Voices of COHP
It hurts to think about it. To think about her. To think about the horrors that infested my formative years and followed me into my adult life. My marriage ruined in part because of her sensational needs and demands. I will turn 50 this year and I am still haunted and vexed by what I experienced growing up. I know that when she dies, I will need to employ the use of bulldozers and dumpsters to put it to rest.
As a dedicated parent of two teenage children, I can’t imagine subjecting them to anything like what I lived through as a child. My kids used to ask about why we couldn’t see my mother, and I would explain that it wasn’t easy for me to go there. The house wasn’t safe for kids. As little kids, that didn’t make sense, but now they understand why I can’t associate myself with her, and why I can’t let my precious children be around her.
My mother is a sick person. To say she is a hoarder describes her relation to things but doesn’t begin to describe how her illness stole my childhood. We lived in an active garbage dump. From the floor to almost the ceiling are teetering towers of newspapers dating back to the 1970s. Piles of mail and magazines stacked like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Touch something and it may all come crashing down. Throw something out at your own risk!
I have come to believe that hoarding is a control mechanism for those who feel they have no control. Controlling objects gives hoarders control they lack over their lives. Whether it be inanimate objects, people, or animals, the control is all the same. When I was young and living with my mother, everything in the house was HERS.
When I was about 12, she had a locksmith come and install a lock on the freezer because I ate some of HER ice cream. I was not allowed to use the washing machine because she said, “you’ll break it.” I was not allowed to use the shower. She only allowed me to take baths, because she said that she would have to clean the places she couldn’t reach because the “shower gets everything wet all over the place.” I was deemed untrustworthy (for no apparent reason) to have a set of keys to let myself into the house if she was out and I got home from school before she was home. I sat outside or went to a friend’s house to wait for her to come home. I was usually happy when this happened because it meant I didn’t have to go home.
Opening the front door required a healthy shove to push back the newspapers piled on the floor. It was apparent as soon as you opened the front door that something was wrong.
I don’t know what the floor was made of. It was always covered wall to wall with newspapers and assorted mail. My mother explained it was in case the dog or cat has to go to the bathroom. I accepted her reason, although the dog or cat never soiled anything in the house. Just an excuse for keeping her collection of crap I assume.
Whenever I made any attempt to try to clean up, I was confronted by white-hot anger from my mother: “why are you messing up my papers?!” I would reply “you don’t even know what’s here!” She would then explain, “I save the papers because there’s an article/ad/something” that she knew was there, and she needed it.
By the time I was a teenager I had given up on ever seeing the house clean. I knew I could never have anyone over. As my social circle widened with high school, I started using the telephone to call friends. My mother was so concerned that I would rack up a big phone bill that she installed a dial-lock on the rotary phone so that I couldn’t call anyone. I got crafty and used pliers to bend back the finger stop so that I could make a call. It worked most of the time, but good thing I never had to call 911.
As I sit here writing these words, I can’t believe this was my childhood. How did I, a relatively normal person, deal with these problems and not go crazy? I did use a lot of drugs to numb and dull my anger at her, and my anger at my situation. I spent years in therapy trying to disassociate myself from the shame and guilt I felt about my mother.
Whenever I was at someone else’s house, which was pretty often, I would marvel that their freezers and phones didn’t have locks on them. I would feel happy that I was in a place that wasn’t covered wall to wall, floor to chest, with junk. I was always sad to go home, knowing what awaited me.
I’m pretty sure that other parents in the neighborhood knew something was wrong at home. And I thank all of them for feeding me, caring for me, and letting me stay in their homes for extended periods of time.
My mother was psychologically abusive, messing with my mind, distorting my reality. How can everyone else manage “normal” and my mother is so fucked up?
My advice to COH is to try to separate yourself from your hoarding parent, both physically and emotionally. Don’t fall prey to the victim your hoarding parent is telling you they are. You can have a relationship on your own terms. You are not responsible for what is happening inside of that house. Seek out others who can truly relate to your situation. Seek out professional help, such as a therapist that practices cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
I wish all of you the best as you deal with the difficult situations as our parents age.
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