Using writing, and meditation, and ice cream, and reading, and dreams,

and a whole lot of other tools to rediscover who I am,

after six years living with a man with OCPD.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Growing Up Hoarded, Part 1:
Thalia from Tetanus Burger Shares Some Thoughts

"Before" Photo via Tetanus Burger - used by permission
What would you do if you inherited not simply a houseful of hoard, but an entire junkyard?

Thalia and her sister Tara have been blogging about their experiences cleaning up their father's junkyard - and garages - and work areas - since June 2010.

The shows you may see on TV focus mainly on two things: a kind of train wreck fascination with the visual scope of the (worst) hoards covered, and the anguish the hoarder endures trying to give up any little piece of his/her "treasure."

What is rarely touched upon is what growing up in a hoard does to the children.  How does it impact them socially?  Do they inherit the distorted thinking that "there's a use for that," for everything?  Are they angry, hurt, confused?

"After" Photo via Tetanus Burger - used by permission
Thalia of Tetanus Burger, for whom I hold more admiration for her courage and raw honesty than I can ever express in words, agreed to this e-interview in hopes of shedding a little more light on this issue.  To help those children and teenagers who are even now living with a hoarding parent, and wondering if something is wrong with them.


1) How old were you and your sister Tara when you realized other kids didn’t live the way your family did? How did it make you feel? Were you still able to have friends over, or did the hoard make it impossible?

I don't know how old I was, and I can't speak for Tara.  I think in some ways I'm only just realizing my family was 'different' now.  I didn't have many friends when I was a kid, and only one really who ever came in the house.  I don't think I had 'doorbell dread' like some children of hoarders report, but that's really only because no one ever came to the door to see me.  It was out of my hands in a lot of ways, and maybe that speaks to my father's control of things.  People who came by were usually there to talk to my father about Volkswagens.

2) Were you and your sister pressed into being secret keepers (though obviously, all those cars were a pretty open secret). Did you ever tell anyone about your home situation in hopes of finding some help, or did you keep things private because of shame?

No, not really; there was no shame attached to in in my father's mind; it was what he wanted to do, and had the right to do, so it was good in his mind.  There was no point in keeping anything secret, and I was never told that I couldn't tell anyone about it for example.  I had no idea at all that there was something, well I can't say that I didn't think there was something wrong because on some level I knew it was screwed up, but I had no idea that it was abuse and neglect and that there was help out there, if only possible help.  I had no concept.  I think that is because of both my parents' attitude that the world is out to get you and that things are always bad, i.e. there is no such thing as help so don't bother asking.  In fact the way they framed it, bringing in outsiders was always trouble.

None of that is to say that I wasn't ashamed of the yard.  It was obviously a junkyard and ugly and not like other people's yards.  But I couldn't really grasp it in a lot of ways because it was vigorously defended as absolutely normal and what my father had the absolute right to do. I think I saw the junk more as a symptom of being poor.  I was certainly told to feel ashamed of that, while also yelled at for complaining about being poor, like it was my fault.

3) Your hot water heater broke when you were how old? And someone gave your father - an auto mechanic - one for free, but despite having the tools, the parts, and the mechanical expertise to install it, he didn’t. Tell us a little about that process of living without being able to take showers - was there a time you thought he would do it, “soon,” and then gradually gave up hope, or...? Did you ever think it was romantic, “Oh, we’re living like Little House on the Prairie,” or was it simply pointlessly miserable?

I think it broke when I was six or so; they didn't install it until after I'd moved out in my late 20s.  Or maybe I was in my thirties?  I don't honestly remember when it did get fixed and I'd think I would, wouldn't I?  This—Tell us a little about that process of living without being able to take showers—is a very uncomfortable question for me to think about answering; sounds voyeuristic to me.  Let's just say it really, really, really sucked; yet, of course, I thought it was just what it was, if not, well, 'normal', since I know no one I knew lived like that, still I could never see it getting fixed.  It wasn't, ever, that I, that we the family, thought he would do it; he was always, always, since time immemorial, completely impossible.  So I at least never had any hope that he'd do it.  If he did it would have been considered a miracle.  Which didn't mean we, I, didn't try to convince him (since he also adamantly would not let anyone else, like say a plumber do it, because that would cost money when he could do it).

We always thought (well I always thought) that if he could just be persuaded in the right manner, if we could just talk to him and convince him with logic or appeal to feelings or whatever other humans respond to, that we could get him to do it, maybe.  It was never romanticized, though my mother certainly downplayed it and mocked us if we complained.  She has some problems of her own, my mother, trust me.  The thing is that because my father framed it all as impossible or very very difficult I grew up thinking it was this huge huge deal to install a water heater.  So I don't even know that I would have thought it was pointlessly miserable, because I thought my father had a point about it.

Now of course I can see just how pointless it was since I'm older and can see somewhat straight. That's the thing growing up inside such dysfunction; you can't see it for what it is, not at all, and children for the most part believe what their parents tell them.

(to be continued...)

Not going to add a lot of my own comments here, but want to say this part: "if he could just be persuaded in the right manner, if we could just talk to him and convince him with logic or appeal to feelings" really rang out to me.  This was a big piece of my relationship with my ex, and many others dealing with OCPD loved ones have reported similar experiences.  They seem so reasonable and logical; surely the fault is with us, we're simply not communicating in the right way; if we just found that key...  Only there is no key, no "right" way.

Two things you can do right now, Dear Reader:

1) Add a comment to show your support for Thalia and her incredible courage in opening up about this very painful and difficult subject.

2) Download this attached .pdf prepared by Children of Hoarders.  It would be great if COH was a big, well-known organization with bucketfuls of money, who could afford to print out multiple copies and leave them in places like schools, pediatricians' offices, and youth recreational facilities - anywhere a child of a hoarder might find one, and realize s/he is not alone.

For now, they are asking for volunteers, to please print out what copies you an afford, distribute them where you can.  Visit the site and make a donation, if you can.  And pass the word.

Thank you.  Stay tuned for Part 2, tomorrow.