After some Googling, I found a support group, Children of Hoarders, and it’s been really helpful putting into words what I’ve been through. For instance, there’s a little thing called doorbell dread that I had no idea existed, yet I suffer from it all the same.
Picture this: you’re sitting in your home and the doorbell rings or somebody knocks on the door. You get up and answer it right? That’s what people normally would do. I, on the other hand, run to the door and peer out the peephole. Who is it? Who’s come to see me? Why are they here? My mind races. After seeing who it is, I feel my stomach rise to my throat. Feelings of panic overwhelm me. I don’t want to open the door. I don’t. want. to.
Now, if I’m expecting a visitor, I’m okay. I can open the door just fine. But an unexpected visitor? Forget about it. I can’t handle that. I pretend I’m not home. I hold my breath and hope they don’t knock a second time. I just can’t deal with it.
Apparently, this is a common feeling among people that grow up with hoarders. It’s called doorbell dread and it’s an anxiety and fear inflicted upon us by the hoarders. You see, when I was a kid, if anyone knocked on the door, my parents exhibited this behavior. They peered out the peephole. They pretended they weren’t home. They told me to be very quiet. We all held our breath until the intruder at the door left.
They didn’t want to let anyone in because they were ashamed of the hoard. Their shame became my shame.
I was given a list of lies to tell my friends. They wanted to come over to hang out but I had to tell them we were remodeling. For over a decade. I’m sure I lost friends over this. I’m sure people didn’t understand. And yet for a long time, I didn’t dare tell the truth. The shame and fear my parents felt at the thought of anyone finding out their secret was something I held onto wholeheartedly. When you’re a kid, you believe everything your parents tell you. I trusted them. They told me how the world worked and I believed them. In short: I didn’t tell anyone the truth about my parent’s house until I was in high school. And even then, it was only to a select few. And no one really knew how bad it was. Not really.
Just after graduating from a high school, a friend stopped by my parent’s house unexpectedly at about eight at night. I panicked. She called the house and I answered, so she knew I was home. I couldn’t hide behind the curtains this time and pray the visitor went away. I had to go outside.
So I did. I sat in the car with her and I was fuming. I was on the verge of tears. I was so afraid and I didn’t even know exactly why. The bubble had almost been breeched. The huge secret was almost found out. I was embarrassed. All of these emotions boiled up to the surface as anger. I was shaking I was so mad. But I wasn’t really mad at my friend. I was mad at the situation. That I had to go to such great lengths all the time to be normal. That I had to lie. That I had to pretend everything was okay at home when it wasn’t.
That might have been one of the first times I saw my family for what it was. I might not have known it that night, but I think subconsciously, I became aware of my situation.
And from that point on, finishing college and moving out became my top priority.