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Dr. Rebecca Johns
25 April 2012
When Living is No Life
The light is dim as you enter the room after receiving no answer from repeated knocking. The lack of light is due to aluminum foil and newsprint taped to the windows. The thick humidity envelopes you, carrying with it an overpowering sickly sweet odor that assails you as your eyes adjust to the darkness. Even though you have donned coveralls, you can feel and taste the smells, and wish a face mask was at hand. Being part of a social welfare assistance team, you arrived early to help with an elderly recluse, but you did not expect this. There is no furniture to be seen, except for the odd table corner jutting out from a growth of boxes draped with clothing in a myriad of colors. While maneuvering through a narrow trail that literally snakes back to a hallway passage and perhaps other rooms, the piles become higher and more menacing. Folded, crumbled and torn are the newspapers, envelopes, wrapping paper, and roaches. Roaches everywhere with little ones scurrying away at the slightest nudge of an item. The walls appear discolored, when seen, and any interest in knowing the actual source of the smudges has rapidly vanished. You begin to think that you should not be in here. “Wait for the team” the leader said, but curiosity at the new and unseen wins out. Moving towards another room, you turn sideways, because the passage of paper stacks is so narrow, and in doing so see a bright red box sticking out of a sea of gray papers above your head. As you reach up and give a tug, a rush of newspaper starts to spill over you, faster than one could imagine. Dust swells up as the spill causes towers to tumble, and with hands over your head you feel the tracing of paper and debris across your face and neck as papers, cardboard, and all else closes around your legs, pinning you in place. A sensation on your face feel like windblown threads and you hope it really is bits of paper…you wish you had the mask on. You remember the cautionary cliché about what curiosity did to the cat …and hope the team is timely.
Hoarders and hoarding. Reading the spectacular stories of people killed by their junk can make one wonder how a situation can become so extreme. If you watch a cable television hoarding show and cringe at the mess wondering how someone can wander around in front of a camera and say everything is fine, you are not alone. It is always “someone else”, yet we may all have a family member, or friend, who “collects” or just plain hoards. How do they get there, and how do they get out? I hesitated to pick this topic for one embarrassingly good reason: I am a hoarder. So read on, try to resist the urge to scratch and pay no heed to the wisps across your neck.
Hoarding is the extreme accumulation of things, to the point where the mess can ruin your life. In this paper, I shall compare the impact of hoarding on the hoarder and his or her family. It is no easy task, for no one has ever wanted to be labeled a hoarder, and the practice is not a new phenomenon. Throughout history, humans have held their possessions in great regard, often using the accumulation of items as a show of power or prosperity. The ownership of things tends to define people in many ways. The more things someone owns, has in the past marked their place in the community, just as their physical appearance did. Merchants, political figures, and those born into wealth generally did not have to labor and were, well, fat. The manner of things defined people in the past: the swords, armor and mounts of a warrior king, or the wealth and servants of an Egyptian Pharaoh. They all sought to insure that they would have such things in the afterlife. Archeological excavations discovered how simple soldiers or farmers were buried with their implements; to an entire army of life-size soldiers, in the hundreds, are set in place to guard a Chinese Emperor who is laid to rest with his horses and servants, who were likely hesitant to join their master (Peers). In spite of the common saying “you can’t take it with you,” many have tried, and many still try to keep it all with them.
Though not yet officially described as such, hoarding is psychological disorder, the results of which are seen in the accumulation of all manner of things. Hoarding is defined in broad terms as the acquisition, collecting and saving of items, usually of little or no value. These possessions can fill up rooms and clutter up homes to the point that the house loses its usefulness. Hoarding may be a corollary of other disorders, such as schizophrenia or major depression. Other symptoms of hoarding may include:
Hoarding is a behavioral disorder that goes beyond the scope of one who collects, for collectors take pride in the items they have garnered. These items are usually of a narrow scope, such as coins, stamps, automobile license plates of the United States, or the equipment worn by soldiers at specific points and places in time. Collections are well organized, maintained and usually proudly displayed. On the other hand, a hoarder has to have things often for no reason other than to fulfill the need to acquire. There is a feeling of safety in being amongst possessions, or having things that may be needed in the future.
