I don’t watch much TV. In fact, I rarely watch it – I find my time gravitating towards on-line activities, so an hour of Angry Birds Star Wars and viewing bad 80’s music videos on YouTube constitutes R&R for me these days. But I had a chance to watch Hoarders last night. Hoarders, of course, is a reality television show that examines the problem and tidy solution (sorry, bad…I know) to those who hoard. I hadn’t seen it in a while, and as I watched it, I sensed a change in myself that I hadn’t noticed before. I picked up on some things that I hadn’t been aware of until I stared at the screen and watched these people stuffing their homes to the gills for no apparent reason.
You see, I used to watch Hoarders a lot years ago, in my drinking days. I used to watch it mostly to feel righteous and spread my vitriol and judgement onto total strangers who were clearly ill. But then again, I used to watch Intervention while I was drinking to feel vastly superior to those low-bottom alcoholics and drug addicts. Of course it never occurred to me that the TV screen was in fact a mirror and my scorn a crystal ball into my own future. Oh the heady days of denial.
The biggest question everyone has while watching Hoarders, of course, is how can they live like that? How did they ever let it get that bad? You see these lonely, sad, depressed people who have to climb over mountains of filth and calcified cats just to get to the next room, impervious to the smell of rotting food, moldy clothing and decade old stains. They don’t seem to notice the looks that their neighbors and other strangers give them. They seem to be past the stage of giving a damn any more. Just look at them: weird looking misfits! Laugh at their living conditions and how they justify everything! Mentally figure out how much money they wasted on that crap!
I used to laugh. I used to make assumptions. I used to pass judgement. And now I don’t.
I realized one important thing watching that show: I was a hoarder too.
I didn’t hoard material things (well, if you don’t include empties, that is), but I hoarded resentments. Guilt. Shame. Fears. Anger. Remorse. I hoarded all the things people said about me, whether they meant it or not. I hoarded anything that crippled my self esteem. I hoarded off-hand harsh ideas I had of others. I hoarded pain and suffering, and wore them like a hairshirt. I hoarded unfounded poor ideals of myself. I hoarded spirit sucking thoughts. I hoarded ways to beat myself up for no reason other than being me. I hoarded hate. I hoarded the “ones”…and by that I mean this: when I would be in a room of let’s say 30 people, I could have 29 people tell me I was a nice guy, a good guy. But there would be that “one” person who wasn’t so hot for me. Maybe it was a personality thing, maybe they had a legit reason not to dig me. That “one” was the one I obsessed about. That “one” was the one I brought home with me and took them all over with me. I collected all those “ones” and let them play together. I hoarded them.
So when I see the real life hoarders on TV sleeping in their own waste, resting in a tiny little spot, surrounded by the crushing weight of their addiction material, when I observe them buried and confined in the world of their own making, when I witness them crippled by depression and angst, and watch as their friends and family distance themselves from them, when I see the deadness in their eyes as they pray for death…I see ME. I see how I used to be. I used to sleep in my own filth, literally and figuratively. I used to isolate to the point of being invisible. I used to see those lifeless eyes in the rare times I would allow myself to see my pathetic reflection in the mirror.
As an alcoholic, I was a hoarder. But I didn’t ply my pain in old planters, broken birdhouses or stacks of unwashed plates. I occupied and cramped my mind, body and spirit with harms fancied or real; I played hurts over and over, feeling the exact pain over and over again. I let irrational thoughts and delusional thinking become the mortar and steel of the self-made cage in my mind. I hoarded fantasy and let it play out as a tragedy. I was full of it. And tired of it.
But I just couldn’t call one of those junk removal places to remove the clutter from my heart and mind. There was an inner type of house cleaning that had to be done. There was a way that I could, and still can, take care of things and get the support I needed. For this ex-booze pig, it is my 12-step recovery work and my meetings. It’s been clearing the wreckage of my past through the working of the program of AA. It was connecting with the Creator and learning that all the things I felt about myself had nothing to do with the way that He envisioned me to be. I was not meant to suffer in my own waste. I was not meant to be buried alive under the weight of trying to be who I wasn’t.
The true freedom is learning to be Authentic Me. I don’t need to hoard any more. I am free of these things. I am lighter. I can breeze through myself unencumbered by the thoughts of regret and suffering. I am relieved of the bondage of self.
My days are no longer full of it, but just full – days where I no longer feel trapped in the fortress of my own filth, where the sun shines through me and I am blessed and eager to move about freely. I hoard no more.