It is with much sadness that I write this thank you note to Sidney Patrick (of milbetweenus.com) who passed away unexpectedly last week. She was an amazing supporter of this blog (with many snarky and hilarious comments), and as far as I can tell, of so many people in the COH community who need support. She was amazing on the HuffPo Live show on hoarding, bringing the emphasis to the victims while the show itself seemed to have been programmed to haul the hoarder back into the light. I posted then on her blog that I was proud: I’m proud to have even minimally interacted with such a bright, strong person. Sidney, you’re inspiring. And I thank you.
Tag Archives: victim
Although I’m committed to the goals of the Children of Hoarders support group, I sometimes look away for long periods of time. Reading the experiences of others makes me feel somehow guilty for publicly complaining about my situation when others have had it so severely worse. Then the feeling that I am entirely ungrateful for my upbringing suddenly popped into my head about two days ago. Am I only looking for yet another way to talk about the ways in which my parents failed to nurture me? Can they ever do anything right? It’s like a revolving door and I can’t step out.
My father had clear hoarding tendencies while I was growing up. I’ve also written about my paternal Grandfather, collector of treasures, my maternal Grandmother, survivor of the Depression who throws nothing useful out, and my own tendencies to cling to objects that remind me of past travels, experiences or people. But my father’s hoarding, as far as I know, has only shut off two rooms and a garage. The family can still sit on the couch, I presume. I say that, but I am not certain. Maybe they clean for days ahead of our visits to clear those coveted surfaces for us. While some children are literally trapped in horrid living conditions, my main area of suffering was from neglect. Things were and are always more important than I am, if not in word at least in deed.
A few days ago, I finally wrote to my father to tell him of our holiday travel plans and to ask if we could come by the house for a day or two. We cannot invite them to our home because it is rented to friends. However, we are renting a vacation home and I am very late at asking if they want to visit us there. Late and hesitant. I could sense the tone in their response that they (step-mother and HP) were upset they had not been made a priority. My father couldn’t even be bothered to answer me himself and has stopped talking to me during our constant Scrabble games online. I shouldn’t expect them to feel any other way: their visits are never easy for us, but I haven’t seen them in a year and a half.
Rambling back to the point: I wonder if I am ungrateful. Look at me: I’ve got problems, but I’ve turned out ok. Did they really do me wrong? The more I read other people’s stories of abuse, however, I feel more and more resentful.
And they are not even doing something to me now.
Lately, I feel resentful because my husband’s parents are equally far from us and yet they have maintained a constant relationship with our daughter. She knows who they are, she visually recognizes them, she talks with them on Skype almost weekly. My own parents (both the HP and my mother) cannot bother to write an email much less learn how to Skype or pick up a telephone to talk to me or S. She asked me who Grandpa S. was the other day and I could only get her to remember by talking about his dog. His dog who is the clear #2 priority in his life.
The unclarity in my head at the moment is probably very legible here. I feel guilty for not inviting them, for feeling ungrateful. I wasn’t really that abused, just a little abused and very neglected. And I feel anger. Real anger and frustration that they expect me to be chasing after their attention when I know I will never compare to stuff.
Being less worthy than stuff was discussed in depth on the HuffPost Live webcast “Hoarding’s Harsh Reality” last week. I am grateful to those who are willing to share publicly and to Sidney for being an advocate for the victims of hoarding. We need one, especially those of us who can’t even decide how we really feel.
I’ve been silent but not inactive over the past few weeks. My mind is heavily occupied, in part because I suddenly started receiving the Children of Hoarders (COH) listserv messages, even though I joined the group months ago. There are many well articulated, insightful, and blatantly painful messages shared among the members on a daily basis, and my thought process on hoarding is a bit jammed.
Recently there was an active discussion on the abusiveness of hoarding and the fear (or not) of being taken away from the hoarding parent (HP). I will be the first person to recognize that I can only acknowledge abuse when it literally hits me in the face. After some therapy I came to recognize my father as an abusive person towards me, but I hadn’t been able to do it while growing up because he was physically abusive to both my mother and brother and I was somehow spared. Now that I’m confronted with an entirely different level of possibility – that his hoarding is an abusive act – I feel on unstable ground again.
[interlude: blogpost interrupted by people seeking donations for disaster relief, and I notice they are from a certain religious group, give money, hear father’s voice screaming in my ear that this group is a cult.]
My initial reaction is to defend both my father and my situation: it wasn’t that bad, the hoarding didn’t become an issue until I left home, and so on. If anything, and my mother confirms my memory, my childhood was dictated by a stringent cleaning regimen, and my father was more obsessed with sorting and cleaning things – or at least having us do it – than he was by accumulating. He was already a compulsive spender, although I didn’t understand that as a child, and he did bring my family to dramatic financial ruin that ended in foreclosure on a home, living without electricity, and hiding from the creditors sent to repossess our car. Still, I justify him. He was trying to cope, though badly, with a divorce and single parenting, though terribly.
As I think about it as an adult, I do see his hoarding as abusive, but it is extremely hard to write that even now. He always cared for things more than for us and would constantly say he had no money to help with things that didn’t matter to him (buying us decent clothes and food? paying for college education?) but he always had money to buy things that were important to him (horses, horse trailers, guns, hunting trips). His possessions weren’t to the rafters, but he did have a problem with things. And just today we were at a fair and caught part of a horseback riding competition, and I said to D. I really wish my dad had spent time with the horses. We had them through a very large part of my childhood, but I only remember riding a few times over all those many years. If anything, he just wanted to have animals. Even today he runs a deer farm, and I believe he takes good care of the animals just as he did with the horses, but they serve almost no purpose whatsoever… they’re just there because he wants them there, eating up money and resources while he calls them a business investment.
It’s hard to label this kind of neglect as abuse for me, especially because there was real physical abuse that I witnessed and not just from him. I have trouble putting his hoarding activity on the same line as causing physical pain. Perhaps it’s equally destructive, but now far more acceptable – hell, even fashionable – to be a hoarder.
It’s a common complaint among the COH that at first really shocked me – hoarders are seen as kindly, well-meaning, creative individuals who are victims themselves. This is a cultural view as well as the perspective of many highly respected researchers. But by being the victim, the hoarders can only too easily perpetuate their abuse. We COH get angry, and the passive HP is able to turn the attention onto our bad behavior, making themselves out to be even greater martyrs, all while refusing to share and refusing to put their own children ahead of stuff.
I’m only just figuring this out as I write it. I can only imagine how insufferable it is to actually have to live in a home every single day that is so filled with crap, constantly weighing down or threatening to topple onto you as a reminder of how less significant your life is to your HP than the stuff that surrounds them. I knew every day that my dad cared more about stuff than about me, but I didn’t have to tiptoe around the stuff that mattered more. I only had to tiptoe around him.