By Sara Holmberg
Life as a teenager is often chaotic and confusing. When the home — usually the most controllable, supportive place in teens’ lives — is bursting with piles of clutter, it can get downright overwhelming. And the fear that your family’s dirty secret will be revealed can stay with you for a lifetime.
There are estimated to be millions of hoarders in the United States. Their families suffer along with them. Children of hoarders say it’s difficult for others to understand the weirdness of growing up this way, with parents who seem to love their junk more than their children.
And, strangely, the children often feel that they’re to blame. According to a recent survey by psychologist Dr. Suzanne Chabaud, almost half of the adult children of hoarders suffer from feelings of guilt and shame and are frequently depressed.
It’s no wonder. They spent childhoods haunted by very real fears of the house burning down or of getting sick from rats, cockroaches, fleas or mold. They were worried about smelling funny at school, having no friends — even being taken from their parents by authorities.
Adult children of hoarders say while it’s hard to let go of these feelings, children of hoarders should see that it is not your fault, put your needs first and remember that life gets better after you leave home.
Take Jessie Sholl, one of several adult children of hoarders “20/20″ spoke with. Sholl, now in her early 40s, gets a thrill from throwing away an empty shampoo bottle. Paige, another, is no longer afraid to bring friends home.
Watch Sholl’s emotional return to her childhood home below, and watch the full story on “20/20: My Extreme Affliction” TONIGHT at 9 p.m. ET.