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Voices of COHP



The first time heard I the word “Hoarder” my husband was watching a show about people whose homes were so full of possessions, entire rooms had become unusable.  I watched, not the TV, but my husband. I watched him for signs of rejection. Because I was one of them: the adult child of two hoarders.


He kept commenting about how delusional “those hoarders” must have been.  “How can they live in that filth?” he asked.  If he knew, I thought to myself, would he reject me?


When I told him, he didn’t believe me.  We made an excuse to visit.  He didn’t make it two feet before his feet stuck to the tiny patch of grimy carpet visible right in front of the door.  His eyes watered from the acrid air and rank smell.  An asthma attack began.


We drove home in silence until he asked me “Your dad, Sarah, he’s a really smart man. How can he live like that?”  I have asked myself that question many times.  How had he become ensnared by my mother?


My father was a minister.  He was never successful as a minister, at least not in terms of congregation size or financial provision. My mother was no help.  She was a prolific gossip, the kind of person who would drive to the county courthouse to find out if someone owned more than one home, or had paid their property taxes.  And she used this public information to fuel her “stories.” 


Our house was always “messy.”  But by the time I was nine, the bedroom I shared with my four-year-old sister was so full of my mother’s stuff that I was able to slide down from the top bunk of our bunkbed.  I used to lie awake at night, bladder full, afraid to move, fearing a pile would collapse and bury my little sister.  Her cries woke up my mother, who blamed and punished me when it happened before. 


My father slept on the couch because his side of the bed was full.  He was still sleeping on the couch when I left seven years later. 


So, I resolved to clean up.  I would throw things out, she would force my head into the trash.  She would drag me by the hair and hit me.  I hit her back.  Ours was a relationship built on violence.


At the end of 4thgrade, my parents became disillusioned by public education and made a decision to “home educate.”  My mother had a degree in elementary education.  She thought it would be “easy.”  I hated it. I was bored, unchallenged, lonely, and begged to go back to “real school.” I wanted my friends back, and made sure my mother knew how angry I was. 


She made sure I knew she was “THE MOM,” in control of everything.  I laughed in her face, and she hit me, pulling my hair, dragging me through a filthy hoard while I kicked and screamed and fought back. 


Although my mother gave up our trial year, she never re-enrolled us in public school. She convinced my father that she was doing a stellar job homeschooling.  When my oldest sister left for college, my mother lost it.  The abuse worsened, and the neglect became more profound.  She stopped buying groceries.  I got slapped for using up the shampoo. 


Luckily for me, there were still paper routes in the 1990’s.  I began using the proceeds from my route to buy groceries for myself.  By the age of ten, I was buying everything I needed.  Because we were “home educated,” we were invisible to anyone who might have helped.


Some days, the “performance” she maintained for my dad lasted while he was away. During those times, she remembered to buy groceries, and even said kind things.  One of those days, she decided to take us shopping.  I ran back to the house realizing I had forgotten something in my basement room.  She was already annoyed because “I was making her late.”

As I rushed and slid over piles to the stairs, my foot caught on a large pile of trash and before I knew it, I was tumbling down the basement steps, where I landed, my body twisted and stuck.  I couldn’t move, and everything hurt.


When my mother found me, she knew I had fallen, and she mocked me.  She said I was faking and accused me of trying to ruin her outing.  If I wasn’t in the car within five minutes, she was leaving without me.


I screamed at her, begging her for help, sobbing until there was nothing left.  But she was gone.  I was utterly alone. 


Eventually, I managed to climb over piles of broken wood with nails sticking out, reminders of an abandoned renovation.  The stairs were still covered with the landslide, so I crawled back to my room, the only clean place in the entire house (I had moved into my older sister's former room).


It was a week before my father came to see me.  She told him I had a fever.  He wondered why I was still sick after a week.  I told him what happened, and as usual, his eyes glazed over, unable to cope with what he heard.  In a few weeks, I was walking again.  


With only a fifth grade education, I went to community college, worked hard and became a Registered Nurse. 


Years later, while pregnant with my firstborn, I relived that pain as the hormones of pregnancy slowly tore my pelvis apart.  My firstborn was delivered six weeks early, the result of increasing pain signals that initiated early labor.  My other two pregnancies were also high risk, requiring 20 weeks of injections and bedrest. 


My husband never rejected me or judged me.  Not when he saw my parents' house, not when he had do everything during those difficult pregnancies, or when my father became ill and I developed PTSD. 


I have found joy and let go of shame, and so can you. You don’t have to be a victim or a survivor anymore, as long as you never give up hope. 




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