I am an addict.
I didn’t become an addict on purpose. In fact, like many people battling addictions, I’m not quite sure how I even got this way. But I am one, and have been for a long, long, long time. I don’t know that I can ever totally break this habit, but after nearly 27 years of being bound by this addiction, this… dependence, I have to try. For my sake, and for my family. For my son. So I don’t blow his college fund supporting my habit. The first step, I’ve been told, is admitting to God, to myself, and to others that I am an addict. And so, I take a deep breath and admit to the world:
My name is Belle, and I am and addict. I AM ADDICTED. TO LIP BALM.
I know! You feel betrayed. You thought you knew me. You’re shocked. And saddened. And alarmed. I understand. I heard your sharp intake of breath when I admitted the truth. I’m sorry; I am trying to get better.
I think my addiction started back in the late ‘70s or early ‘80s when I was in middle school. My memory going that far back is fuzzy, (after 27 years of this, how could it not be?) but here is what I do recall: It was winter and my lips were chapped. I asked a classmate if she had any Bonne Bell Lip Smackers; you know the super wet, shiny, glossy kind that made you look like you’d drooled spit, or perhaps bacon grease, all over your lips? She didn’t. So I asked another friend if she had any, but all she had to offer was a tube of ChapStick. It was better than nothing. After all, it had helped that Susie chick, the one who skied, so I used it. A few days later I found myself once again in need of something for my lips. This time, a friend produced a small tub of Blistex Daily Conditioning Treatment (DCT). Again, I took the offering. I didn’t think anything of it…
In hindsight, I should have. Who could have known that one little hit of Blistex would change my life forever? I certainly didn’t. But then, at the time, I didn’t know that Blistex DCT was the crack cocaine of lip balms.
When I was in my freshman year of college, the nation was in the midst of the crack epidemic. It’s dangers were well known, and school administrators warned students almost daily, “Don’t Do Crack!”
“Ha!” I thought, “Who needs crack when you’ve got Blistex DCT in your pocket?” By then I’d been a user for about 6 years. I could take a hit whenever I needed it to sooth my dry lips. Whenever I felt the Blistex wearing off, whenever I thought my lips were about to start flaking and falling from my face like leaded paint chips, I’d just dip my finger in the tub of Blistex and smooth on some more.
I told myself I wasn’t addicted. I told myself I could quit at any time. But I was lying. It got bad. Really bad. I had little tubs of Blistex DCT stashed EVERYWHERE. If you were a stranger to my home, you might have wondered if I was dealing of the stuff. Tubs covered every surface, in every room. When it was time to clean, there were so many, I didn’t even pick them up, I simply dusted around them.
For those of you who’ve heard the rumors, it’s true: On more than one occasion, I had to ask my various dates to make a quick detour to the nearest drugstore when I realized I didn’t have my lip balm with me. It wasn’t that I worried I’d kiss one of my dates and they’d pull back in horror asking, “What’s wrong with your lips? They feel like sandpaper!” because I knew they only felt like sandpaper to me. The truth was, I could not sit through an entire movie without my lip balm. As soon as I realized I’d left my house without it, I’d start to panic and say, “Look, do you mind pulling into that CVS pharmacy over there? I, uh, left something at home and I think we might need it later…” Few of my dates ever questioned me on this. I imagine they thought I wanted to pick up a pack of condoms or something. But oh, were they wrong!
Eventually, the addiction started to worry me, and I’d casually bring it up with my doctors. “Um, I think I’m addicted to lip balm,” I’d say, red faced, hanging my head in shame.
“Not possible.” They’d reply. “You can’t get addicted to lip balm.”
And so I’d leave the doctor’s office feeling worse than ever. There were no 12-step programs for this sort of thing, because, as the doctor’s claimed, it wasn’t a condition after all. Only I WAS suffering.
Then one day a concerned friend cornered me, handed me an article ripped from the April 1997 issue of Self Magazine. “Read THIS” she said pointedly. I took the paper from her hands and there in big bold type were the words “Lip Balm Addiction” and the text below it “Do your lips feel dry even though you continually reapply your lip balm?” “Yes!” I cried, tears streaming down my face! “They DO!” And, I realized, I was not alone!
The article went on to discuss lip balm ingredients, and one in particular, phenol, also known as carbolic acid. It’s an antimicrobial, which is good. But it’s also drying, which is bad. It causes you to reapply and reapply and reapply and reapply your lip balm over and over and over and over again; because your lips always feel dry, because the penol makes them so. I pulled out the tub of Blistex DCT in my pocket and read the ingredients:
Petrolatum (W/W) 54.86%; Octyl Methoxycinnamate (W/W) 7.3%; Oxybenzone (W/W) 4.5%
Aloe Vera Extract; Camphor; Candelilla Wax; Cetyl Alcohol; Cocoyl Hydrolyzed Soy Protein; Cocoa Butter; Corn Oil; Flavor; Lanolin; Menthol; Menthyl Anthranilate; Ozokerite; Phenol; Saccharin; Vitamins A &E
And there it was, listed under the inactive ingredients, PHENOL!!!! The fact that I was an addict, then, clearly wasn’t my fault!
The article suggested alternative balms that lacked this prime offender. It took me a while, but I eventually found and bought one: Burt’s Beeswax. When I found the stuff back in 1998, I thought I’d been saved. I went and thanked my friend for her intervention. I showed her my new tube of lip balm and told her how it had been hard at first, but I’d finally weaned myself from the Blistex and how I wasn’t using the new lip balm nearly as much as I’d used the old stuff.
It turns out though, that using Burt’s Beeswax to get over a Blistex addiction is akin to substituting methadone for a heroine addiction. Methadone, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, “reduces the cravings associated with heroin use … but it does not provide the euphoric rush.” Burt’s Beeswax, I quickly learned, was similar. It reduced my craving for the Blistex, but it wasn’t nearly as satisfying. And also like methadone “ultimately, the patient remains physically dependent.” Which is where I am today, physically dependant on Burt’s Beeswax. It’s not my fault though. Even the Burt’s website states:
“You can use it…for a little peppermint tingle. You may want to keep one in your pocket, one in your desk and one in your car. Soon, you’ll hold them close to your heart.”
In hindsight, it’s kind of obvious, right there, that warning: you will get addicted to Burt’s Beeswax too!
If there’s good news in all of this, it’s that, “it is possible to maintain an addict on methadone without harsh side effects” even with “continuous treatment.” And so I figure, I’m not really being harmed by my lip balm. I haven’t noticed any harsh side effects. And it looks like I can continue using my lip balm as long as I need to. Maybe, I think, I’m not ready to give up this addiction after all.
These days, if you come to my house you’ll see lots of little yellow tubes of Burt’s Beeswax lying around. Like the Blistex tubs did before them, they cover almost all the surfaces. And yes, I dust around them. But I’m not a dealer, just a user, I swear.
By the way, Burt’s tubes are smaller than the Blistex tubs were, and easier to carry. In fact, I don’t even need a pocket to keep a tube nearby. That funny lump on my chest? The one that looks suspiciously like a badly placed third nipple? That’s my lip balm. I carry it with me in my bra. Close to my heart. Let me know if you need to borrow some.