Monday evenings have become a kind of Dysfunction Junction at our house, as we curl up in front of the TV and watch A&E's prime-time offerings, Intervention and Hoarders.
We find Intervention compelling in part because we've dealt with addiction in Fellow Traveler's family and in our broad circle of friends. We recognize the behaviors, the rationalizations, the resistance to help. And we're also cheered by the success stories of this series. When we see the show postscripts that announce a participant has been sober for months or years, we cheer.
Hoarders is a different matter.
I've seen this behavior firsthand. My aunt M, in the later years of her life, could have been a subject for this show. Her hoarding literally drove her out of her own home. After she was hospitalized, I remember spending a day with my mother trying to sift through her mountain of collected trash, looking for family papers and keepsakes, and finally giving up when the job became too hopeless.
I also detect seeds of this disorder in myself. In my life my out-of-control accumulation of stuff has been, thankfully, confined to discrete areas -- to the infamous Alligator Room of The Cottage; to the trunk of my old car. And unlike my aunt, and most of the subjects of Hoarders, my struggles with material chaos have been less a matter of attachment to things -- I actually find a sense of happiness and relief in giving other people things I no longer need -- than a sense of being overwhelmed by the stuff of life to the point of paralysis...and more than a touch of perfectionism; wanting to come up with a system, a "right" way of wresting order out of disorder, before actually doing anything.
So Hoarders strikes home for me in the same way that Intervention strikes a note of fear in the heart of someone whose family is predisposed to addiction.
And what's especially troubling is the lack of success in helping the Hoarders subjects, who are picked on the basis of crises related to their behavior. I visited the Hoarders website and was rather disheartened to see that almost none of the participants have made substantial progress in getting well. The producers admit that the short time frame in which the participants are compelled to clean up their homes is part of this poor track record -- the professional organizers and therapists assigned to each project may be able to help the individuals achieve some degree of order and cleanliness in their living spaces, but there's not enough time to adequately address the underlying behaviors. And...sadly...hoarding is a compulsion with a poor prognosis; there's no pharmaceutical or other therapeutic magic bullet.
Since I've been watching this show I find I've been paying more attention to housework; been trying to come up with a basic, not-too-rigid schedule for cleaning and tidying that cuts down my anxiety level and, on some level, reassures me that I am not in danger of turning into my aunt.