What is your identity?

A few weeks ago, I was in at a reception with a small group of women.  The conversation moved to organization and hoarding issues.

Somewhat jokingly, and somewhat seriously, I said, “Hello, my name is Melinda, and I’m a hoarder.”

One of the other ladies looked at me and asked me a question something to the effect of “Is hoarding part of your self identity?”

That stopped me.  I had to think about that for a minute before I answered.  I said that while I struggle with it, I didn’t think it was part of my identity.  But I have been thinking about that question ever since.

In most 12 step programs, you have to acknowledge this issue.  “I am Bob, and I am an alcoholic”;  “I am Andrew, and I am an addict”;  “I am Susan, and I am co-dependent”.  It is very important to accept and acknowledge the issue.  That is a step to recovery in those programs.

I am Melinda, and I am a hoarder.  But is that part of my self-identity?  If my identity is that of a hoarder, then I fear that to try to no longer be a hoarder will be to destroy a part of my self.  And that feeling, however non-valid it might be, might lead me to subconsciously sabotage my own efforts to improve my life.

As I pondered the question of whether or not hoarding was part of my self-identity, I had a thought.  I am a survivor.  And hoarding was one of the tools I used to help me survive.  It is not a good tool.  In many ways, it hurts far more than it helps.  But at some point in my life, it helped me to survive something.  Now I am trying to learn how to survive without hoarding.  It is hard to do.  I take 3 steps backwards for every 1 step forward.  But I am finding myself throwing things away that I kept 5 years ago, a year ago, even a month ago.  But one thing that survivors can do is to grow, change, learn to survive even better.

I hoard.  But am I a Hoarder?  How much of my self-identity is wrapped up in the piles of stuff surrounding me?  How can I acknowledge the problem, yet keep my self-identity away from the things that surround me?

After thinking about this for awhile, I came up with a new way of introducing myself.  A way that acknowledges the problem, yet helps me separate my personal identity from my piles of trash that I am slowly letting go of.

Hello.  My name is Melinda.  I struggle with hoarding disorder.  I am a survivor.




3 thoughts on “What is your identity?

  1. People who know nothing abut 12 step groups and don’t participate in them should not guess at their purposes or how they work. It is like gentiles saying Jews still perform animal sacrifices when they have never been in a synagogue. Your statement is no more “victorious” than the statement that you are a Hoarder. Both are true, both are part of w ho you are and what you are going through. Identification of the problem does not make you the problem. It acknowledges the problem so that you can begin the work necessary to change your life in a healthier direction. Letting go of the struggle and accepting recovery and the work it entails is what takes us from “victim” of the “disease” to “survivor” of the “disease” Words are helpful, actions are necessary.

    • Thank you for your perspective. It is true, my experience with 12 step groups is limited. Not all 12 step groups are the same, or so I’ve been told. I have only been involved with one, and that was a long time ago, and in a different state. I am not trying to say that I am a survivor of hoarding. I am a survivor of other things. Hoarding was a method, a poor tool, used to help me to survive. Now I am trying to learn to discard that tool.

  2. Hi Melinda

    Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and reflections. I agree with you and prefer to think of hoarding (and other coping tools) as purely that – tools. Part of the journey to improved well-being is just finding tools that are healthier and more effective.

    I reflected on this some time ago and wrote a post on it here: http://compulsivehoardingproject.com/2014/10/27/the-h-word-whats-in-a-name/ it would be great if you could have a read and discuss your thoughts.

    Best wishes


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