Once again we’re reminded that hoarding–like most mental illness–affects more than just the hoarder. For children who grow up in a hoarded home, it can have devastating and sometimes life-long effects.
Coral, Winterhaven, FL
“I’d definitely say I’m a hoarder,” Coral tells us. At least she can acknowledge that–we’ve seen over the seasons how many people can’t recognize that they have a disorder or disordered thinking.
Coral hasn’t been in over 2/3s of her home in years. Her home, one she fought tooth and nail to buy for herself, consists of a narrow, treacherous path from the door to a makeshift bedroom. This is where she spends her time when not working her two jobs.
To give you an indication of just how bizarre the collection of garbage inside Coral’s home is, there are tractor tires piled up amidst the squalor.
Her life isn’t completely void of anything good, though. She has a sweet-souled son, Michael, who really should be commended for maintaining such a kind heart through the years of growing up in filth (he had a Scoutmaster who pulled him out at 19 and gave him a clean house to live in). She also has an old high school flame, Vernon, a flame rekindled decades later, a guy willing to help her get out of this dangerous, sad cycle of hoarding.
Side drama (and completely legitimate) is Michael’s frustration with his mother for being ready to address her hoarding now that she has a new man in her life. He’s been the man in her life from the start, and he feels neglected, has felt neglected.
Mark Pfeffer arrives, and I think his genial, goodnatured attitude is a perfect match. (The show does a marvelous job of connecting the right people, don’t you think?) He does note that she doesn’t appear to have much regard for how the people in her life have been affected by her hoarding. Her view of the hoard is quite myopic, it’s mostly about how it affects her.
Coral has a daughter who was given up for adoption (for which Michael had always been wistful, seeing it as an escape Shannon was blessed with), and when the two children step into the home to see the state of things, Shannon is immediately overwhelmed. “How did she live here and not escape?”
But see, this was her escape. This is why those of us without the disorder can’t understand. Coral evidently felt safe while trapped in the chaos of her own making.
And we all know that whenever there is a child in need, Dorothy Breininger will arrive, and sure enough, she’s there to give Michael the voice he never had. And he lets his mother have it.
“I’m disappointed it’s taken this long. And it wasn’t until Vernon came along that you’d fix it. It hurts to think I didn’t matter enough.”
Michael, I promise it’s not about you and your value. It really, really isn’t, even though it feels that way. This is the sickness, this is mental illness, and we all need those reminders that it never affects just one person. It affects everyone around them, often in profoundly painful ways.
Coral is ready to blindly throw things away, understanding a looming sense of pressure, no doubt, but that’s not what’s going to break through to her to let healing begin. She has to get why she can’t hang onto fourteen bags of trash, nine busted up sleeping bags, etc. She has to understand why she let that in to begin with.
Whether that happens or not, we don’t really know, but we can see that when the house begins to clear out and the visible damage to her home is shown, it hits her, and it hits hard. She had a child in there. She had a child stuck in a filthy home, the two of them isolated by one another by walls and waves of garbage. She tells Michael in a small and shaking voice how sorry she is, how sorry she is that she let the garbage fill up her mind to the point where she couldn’t see it in the house. He paid the price of it, and she’s beginning to get it.
It’s great that she’s able to make that connection, and it needs to be the first of many. She tries to explain how she feels safe in this broken-down home, when Michael–always gentle and kind–tells his mom how difficult it was to live there. How lonely he was knowing that her priority was the stuff and not him. He felt like he never mattered to his mother.
Good lord, if you heart didn’t clench, you might not have one.
She gets the house almost completely empty after that. Pfeffer asks her what took her so long to get to this point?
“I’m ready to let go.”
That’s the key, isn’t it?
He smiles at her, tells her to keep up the good work, and she gets back to tossing out garbage. Unfortunately, the extent of the damage the hoard has done is bad. The repairs will be more than the value of the home, and she finally lets out that anger. (Remember that depression is just anger turned inward.)
“I busted myself for this house! I’ve been all by myself!”
Michael lets his anger out, too. “You make me so mad! We’re here for you! I don’t know what to say to you. What’s wrong with you?”
Coral answers by saying she’s “effed” up, and beats herself against the head. They manage to get her under control, and guys? She’s had a lot to confront about herself, about her future and especially about her past in a very short period of time. We’re bearing witness to a lot of bottled up grief and anger, and instead of pointing fingers, let’s realize what we can learn about ourselves (and others) here.
Michael pulls her into his arms and hugs her, reassuring his mom that he’s there for her and will make sure she gets the help she needs. If that’s not a sign of unconditional love, I don’t know what is. Michael is a good man, and she’s lucky to have such a son. He reassures her that he’s always going to be there for her, and I think we’ve seen enough of Coral–hearing how she busted her hump to get degrees, knowing how rough it is for a single mom in the workplace–to know that she’s not a monster. She’s mentally ill.
Fortunately she’s getting the help she needs, and more importantly: she’s receptive to it.
After the Show
Coral is in therapy, and her church is helping her with repairs. Vernon, who said how wonderful she was to work so hard, and she are staying with a friend while the repairs are being made.
All the best, and Michael: you were enough. You’re more than enough, from where I’m sitting. What a good kid.
