever who mistook accomplishment and appreciation for self-acceptance; loving my quiet time and coffee to power up for the day and the dependence on my wine to wind down at night; realizing no one but me knew it was becoming a problem; wanting to stop, but not knowing how. However in my case, my husband also noticed and it began affecting our relationship.

    A year ago I recall telling him (and God) that if this was my only vice, then so be it. I knew I should stop, but I was in total denial as to how it was affecting my life. We went to counseling and I did some honest soul/searching. Now I know that my vow to “stop for one year” will be forever. There is hope and peace on this side, and I am figuring out how to accept the anxiety and “lows” that are a part of everyday life, but also intentionally seeking the joy in each day which is really what I had been chasing all along.

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    • This is so beautiful. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate a 50th birthday than to give yourself the gift of freedom and authenticity. The insights you share are spot on. Thank you for being here.

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  2. Another thumb sucker from the middle seat with a blanket over her head. Day 6. I have just found your blog and am thrilled. I am reading from the beginning forward and feeling a kinship. You mentioned a feeling of mourning a few posts ago – yup, that describes me today. Thank you for writing all of this. It is comforting and reassuring.

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  3. Hi, you sound somewhat like me…. I too was a thumb-sucker and struggled to quit. I can remember being 10 or 11 and thinking I would never be able to stop. At that point I was doing it as I slept. I am struggling the more I think I will quit the worse my drinking is becoming. 😦

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  4. I too was a thumb sucker, and am an overachiever. I am a professional with a good career. I have only started reading your blog . Much of what you have witten could have been written by me. I am on day seven of being sober. Seems everyone I know drinks every single day. I am “taking a break from alcohol” I have promised myself I will quit for 30 days. To say I will quit forever feels overwhelming. Ia’ve had no consequences from drinking. I just know drinking a bottle of wine a night is not good for me. Just going to take this as it comes. The first seven days have been very hard. I’m grumpy, feel yucky, and feel very alone.

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    • It has been a while since you posted this comment – how are you doing today? You are not alone, I promise! And living alcohol free is not only possible, it is even enjoyable. Does that seem possible to you today?

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  5. I, too, was a thumb sucker; and, I, too, am on day 2 of starting my journey without alcohol. Even am blogging, thanks to your influence. What better way to keep myself accountable, right?

    Thanks you so much for starting this blog. It seems that I am following in your footsteps, albeit a few years later. I’ve never been successful with journaling, but now I feel that my life/sobriety depend on it.

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  6. I was stuck in the back of the Volkswagon van in the “trunk” area. The hard luggage of the 70’s was fashioned into a seat for me. And I would watch the mountains of southern California out of the windows as I lay back and was almost convinced that they were long dead dinosaurs that grass had grown on.

    Glad to see you are still sober.

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