The Trauma Cleaner

The smell hits me before my eyes adjust to the dimly filtered light. The stench of piss, of musty damp and rotting food. There are floorboards beneath my feet, I can’t see them but I can hear their muffled creaks under the junk mail, scraps of paper and old wrappers that line the floor, clumped together in some parts, sticky in others. There is mould growing on the walls, if I look closer, I can see traces of cockroaches. The kitchen cupboards are rotting – water stains – maybe there’s a problem with the plumbing. Every surface is covered in dirty food containers, plastic bags, empty jars – furry mould now growing over the final remnants of jam.

In some places in the house the furniture intertwines with the papers, rubbish, broken keepsakes until it’s waist high. It’s hard to tell where the house ends, and the hoarding begins. Towers of books and magazines turn, what I imagine to be large rooms, into mazes, little nooks, where I am sure mice nest and rats scurry.

I’ve never been inside a hoarder’s home, but I’ve watched tours of them on TV and as the camera pans around the dank spaces I can smell the filth, I can feel the bugs crawling on my skin. I read The Trauma Cleaner, by Sarah Krasnostein, (most AMAZING book – highly recommend) – with every page I could feel Sandra taking me by the hand and walking me through the decay, through the break down, the madness personified.

“Hoarding does not discriminate on the basis of income or intellect.”
― Sarah Krasnostein, The Trauma Cleaner

When I watch hoarding shows the moment that always breaks me is how hard these beautiful desperate souls will fight to hold onto their treasure…treasure that most other people would call trash. A broken piece of pottery, an old milk carton, an empty DVD case…they can’t let go. Grown adults reduced to tears and tantrums – their world pulled apart every time someone touches anything.

I know that space. I know that pain.

“what chips some people like a mug, cracks others like an egg.”
― Sarah Krasnostein, The Trauma Cleaner

I imagine my inner self as a house. My heart, my mind, my soul, my identify, my self-esteem all rooms inside this beautiful little house. Every day different people walk in through the front door and drop a bag of rubbish, a cruel word, their opinion of me, abuse, trauma, gossip, cutting remarks, disappointments, loss, grief, pain, discouragement, negativity, thoughtlessness, bad news.

Day in, day out, I am littered with filth.

I never throw anything away. I don’t see these deliveries as trash, I see them as treasure. I believe the abuse is something I need to own so I set about finding a cupboard to keep it in, I believe the gossip is true so I find a frame for it, I believe the opinions, the cutting remarks, the negative thinking – it becomes myself talk, songs I sing to myself while I walk around my little home.

I believe everything that it delivered to my house is something I’m being given…after a while I believe it’s what I deserve, and then it becomes my treasure.

I hold onto lies because they are my truth, my treasure.
I hold onto trauma because it’s my story, my treasure.
I hold onto abuse because it’s my worth, my treasure.

More and more the rubbish floods in until I can no longer see the floor, until the sunlight can’t squeeze in through the window, until every room is full – floor to ceiling, crammed shut.

I didn’t know I was a hoarder until I stopped hoarding.

‘Do you think you’re a selfish person’ the counsellor asked me.

I picked up that first label, that first scrap of rubbish with the words ‘selfish person’ scrawled across it and I looked at it, turning it over, my treasure…my treasure…my treasure isn’t real. This label is in my house but it’s not who I am.

With two hands I carried that little label out of my house, I opened the wheelie bin and let it flutter to the bottom, closed the lid and walked away.

I walked back inside. Another label, another trip to the bin. Then another, then another.

Some rubbish was easy to throw away, some wasn’t.

Cleaning out the identity room was hard, clearing out the self-esteem room was harder.

Rejecting the things that were untrue, cleaning out wounds, holding space for grief, validating emotions, nurturing, reconciling, mending, learning, growing…even flourishing.

I wasn’t just working through the things that I already had in my house – I was discovering what to do when new rubbish bags arrived. Installing my white picket boundaries, getting a guard dog, putting a lock on my front door. Placing value on my home, on the things that belonged inside. Holding up my hand and saying ‘no’.

“The opposite of trauma is not the absence of trauma. The opposite of trauma is order, proportion. It is everything in its place. It is one long green couch in a sunlit corner, looking like it was built for the space and waiting for you. It is an act of wilful seeing, a conscious choice about perspective.”
― Sarah Krasnostein, The Trauma Cleaner

So focused on cleaning, clearing, cleansing I didn’t even pay attention to my final trip to the rubbish bin.

I walked back inside, ready to pick something else up, and there was nothing left…no more walls to scrub or lightbulbs to repair.

Everything is still. My mind is still, my heart is still, my soul is still. There’s a low hum that sounds like joy.

The doorbell rings, it’s more rubbish, more anxiety, more negative thoughts, more mistakes, more trauma…I don’t bring it inside. I empty the bag on my porch, expertly sorting through the pieces, separating the lessons from the trash, the wisdom from the dark.

Slipping the pearls in my pocket I bundle up the rest, place it in the bin, wheel the bin to the curb…walk back inside my front gate, past my garden, up the tidy steps, into my peace-at-last inner world.

[Art by Katie Wilson]

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