Voices of COHP
I grew up on lockdown.
Visitors were never allowed.
To the rest of the world, it takes a global pandemic that wipes out millions. But in my house, nothing changed.
Nobody knows that my mother has hoarding disorder. Including my parents.
Growing up, everyone assumed that we were just a normal, happy family.
Like other kids, I went to school, played sports, hung out with friends, but unlike my friends, I came home to a secret that has always separated me from everyone I ever knew.
A few close family friends may be aware they are never invited in. They do not know my mother has hoarding disorder, even if they know something isn't right.
Where most houses would have a coatrack, console, or key hook, upon entering, you must navigate “the new dishwasher” blocking our entry for over 15 years. It was purchased immediately after our "old" dishwasher broke, but never installed because we’ve always been on lockdown.
“The mess,” as they fondly call it, is pervasive.
Stacks of clothes bury the furniture and conceal the floor. Ziplock bags stuffed with Pepsi bottle caps surround the only usable piece of furniture in the living room, the family computer.
My mother spends the early morning hours entering the 8-digit codes on the bottom of soda bottle caps into sweepstake websites, the fantasy of a gold rush more compelling than a livable home.
Broken technology, appliances, used clothes, and indistinguishable miscellany soon transformed “the new dishwasher” into another monument of clutter in an evolving wasteland of junk.
When the kitchen sink broke, and of course could not be repaired, we adapted to soaking pots, pans, and dishes in the shower. The exposed plaster had grown dark green mold. Sanitation was out of the question.
Meanwhile, my parents denied there was a problem. Squeezing sideways through hallways, perfectly normal! Multiple rooms packed so tight doors wont open, why not?
Countertops? Floors? Horizontal surfaces are no match for hoarding disorder. Junk, oddment galore.
And the arguments they cause, all perfectly normal. I once tried to throw out a cell phone that had not been used for 5 years. The screen was cracked, keys were missing, the battery was long gone.
My mother snarled at me with rage in her eyes, “NEVER throw things away without asking me! I could sell this. I could trade it in for a better phone. This is MY phone!”
But she blamed me and my father for the state of the house: “If you and your father would just clean this place for once, then maybe we’d be okay.” Silence had become our only reply.
It wasn’t as if we hadn’t tried.
I grew up Googling “how to cure a hoarder,” unable to explain to my parents how helpless I felt.
My father couldn’t admit his wife was a hoarder, never mind explain how her acquiring was drowning us all.
For many children of hoarders, Christmas is a nightmare repeated every single year. My mother tried to compensate for feeling deprived as a child by drowning me in gifts that were either 3 sizes too big or 3 sizes too small, all of which she had found on sale, most of which still had a $1 price tag attached.
“I just couldn’t resist” she’d say with a grin. Or, “It’s ok if you don’t try it on, I just LOVED that one.”
I felt guilty and ungrateful. I knew she was trying to rescue herself from an unhappy childhood. How did she fail to see she had stolen mine instead?
It is hard to appreciate “gifts” used to justify the shopping binges that turned a home into a junkyard.
Begging her to stop had no effect.
Instead, I felt used, guilty, and hopeless.
Her refusal to respect my wishes and boundaries didn’t stop when I left home. Her pathological need to use me to justify her binging had no limits.
Away at college, I distanced myself, seeking control over my own life, my own space. My mother came to town and wanted to meet. I told her I was unavailable, studying for exams.
When I returned home, I found my mother had invaded my apartment and filled it with useless groceries and household goods, without my permission. Every cupboard, countertop, and crevice crammed with sale items her hoard could no longer contain.
I had always been a dumping ground for her insatiable needs. I saw clearly how she had physically and emotionally pushed me away.
I learned to lock my doors.
I love my parents. My sadness and anger does not diminish that.
No understanding I have for them, or their disorder can restore a lost childhood.
I wish they could find freedom from their denial, passivity, and avoidance. They deserve so much better.
And so do I.
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