Confessions of a Recovering Emotional Hoarder

Here’s a recap of the conversation I had with my sister the other day:

“Did you see the one where the lady saved and ate all kinds of expired food?”

“Omg, no but I saw the one where the lady was saving her own excrement”

“Yes and I also saw the one where they found five dead cats buried under a bunch of stuff”

“Omg, yes! And then the guy from the show put them all in a bag and was like “hey lady, here’s a bag of dead cats we found in your house”

“I know right. Someone handing you bag of dead cats has to be a sign that your life isn’t exactly on the up and up. The worst part was that I couldn’t stop watching.”

My first confession for the evening: Every now and then I enjoy a good Hoarders marathon. I know I’m not alone. In university I had an Anthropology prof who said it’s our society’s fascination with “the other”  that has made shows like Jerry Springer, Hoarders and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo so popular. They’re horrible but we watch them anyways, if only to remind ourselves that we’re not as dysfunctional as the people we see on the screen. It’s messed up, but true.

I watch Hoarders and think “Hey, my life may not be perfect but at least I don’t have 50 jars of half-consumed expired Mayonnaise sitting in my bath tub”  It’s true – I’m the opposite of a traditional Hoarder. I abhor clutter and I actually find cleaning therapeutic. Although I’m known to be sentimental and save almost all of my old birthday cards, notes & the like – I keep everything organized neatly in labelled pink storage boxes. I’m a Virgo to a fault and yes, a lot of my OCD tendencies drive my family crazy.

Although I am not a Hoarder in the A&E series sense, I recently realized that I have definitely been guilty of hoarding in the past. However, instead of holding on to packages of expired hot dogs and dirty cotton balls, I hoarded my feelings. 

Over the past year I’ve had to let go of a lot of stuff emotionally. It’s only now that I am on the other side of it that I can see just how much I was holding onto and the negative impact it was having on my life. Just like the people on the show who one day find their bedroom barricaded by laundry, I can’t really explain how I became an emotional hoarder. All I know is that by the time I was in my mid-twenties I found myself clinging onto a lot of emotional baggage that I’d acquired over the years. All the first kisses, all the unrequited love, all the emotional bruises and all the people who no longer made sense in my life -I clung on to all of it with the same unhealthy grip. Even though I wasn’t living in my own filth, all of this baggage was holding me back. I’d filled myself up with so much emotional “stuff” that it didn’t leave that much room for new, positive things.

My emotions became my very own bag of cats.

My emotional hoarding really started to kick in right after I graduated university and real life responsibilities set in. While working 50-60 hours a week at a job that I wasn’t particularly happy with, I’d look back to the carefree days of my earlier 20’s. I started to desperately miss that earlier version of myself – the 23 year old girl who was passionate about anthropology and wanted to change the world, but still found time to party & keep up with a rotating cast of (sometimes bizarre) love interests. In my mind she was “happier” and life was “better” when really, it wasn’t. Sure that era of my life was fun and unpredictable, however it was also really dissatisfying in a lot of ways. The rotating cast of dudes were mostly total losers (I just didn’t see it), my apartment always smelled like weed because my room-mate was a stoner and I wore a lot of pastel coloured Juicy Couture-style velour tracksuits. Ballin’ like a playa, I was not. I held on to what I thought was this “golden era” of my life so I wouldn’t fully have to deal with the future. My old feelings and memories became like a security blanket of sorts – one that kept me from being 100% present in my own life.

( via JessLC)

Starting this blog, writing about my experiences as a twenty-something and the relationships I had definitely helped me let go of a lot of stuff. However, even though I wrote about letting go of things and “packing light“, for most of my late twenties to early 30’s – career wise, relationship wise, personal development wise, I still felt stuck.

The reason all of this has been weighing on my mind is that the end of October marks the one year anniversary of my break-up. I’ve learned that sometimes something really dramatic needs to happen in order to get you “un-stuck.” The break-up  has been one of the most painful things I’ve had to go through but also something that was absolutely necessary for both of us. The break-up split us both wide open and forced each of us to finally face our respective baggage on our own.

How I let go: 

COUNSELLING. Seriously, I cannot express how much going to therapy has helped me over the past year. I started seeing my counsellor as soon as I arrived back in BC.  I needed help dealing with the aftermath of the break-up but I also knew I had lots of other work to do. So, I laid out my “big bag of cats” and over the course of several months we worked through all of it. We talked about EVERYTHING. At the times it was painful process, but so, so, worth it – kind of like doing pilates for your heart and mind.

