NOTE: I’m taking a break from pillow reviews and diet recaps for a bit of introspection.
When I was growing up, my Mom was a hoarder.
No, not to the level of that horrible show, but she was perpetually accumulating. Our damp, dank, bare-stud dungeon of a basement had metal shelves overflowing with canned mandarin oranges, red and white cylinders of Campbell’s condensed soup, and crinkly green bags of twisty egg noodles. Upstairs, in the spooky Dickinsonian attic, she would stash yellowing pairs of my stepdad’s tighty whites, their blue striped elastic waistbands fraying and springing white tendrils. Just in case.
“Gotta be ready for the famine,” she’d sort-of, but not entirely, joke.
A peek under my bed and in various closets will reveal that I’ve learned/slash/inherited this tendency. For me, though, it’s less about food. It’s about stuff. I probably own 20 pairs of brand-new “backup” shoes in the basement, ranging from tall black boots to Chacos sandals to my beloved Brooks Adrenaline runners. I have Rubbermaid bin after bin of skin and body care, and if I find a lip gloss I love, I buy four or five at a time.
If anything were to ever happen to my income, I’m ready, still able to do and wear the things I need to make me feel good – like these. It doesn’t matter that there’s absolutely zero indication my job isn’t going well, or that I won’t continue to advance. I’m always prepared with Plan B.
While a bit weird, this may not sound like such a bad thing. Isn’t there a Marine – or maybe it’s a Boy Scout – motto around this, after all?
And, no, the five extra tubes of toothpaste in and of themselves – those aren’t terrible. It’s what’s driven this near-compulsive behavior, and the fact that the driver of it has, historically, spilled over into … everything … that’s the problem.
It is, at a base level, fear. Fear that all good things come to an end; that I somehow don’t deserve them, and I’d best be on my toes, ever ready. It’s highly unsettling, and, of course, gets in the way of enjoying the present.
Melissa Urban – co-founder of the Whole30 – wrote a post recently that really resonated with me. In it, she talked about how she used to torch so many important things in her life because she believed they would just end anyway, and she wanted to be in control of the when and the how of that ending.
This behavior is the natural successor to shoe stockpiling – and I’ve done it like Melissa, too. Lots.
With both writing and counseling, I’ve been working on figuring out the why.
I know we all live with trauma, but mine isn’t well-defined.
Though I come from a long line of blue-collar workers, I haven’t experienced real poverty. I had a more comfortable childhood than most of my social circle. My parents’ divorce caused some consternation, but it doesn’t particularly haunt me. I watched my Mom plug away at a B.A. for years, finally achieving it at 39; I was raised with firm expectations that I would get good grades, go to college and have a professional career. I was picked on a bit, but never bullied; I was thin and, from eighth grade on, conventionally attractive. I have always had, with a few exceptions, smart, “nice” friends. While there are plenty of #metoo moments in my past, I’ve never actually been sexually assaulted.
There is not a big, glaring happening in my early life that serves as an obvious tie to this everpresent fear; just a nagging feeling I’ve never been quite good enough, despite so very much evidence and so very many accomplishments to the contrary. When you believe all positive things in your life have been flukes, sure to be short-lived, you figure it’s best to draft up Plan B, then go ahead and strike a match.
As I’ve gotten older, and faced more challenges with aplomb, this feeling, this little voice, has gotten quieter. There are significant stretches where I don’t hear it at all. At 41, I’m more confident and secure in who I am, and I’ve tackled some of the other issues – e.g., my need to “rescue” or “fix” people – which have long plagued me.
I’ve come a long way, but there’s still more work to do.
Until then, if you ever need an “emergency” can of Big Sexy Hair, you know where to turn.