All human beings have needs, and the urge to fulfill them is set deep in the subconscious mind. The discussion regarding hoarding currently surrounds the epidemiology of the disorder, and treatment strategies. It was considered to be a practice of stubborn, stingy and methodical individuals by founder of the discipline of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, in 1908, and thus evolving through time, to be closely interpreted as an obvious adjunct of Obsessive Compulsive Disorders (OCD) in the present day (Grisham, Barlow 46). The hoarding of things is thought to be linked to primitive survival instincts, and is reflected in animals as well. These primitive needs have been highlighted in the field of the social sciences, by psychologist Abraham Maslow, who wrote a paper entitled “A Theory of Human Motivation” in 1943. In it he described a pyramid or hierarchy of needs; five levels which must be met in seriatim before the person is complete. A person starts with the physical (wants of food, sleep, water), precedes those of safety (shelter, protection), then to the social (being with like people, being accepted), and up to the point of self-realization. The lower levels of this hierarchy point out the primal instincts of humans. Like animals, humans will gather things they consider necessary. In humans, however, the need can be illusory. Like animals that store necessities, humans will prepare for future, but certain changes occur in some people that cause them to obsessively accumulate things, like nest building animals. They will go out and find things that only they find a need or use for, broken or whole, and return to “fill the nest” building what Dr. Stephen Kellett of the Department of Clinical Psychology, Keresforth Center, in Barnsley, UK, calls a “security site.” He draws comparisons in his writings as to how humans with hoarding disorders can operate at very basic levels of understanding and without clarity when confronted with the reality of their surroundings and how their lives plod on as if on a treadmill of continual acquisition, regardless of the consequences (Kellet, 425). A hoarder can bring things into the home, sit and examine the new acquisitions, find some peace in handling them and leave them where they are placed. In this way a new layer is added to the mess. Sometimes the instinct is so ingrained that the hoarder will react adversely to any aid given in cleaning out their domicile, to the point of reverting back to the role of scavenger and refilling the recently cleaned home (Stuff, 185).
Hoarding has long been listed as a type of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) or Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD), or Obsessive Compulsive Hoarding Disorder (OCHD) although some professionals believe it should have a specific definition rather than being an adjunct of other disorders. Those with OCD have behaviors that can be repetitive, like scratching, touching, checking/rechecking, cleaning/re-cleaning, and urges to throw things away. Someone throwing away items is somewhat of the antithesis of a hoarder. Jessie Stoll is so obsessed with not becoming like her hoarding mother that she cleans her home in such a compulsive manner that she has thrown out important items in the process, like her college diploma (Cenicola). Information drawn from psychiatric studies on hoarding show that hoarders can suffer the typical OCD/OCPD traits while OCD types will not always have hoarding as a symptom (Tolin, Challenges). Most research that is conducted leads the researchers in the field to come to the conclusion that compulsive hoarding should be named Compulsive Hoarding (CH). The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM IV, a guidebook for mental health professionals), lists hoarding under the criteria for OCD, but Dr. David Tolin has presented research and a proposed criteria needed to classify hoarding as a distinct disorder for review and judgment of the board assembling the contents of the next volume of the DSM (Tolin, Challenges, 452). Facets of hoarding that have caused it to be considered an adjunct of OCD are similar to those implied by Freud: perfectionism, obsessive cleaning, a fear of infection, a fear of loss, a lack of organizational skills, poor social skills, an inability to make decisions of any magnitude, and self-delusion. It is the rigid path of definition that has kept hoarding from being described as a separate disorder. The works of Tolin, Frost and Tompkins illustrate that while hoarding can be identified with other disorders, it also can a problem of its own.
