Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Now we know, and knowing is half the battle

God bless the internet. When I first heard the term "compulsive hoarding" in the late 90's, two things happened. First, I thought, "Oh! So THAT'S what's wrong with my mother." Second, I thought, "Great! So if there's a name for this thing, there must be a ton of information out there about it." I was right on the first thought, wrong on the second. At that point, research on compulsive hoarding was in its infancy and there just wasn't much information available. There is now. It is oddly comforting to me that Googling "compulsive hoarding" pulls up 402,000 results (and counting).

Back then, I felt alone. Even though I knew there must be other people going through what I'd been through, no one was talking about it. Today, people are making TV shows about hoarding. People are writing blogs and web sites and books about hoarding. So not only are we friends and relatives of hoarders not alone, but now we know what's going on with Mom (or Grandpa, or Aunt Judith, as the case may be). And knowing is half the battle.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Children of hoarders, children of alcoholics

Given that my family doesn't drink, I never gave much thought to the effect of being the child of an alcoholic until today. Sure, we had our issues when I was growing up (not being able to walk through the house without picking your way over huge piles of stuff, for example). Drunken parents, fortunately, were not one of our issues. So imagine my surprise when I stumbled across a Children of Hoarders page which said that many adult children of hoarders have a lot in common with adult children of alcoholics. They offered a quiz on common personality characteristics of adult children of alcoholics.  Having been raised on a steady diet of Cosmopolitan quizzes, I figured I'd take this one, too. Granted, this one wasn't quite as light-hearted as, say, "Which Cosmo bachelor would adore you?" (Some sample items: "I guess at what is normal." "I avoid conflict or aggravate it, but rarely deal with it.") Lo and behold, on a scale of 20-100 (with 100 being a high probability of being an adult child of an alcoholic) I scored ONE HUNDRED NINETEEN. Oddly, this actually made me feel better. If there is a reason for my  conflict/failure/criticism/intimacy issues (other than, as I've always assumed, grievous personality flaws on my part), that means I can actually do something about them.

(Go here if you're interested in seeing the actual quiz.)

Friday, July 22, 2011

The gift that keeps on giving

I realized this week that, no matter how much time and effort I've put into sorting through the psychological detritus of growing up in a home with a hoarder, being a hoarder's child really is a gift that keeps on giving. And not the beautifully wrapped, lying-under-the-tree-and-waiting-for-Christmas-morning kind of gift. Really, it's more the unpleasant, coal-in-your-stocking variety.

There were two conversations that precipitated this realization. The first was my brother who, like me, can't handle watching A&E's show Hoarders. Well, to be more precise, even watching the commercials causes me such anxiety that I have to change the channel. He, braver soul that he is, told me that he actually attempted to watch the show with a friend. That experience apparently culminated with his getting more and more irritable until she asked, "Wait. Why are you mad at ME?" To which he, chagrined, replied that he was sorry and he wasn't mad at her. It just hit too close to home.

The second conversation was with a friend who happened to catch a segment about adult children of hoarders on NPR's show Here and Now. They talked about the lasting ramifications of growing up with a hoarding parent, some of which are simply not learning some basic life skills (say, organizing and, um, cleaning your house). While I'm OK at organizing (although I will definitely never be the type with all my shoes ensconced in plastic boxes decorated with a photo of each pair), housekeeping has always been a Sisyphean task that I just cannot seem to manage. (Note to former roommates and my husband: Very sorry. Still working on this.) I always chalked this up to a personal character flaw, but that conversation started me thinking. It's not that much of a stretch to realize that growing up in a household where housework just wasn't done might lead to challenges with keeping my house tidy as an adult. But if that's the case, what other gifts from my hoarding heritage are still with me?