Thursday, August 18, 2011

Hoarders and the QuickFix

Last night my roommate and I got Netflix. I feel like I am the last person in the world to have Netflix, but since we are not getting cable, we decided to get Netflix. I love it so far.

I have talked about how I moved recently. I don't think I talked about it here, but I'd estimate that I got rid of about 60% of my stuff during the move. During the first three years I was in Arkansas, I got extremely depressed as long-time blog readers know. I dealt with the stress in two ways. The first is discussed here -- eating. The second was by spending money and buying stuff. I accumulated a lot of things, and material objects are no better at curing loneliness and depression than food is. There are other layers to why I accumulated stuff, but I won't discuss them here. Over the course of the move, I got rid of stuff and casually said I was a hoarder.

Now, this is a little true, but I guess it's like the people who need to lose 5-10 lbs. talking about how fat they are. I mean, could they tone up a little? Sure -- but overall, I think that many of us who are or have been morbidly obese tend to discount their stories and say that they're not really fat and that they don't understand, etc. I think that my saying I was a hoarder would make a real hoarder roll their eyes and/or piss them off like very marginally overweight do to me. I see that now after watching an episode of hoarders.

What struck me about this show is how many parallels there are between hoarding and compulsive overeating. Both are unhealthy, compulsive behaviors. Both are not problems that develop overnight: you can't fill your house with garbage in a single day, nor can you gain 50+ lbs. in a single day. Both are exacerbated by painful emotions -- compulsive overeaters often binge to stave off sadness or pain, and hoarders' behavior often intensifies after the loss of a loved one. Both cause you a definite sense of shame and a sharp decrease in the quality of life. Neither are well understood by the world at large.

Bottom line: I could see a lot of myself in the hoarders, even though I now realize I'm not a compulsive hoarder. It was hard to watch, honestly.

Most of all, I felt that the show Hoarders was doing them a huge disservice. For those who have not seen the show, they send in a crew to remove trash (obvious product placement for 1-800-GOT-JUNK), a psychologist, and a professional organizer. I have no idea how long the process takes, but definitely on the order of days, not weeks or months. They show before and after pictures and then the show ends. The stories and lives of two hoarders are showcased in 44 minutes in a nice package with a bow.

As someone who identified very strongly with many aspects of these hoarders lives, I was so appalled! To me, cleaning the hoarders' homes and leaving them is like giving someone who is morbidly obese liposuction and skin removal surgery, showing pictures, and then saying "The end". Will that really work in the long term?! How many of us would not regain the weight?

I guess I can only speak for myself, but I thought before I ever had lost a single pound of weight that if I could snap my fingers and lose the weight that my life would be magical. I don't think that anymore. I am so grateful for the year I spent not losing weight, but stalled out. It forced me to wrestle with some very real emotions and to make some not easy choices. I am grateful for the journey of fitness I've taken. I wish I didn't have back problems, but in the end I'm even grateful for the lessons of learned as a result of having them. To me the process of losing this weight and figuring out what causes me to eat in the first place is as valuable and maybe even more valuable than losing the weight itself. Had I had a quick fix, I would not have reaped the benefits that have resulted from fixing my super-dysfunctional relationship with food and finding other ways to deal with difficult emotions. I also would have given myself only a 5% chance to actually keep the weight off, since I had not learned the skills and behaviors that would help me to maintain my weight.

Not only that, but I think I would have damaged my self worth even more than it already was if I had lost weight via a quick fix and then failed to keep it off. I think that A&E is doing the hoarders a disservice by offering them a quick fix and limited aftercare. And I refuse to feed into it by watching that show ever again. It makes me sad for the hoarders, because I see so much of myself in them -- and even though I am by no means perfect at this healthy living thing and do not always feel this way as it is happening, I am grateful for every single setback on this journey because they have all caused me to learn a whole lot about myself and to improve myself in so many ways beyond just losing the weight.

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