The hoarder often faces greater health problems than other individuals. The television shows on hoarding give the greatest possible exposure to the inside of a hoarder’s home, often the very worst of conditions. Although animal hoarders are not included in this paper, they can be found to live in much worse living conditions than covered herein. For a person coming in, the smell is unbearable, but the smell is the only thing for which the hoarder cannot be held responsible for not noticing. One can easily discover this when in constant contact with bad odors, the sense of smell is gradually inured to them. When in the Army, we would often spend up to two weeks in the mountains and hills of North Carolina conducting training. With little recourse but to use only what you can carry, changes of clothes were minimal, and re-use was constant. The smells went unnoticed until a good shower on return. Gathering your laundry at that point reminded you of how inured the nose becomes to odor for long periods, so the fact that a hoarder cannot necessarily smell the mess they live in is possibly the only truth they can claim. In a normal home, however, clothing is washed with regularity and put away. When clothes, paper, and articles of all sorts become packed in on the floors, in closets and rooms, bacteria can form in the void, and spread without hindrance. Molds form in damp places, and especially in climates subject to high humidity, as in Florida. Mold is a serious problem, with respiratory complications coming from breathing the air in a home that has airborne mold spores drifting in it. This usually accompanies a serious lack of personal hygiene. Dr. Frost describes this as the Diogenes syndrome, which is named after a Greek philosopher noted for not only wandering the world with a lantern in search of an honest man, but also for very bad hygiene. In many case it is found in elderly hoarders, but is not restricted to certain age groups (Stuff, 176-179).
In time, the great accumulation of debris and decomposition of damp paper products, forgotten foodstuffs, and animal fecal matter will attract rodents, insects, and other carriers of disease. Such can be found in the story of Daniel and Edith, in the book Stuff, by Dr. Frost, which gives gruesome detail of entering a filthy home. Daniel is the hoarder and they have a condominium filled with more than just things, but filth and debris, with roaches literally everywhere. Dr. Frost and his team of volunteers come to help remove debris and Daniel continually talks with the crew about what should and should not be disposed of and why. This would have been enough of a peaceful distraction for the crew, but violence erupts in the form of Daniel’s son, Tim. He storms in screaming and hitting Daniel for letting some of his things be touched and moved. Police are called as the argument spills onto the street, where the son tears open trash bags looking for a jacket, showering roaches on passersby, and the police. Needless to say, Tim is arrested, and sadly, within a week Daniel has collected new refuse to replace what was removed. (Stuff, 173-187).
Another health threat to a hoarder can also be found in the mess. This is the physical threat of accidental falls. In a hoarder’s home, the debris, stuff, and junk can take up most all of the living space. Stacks form in corners, on tables and counters, moving like an out of control organism to fill the house. As it is stacked, it forms trails, much like the small pathways of worn down grass in the underbrush that marks the passage of small animals, called “game trails” by hunters. In the world of hoarding literature they are called “goat trails.”(Frost, Stuff) Through rooms and up stairways these paths snake through a house. When crossed by obstacles such as boxes, the hoarder is constantly shifting weight from one foot to the other, pivoting in place, high stepping to get over something, ducking low, and often crossing an item and turning at the same time. Awkward stress and pressure is put on knees, ankles and hips, in a junkyard steeple chase that one takes to just walk through the house. I have twisted my knee more than once going through my house and never considered it a problem. However, as nimble as I might imagine myself, nothing would help if I were to fall and knock down towers of boxes and create the type of accident that opened this paper. It actually happened to Patrice Moore in New York City, a hoarder who piled all sorts of mail in his tiny one room apartment. When the tumult came, he was enclosed upright in junk and debris for two days until he was heard by other residents (Duenwald). Not only heavy things but sharp or pointed objects can lay unseen and cause injury if tread upon, walked into, or into a hand searching the mess. When the hoarding spreads out of doors, the yard can become a literal minefield of right angled harm and knee breaking holes.
