Friday, June 7, 2013

But for the grace of God

There but for the grace of God, go I.

I watch Hoarders. It's strangely fascinating. And somehow, strangely comforting. It's endlessly sad that people end up in such situations. Many people probably think that those featured on Hoarders are exceptions, extreme cases. Freaks. People who are more alien than anyone we know.

I think the truth is exactly the opposite. Fear, hurt, loneliness and loss are the  motivation behind almost every hoard on the show; emotions that are experienced by all of us. Hoarding is a mental illness. It's not a genetic defect or an injury. It's a pattern of thinking and habits, usually in response to a painful experience.

Hoarding is something we all look at and say, "That couldn't happen to me." Maybe so, but the unhealthy, stereotyped ways that these people think and act are all too common. It wouldn't take long for most of us to identify a member of our friends or family who is in denial. It's equally easy to think of someone who makes self-destructive choices. Guilt, greed, fear and other negative feelings motivate all of us at times, and some of us all of the time. Are we really doing what we want or are we just taking action to avoid something we fear? Are we distancing ourselves from others and from our goals to insulate ourselves from the possibility of rejection or failure?

Watching hoarders is definitely a guilty pleasure. It's gross, it's shocking, it's emotional. But on a deeper level, it reminds me of how important it is that I regularly self-evaluate my actions, thinking, and goals. The question therapists on the show ask hoarders to try to move them forward is, "What will happen if we throw this away?" I think it's a mindset that can be applied to many scary or difficult situations. "What will happen if we break up?" Answer: it will hurt for a while and be very difficult, and then I will move on. "What if I can't keep up with everyone in the fitness class?" Answer: then you will take a break and recover, and then get back into it when I'm ready.

Our choices make us who we are, and we have to recognize that we're not immune to irrational thinking. We're not inherently better than those people collecting dolls or cats or garbage, and we may not be healthy just because we're not living in a mountain of stuff. Any of us can dig a metaphorical hole for ourselves with habits of action and thinking. But the beauty of that is the same as the beauty of helping hoarders. They don't actually need the things, and when they heal, they also no longer need those ways of thinking. Our problems are often the same way. We find ourselves at what seems to be a dead end, but we have actually built the walls blocking the path. Once we can see this, then we can move past and be free.

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