COHWHAMMIE, (COH Whose Hope At Miraculous Mess Improvement Expired) Created by a member:
…”Have you hit the wall with your hoarder? Have you given it everything you have and you are done, finished, through, exhausted, over?
You aren’t alone. Some of us are there already, and we’re waiting to let
you know that it’s okay. Sometimes it’s tough to admit that it is time to join C.O.H.W.H.A.M.M.I.E. and I am
NOT encouraging anyone to sign up before the time is right.
If you’re asking yourself if it’s time, then it probably isn’t yet.
You’ll know when it’s time. This isn’t about encouraging people to give up.
This also isn’t about bringing everyone else down either. It’s about offering as gentle a way as possible
for COH to communicate to the rest of the group that they have reached that place, because as Jess recently
said, it’s the beginning of a process of mourning. It doesn’t feel good at all. But it is reality for some of us.”
• Post Intervention Stress Syndrome-Refers to the emotions felt, similar to PTSD, after an intervention or clean-out, whether successful or not.
• Wonderful Strangers
Some quotes from Group Members on their definition of what their definition of what a Wonderful Stanger is…
A person, usually of the opposite sex, often works in sales, who flatters or otherwise gives attention in a way that makes the hoarder think the wonderful stranger is the nicest, most decent person in the world. They are considered to have the best advice (that trumps anything that family would say), and they are the only person who really gets the hoarder, according to the hoarder. This is typically all in the hoarders head, and based purely on surface conversation.
They frequently have been known less than a year (if not less than a week). Once they are known better, they cease to be wonderful strangers and frequently there is a rift.
Example: My mother decided one year that my brother and I should have the exact same plaid shirt from the Gap, because a nice young man from a house-painting company that made a sales call had the same shirt and he was cute. I did not like the shirt and neither did my brother.
Personal banker is another one I can think of that my mother tells all about her personal life. Does not seem to get that this person (and other wonderful strangers) are trying to make money off of her, which is why they listen and smile. In fact, she may be on to this fact, but does not want to admit it to herself.
The Wonderful Strangers are the ones who know nothing about the hoarder’s behavior in his/her own home, know nothing about the physical environment the hoarder has forced on family members, and know nothing about the hoarder’s problems in close family relationships. In short, the Wonderful Stranger knows nothing at all, but the hoarder recognizes that this lack of knowledge gives the WS a very special perspective, unbiased
and unprejudiced. The WS is like a plane hovering high in the sky, not close enough to see any details, so every house and car on the ground look about the same. The WS is a big comfort to hoarders, who sometimes wish that everyone was so far away and distant that they couldn’t see the mess, couldn’t see how troubled the hoarder really is. The thoughts and opinions of close family members can never compete with those of a WS…
the WS can be trusted much more than the close family members (who are too obsessed with and distracted by the hoarding problem to have any valid ideas)
A non family member of a Hoarder whose opinions, advice and suggestions are valued above the family. WS’s can have very limited contact with the Hoarder, but they way they are described by Hoarder they sound like close, personal, loving friends. WS’s are not allowed to see the ugly side of the Hoarding life, only what the Hoarder chooses to present to them and have them believe. WS’s can =bank tellers, grocery store clerks, lunch ladies who are never invited in and couldn’t tell you Hoarder’s favorite color or where Hoarder grew up, school chums from 60 years ago that have never even sent a Christmas card, etc-.
I’d change “ugly side of the Hoarding life” to something like ‘a balanced view of, or real story behind, the hoarder’s life, living conditions or family relationships’ because the problem isn’t just seeing the hoard itself, it’s that the hoarder turns these wonderful strangers into enablers who support the hoarder in his/her misinterpretation of reality. Otherwise, great job!
I’d also put in that the problem may be worst with the ones who get paid–accountants, lawyers, insurance agents–which can create amazingly difficult situations, both because of the confidential nature of that kind of transaction, and the real-world implications of the hoarder getting advice that is either inept or based solely on the distorted reality the hoarder presents.
