Why I Was a Teenage Hoarder
“Only some compulsive hoarding is comprised of the need to acquire; many hoarders are driven only by the need to retain.”
I have some baggage. It’s in an antique trunk that weighs maybe sixty pounds and which I’ve dragged with me for twelve years, through six moves across two states. I only open it when I’m both very sad and very drunk, but I never forget the combination for the lock. I keep it because I can’t yet throw it away.
Some of the things inside I expect to keep forever – the diaries and many of the letters. Other things I keep because sorting through them to find those diaries and letters would be too painful: old t-shirts, train tickets, paper coffee cups, and hotel matchbooks. It’s detritus from 2000 to 2007, roughly analogous with my adolescence. To misquote Courtney Love, I was a teenage hoarder. I hoarded because I was afraid of forgetting, and I keep my hoard because I don’t yet want to remember.
“The study of psychological trauma [...] is one of episodic amnesia,” writes Judith Herman at the beginning of Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror. She explains that this scholarly approach to trauma mirrors “the central dialectic of psychological trauma” itself: the competing needs to deny and to affirm, to forget and to remember. Trauma and Recovery goes on to propose the existence of a Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which is now, twenty-five years later, widely accepted among female survivors of domestic and sexual abuse but still not included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. However, “Disorders of extreme stress, not otherwise specified” has parameters that echo Herman’s work.
Trauma and Recovery was groundbreaking; it was also, as we say now, problematic. Throughout the text, Herman compares women “who prostitute themselves” with prisoners of war, Patricia Hearst, and women “who fail to escape abusive relationships” (115). She rejects or ignores any economic motive for trading sex, preferring the liberal fiction of an industry sustained solely on demand and a decidedly un-Marxian conception of false consciousness.