It was the family secret for as long as I can remember. It was the reason why our friends weren’t allowed to spend the night. The reason why we never had slumber parties. The reason why we didn’t sit down as a family to eat. It was the reason why D picked me up from our first date from my great-grandmother’s house and why he has only been in the house that I was raised in two times. Once when we were dating … and on the day that I was arrested.
My father comes by hoarding naturally. His mother was a hoarder of sorts. She saved every scrap of fabric she ever owned along with bread bags, soup cans, and butter tubs. She made house shoes for every member of the family each year out of those fabric scraps and I can still remember what it feels like to wear them. I have heard that people who lived through The Depression tended to keep things, because they knew a time when they had nothing. Maybe that was why my grandmother treasured every little scrap, but it doesn’t explain why it was that way for my father. Maybe he learned the behavior by watching her. Maybe there is some sort of genetic link that causes a person to value useless objects more than they value people. This might explain why I was destined in some way to develop hoarding tendencies when I was on Paxil. I was the product of the perfect hoarding storm.
We moved to the country when I was fairly young under the guise of needing a bigger house, but I think that it had more to do with needing more space for junk. My father had a metal building the size of a small warehouse that is cram packed full of junk. At one point there were paths between the piles, but over time the paths disappeared and the objects on the former paths were just stepped over or stepped on. Presents from “Santa” were hidden in the building, never to be found again. Years later my mother told me that I had asked for a pair of white pom poms from Santa one year. I never saw them. They are still there. Hidden. Probably made into a nest by a rodent by now.
My mother comes by hoarding pharmaceutically. When we first moved to the country, the house was spotless. Everything had a place and was kept in it. I vaguely remember it and have seen pictures for proof that it did exist at some point. A clean house. An uncluttered house. Pictures of rooms that didn’t have piles of laundry in the middle of the floor. Pictures where there wasn’t a sink full of dishes. Pictures of rooms that weren’t stuffed with shopping bags full of clothes that still have the tags on them. My mother’s prescription drug issues started when Prozac first hit the market and was hailed as a miracle drug that could solve all her problems. Knowing what I know now about what SSRIs can do to some people, I can now see her behavior as being manic most of the time. She was always planning a project and would spend all sorts of money on craft supplies and stuff for projects for the house that would never be finished. Bags and bags of that stuff. I guarantee you its all still there and will still be there whenever I have to dig through it and haul it off after they are both gone.
My sister and I used to watch the hoarding shows that are so popular now. We don’t watch them anymore. It’s just too painful. It has been turned into some sort of a freak show and I don’t know why anybody would subject themselves to that kind of public scrutiny. I know that they promise to help them clean up and to continue therapy, but we very rarely see any follow up to know whether or not those things happen. The main thing about a hoarder is that you cannot force them to change. You cannot force them to give up their stuff. I know. I have tried. I remember filling my car in high school with black trash bags full of junk and trying to get to the dump before my dad got home, only to be caught and have to hold a flashlight out in the driveway while he dug through those bags and yelled at me for throwing away “good stuff”.
I don’t really know what causes people to hoard, but I do know that I was so close to being one of them. When I was on Paxil, I would have manic shopping trips like my mother. Just buying things to give me some small moment of pleasure … never considering that I didn’t need it or couldn’t afford it. When I was tapering off of the Paxil, it suddenly occurred to me that I had a linen closet full of things that I had hoarded; shampoos, conditioners, bubble baths, body washes, lotions, candles, nail polishes, room sprays, etc. After I was off of the meds, we didn’t have to buy any of that for close to two years.
The hoarding was the family secret, but it was one that I refuse to repeat with my children and yet another reason why I am glad that I am now med-free and not subjecting my kids to the things that I was raised with. Nothing good can come from a relationship where one of the people values stuff more than they value people. I understand now that it wasn’t a choice for my dad. It’s a form of anxiety mixed with a form of OCD. Hoarders can’t just turn it off and stop. He couldn’t help it, but that didn’t make it any easier for us to be collateral damage.
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