Brian, Dublin, OH
Brian is a dapper gent, the sort of fellow I’d expect to run into at a small town country club or a supper club. Turns out he’s the president of his condo’s HOA. He’s also a hoarder.
“I hate anyone being labeled, but yes, I guess I’m a hoarder.”
Now, his home isn’t as filthy as we’ve seen some hoarder’s get, and he always looks pressed and fresh, but as we look inside his house at all of the purchases stacked on top of each other, piled from floor to a good five or so feet against the smartly-painted blue walls, we can rest assured that yeah, he’s a hoarder.
He loves a bargain. Oh, does Brian love to buy gifts! He doesn’t give them in the end, but he sure loves buying them up with all the hopes and dreams of these fabulous presents to share. He loves it so much that he’s in serious debt: $60,000 worth.
His mother Caroline is fed up with his behavior and can’t bear to go into his home. His daughter Jessie is at a stage in life where she should be taking her first guided steps into adulthood–yet she’s persistently put in the position of parent to her father and his choices. Brian’s oldest son has cut him off completely.
Jessie, trying to hold back tears, says that she knows he needs help, but she’s resentful. “It feels like he didn’t love me enough to have me with him in a clean house.”
Dr. Green arrives with Brian’s mother, and Dr. Green’s eyes widen as Brian blithely states how shopping is “relaxing” to him. He should be in a damn coma, then, as relaxed as he must be! The doctor realizes how dire this situation is, though: Brian, who has lost one job and through the course of filming loses his backup, is on the verge of homelessness.
“He needs to listen better and be heard, too,” she says to the family. Something about this causes Brian to start crying. “You’ve been holding onto those tears a long time, huh?”
How many of us feel that we’re not heard? This is an excellent reminder that it’s a two-way street. Listening–taking in what someone is really saying–is so important. The better listeners we are, the better we will be at being heard ourselves.
Standolyn arrives, ready for some no-nonsense organizing of all of Brian’s many, many things. She immediately gets him separated from the family, since he seems to hit roadblocks at this point. Jessie eventually wanders in by his side, and as Brian continues to put things aside in the “KEEP” box, gets upset. “This is something that cost you money! This could have been my school books! Food!”
He didn’t need to buy four boxes of dryer sheets because they were “a bargain.” What he could have done was buy dinner and had his daughter over, feeding her and letting her tell him about her day. That’s far more valuable than dryer sheets. (You shouldn’t use those anyway–terribly gummy for your dryer and your clothes!)
Standolyn asks, “Do you want him to shop for you?”
“No! I want him.” Break my heart, why don’t you…
This is what Dr. Green means about being heard. Brian thinks he’s doing this wonderful thing for Jessie. After all, parents dream of the care packages we’ll send off to our college kids (we do). But she doesn’t want the random knick-knacks and odds and ends. Her life has been filled with that. She wants her dad.
It’s not clear if this sinks in, though.
As they move through the week, his mother gets to her breaking point and tells her son how they all miss him–no one will visit the mess, after all. “We miss you. We need you!”
That is what he needed to hear. All the gifts he buys, the extra boxes of this and that, it’s because he believes someone needs it. Which means they need him. Not taking his things must mean they don’t need him. But they do. They do, and they say so in so many words and he’s able to make enough strides to begin allowing his family to help him make decisions.
The house gets clean and orderly, and maybe the coolest touch to the whole thing is Standolyn’s “Shopping Closet.” He wants to give gifts? They built a little mini gift-shop in the back of the condo for him to go through. Instead of spending money (which he doesn’t have), he can use his own stash of things, ordered and sorted and clearly marked, to share with loved ones. What a terrific idea!
Now that the house is clean, the obstacles for him spending time with his family are gone. Jessie drapes an arm over her father’s shoulder and begins to cry-with joy.
After The Show
Brian is still working with an organizer, and now he gets to have dinner with Jessie twice a week. Aww, Dads and Daughters! So terrific.
This was a great example of how hoarding not only isolates the hoarder from their pain, their problems and the world, it also isolates their loved ones from them. Instead of the hoarder alone in a drift of garbage, they’ve also put others–Coral’s son Michael, Brian’s daughter Jessie–on a raft, adrift in a sea of filth, without their parent for an anchor.
The children are put in a position of being the “adult,” a disorienting flip-flop in the parent-child relationship that just compounds those feelings of isolation.
I want to always remind any of you who may be the children of a hoarder: I know it feels like you didn’t do enough or maybe even that just you yourself weren’t enough. But you were. You ARE. Just like the diabetic can only do so much to control their blood sugar, a hoarder can only control the clutter in their mind just so much–leaving them with little room for what truly matters: their families.
One thing I love that this show consistently illustrates is that families are affected. Once the hoarder begins to put tools in their kit to combat the unhealthy pattern of thought that leads to a house like Brian and Coral’s, they’re able to focus on their families, on getting healthy enough to foster better relationships with their loved ones. The more tools we can get folks, the better they can be at working on their fractured lives and relationships.
(And Dorothy, I don’t know how you do it sometimes. I watched that bonus scene about the pantry and the roaches and yep–they grow big enough to fly down here, and that’s why I loved living in the desert! Ha.)