I was born on the West Coast in 1958, raised by two loving but totally-in-denial parents. My mother, although not quite a bonafide neat freak, had to have the house "just so". As for denial, her motto could have been, "If it doesn't look bad, it isn't bad", or "If you don't look at it, you can't see it". Her disapproval, never verbalized directly, was evident throughout my growing up and to this day. She never accepted me for who I am; she is the reason for most of my self-doubt.
I married right out of high school. He drank, we fought, I divorced him. The only thing of worth I took from our marriage was my young daughter. She and I moved to another West Coast city and I spent the next seven years working, raising my daughter - with whom I was extremely close - and living a happy life. Depression, although very subtle, took root and grew during that time, but it wasn't something that impaired my functioning just yet.
In 1989 I developed a herniated disk in my neck, had surgery in May of 1990, and was on pain medication for about a year all told.
Shortly after my surgery, I met a guy who became my weekend drinking buddy. A month later he moved in with us. Not long after I asked my doctor about tapering off the pain medication. He decided to stop me abruptly instead. Just two days later, I was raped; fought like mad, but lost. The next day, I was not only feeling the pain of the assault, but was starting to feel very ill. I didn't realize that it was the absence of pain medication.
My boyfriend had the answer. It was heroin; with much trepidation, I figured I'd try it - once. Right. I quickly became addicted, subsequently losing my home and all of my possessions. My daughter, twelve at the time, went to stay with my father "temporarily, until I get back on my feet". I am still trying to get back on my feet. She grew up, went to college, and now lives her life in yet another West Coast city. Long story short: I was addicted for about nine months, got clean on my own for three years, then met another guy who became my boyfriend for the next ten years. I drank a lot with him and discovered his alcoholism, started using again - behind...? Went into outpatient methadone treatment. When New BF went into inpatient alcohol treatment, I ended up on the street, got kicked off methadone. For 15 months I was strung out, homeless, and alone. Ended up with Hepatitis "C". Contemplated committing suicide, didn't.
Into a rooming house eventually, thanks to my parents, after I told them about my relapse. On waiting list for methadone. Got by. My father died shortly after-- very difficult, still haven't dealt with it, lots of issues, lots of guilt. With some inheritance money, I moved to my current, very large and nice apartment. Back on methadone at the same time, clean ever since. New BF came back after time in treatment and a halfway house. Newly sober, and me newly clean, we had our problems adjusting, but got along well enough. Kept the house neat and tidy, but not compulsively so. One New Year's Eve, he went out "just for cokes" with his old drinking buddy who had a "better" idea. He came home a week later. My hair fell out. Then New BF and I fell out. I put him back into treatment. House started to get iffy; day to day cleaning left until weekends, "non-essentials" let go entirely. New BF came back, sober; after many months of tense politeness we decided to part company amicably, and eventually he moved out to a clean-and-sober house.
Then things really started going to pot: Recycle bin overstuffed, overflowed, spilled out over floor. Dirty clothing piled up, shoved into closet, plants died, and dust settled everywhere. Numerous piles - of mail, of papers, small boxes, books, packaging, etc., and smaller broken items - began to grow.
I had a couple of houseguests for four months. I said "Oh, bring everything....you will want it when you get your new place". They did, but there was so much stuff. They moved out, and left everything that they didn't want: a broken big screen TV and two smaller ones, a broken mini fridge, broken exercise bike and rusted regular bike, four car tires - bald, broken skis, broken microwave, ratty chairs, huge broken lamps, stacks of moldering books, magazines and bricks, boxes and bags of I don't know what, and more. Four years later it is all still here.
As my house got worse, my depression worsened, which worsened the house, and on and on. I eventually lost the use of both my kitchen sink and my stove due to trash, debris, and chaos; the stove has stuff on it nearly to the range hood. I haven't seen the sink or counters now for about three years, the stove for two and a half. My fridge has years of old stuff. I began to create aisles through my house, past piles and stacks of clothing, food containers, packaging, paper trash, dishes with food on them (I finally hid these in the oven), old broken plant pots, still with dirt and dead plants, bags of who knows what and bits and pieces of everything that had come into my home over the past few years. Ashtrays overflowed. I noticed a few little bugs here and there...