It can come to a point that the hoarding becomes injurious not only to the hoarder and associates, but also the dwelling place. I have been called upon to clean rental houses that became hoarding domains. Trash piled everywhere, unusable sinks, cat litter in drawers, human waste overfilling a non-functioning commode, all things which have had to be cleaned up, often by myself. Long-term accumulation of debris can affect the home, causing structural failure, and rendering it unlivable. One recent viewing of the television show Hoarding gave the story of a man in Cincinnati who had lived in a home with so much debris and without power. Because of the lack of light he did not go in the basement. After a harsh winter’s cold caused a water pipe to burst, the basement was flooded, and that support beams for the house were cracked, rendering the house unlivable and thus condemned by the city. His daughter had not lived with him for many years, and approached the producers of the show with his problem. Though not having lived there because of her parents divorcing, she doubted she would have stayed, even if she had been given the choice.
Some children see the growing problem and move away from it. Michelle, 45, has two brothers and a mother who are hoarders. Things were not that way as a child, but she had some friends whose mother was obsessed with cleaning and vacuuming, and the clean streak stayed with her. Michelle will call herself OCD in a humorous manner, but has seen the way in which family members have fallen into the patterns of hoarding. She will not allow it to happen to her (Michelle, 2012). Jessie Sholl wrote on her experiences with a hoarding mother and possibly feels that there is a genetic component (Cenicola). According to Dr. Kiara Timpano, this may be the case. Dr. Timpano, of the University of Miami, has researched the link of hoarding as a matter of genetic predisposition. She has identified the Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF), a recently identified member of the family of neurotrophins, protein cells that control the life span of neurons complex cells that relay messages from the brain to the body. For instance, a certain cell controls the release of messages that reinforce behaviors, good or bad. If that cell is allowed to die, some behaviors will continue while others may cease (Timpano). Her work opens greater discussions on the probability of the BDNF gene having some input into the causes of hoarding, and offers proof that hoarding is genetic, making it distinct from OCD and necessitating its own distinct disorder category.
Hoarding can also begin later in life, in the mid to late thirties, and occurs gradually, as acquisitions grow, collections meander, and often after a personal trauma. Some start out as collectors, though without the organization and self-limiting of a true collector. Family tragedies, loss of employment, and/or divorce qualifies as a loss that is replaced by “things”, things that bring consolation and security to the hoarder. Hoarding is not talked about openly, and for many is a family secret, or the family may not know of the problem until it has been growing for some time (Buchdahl). When knowledge of their hoarding affliction becomes known, the hoarder is not the only one to suffer embarrassment; it also causes great emotional and psychological pain to direct family members. It can build great mental and physical walls of separation between those in the afflicted family. Much of this comes from denial on the part of the hoarder, which gets worse when pressed by family to clean up the house. A point can be made here on how hoarding and OCD are incongruous with each other. Those with OCD can be very picky and unerring in their behaviors, and can explain away the odd habits, while hoarders will deny the very existence of a problem to the point of delusion (Tolin et al, 70). Mark, 50, is a hoarder who does not think of himself as one. “Strangely enough, I know exactly where stuff is piled and can go to…what I may be searching for” (Mark, 2012). Sometimes distant relations do not have constant contact with a hoarder, and without outside influences the hoarding can continue without criticism. When it becomes a problem, it is usually the family, not the hoarder, makes contact with professionals for help. Two thirds of families of hoarders have to do the work of getting a hoarder to treatment (Tompkins). Hannah Buchdahl’s article "An Unwanted Inheritance" gives some accounts of this occurrence and the surprise of relatives who arrive at the home of a hoarder, sometimes after death, to find that the home is unlivable and the beginning of a cleaning nightmare.
Neighbors, though not related to the hoarder, are often subjected to the overflow of junk that begins to form in the yard of the hoarder. A hoarder may erect fences to block the view, but some are oblivious to the fact that an eyesore is there for the neighbors to reluctantly view. Mark has had the city notify his landlord about conditions on his porch and yard, as well as having a long unused vehicle in his driveway. He turned to his family, and though he succeeded in moving the car to a new location, the problem remained. After three changes of venue, the car was sold. He could have sold it years earlier, but he knew he would be able to fix it soon.
