I have never been good at asking for help. Never. Needing help was always a sign of weakness. Needing help was an out and out admission that I don’t know how to do everything, or worse, am UNABLE to do whatever needs to be done. To be clear, it’s ok for OTHER people to need help. It’s ok for OTHER people to not know everything or be able to do everything themselves. That’s normal. That’s human. I, however, still like to think I’m better than that. I’m pretty intelligent, so I should be able to see the problem, assess it, come up with a logical solution, and then carry it out with ease. Right? RIGHT? I mean, I give great advice to OTHER people. Just ask them. I’ve helped countless people through a variety of tough situations and seen most of them come out the other end better off. If I can do it for THEM, I damn well better be able to do it for me, right? RIGHT? Any rational person should be able think their way through a situation and solve the problem, and I am rational, so therefore, I shouldn’t need help.
That kind of thinking is dangerous for me. For anyone, really, but especially for me because I am an alcoholic and have alcoholic thinking. In the recovery world, part of this rationale is called “terminal uniqueness”. In layman’s terms, it means I am different than everyone else and my situation is different (i.e. worse) than anyone else’s and therefore, standard rules don’t apply to me (or the normal solution won’t work for me because I am “different”). This “uniqueness” is called terminal because when we think like this, we don’t accept the help that is available to us because we think it won’t work or we won’t be successful at it. Refusal to get and/or accept help keeps many of us drunk until we die.
So, what triggered this tonight? It’s a culmination of a few things I guess. Most recently, it’s the condition of my surroundings. I will freely admit that I am not a neat person. I have always lived in clutter and mess. When I was a kid, cleaning was done as a punishment or if people were coming over. I got to the point where I HATED “people coming over” because I knew what that entailed. Everyone at each other’s throats until the job was done. My bedroom often had a path from the doorway to my bed, and the rest was a collection of clothes and other “stuff” strewn about. The only time I cleaned was if I wanted to have friends over and then it was a 3-4 day process or if I really had a bug up my ass, I’d spend 12 hours straight cleaning like a madwoman.
I’m 38 years old, have 2 daughters, a house of my own, and sadly, things haven’t improved a whole lot. My bedroom is still always a mess. There is a stack of clothes baskets full of clean clothes in front of my closet door; a closet I haven’t been in since before Christmas. The rest of the house is cluttered and it seems no matter how hard I try, it stays that way. It’s a disservice to me and a disservice to the daughters I am raising. We clean before people come over or when I’ve had it and can’t take it anymore. Then I go on the warpath, barking orders at my daughters to pick up their crap and put it away.
The truth is, that while clutter and clean laundry laying everywhere stresses me out, the prospect of cleaning it all up nearly paralyzes me. So much to be done, with no end in sight. I have tried all the little tricks. “Just clean for 5 minutes at a time.” “Just pick a 2’x2’ area, clean that, then move on to the next.” “Every time you bring something new into the house, throw out something old.” “Just focus on one room at a time.” You might as well cover me in oil and ask me to scale the Eiffel Tower while it’s raining. It’s just not going to happen.
I’ve hired people to clean before and it helped, but how can I expect someone else to a good job, when I can’t even tell them where to put shit? I have next to no organizational skills. “Everything has a place and everything IN its place.” I hear organized people say that and I roll my eyes so hard I risk dislocating my neck. If I had a place for everything, I’d PUT IT THERE! I don’t even know where to begin.
So why has this come to a head all of the sudden? Well…because I fell in love with a man who was raised in a hoarder’s household and is now freaked out by clutter. Fuck. Me. His house is neat and barely looks lived in. I go there and wonder, “Where’s all of his shit?” It blows my mind. His place is like a sanctuary to me. Everything seems to have a place. I can even put things back where they belong because there’s a designated place for stuff! Weird, huh? My house is the antithesis of his. I invited him over this week and hired a friend to come over and clean first. She canceled, so the girls and I were left to fend for ourselves. Once again, I turned into a madwoman and was crazy for 2 days trying to get the house in order. At one point, I had to throw up the white flag and call it good enough. I couldn’t do any more without totally losing my mind or permanently scarring my children with the crazy person I had become.