As I worked through the things that were bothering me, I started to let go of a lot of stuff. For the first time in ages, I felt lighter!

(image)

This is all to say, if you’re feeling “stuck” you can get “un-stuck” – it happened to me. 

It’s funny, since starting this blog and launching my freelance writing career, I’ve had people refer to me as a “love and relationship expert” which is kind of laughable. I don’t really know any more than the next person. I’m still working out my own issues, hence the “recovering” in front of “emotional hoarder.” However, here’s one piece of advice I can give with certainty:

If you’re feeling stuck. If you’re feeling numb. If the grass seems greener in the past. If you feel your own emotions are suffocating you….TALK TO SOMEONE. Counsellor, Psychologist, Life Coach – whoever you feel comfortable with. Don’t let your emotions become your personal bathtub full of Mayonnaise. Trust me on this.

When I look at how I felt a year ago and how I feel now,  I’m proud of the progress I’ve made. It’s all a work in process but I’m enjoying this newfound sense of lightness. My friends keep asking me when I’m going to try online dating (they’ve even offered to help me write my online dating profile!) however, besides the fact that my town seems to be a total dating wasteland, I’m just not in any kind of rush. If it happens, it happens. In the meantime I’m happy to just ride this wave.

  • Ha this is so spot on! I realized I’m an emotional hoarder as well. I haven’t seen the show (the very idea terrifies me!) but I understand our fascination with other peoples problems. It sucks because theirs is so obvious and disturbing but I think emotional hoarding is almost encouraged…maybe. I just think its not so taboo so it can seem like less of a problem than it really is. Letting go, even of the good, can be amazing 🙂 So important to remember!

    Awesome post!

  • K. Megan

    Oh, this is very timely for me. Just the other day I was lamenting about how excited I used to be at age 23! I don’t feel excited anymore, and I do totally feel stuck. SIGH. Time to clean out the emotional closets, I guess!

    • K. Megan

      ps- this post is awesome. thank you for sharing it 🙂

  • OMG. I knew you were talking about Hoarders after I read the first sentence..hah, love the show and the post!

  • Jennifer

    I’m definitely an emotional hoarder and like you therapy works wonders! Excellent post Simone.

  • Besides loving this post for the amount of times you wrote about the 2 loves of my life (mayo + cats – even though I know you were talking about expired mayo and a bag of dead cats…. Semantics), this really rang true for me. I do this all.the. time; the emotional hoarding thing, not the eating expired products thing.
    I’m obsessed with the past – things I’ve done, things I didn’t do but wished I had, things other people have done or didn’t do, relationships, feelings, memories. Emotionally hoarding can feel incredibly lonely. I’m glad I’m not the only one.
    I think it’s time I get “un-stuck” too.
    Thanks for this 🙂

  • YES. I have definitely noticed myself doing this over the past several years. I hang on to so much negativity, so many grudges, so many hurt feelings and situations I can’t control and forget to remind myself that it’s all in the past and I don’t have to let it take up valuable thoughts throughout my day. It’s definitely something I’m working on and really helps to hear someone else talking about the exact same thing. 🙂

  • I am an emotional hoarder too. I cannot let go of things, they really eat at me. I envy how most guys can just let things go but I often don`t get over a relationship until I`m in a new one. I have always been this way, I overanalyze rejection to death. It`s sad to say but it`s good to know I`m not the only one.

  • I am definitely hoarding emotionally right now and I hate it so much! I am working on getting out of this rut and moving on with my life. You are brave to post about this! =)

  • YES. Yes, yes, yes. This a great analogy, and I love this post, Skinny Dip!!

    I’ve never heard of it referred to as “emotional hoarding” (which is the perfect term….even brings up a rough visual, thanks to A&E), but GirlsAskGuys members are often bringing up the concept of letting go………or rather, not being able to.

    You bring up some terrific points on how to deal with it. One tip that our community seems to continually bring up is forgiveness. Forgiving others, but also, forgiving yourself. We all beat ourselves up over what we said and did, what we coulda, shoulda, woulda done. Not only does it keep us from moving forward, it also drags us down mentally, emotionally, physically. Some people have mentioned journalling their feelings – what went right, what went wrong – and finding closure after seeing it all on paper. Others have suggested counseling, as you recommended. Either way, remember to forgive yourself – we all make mistakes, and we all make big and small ones. It’s OK!

    Thanks for such a great blog post, and I can’t wait to share it!

    Mel

    GirlsAskGuys