“Wonderful Strangers” can be benign, but they can also be predatory. I am tired of the salesperson at the flower shop who obviously has endeared themselves to my MIL so she is spending hundreds on fresh flowers each month because she wants them around. Never mind that she cannot even come close to affording them. I am tired of the insurance agent who has called us twice in the last 24 hours feigning a service mentality when in reality he hasn’t been in touch for eons and only now sees an opportunity to get some more of her business. I’m sure she “loves” him. She was crushed when she learned her auto insurance agency had been purchased by another company and the agents were all let go. She couldn’t believe the agent never contacted her because “she loves me.” Riiiiiiight.
And I’m REALLY tired of predatory telemarketers who continue to get my MIL to buy hundreds of bucks of stuff she doesn’t need (who the heck needs thirty 7-year light bulbs for $200-plus in a two room apartment?). I’m sure the telemarketers put on their best friendly chatty tone with her.
What kills me is she won’t answer the phone when we call, by and large, but she is obviously taking these telemarketing calls. WSs either don’t know and interact with the hoarder, or know and have to hide it in order to make money off of the hoarder. If a WS ever becomes more than just a
business relationship, they may get to know what is really going on, confront the hoarder, and get the boot from the hoarder’s life. That has
happened to my MIL on several occasions.
A Wonderful Stranger is a person who needs help. The hoarder can help him/her and seem like a martyr, spending all her free time on the w.s., not on herself. Little does the w.s. know that he/she is being used as an excuse for the squalor to increase due to neglect.
The w.s. will never see the home and is often disabled or house-bound. It helps if the w.s. has an emotional problem and feels bad about themselves and would never guess that the hoarder has bigger problems.
This is what drove me nuts about my mother. God forbid if some stranger who doesn’t even know you says something nice. But never mind your
family all stressed out about the way you live because we love you and want better for you. We are just STRESSING YOU OUT.
I felt like saying to my Mom several times GET A GRIP WOMAN, normal people don’t live this way and if these people knew how you lived they would lose respect for you. ARG!
My mom’s Wonderful Strangers are mostly bus drivers, a few baristas, Safeway clerks and book and record store owners–a mostly male captive audience with whom she gets to chat in short installments. Of the ones I’ve met, they do seem like good, kind, decent people. People who are
patient with her monologues and her obsessions with cats and music and too polite to put her off. (One of these people is a friend of my brother’s
and he said to her “Well, Mom may be crazy, but she hides it pretty well.” Response: silence and a shake of the head. “Maybe a little?” “Nope.” “Can
she hide it at all?” “Nope, she’s definitely crazy.”) I would not call any of these people “friends”. Yet she gushes about them in way I’ve never heard
her do with her own family. Some of them really are lonely and appreciate the attention Mom gives them. If you have a “theme”, such as “cats” or
“trains” or “The Beatles”, she will buy you things relating to that theme. Yet she cannot fathom what members of her own family might like as gifts
(because we are assertive enough to say when we don’t like something, which makes us ungrateful).
She is prepared to sell her house to one of these people, without checking in with her family, and I suspect he may be taking advantage of her. She
has given my phone number to one of these people, whom she had just met, because he said he was looking for a girlfriend. (This is the same mother who was convinced we would be axe-murdered at summer camp or snatched by a stranger with candy off the street.) So, to sum up: Nice,
polite people who haven’t yet crossed her mental, emotional or physical boundaries, and who may know she’s a little “off” but don’t know just how
squalid her living conditions are. People who may believe all the negative things she says about her family, and whose advice she trusts without
question. Helpful if handsome and male, though there is no romantic fantasy involved. Her family should be prepared to hear the entire life story of
various WS’s, tales about their children and pets, career highlights, etc. while at the same time the hoarder will not be able to remember the family
member’s favorite color, names of best friends, college major, etc.
For my mom, a wonderful stranger is someone who knows her only superficially, but they validate her self-worth. I don’t know how many times I
heard of the people at the nursing care facility, “They JUST LOVE me here.” The opinions of wonderful strangers are more highly valued than those
of real authorities, if it is something my mom would prefer to hear. i.e. “The nurse said I don’t have to use my walker all the time, as long as I’m
careful,” when the physical therapist has said *always* use the walker.
- W.U.E.D.-“Walls up, Expectations Down”, being careful not to get your hopes up for a successful clean-out where it won’t go back to the way it was before, or on expecting the ideal parent-child