My mom was a hoarder. Although I didn’t have a word for it in my childhood as the TV show, Hoarders, didn’t exist. I just knew something wasn’t right with her. We had two deep-freezes full of outdated butter and other things. Mom bought more boxes of butter (and fish sticks and ice cream) on every grocery run. When a freezer got too full, she added more freezers.
Each December I would beg to decorate. My school friends’ Moms put their trees up the day after Thanksgiving. Eventually Mom would nod with a dramatic ‘fine’, and I would climb into the attic to the boxes marked x-mas. I would sift through them and only put out the newer decorations. The cracked silver bell door hanger and the dusty choir boy candles from the 1950’s stayed at the bottom of the box with the burned out lights, broken tree ornaments and stinky wax poinsettias things. Mom hoarded everything she ever received that had anything to do with anything; and especially Christmas. Yet it also seemed she hated everything to do with Christmas–at least when I was around.
I am an artistic type and so I enjoyed the entire process. All alone I would put the tree up–pushing the stacks of hoarded stuff to the corners of the living room. Mom stayed busy in the kitchen. Dad would come home and declare it looked good; and then now you just need to leave it that way. Then he’d turn to mom and tell her she always over did it and put too much stuff out. I would sing inside at the rare praise, hoping that Mom would listen to Dad.
A few days later, I returned home from school to the harsh reality of my life. Mom had oodles of cookies piled up in the kitchen. She’d already done her work in the living room. The tree sagged, overwhelmed with too many ornaments, many cracked, glued together, and dirty. The bookshelves overflowed with grimy candles. The counters in between the two rooms were covered with nut trays and waxy poinsettias (with layers of dust– too old to come clean). She had redone my decorating; putting it just as she wanted it–and how she wanted it was to have the entire house overflowing with broken, old, fused together…stuff.
I didn’t actually process what that felt like, until I started therapy a few years ago. Yesterday I found my therapy notes about my childhood Christmases. It was insightful to re-read. I could still feel the raw emotions that I felt when I first penned the ‘exchange’ between my younger self and my adult self. But the hard feelings were subdued now; less painful.
I also realized, as I read through the memories: this is why I am addicted to control. This is why I became co-dependent.
There was no submission to one another in our household, and no respect. Boundaries were non-existent. There were ongoing power plays and codependency followed by reluctant obedience followed by retaliations to prove who was really in control. Mom hoarded and ignored. Dad screamed and hit. The uncles molested and assaulted. They were all perverse with one another. And they lived, willingly, with all of it. Controlling their own little worlds, oblivious to the damages done to themselves or others. Just so long as they remained in control of something and/or someone. (Children being the easiest to control).
I decided that most things were my fault, or my responsibility. Now I see that was a form of maintaining some sense of control. In reality, I was in danger. I was abandoned and neglected and outright abused. That truth was too scary to realize, though. I chose the easy lie–that I had deserved it all for being bad.
As an adult my efforts to be in control of the narrative did double-duty each Christmas season as the stress and expectations mounted. I tried to make the holiday into a Hallmark movie for the entire family; hosting gatherings and making nice. I had my own boxes in the attic marked x-mas–yet Mom’s tired junk made its appearance anyway in my own home. She reminded everyone of what a fussy baby I had been. She asked catty questions about how much ‘that new bedspread had cost’ (even though my bedroom door was kept closed, and eventually locked, during family gatherings)…but…. So long as the house and the decor looks nice I can make everything inside of me, and others, be nice as well!!
Nope. I could never control my family. They won every time. Sadly, I still let them win sometimes- even though I have estranged myself now.
As a child I fluffed out that fake tree and made things pretty and believed it could work. I thought Mom would let me have some say, that she would honor my need to have a pretty home, that she might honor ME. She let me get by with it for a day or two. Then she showed us who really ran the house. I’d return from school, see those cracked silver bells on the front door and knew I couldn’t win.
Mom sat wordlessly during dinner, ignoring my dad when he yelled, veins popping in his head, because he couldn’t find his reading glasses with all the bleeping Christmas $*^! on the countertops.
I barely touched my dinner. Then I ate cookie after cookie, their rotten butter and outdated flour putrefying with everything else inside my guts. The next day I’d likely have to skip school, again, due to stomachache.
Dad hit with his hands and cut with his mouth. But in her own way; Mom won the fights. She got what she wanted and what she wanted was to hang on to every old thing she could and to insulate herself from everything. Misery loves company; as they say.
But some things are actually better cracked — like nuts. So the real question is: can I let go of my own need to insulate myself from pain; letting the cracked parts of y life reveal the tender flesh within?
I think so. Probably for the wrong reasons though. Oh, I think I have healed a lot in my recovery process. All I have to do is read some old journal entries to realize that. But, well, mostly I think I am just stubborn enough not to let my mother ruin another Christmas.