A few years ago, a friend died of liver disease. A few months later, his wife (also my friend) joined him, an "accidental" overdose of her sleeping pills. Two month later, my best friend moved to Colorado. We lost touch. Three months later, my "other" best friend moved away. We lost touch. Still reeling from these losses, a few months later I found my "still other" best friend dead in her bed, times five days, gone to permanent sleep from a tortured life on a wave of pills. I haven't dealt with any of this.
During this period I began taking Topamax for depression. For months, the only thing I noticed was that I didn't seem to be sleeping, but days and nights floated by, and things seemed fine. But they weren't. During my time on this medicine, my apartment went from barely liveable to absolutely unliveable, and I didn't notice it happening. Trash bins overflowed, then climbed the walls, things collected everywhere there weren't already things, clothes went completely unwashed. My bathtub backed up, remained uncleaned, was given a sodden, previously smoldering pillow, lots of bloody/snotty tissue and paper towels, and a generous sprinkling of Comet when the stink became unbearable. Cat boxes were emptied, but the bags not removed; they are on my balcony, in my hall, in my bedroom. Everything that entered my home during that time is still here today. My youngest cat developed asthma.
Finally, this past January I went off the Topamax, realizing that something wasn't quite right. After tapering off, I really saw my home clearly for the first time in months, and was struck dumb. It had been horrific before, but now it was just hopeless, and how could I not have realized what I was doing to it on that stupid medication? Since then, it has slowed, but not stopped. I have managed to bag some things up, but the bags have been in my hall for a long time, joining those already there from a few years ago. My kitchen is completely unuseable, my bathroom barely passable. I can use my bathroom sink, but have to be careful not to touch anything on the counter: bottles and jars covered with dust and dead flies, muck and debris, brown sludge and tiny things that dart around. My cat had diarrhea on a pile of laundry; I got it all into a large trash bag, but when it started to stink, I just put it inside two more bags, loaded with baking soda. It sits in the back of the tub.
Personal hygiene is a huge issue for me. I take "sponge" baths and wash my hair with cleansing wipes. Sometimes I can manage to wash something out in the sink to wear, but usually, when my clothes get bad, I just go to the thrift store and buy cheap shirts and pants; socks and undies are purchased new, and I can ill afford it on a low income. My rent is paid (don't be jealous, the money comes via my father's death), but otherwise I live on $339 a month - welfare. I buy deodorant, cleansing wipes, body powder and baking soda to keep from stinking. I have never lived like that! I am just so very tired all the time.
No one has been to my home since my houseguests left four years ago. My cats freak if someone - I never know who - knocks at the door, and my heart pounds until I hear the footfalls going away. I have lived in fear of someone having to get in for an emergency; a fire, a burst pipe....what if I become ill or injured? About a month ago, my worst fear was realized, when I came home to find my bathroom flooded from a toilet overflow. The water had leaked downstairs, and as I frantically tried to sop up the mess, I heard the knock. Then, "Centime? It's your Landlord.... I need to check the bathroom. Are you having a problem?" "S'okay, LL, I'm taking care of it, s'just some water on the floor...." (Audible sigh) "Centime, I need to get in to check it..." As I opened the door, I said, "Then, LL, I need to talk to you about my apartment..." I rapidly tried to explain all of how it came to be like it is, as he concerned himself with the plumbing. Bless his heart, all he said was "This isn't healthy....you need to get well [my depression], and get this taken care of, for your own sake. I won't tell anyone, and don't feel humiliated [as I had said I did]....lots of people go through things beyond their control, and you just concentrate on getting better...."
After that, I knew I had to fix things, but for the next month, all I did was sink further and further into depression, losing my appetite (how could I even have one in that house?), not sleeping (on a sheetless, lumpy bed with a filthy pillow?), and panicking every day about how I would do it all, angry that I couldn't and not understanding why. My drug counselor at the rehab program is wonderful, and she made some helpful suggestions, but they seemed unreachable at this time. Finally, at my wits' end with thoughts of the relief at the end of life, I entered "filthy living" in the search box of my browser, and found Squalor Survivors....
That was two days ago, and I am excited, relieved, hopeful, scared, tired and thankful, for starters. All the people I have found so far have been so understanding and accepting, helpful and insightful, honest and realistic. I understand so much more about how and why this happened, and I am not even all the way through the site yet. I have a lot of work ahead of me, but for the first time, I feel I can face it. Now I step into my new beginning with my head high, scrub brush in hand, ready to unpack the vacuum cleaner I bought a year ago. A heart full of gratitude goes out to you all. I am ready.
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