Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Warning: Rant

So I was surfing about reading a bit about hoarders after posting that last article, and came across something. It's this idea:

That hoarders appear to love their stuff more than their children.

I see this one a lot these days; sure, it's good that hoarding is getting attention as a thing, finally. That extends to the various hoarding TV shows out there, which I have not actually myself seen, as I just know they will send my brain to a bad place. I still have the occasional dream, you know, where my father is back here, sitting in the living room (the same room I now have my home office in, i.e. where I work) with the TV on very loudly and I know that nothing, nothing will move him. They are horrible. It feels like being crammed back into this tiny little box, this tiny little box that was my life before my father had his stroke and went into a nursing home.

I don't like to think about what it was like then. I avoid the TV shows, like I said; I have also avoided reading Randy Frost's book on hoarding, though I am very tempted to get it and do a chapter-by-chapter deconstruction of it (or, rather, a chapter-by-chapter excoriation of the author and his conclusions. Dr. Frost is not very well-liked in children of hoarder circles). That I have gotten enough distance from living under my father's hoarding that I can barely remember what it was like sometimes is, I think, a very very good thing.

So as I said I'm glad that hoarding is finally getting attention first as a thing that exists in this world and secondly as something serious, some form of mental illness. That's all good.

But it's only a start. Because right now the common wisdom on hoarders is Oh no those poor people suffering from such a debilitating mental illness!!! Well, that, and a bit of voyeurism, too—plenty of people are still happy to laugh at hoarders because they're crazy, right?

Fair enough, I'm not a psychologist. The only formal 'training' I've had in the subject was a couple of classes in high school and college, which I'm pretty sure don't actually count, especially since the college course was on Freud. (Incidentally, the most succinct description of old Sigismund I've ever heard is 'dickhead', since that is all he ever thought about.)

But that doesn't mean I don't have valuable experience with hoarders, or, more specifically, decades of experiences with one hoarder in particular, my father. And from what I have heard hanging around on a children of hoarders support group, my father was bizarrely enough both very extreme and very typical. And yes, there are support groups for children of hoarders. Because it's abuse.

And that is what the current narrative on hoarding is lacking. That for the family the behavior of the hoarder is abusive. Children living within a hoard are being abused. By definition. Look up the definition of hoarding, and then the definition of child neglect. They overlap quite neatly, really. One factor in qualifying as a hoarder is that basic needs cannot be met because of the accumulated stuff—i.e. the fridge is broken or full of rotting food and can't be used, the kitchen can't be used for preparing and/or eating food, the bathtub is full of books, &c., and then that's before we even get to the common hoarder behaviors of letting the plumbing break and then never fixing it. That wouldn't seem to strictly speaking be part of the hoarder thing—after all it's not about saving things per se—but it is frighteningly common behavior for hoarders to never fix things once they break. And all that, the broken plumbing, the bathtub that isn't accessible, the fridge that can't be used, is also one definition of child neglect. So let me repeat: if someone meets the definition of a hoarder, and there are children in that hoarded environment, those children are de facto being abused. Period.

And of course it's barely, really, about the hoarding itself. The need to save things is just the outward symptom. Underneath it are almost always issues of control. Well, that, and a sort of narcissism that means that since the hoarder doesn't see things as a problem no one else possibly could. And that's part of what's wrong with that 'common wisdom' narrative; that hoarders are suffering from the hoarding.

As far as I can tell, they almost never are.

I do think from what I have seen that there are a variety of causes that lead a person to be a hoarder. Sometimes, yes, something happens and a person just spirals into something and they no longer care about their environment. But that's a little different, I think. I'm not sure I'd quite call that hoarding, though the end result may look the same. But for the most part, from what I've seen with both my own father and the countless accounts of other hoarding parents on that support group, hoarders are like sociopaths. It's simply, in most cases, a fundamental brokenness in the brain. It can't be fixed. I'm not even sure it can be mitigated, any more than pedophilia can be. Yes, that's harsh. It is also, as far as I have ever been able to see, true.

And as far as I can tell, hoarders like the hoarding, and they like the hoard. To them it's a good thing, a worthy thing, a righteous thing even, like in my father's case. It makes them feel good.

It's like an addiction in a lot of ways, though I don't personally see it as an actual addiction. It's destructive behavior that brings them some kind of comfort or control. And there's a narcissism there, a selfishness there, that means they don't see or don't care that their behavior harms others.

So that brings me back to that first statement, that common wisdom one:

Hoarders appear to love their things more than their children.

It is said, I think, with good intentions; however I call bullshit on it. And bullshit of a particularly nasty kind. Because not only is it flat-out not true, it snidely puts the onus on the children to be more understanding while pretending to offer said children sympathy.

I mean it sounds nice, right? It sounds sympathetic—Oh you poor children to grow up with a parent who seems to care about the stuff more than you. That must have been so hard.

But it's right there in that word appear. Because the implication is that But of course your hoarder parent loved you. True, it doesn't look it. But if you, the child, could get over your [of course unreasonable] anger and really look at your parent with compassion you would of course see that your parent did love you. Of course they did. That's what parents do.