The smell from a hoarding home can be the first indicator that there is a problem. In Chicago, firemen were investigating suspicious odors reported by neighbors, and found an elderly couple that had been buried by the trash in their home. Though in critical condition, they were alive (Associated Press, 2012). The affected landlords and involuntary viewers of the clutter in yards have no recourse but to turn to the authorities after well-intentioned pleas for clean neighborhood go unheeded.
At this point a more severe outcome of the hoarding problem comes in the form of the legal action taken by municipalities, and institutions. Fines are levied by the city for code violations. Some hoarders like Mark will use family members as “hoarding enablers,” moving whatever items the city has noted in a violation (boats or cars) from one family yard to another. Sometimes the simple act of placing a “for sale” sign on the offending vehicle will placate authorities (Mark, 2012). Liens placed on properties by home-owners associations can be the result of the hoarder ignoring his or her situation and obligations. Debris taking over yards, excessive animals owned, and other visible features of the hoarder will lead to action by local governments. Neighbors make complaints on the constant state of disrepair and clutter. Banks can foreclose on properties that are arrears in payments, placing the hoarder, and possibly his family, into a situation of homelessness and financial strain, as evidenced in contemporary news reporting.
All of these incidents incur monetary costs on the hoarder and his or her family. As for my situation, I have paid for a roll away dumpster once, though I did not make any progress. For many years I had off-site storage, but never considered the cost, most likely because I have not been very good at personal finance and considered storage as just the cost of having a collection. Over time, it became a place to hide things, and many of such storage spaces rented have become repositories for more things acquired by more and more people. My father would lament that the money he spent on storing all that junk, would be equal to throwing it all away and buying it all new. I would shrug it off, after all, did I not know where everything was, and like Mark, I thought all was fine and I would take care of the situation someday; more denials, more delusions, and a growing problem for someone who did not realize it. Taking into account the $7,000 I have made this past year selling off some of the collection, he could be right. Storage units costing roughly $100 to $200 per month, for a twenty years period, equates to over $48,000, never to be recovered; money that could equate to college tuition for a child.
The cost of cleaning up the hoarder’s home often falls on family members, as well as the death of a hoarder can cause great discord in a family as the burden of cleaning up falls to close family and relatives, as does the disposition of the estate. No one finds solace in considering the demise of a relative. Michelle, 47, is in a family of hoarders, and has definite opinions on the demise of her parents: “I will not have anything to do with cleaning that house, and if I do, NO ONE else will be there. If they take things, it will end in their homes, nobody gets rid of anything in my family, and I’m going to throw it all out” (Michelle, 2012). Usually, it will take more than a handful of family members on a weekend to clean a hoarder’s home. Steri-Clean is a business in California that provides hoarder-home cleaning services and specialists around the world. Professionally cleaning a home can range from $5,000 to $20,000 or more, depending on the size of the mess, hazards, and city codes relating to trash disposal. In a case like this huge job site type dumpsters hauled by trucks are utilized. Often, the family wants no part in the clean-up (Buchdahl).
Children brought up in hoarder homes suffer the most. They often experience depression and anxiety because they cannot live as other children do. They also, without choice, face the same heightened health concerns of the hoarder. Many studies find that the progenitors for hoarding evolve in childhood and into a lifelong trauma that seriously affects character and behavioral development (Grisham, 46). Dr. Eric Storch of the University of South Florida has noted that hoarding in children is often limited to their own bedrooms if unchecked by parents (509). He also reveals that a general lack of emphasis on studies of hoarding in children can seriously affect any planned and future research. Much like an example given in class about aspirin being only tested on males, and most hoarding specific studies have only been done on adults. He further points out, as other researchers have, of the comorbidity of hoarding: how one disorder can influence or be influenced by a coexisting disorder. Autism, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), and Anorexia Nervosa are particular disorders that co-exist with hoarding in children. A case study of the treatment of a child is given as an example of hoarding coexisting with one or more disorders (Storch, 514). Children reared in hoarding homes often have few chances to entertain friends at home. An adult view is offered by Michelle, who finds it sad that her parents would like to have some of their good friends over, but cannot because of the clutter. The family can’t have any holiday gatherings at their house as well since there is no place to gather or sit down (Michelle, 2012).
