"I remember the first time I dipped my fingers into the washing powder. I dabbed the powder onto my tongue and it tasted so sweet, and salty… it just felt so right. I was hooked straight away.
I always knew eating soap was dangerous, but rather than heed the warning labels on the box, I opted to lick the deadly powder daily – from the minute I woke up in the morning to the minute I went to sleep at night. It didn’t take long for my addiction to get worse. Soon I’d moved on soap, too – a habit that makes me use up to five bars of soap a week!
In the shower, I liked to lather up a green bar of soap and lick the bubbles. As the soap disintegrated, I popped a tiny amount of the soap into my mouth and sucked it. It was heavenly. I liked the clean feeling it gave me. Eating soap felt so much cleaner than just washing with it.
However, after I’d been eating soap for six months, I became depressed and decided to be brave and seek medical advice. Doctors diagnosed me with a rare disorder called pica, which they say is characterised by an appetite for substances that are largely non-nutritive. Fellow pica sufferers have been known to compulsively eat metal, coins, chalk, batteries and even toothbrushes. It’s often caused by a mineral deficiency, which explains why pregnant women often crave eating coal when they need iron – but with me, doctors believed the condition was brought on by stress.
Things became really stressful for me when my boyfriend, Jason, broke up with me. He told me he was moving away to go to university. I begged him to give the long-distance relationship a go, but he told me it was over. I was devastated. Then, when I moved out of home to go to university (five hours away from my family), things took a turn for the worse. With no boyfriend and no family, I got lonely, sad and depressed.
I turned to bath soap and laundry detergent to cope. My problem got worse and worse. I used to love smelling washing powder; it was the smell of my mum’s cardigan when she hugged me, and the smell of my bed sheets as a child. Then life got really stressful, and I found only eating the soap could comfort me. A psychologist explained to me that I turned to eating soap as a comforting coping mechanism when I was away from my family.
I knew eating soap could seriously affect my health. One doctor explained to me that when you eat soap you could ingest toxic chemicals, particularly alkaline. These could damage my metabolism, cause digestive problems, and raise acid levels in my blood to life-threatening levels.
When my mother found out about my addiction, she ordered me to come home, but I suppose she was relieved that I was addicted to soap, and not dangerous drugs or something!
The doctor told me I had to empty my house of all washing detergent and soap – anything that triggered my addiction. Now, I use liquid soap at home, coz for some reason I don’t feel the need to eat that.
I also had intensive cognitive behavioural therapy, or CBT, to help me learn to replace my thoughts and prevent my compulsion to reach for soap. Now, I’m learning to think about positive things when I feel I need to eat soap. I go for long walks and avoid places where soap is present, like bathrooms and laundries. I’m also encouraged to talk about my issues, because my addiction is caused by me bottling things up.
Today, I’m proud to say I haven’t eaten soap since September 2010 – and to think I used to take not one, not two, but three soap bars into the shower!"
*Name has been changed for anonymity.