By Shannyn Izubel Oldwyn
I’ve made a decision. It came to me strangely, not in any of the usual ways I make choices, based on personal preferences, likes and dislikes, or by a process of considering pros and cons, advantages and disadvantages or cost/benefit factors. Instead, it felt like something fully formed, but hidden, drifting for a long, long time in the deepest depths of my psyche, and just now come into view – like a shell or a stone I found washed up on the beach, long hidden by waves and sand, now whole, solid in my hand. Somewhat surprising, yet not surprising at all. This wasn’t gathering facts, thoughtful analysis, weighing & measuring, but simply a knowing voice inside me whispering, “It’s time.”
I’ve decided to face a personal issue I’ve struggled with almost all my life, even as I lived in half-denial of it all along. I struggle, now, to name it, to say the word, to hear it, to write it. To call it by name is to own it, to admit it, to make it undeniably true and real. I feel this incredible, inexplicable resistance rising up inside me, already defensive against an accusation not yet made, and only by me to myself, though others have said it over time. I feel this urge to qualify, minimize, put the distance of doubt between me and it….”I think I am. I might be. Maybe.”
No. No more maybes. No more denial. I admit it. I am. I am a hoarder. There it is. And even as it brings the sting of tears to my eyes, I ask myself, “What’s so hard about that?” Especially considering that it’s been beyond obvious to me and others for quite a long, long while.
Part of the difficulty is in the word itself, the sound of it. Hoard. Hoarder. Hoarding. It sounds harsh, nasty, despicable – like growling, or spitting, or trying to hack something up from the back of your throat. “Hoard” is but one phoneme away from “whore,” a seriously derogatory word. And then there’s the confusing homophone “horde,” which means “a large multitude, legion, swarm, teeming crowd or throng, a busy mob, roving and mad.” Not exactly something you want in your neighborhood, much less in your living room for tea and crumpets on granny’s fine china. One dictionary warns that horde is “usually derogatory and should be used with care.” I think, likewise, “hoard” should be used with care. Hoard, to me, sounds like a word you heard when you were a little kid and you didn’t know what it meant, but you could tell by the way it was said that it certainly wasn’t something good.
The hardest part of admitting my hoarding is that as soon as I say, “I’m a hoarder,” I instantly and intensely feel totally wrong. Bad. Horrible. Diminished. Weak. I feel fatally flawed. A failure. Less than. Unworthy. Unlovable. Like I am not a nice person. Not a good person. Not a valuable human being. It’s like hoarding is a monster that gobbles up the rest of my identity, all my positive traits and good deeds. Being a hoarder becomes my identity. And nothing else that I am, or do, or have done, or will do can ever erase, or take away, or make up for my hoarding. There is no counterweight for this huge, heavy thing. It’s like a dense, black, stinking mortal sin so awful that there is no penance or forgiveness to be had for it. Everything feels hopeless and depressing.
Just thinking of myself as a hoarder raises anxiety in me. Sitting alone in my hoarded home, I feel ashamed and embarrassed, deeply and extremely disappointed in myself, that I am not living up to my own life standards of balance, order, creativity and beauty. And I sink into deeper layers of discomfort when someone comes over and either I don’t let them in, or I have to let them in, and they see inside my house. While I’m wondering what they’re thinking of me, based on what they see, wondering what they might say to someone about me and/or my house after they leave, a list of nasty adjectives quickly comes to mind to fuel my self-derogatory musings… Cluttered. Dusty. Disorganized. Messy. Dirty. Filthy. Disgusting. Depressing. Repulsive. Ridiculous. Terrible. Horrible. Overwhelming. Inexcusable. Irresponsible. Unhealthy. Disturbing. Dangerous. Careless. Lazy. Crazy. Senseless. Stupid. Selfish. All these words, and more, that I have heard applied to hoarders before. And I know that I desperately don’t want any of them to be used to describe me.
Even if people shrug it off, or say it’s “No big deal,” or “I’ve seen worse,” I still feel bad about it. Even if nothing at all is said, I criticize myself unmercifully inside. When people do say things to me about my hoarding, sometimes I don’t mind. Other times I feel panic – attacked, judged, guilty, wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. It depends on what is said, who says it, when, and what kind of mood I’m in. Sometimes, when I think about it, it bothers me a lot. Other times, not as much. But I don’t think there’s ever a time that it doesn’t bother me at all. It’s like a constant undercurrent in my life that I can cope with at low tide, but at high tide pulls me under. There’s always a part of me struggling, fighting against it, this swirling ocean of negativity and it’s deadly undertow, pulling, pulling me down.
At the very, very center, and the very, very bottom of this ever-spinning spiral, at it’s deepest, darkest, lowest point, underneath all the bad words and horrible feelings and self-rejection, I see this pretty little girl – tiny, with soft, shiny brown hair, in a pink, ruffled dress – lost, and alone, and terrified. Holding her arms up, reaching, reaching, reaching for someone to pick her up, she is crying, screaming, pleading, “Love me. Love me. Love me.” And all I can say to her right now is, “I’m coming for you.”
I don’t know what all of this means. I don’t know why it’s happening now. I don’t know where I’m going, where this journey will take me. I’m beginning this process without clear or well-defined goals, no map, and with as few expectations as possible. I’m just going exploring. I want to observe myself as I experiment with various experiences, and hope I find some new, better ways forward. What they might be, I have no idea. All I know for sure is that I’ve made a decision. I’ve made a commitment to myself to investigate the issue of hoarding in my life, and see what happens. That’s all.