A greater awareness of the hoarding problem is found in popular programming offered through various mediums. Television shows such as Hoarding: Buried Alive and Hoarders bring the phenomena into everyone’s homes, giving them the chance to pause as they consider if it is in their family. A plethora of books about hoarders, by hoarders, and by those who research hoarding can be found which give greater access to information on hoarding and how to seek treatments.
There are different treatments for hoarders; drug therapy, and cognitive behavior modification are the most common. In some circumstances Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) is used, directly facing the hoarder with the problem, but it was developed for OCHD treatment, and does not work well with hoarding disorders (Gilliam, Tolin, 109). Pharmacological therapies are being studied and developed by Sanjaya Saxena, Ph.D., at the University of California-San Diego. Dr. Saxena’s work concentrates on the use of drug therapy, using drugs, serotonin uptake inhibitors, to control the various synapses that release the chemicals in the brain which then allow for hoarding behaviors. The emphasis is on alternate and multimodal treatments of compulsive hoarding, the use of pharmacological treatments, combined with cognitive behavior alterations. The case study done shows an intensive amount of initial time spent in the clinic, receiving medicinal treatment, and less in behavior modification. Though a small first time study group was conducted (14 participants), it is a first step for Dr. Saxena, who is at the forefront of pharmacological treatment use for compulsive hoarding. Dr. Timpano’s BDNF study, and its relation to hoarding, lends credence to the chemical treatment view. Despite the claim of pharmacological treatment advocates, and though certain drugs show promise, the studies are concentrated on OCD sufferers, and hoarding tends to be a reaction of OCD patients who do not respond to drug therapy. Dr. Frost's report in Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics provides data for this claim.
There are many universities that have programs devoted to the study of hoarders and solutions to their affliction, most of which are variations of Cognitive Behavior Training (CBT). CBT is behavior modification, the process of teaching a patient to behave differently, by rewarding (positive reinforcement) the correct behaviors, and no reward for incorrect behaviors (negative reinforcement). Dr. Tompkins Harm Reduction approach is a strategy for families of a hoarder who refuses to admit any disorder. His method, or strategy, is to aid families of hoarders in helping the hoarder who refuses assistance, usually because they deny having the disorder. The aspect of self-delusion is common with hoarders, like gamblers or drug addicts. Harm Reduction is based on a program to help drug abusers. It is a form of operant conditioning and focuses on a reduction of consequences of a behavior without having the patient stop the behavior. It is time consuming, like any cognitive behavior alteration program. It is also new, so more research will be needed to prove its efficiency. Two case studies are presented in Dr. Tompkins’s paper, which focuses on the problems of hoarding to the family, and offers a method of treatment that does not dwell on drug treatment. There are several common techniques to help, or condition the hoarder, and are best done in the Doctor or specialist’s office and the hoarder’s home. Getting into the hoarder’s home is of vital importance in the treatment, so that the hoarder will begin to understand the steps needed to be taken, and to see the eventual changes. Problem Solving/Organizing can mark the beginning of the treatment, by finding situations that the hoarder can identify with, create solutions, and develop those into strategies to control the hoarding issue. Enhancing Motivation is a strategy for focusing on the reasons the hoarder has to stop hoarding, even such ideas are initially not of importance to him or her. Acquisition Reduction starts by identifying the stimulus of getting things, what gives the hoarder satisfaction in acquisition, and then work toward reducing the excitement of having. Then that stimulus is replaced with methods that focus on the pros and cons of acquiring something, to think through what it is and where it will go. Sorting/Discarding is a logical follow up and a prime component of CBT, with emphasis placed on reducing clutter, by beginning to make small decisions on individual items (the inability to make decisions has already been noted as a symptom of hoarding). In this fashion, the hoarding symptoms are targeted, and though enormously time consuming, CBT is found to be more effective than medications and ERP alone (Gilliam, Tolin, 102-109).
