February got here before I knew what was happening this year. When February hits, so does the fever. Days are getting just a tad bit longer. Spring, hopefully, is around the corner. With those longer, warmer days comes the yearning for a tan. Spring break, shorts, flip-flops, and that pale winter skin peeking out always got the best of me. I thought I need darker skin--skin that was in a perpetual state of redness and had that straight-from-the-tanning-bed glow. I will always have that fever, but now I know it could have killed me.
Tanning all winter
From the time I was 18 years old, I made time to visit my local tanning salon three to four times a week from February through October. Laying 20 minutes each session and enduring burns each year at the outset as my pale skin struggled to adjust to the hot bulbs. It’s been eleven years since my last visit to a tanning salon, and I still feel the urge to lay in a flaming-hot bed slathered in the most potent of tanning accelerators and soak up the UV rays. I wanted a tan, yes, but there was more to it than that.
Addicted to tanning
Tanning was intoxicating for me. For years, I thought it was just me. I believed I needed a tan to feel better about myself. The more contrast I had between my reddening skin and the tiny patch of pale flesh beneath the little heart-shaped stickers offered at the sign-in desk, the better I felt. (I know--weird, that.) It didn’t occur to me until years down the road--too late for me--that I might actually have an addiction. Looking back now, I exhibited all the signs.
Tanning relaxed me. Yes, it was hot, and I got sweaty. I found it relaxing, though. I actually looked forward to the way it made me feel as I listened to the hum of the bed and felt the rays soaking into my skin. There was just something about the whole experience that allowed me the opportunity to escape for a little while. See? Addiction.
Wrong about a "healthy glow"
I craved tanning. From 1992 to 2007, my visits increased from once or twice a week from April to August to up to four times per week from February to October. I only limited myself at three to four visits to keep from burning my already red skin. I am fair, and I never really tanned per se. For all my efforts and the time laying in tanning beds, I never achieved the ultimate goal of a what I had always heard was a nice, "healthy glow." Again, odd, I know. To spend all that time and money and not ever really get a tan was, well, ridiculous. Similar to the ultimate lack of reward with other addictions, huh?
Melanoma diagnosis meant quitting
Quitting tanning? I am fairly certain I wouldn’t have stopped, but melanoma took care of that. I never tanned in a salon or in the sun a single day after my diagnosis in 2007, but I can’t say that I didn’t find myself struggling to quit. After 15 years of choosing tanning lotions over sunscreens and planning many afternoons after work around visits to the tanning salon, I was more than a little lost. That feeling of missing out and having a need that was going unfulfilled rattled me. Pure addiction.
Countless precancerous spots
Of course, the sun damage I have acquired has also done its part to help me see the light, so to speak. Countless precancerous spots in the form of actinic keratoses have been instrumental in keeping me focused on staying pale and choosing sunscreen. Three surgeries for basal cell carcinoma and a total of four scars between my arm, neck, and shoulder are the ribbon on my finger, the rubber band on my wrist, and the red flashing sign in my mirror every day that keep me in line.
Old habits die hard
Eleven years later, February is still hard. It has become easier over the years, but that old feeling never fades completely. In the 90s, I wouldn’t have called my desire to tan an addiction, but it was. In every way, shape, and form I was addicted. Facing skin cancer and hearing a dermatologist repeatedly comment on the extensive sun damage I have caused myself over the years puts quite the damper on that old feeling, though. February is tough, but I am much tougher.
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