Voices of COHP
When I think about my life as the son of a parent who hoards, it continues to strike me how painful it was to perceive -- even if it may not have been objectively true -- that my mother valued her possessions more than she valued my life. Although there is no way for me to know if that was, or is, true, I felt it so deeply.
On several occasions in my young adulthood, when I was still living with her and with my father, I asked if it might be possible to clear out some of the long hallway that led to my bedroom -- long since made nearly impassable with stacks and stacks of paper and clothing -- because I was increasingly fearful of my ability to escape if there were a fire.
Her response was to tell me that she would get to it soon, as soon as she took care of other obligations, but the day of clearing out that hallway never came.
Over the coming weeks and months, as the reality set in that no cleaning out of that hallway was likely to ever be in the offing, I felt such a profound despair... and anger... and confusion... and an utter disbelief. It would take me years to heal from this feeling that I mattered so little to her.
Over time, I learned to let go... and to recognize that her inability to effectively address the hoard did not really have anything to do with me, but instead, the profound nature of the traumas that she had endured during her own childhood, which still seemed to resonate in her decades later, and likely even today.
The path toward healing opened widely once I learned about boundaries -- that I did not have to assume responsibility, physically or emotionally, for my mother's hoard, or for the other dysfunctional behaviors that she and others in my family were engaging in. I could be, and have become, "lovingly detached."
That is to say that I want my mother, and everyone in my family -- and frankly everyone in general -- to be happy, to be healthy, to engage in behaviors that enhance their lives, that invite others in, that promote feelings of well-being and joy.
However, I am powerless to make that happen for them. I'm happy to share what I'm doing in my own life, I'm happy to encourage others on the path to their best life -- but I cannot do for others what they cannot or will not do for themselves.
These days, my parents remain in possession of three hoarded homes, and while I wish that that were not so, I no longer let the status of their homes affect my own emotional well-being -- and that has been enormously liberating. Rather than trying to force them to change, I have learned to let go. After all, as one of the people I respect most on this planet once wisely said, "Healthy expectations are based not on what you *want* from someone, but on what you *know* about them."
And that was what I needed to hear, and embrace, in order to let go, stop fighting, and find inner peace.
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