Saturday, November 26, 2011

People clean their dishwashers?

One of the issues with being the adult child of a hoarder is that you're playing catch-up on a lot of life skills that other people take for granted. Housework, for example, is something that I'm still figuring out. How often do people clean their baseboards? Wash their walls? How much time are you supposed to spend cleaning your house every day?

There are a surprising number of websites out there dedicated to cleaning and organizing. This fact makes me feel much better, as I am obviously not the only person out there who's still figuring this stuff out. And, as an added bonus, once in awhile I run across a cleaning-related factoid that makes me laugh. For example, it never in my entire life occurred to me that a person might need to clean their dishwasher, but apparently you can. If I ever get to the point where the rest of my house is so clean that I'm concerned about the inside of my dishwasher, I'll be doing pretty well.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Sometimes you win just by showing up

In my last post, I bemoaned the learned helplessness that can come with being the child of a hoarder (or an alcoholic, or any dysfunctional parent). Through a thousand small interactions, you learn that nothing you do will make a lasting difference. I suspect that this tendency to hunker down and take cover amongst the piles of crap (and rage and dysfunction) served me in childhood. It may not have served me well, necessarily, but it definitely helped minimize the amount of flack that I got. I learned not to make waves, which protected me from a lot of the emotional hurricanes coming from my mother.

The problem is that, as an adult, sometimes you need to make waves to live a fulfilling life. No one wants to live hunkered down in a corner. Sometimes you need to stand up for yourself, or challenge someone else, or set healthy boundaries, or just simply show up so that you can create your own best life. This showing up, every day takes guts. Sometimes it's incredibly difficult just to show up and make today the best day that it can be. It requires making dozens of choices not to coast through, not to go through the day on auto-pilot and simply react to what happens to you. It takes guts to be an agent of change in your own life.

Regardless of what is going on around me, regardless of what others around me are doing, I'm learning more and more that I can win the battle just by showing up. Even when it's a struggle, it means that I'm present in this moment and that I remain centered within myself. It means that I grant myself the power to act, not react. I have the ability to choose what I want and need to make my life a happy one. For someone who grew up in a family that implicitly discouraged action, this realization is life-changing indeed.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Star light, star bright

I don't remember large chunks of my childhood (hooray for repression!), but I do remember wishing on the first star I saw every night. Star light, star bright -- it was always the same wish. I wished for things to be different -- for the house to be cleaner, for my mom to be happier, for my life to change.

Wishing on a star didn't get me all that far, although it did provide a tiny beacon of hope during some pretty bleak times. Unfortunately, the wishing stemmed from my having learned that when something is making you unhappy, you're powerless to change the situation. Psychologists call this learned helplessness. Rats in captivity, when repeatedly exposed to a painful stimulus, will eventually learn that there is nothing they can do about it. Later, when an escape route is presented to them, they won't leave. They just hunker down and wait for the pain.

As a child I learned that, no matter what I tried, nothing I did would make any difference. As an adult, this learned helplessness manifests itself in a tendency to hunker down and wait for things to pass. I wait for difficult situations to change on their own, instead of taking action. I know now that this isn't a logical or true belief. I try not to let it too deeply affect my actions. Yet I still find it difficult to truly believe that any attempts to change my life will have any more lasting effect than those long-ago wishes on a star.