Somedays I’ll find myself binge watching episodes of Hoarders. I’ll watch in horror and wonder as these stranger’s stories unfold in front of me. Each episode starts out the same. A person will stare into the camera and introduce themselves. They’ll warmly smile as they confidently say their name. And for that brief moment, I forget that the person speaking has a problem. They seem so normal.
Before that thought has time to make itself at home in my mind, the scene immediately changes to piles of mess and garbage. My eyes widen as the camera pans across the room revealing the depths of the damage. I’ll gag over the flies swarming the kitchen. I’ll wince at the thought of the person only having a little sliver of couch available to eat, sit and sleep on. I’ll feel suffocated by the mountains of stuff as though I myself am in the room. I’ll shudder when they reveal that there are a couple of dead cats in the corner.
As a germaphobe, watching this show is a small form or torture for me, but I can not look away. I’ve asked myself why. Why do I choose to watch a show that makes my skin crawl? I used to joke that it was because it would motivate me to clean my house like nothing else could. Somedays I’d say it was because it was the fiery car wreck on the side of the road that I couldn’t bring myself to look away from. Other times, I would tell myself it was because my empathetic heart was drawn to listen to the stories of these hurting souls.
There is truth in all of these statements, but if I’m honest I don’t think thats why I have watched. There is another reason that causes me to turn up the volume on the tv and lock my eyes on the screen. It’s the reason I push through the nausea and the scenes that literally make me itch. It’s why my feelings of disgust quickly melt into thoughts of care and compassion. The tears stream down my face as these people tell the painful stories that marked the beginning of this compulsive behavior. And thats when the deepest part of my heart whispers the truth. Perhaps the reason I can’t look away is because deep down, when I look at the hoarder, I see myself.
Don’t get me wrong, if you walk through my house you will not find a small trail in the midst of junk leading to my couch. You won’t find flies covering my stove or a pile of dead cats in the garage. You won’t find urine soaked bathroom floors or mold growing on the walls. And although I am always behind on the laundry, I make sure that none of us are buried in it. Still there are days where the wall seems to be closing in on me, and I’ve discovered why. I am hoarder.
I think thats why the tears fall when these strangers describe their sudden need to collect things after the devastating loss of a loved one. Moms matter of factly speak of the miscarriage that shattered their heart. Men casually share about the mother that walked out on them. They are fine though. It was nightmare then, but they are good now. There isn’t a problem. The only thing they are guilty of is being a little untidy. They aren’t hoarders. They prefer to be called “collectors.”
My compassion turns to frustration. I want to scream at the TV “DON’T YOU SEE?! YOU AREN’T OK!!” I want to grab them by their shoulders, shake them and say ” You don’t collect, you hoard! You hoard because you haven’t dealt with the loss! Now deal with it, because this isn’t the way to live. You are running out trying to fill a hole, but you are only burying yourself alive!” And in the midst of my hypothetical lecture, I know that I’m not only confronting the stranger on TV. I’m screaming at myself.
I don’t know the agony of miscarrying a child, but I know the pain of miscarried hope. I know whats it’s like to reflect the glow of an expectant heart only for life to suddenly steal it from me. I’ve sobbed into my pillow replaying what could have been. I have never had a mother walk out on me, but I know the ache of abandonment. I know what its like to feel betrayed by the ones you never thought would turn on you. I’d weep until I couldn’t weep anymore and then just decide I was fine. It was a nightmare then, but I’m good now. There isn’t a problem. The only thing I’m guilty of is being a little messy. I’m not a hoarder. I prefer to be called a “collector.”
This is why I gather things. I stay faithful to relationships I have no business holding on to. I tell myself its just because I’m a forgiving person (which I am.) Besides I don’t stay mad long. I make excuses. I tell myself that its my job to be always be the bigger person. I think that to have healthy boundaries is to be arrogant. I’d say that if I really wanted to prove that I loved someone well I would always be the one to chase them down in that airport scene and say “Wait, please don’t leave!” I wasn’t holding on to unhealthy things, I was just being a good friend.
But if I’m really honest, I think that life has made me petrified of being alone. Thats what happens after loss. It can leave you paranoid that eventually you will be left with nothing, and everybody knows that something is better than nothing right? I don’t want to be left in an empty house. The idea of old rejection and abandonment issues echoing through my soul terrifies me. I just want to feel full. I am discovering however that filling your life with wrong things and people don’t leave you feeling rich. They leave you feeling buried.
So I have tearfully started letting go. I have finally allowed God to come in and remove the things that were doing nothing but cluttering my life. My husband, family and friends who know me best, have sat me down and asked me “Megan, when are you gonna let these lies go? And why are you holding on to those relationships?” I’d stammer around until I realized I really don’t have a good reason. Finally I have to face the truth. “I suppose…I guess its because I’m a hoarder. When so many things in life have been taken from you, it takes courage to ever let anything go.”
My life is starting to look less cluttered, and its beautiful. It’s also terrifying. I’m sitting in a quiet house, staring out the window and listening to the echoes of pain from the past. “Remember how they left you?” Remember all the things that were stolen from you?” I nod and this time I answer. “I do. I do remember. But I refuse to continue to let those memories cause me to fearfully cling to the things that aren’t benefiting me.” I will no longer fear being left with nothing, and you won’t find me buried alive.