I really, really, hate this crap.

Without even going into the crap assumptions that all parents are good which given the statistics on child abuse is kind of an obvious no it still doesn't work. Love isn't complicated. It can complicate situations, sure, but the idea itself isn't complicated. I've found that if you have to do any kind of linguistic or emotional gymnastics to define something as love then it isn't.

But anyway love isn't measured in words; it is measured in actions. If a hoarder can't get rid of the junk for the sake of his or her family, then yes, that hoarder loves the junk more than the family. If someone cannot change their behavior when they know said behavior is harming their family, then yes, they love the behavior more than the family. And it's not like hoarders don't know their families are suffering. Trust me, families and children complain. A lot. Hoarders are not ignorant of the effect their hoarding has. In fact I'd say in a lot of cases that's the whole point. Because it really does come down to control. And for a lot of hoarders out there, making their families miserable is the very best type of control they could ever have.

Won't You Take Me To Junkytown

So there we were once again, with yet another load of rusty hunks of rusty rust to go to the scrapyard. Or there Tara was, anyway, out by the shed loading up the trailer. She was out there earlier than I had expected, and had it all loaded up by the time I got things in gear. So when I got out there we were all set to go, more or less, which I've got to say was handy for me.

Not really for Tara, though. You see, it was raining last Friday. When I had asked her earlier if she still wanted to do a run that day she'd said it wasn't bad enough to cancel things, as it was only spitting out there.

Yes, well. She was still out there long enough that she got good and wet, especially her sneakers.

Now rain in April is hardly a surprise; however rain in April in New England generally means it's not exactly warm out there. And we all know about the 'heat' in an old VW bus.

So Tara was freezing the entire time, and the lukecool air spilling out onto her wet sneakers via both the proper heating vents and the naturally occurring holes in the shell of the Bus itself really didn't help.

But she carried on with that stiff upper lip that betrays our (once upon a time) British heritage.

By which I mean she complained the entire time.

But we managed to get there and unload the thing; she'd even dug up some more old generators to include as 'precious' metals. Here they are, stacked up inside the Bus:

Aren't they just gorgeous?

And then there was of course the trailer, loaded with more doors from old VWs. As we do more shows, we (well Tara, because she's the one that keeps track of this stuff in her head—me, I can't seem to keep it straight, because as we all know I just don't care) are finding that there are just some things that people will never buy. Things that might have looked okay that we now know are useless to save because they'll just sit there forever. And unlike our hoarder father, we understand that something sitting there forever is the opposite of useful. So out they went, to get crushed and then melted down and made into something practical like cat food cans or wrought iron garden ornaments or new nails or something. I will (happily) admit I do like to imagine the old VW pieces screaming in horror and pain as they are crushed, and then imagining that as they are then melted down they can feel their sense of individuality and Self slipping away in a great burning agony. Kind of like Gollum in the lava flow at Orodruin at the end of all things, but with a lot more screaming. Have I mentioned that I really hate old Volkswagens?

Oh, right, here's the trailer picture too:

It was a little tricky backing the Bus and trailer into a spot by their giant pile of hunks of iron that didn't involve setting us down smack in the middle of a rusty irony oily puddle, but Tara managed. The stuff was also small enough this time that we didn't need the 'help' of the (trailer-destroying) giant magnet thingy, which was lucky.

So we finished up there, and went off to the usual burger joint stop, though both the 'hot' water and the air dryer thingy in the ladies' room there were barely warm, something I noted was not going to help Tara, who was still freezing. We did stop later for a hot coffee at local empire Dunkin' Donuts, then, because we were bored or something, decided to stop at the job lot store.

This store, oh this store. Someday—someday!—the correct letters will burn out on the sign and it will read OCEAN STATE J LO. It can happen, I know it can. Tara has already seen CVS/ harmacy, which is gold I tell you. So I have faith.

For my part I poked around looking at the vampiric nail polish; but Tara, clever girl, went and bought herself 1) a towel, 2) some new socks which were dry, and 3) a funky pair of waterproof galoshes. And then she ripped off her wet socks and shoes and put on the new ones on the bench right in the front of the store. Which it's true did take the edge off her complaining. A little.

So all told it was rather a light load, given that a lot of it was old doors; so the iron part of it only came to 480 pounds, despite the trailer being quite full. There were also the bits and bobs of the 'precious' stuff including everyone's favorite irony aluminum; with that and the fact that Tara had also sold three windshields before we went (which is why she was out there earlyish to begin with) we got a bit of fun money.

And that brings the total of iron removed from the property since I've been keeping track (remember, there was lots more before that, only we weren't scrapping it properly so we don't have any receipts) to 40,980 pounds, or 20.49 tons. It was our forty-ninth trip to the scrapyard, which means the next trip will be number fifty. And if that doesn't scare you, nothing will.

Because it will happen. Easily. There is, after all, still more.