While he was at my house, I could sense that the state of affairs was making him anxious. I tried to deny it (because denial feels SO good), but I knew it was there. I know he loves me. HE LOVES ME. I want that to be very clear. He loves me for me, good and bad. He loves me completely, yet clutter is a trigger for him. We did what grownups do and discussed it. With no judgment on his part, he said that he wouldn’t be able to live in this house in the condition it is in (not that he’s planning on moving in anytime soon). My fears were coming true. Once again, a man that I love is going to change his mind about me because I’m some kind of “wrong”. Or at least that’s where my head went. Again, to be clear, he never said anything of the sort. That’s all on me. The fact that he will probably read this makes me want to throw up. I don’t want him to think that any of this emotional angst of mine is his fault, because it isn’t. In fact, I’m just going to pretend that he ISN’T going to read this so I can keep writing. See, I TOLD you denial can be a beautiful thing!
He’s not asking me to change. He’s not asking me to do anything I don’t already want to do. I WANT a clean house. I HATE having a messy house. A messy house is chaotic and chaos doesn’t work for me. I avoid my house whenever I can because it is too overwhelming and I can’t “fix it.” He is a sweet man and offered to help me. He’s very good at organizing things and throwing stuff out. He didn’t offer to help to push me into something I don’t want to do. He was very clear about that. Again, I WANT a clean house. I WISH it was organized. I WISH I didn’t get so freaked out by all of this, but I do. As we talked more about it, I actually got EXCITED about getting rid of all the extra stuff we don’t need. I got excited about packing up all of the extra clothes to donate and boxing up all of the books and sending them off to the library so other people could enjoy them too. I kept thinking of the day my house would be tidy and he would be happy to move in with me and the girls and we’d be happily ever after. I love him. I’m not trying to clean up my house FOR him. I want it clean for ME. I want my house to become a place of peace again; a place where I can relax. The fact that he would be more comfortable here is just the icing on the cake.
Every Friday night I go to my best friend & sponsor’s house and get together with a group of women in recovery. Tonight we were talking about our biggest fears and how we get through them and I found myself talking about the state of my house and how it affects my emotional well-being and how it will be a sticking point in my new relationship and how I’m not teaching my kids a valuable skill. You know what happened? Three of the other ladies OFFERED TO HELP. WHAT?!?!?!?!?! I dare say they were EXCITED about the prospect of coming over and helping to get rid of everything and organize what’s left until things are in order and comfortable.
I sat there in disbelief. WHY would someone (let alone THREE someones) seem so excited about cleaning someone else’s house? Are they crazy? I reiterated how I have NO IDEA of how to do it and how it stresses me out and makes me want to throw up and then curl up in a ball and weep. They didn’t care. They asked me to pick a date so they could come over and help. That’s when the panic set in. I quickly changed the subject and got the next person talking about what HER fears were so the focus would be off me. Unfortunately, the wheels had already started grinding in my head and I was starting to lose it. As the next girl was sharing, I could feel myself starting to shake and rock back and forth in my chair (an old self-comforting behavior). Why would they want to help? Could I actually let them in? Could I REALLY let them see how I live? How would they judge me? Would they change their minds about me? Again, they never said ANYTHING other than, “When can we come over and help?” I am the one who took it to a dark place.
The meeting ended and I hung around to talk to my sponsor. I was still shaking and she wanted me to spill it and tell her what was going on. I told her that after I finished talking, the panic started rising and all I could do was sit and stare that that fucking shiny knife sitting on top of the pie on the table. Why? Because along with being an alcoholic, I’m a former cutter. If you know anything about cutters, they use physical pain to relieve emotional pain and turmoil. Physical pain kicks in the endorphin response (your body’s natural pain killers) and for a little while, you feel better. I haven’t cut in YEARS, and all I could think about was that stupid, shiny fucking knife and how using it would make the hamster wheel in my head STOP. I’m 38 years old and was so spun out by the idea of letting other people help me clean my house that I was seriously considering injuring myself over it. WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK? Cutting is as bad as drinking or using drugs for someone like me. It’s something used to escape a reality that seems too painful to deal with.
You know what? The cat’s out of the bag. I’m admitting it. I DON’T have it all under control. I DO need help. The thought of that still makes me want to puke. The thought of accepting help from these loving women makes me sick to my stomach.
So what’s the plan? I guess I’ll spend the weekend telling myself I can handle it alone and will attempt to do the job myself. By Monday I will be resigned to the fact that if I ever want to get better, I’ll have to suck it up and accept their offer and pick a date when they can come over. Then I will have fits of panic and want to change my mind until that day comes when they descend on my house. I know it will be good for me. It will get my house in order and will be a hell of a growing experience. The end result will be the big payoff. I’ll have a home that I’m excited to go to. My daughters and I will learn how to keep things picked up. I won’t be as stressed out and the man I love will feel more at home here. The payoff will be great, but the journey to it scares the crap out of me.
I’m choosing hope. I have to keep choosing hope.