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.