Whatever the method used in helping the hoarder, it is not an easy task. To truly be effective the affected family should take part in the treatments, or assist in some way, such as in cleaning the hoarder’s domicile. If left to the hoarder and the treatment provider, the hoarder will win, for the works of Frost and others are replete with stories of failure. CBT alone will not be sufficient even though about 50-80% of hoarders finishing the treatments feel themselves to have “improved,” which is much higher than the 31% for ERP patients (Gilliam, Tolin, 110). Indeed, the follow-ups may well go on for years, and like drug addicts, if there is no support, they can lapse back into hoarding, feeling the euphoria of having more things. It is the hoarder who must admit that they are hoarder, and be willing to face the problem. Doctors Frost and Tolin offer the best evidence of the cognitive behavioral treatments used to cure hoarders, although the fact that the hoarder must be the one who wants to be helped is what leads to failure of many who do not have the desire to be cured of the problem.
In conclusion, not only does hoarding bring heightened depression, isolation and ill health to those afflicted, but, their family members become affected with similar symptoms, not to mention the fiscal costs. I was happily alone with myself, my dog, and my stuff for years, paying lip service to those who cared. How it started is not clear, though in researching this paper I have discovered many of the signs and symptoms that were mine, and I did not know. My mother has crossed over into the realm of hoarders. My brother is also a hoarder, and the possibility of a genetic link is quite possible, as I find out more about other relatives. Perhaps the right action or event is needed to release all those endorphins, break down the message synapse conduits, to allow one to just look away and believe in an obscure reality. For me the triggers may have been a tragic automobile accident 10 years ago, and then years of painful separation that ended in divorce. All along I would console myself with activities with my children, though always feeling guilty for not being home with them, feeling like an involuntary stranger. I would acquire more things, now seeing it as a security measure. When in the Army I became used to the system of “requisitioning”, getting what you need from other Army units, which was seen as a way of obtaining what is needed. There was a code of ethics applied however: one never steals from non-military, which is one way of condoning the activity, to look the other way. As such, I had lots of military equipment, which I knew I would have a need for, someday (another hoarder symptom). With that and a growing collection of historic militaria, I was content in a lonely home.
However, I felt something was wrong. My children would comment on the condition of the house, and did not want to stay there, and I knew I was falling into depression, far and above that which came from previous tragedies. I sought help at the Veteran’s Administration, but counseling and pills came of that. The turning point came when I met Kimberly, the woman who saved my life. We met online, and as we became more involved, I began to tell her that my house was not really what she would expect from a man on his own, and actually started to describe the clutter. She finally came to visit, and it was beyond anything she could conceive in her imagination. For us it almost ended in October of 2010. I however knew how special she was, and she actually thought that I could change. She has given me great incentives to clean up, just like a drug addict, kicking the habit. There are timelines to adhere to, for if I fail, she will walk away, no matter how close we have become. I have disappointed her several times, and believed that I could still get my way. Fortunately, we have come closer in our faith, which has also given me greater incentive to succeed and to be honest with myself and others about hoarding. The more open that I am about this affliction, the easier it become for me to make the necessary changes and alternations in my behavior, but no matter how many pills are taken and counseling sessions completed, it will still be up to me to continue with the changes and be ever vigilant lest the old behaviors creep back into my life. To this end, self-awareness, and honesty of the person suffering the problem, the support and understanding of the family, and the will to change their behavior will help them find their way to a happier, normal life. If none face the self-destructive habits for themselves or of a loved one, then little is left than to be caught in the avalanche of illusory debris and experience the collateral damage of family disunion, and a lonely, dispirited end.
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Mark, 2012. Personal interview. Conducted on 24 March, 2012, in St. Petersburg, FL.
Michelle, 2012. Personal interview. Conducted on 25 March, 2012, in St. Petersburg, FL.
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