(Photo: Memo to self, must gather nuts, must gather nuts…)
Over a plate of drunken noodles is a very strange place to have an epiphany. But yesterday was no ordinary day, so I didn’t argue. In Washington, tucked in the back of a Thai restaurant in Adams-Morgan, I called my friend, Tom. As I watched the drunken noodles slowly disappear, I confided in Tom about my past. We talked about a childhood spent on Welfare in a working-class neighborhood of Queens, raised by a single mom and warring older siblings, running on poverty, worried how long the wait would be until the next money would arrive. Or meal. Or measure of love. And terrified the wait would be lengthy.
I finished eating the noodles; I was full. But the noodles left on my plate told me I sure as hell wasn’t done. I don’t have an eating disorder, yet I still felt an incredible urge to clean my plate. And then it hit me: I’m a hoarder.
Now anyone seeing my house wouldn’t believe that, mind you. I like to live light. A series of successive moves has taught me to throw out what I don’t use, give away what I can’t keep, cash-in what I no longer want to carry. My move home to NYC will be, essentially, a few boxes, a computer, and a cat (well, and me, of course). But that’s not the kind of hoarding my plate of noodles was trying to tell me about.
Over the weekend, I discovered the crux of my emotional recovery: learning to separate desire from need. I spent every moment of yesterday questioning my motives, words, and actions. Throughout the day, I found a lot to question. From twenty-minute conversations with friends to twenty-second transactions to buy coffee, I quickly discovered my need for validation trying to edge out my natural self-confidence as the driving force in my daily activities. And finally seeing the power-struggle that has probably been going on inside of me since childhood, boy was my self-confidence pissed.
I came to a few conclusions during my day of discovery:
–Phone conversations with friends shouldn’t always end with hearing, “OK, let me go now.”
–Abilities and income should cause celebration, not fear of failure.
–Nobody really has a “dessert stomach”.
–Lovers are there for happiness, not comfort.
–And a clean plate isn’t necessarily a happy plate.
It’s a fabulous realization. I’m 36, and I’m finally beginning to see the difference between need and, really, everything else in my life. All of this flashed through my head as I continued my conversation with Tom. I paused for a moment, pondered my childhood, and got it.
“Tom, I’m a hoarder.”
“Well, now that you know, you don’t have to be that way anymore. Now that you know, you can fight. And you can win.”
I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to push away my plate of remaining noodles or bring them home and bronze them. In the end, I left them right where they were. And for the first time in days, I smiled. Ear to ear. I’ll have a lot to discuss with a therapist back in Chicago.
As you might imagine, I did not stick around for dessert.
Michael Thaddeus Doyle
I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.