Dear Dr. Galardi:
I am a physician who treats morbidly obese patients for weight loss. I have three children and a boyfriend. I am 50 years old and because I am prominent in my community have not felt safe reaching out to my colleagues with my issue. Given that I have never had an eating disorder myself or substance abuse issue, I never really thought of my problem as an addiction but I read your column and thought I would get your opinion.
I have a hard time letting go of stuff. Real stuff. My children’s baby clothes, their toys when they were small, clothes I haven’t worn in years, etc. I spend $700 a month on a storage unit I never go to. If I need something that I know is somewhere in storage, I just go buy it new rather than bother to rummage through all the boxes. I have spent $40,000 on this storage unit in total so far but when I think of giving it up, my nervous system goes into a panic. I feel that I have been on my own since I was a kid
My mother died when I was 7 years old and my father sent me and my brother to live with an aunt and we were only allowed to bring one bag of clothes. We had to leave our toys behind. There is something about having all that stuff in storage that gives me a good feeling. My house also is packed with too much stuff. My fiance’ thinks I have an addiction and I wanted to check this out with you. What I do know is that I am wasting good money and it does give me a feeling of security knowing that storage unit is there. So, what do you think?
“Dr. Pack Rat”
From what you have described I would say that you do indeed have an addiction. When a person gets emotional security from something outside him/herself that is costing them in some way, then there is a compulsion present. It is costing you money to keep this storage unit, clutter in your home, it is providing a bad role model for your children, and your fiance’ is now getting upset. Hoarding is an addiction.
Losing your mother at the age of 7 and if you had to go live with your aunt, losing your father as well and most of your worldly possessions is traumatic. It has left a deep wound inside of you. You mentioned that you work with people who have an eating disorder and you have never had a food issue or substance abuse issue. Perhaps this issue is meant to serve you in terms of upping your compassion for people who compulsively eat or use. Unless someone has had an addiction can they really understand the irrationality of doing something that creates loss in the long run and provides emotional stability artificially. Your childhood wound and chosen profession qualifies you to embody what is called “the wounded healer.” Someone who has taken their childhood wound and followed a path of healing for others.
Further, you also mention that despite having a boyfriend, you feel you’ve been on your own since childhood. My advice is to do this practice every day: at the end of the day before bed, write out either on your phone note section or computer or by hand in a journal, how you were supported today. Scan through the day and note kindnesses extended to you by others, ways people helped you, how your children contribute to you, your boyfriend. Begin sorting through your life how the universe is supporting you. Now feel into this support in your body. This will begin to change the neurotransmitters and re-pattern the early trauma.
I also recommend a 12 step program for clutter – Clutterers Anonymous. To quote from their program: “ We admitted we were powerless over clutter—that our lives had become unmanageable. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood God.”
May you find serenity and greater empathy for those you serve through this healing journey of your own.
Dr. Toni Galardi is a licensed psychotherapist, author of The LifeQuake Phenomenon and a well known consultant/expert on career repurposing as part of recovery in the addiction field. She has been the advice columnist for Counselor Magazine for 7 years.
If you have a question for The LifeQuake Doctor, you can write to her through: firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 310-890-6832. She works by phone and SKYPE in private practice. Her website is http://www.thelifequakedoctor.com