Ask the LifeQuake Doctor – Apr 2018
Dear Dr. Galardi,
I’m a physician who treats morbidly obese patients for weight loss. I have three children and a boyfriend. I’m fifty years old and because I’m prominent in my community, I haven’t felt safe reaching out to my colleagues with my issue. Given that I’ve never had an eating disorder or substance abuse issue myself, I never really thought of my problem as an addiction, but I read your column and thought I’d get your opinion.
I have a hard time letting go of stuff—real stuff like my children’s baby clothes, their toys when they were small, clothes I haven’t worn in years. 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 go rummage through all the boxes. I’ve 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’ve been on my own since I was a kid. My mother died when I was seven years old and my father sent me and my brother to live with an aunt. We were only allowed to bring one bag of clothes and we had to leave our toys behind. There’s something about having all that stuff in storage that gives me a good feeling. My house also is packed with too much stuff. My fiancé thinks I have an addiction and I wanted to check this out with you. What I do know is that I’m 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 people get emotional security from something outside themselves that is costing them in some way, then there is a compulsion present. It is costing you money to keep this storage unit, there is clutter in your home, it is providing a bad model for your children, and your fiancé is now getting upset. Hoarding is an addiction.
Losing your mother at the age of seven—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,” meaning someone who has taken their childhood wound and followed a path of healing for others.
Further, you also mention that despite having a fiancé, you feel you have 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, a computer, or by hand in a journal) how you were supported that day. Scan through the day and note kindnesses extended to you by others, ways peo-ple helped you, how your children and/or fiancé contribute to you. Begin sorting through your life to discover how the universe is supporting you. Now feel this support in your body. This will begin to change the neurotransmitters and repattern the early trau-ma.
I also recommend a Twelve 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” (“The Twelve,” n.d.).
May you find serenity and greater empathy for those you serve through this healing journey of your own.
About the Author
Toni Galardi, PhD, is a licensed psychotherapist and transitions expert in Marin County, California. She works with people by phone and Skype all over the world. She is also the author of The LifeQuake Phenomenon: How to Thrive in Times of Personal and Global Upheaval. She can be reached through her e-mail address [email protected] or at her office at 310-890-6832.
“The Twelve Steps.” (n.d.). Retrieved from https://clutterersanonymous.org/12-steps/