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The Ongoing Gifts of the Flood of 2016

The flood gave and the flood took away.

Are you currently rebuilding your house? So many of us in the greater Baton Rouge area (my family included) are still waist deep in the process of rebuilding our flooded homes. We’re now six months post-flood…which in some ways seems like a lifetime ago but some aspects will always seem like they happened yesterday.

The Flood Gave.

At Spring Life Counseling, LLC I am still seeing a big influx of clients for whom the flood was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The flood waters either exacerbated pre-existing issues beyond people’s ability to cope, or it exposed issues that were hiding in the dark. People aren’t necessarily coming in to talk about the trauma of wading through the waters as much as how the flood has taxed them beyond their abilities to keep their marriages, their families or their own selves afloat.

Substance abuse, sexual addictions, anxiety, depression, debt, angry teens, codependency, memories of past traumas, intense marital arguments over the color of the paint (that are really about how one of you never really feels heard or respected)…you name it…the flood has exposed it. That is one of the gifts of the flood. For issues coming to the surface so that they can be addressed, I suppose we ought to be thankful, but while you’re in the midst of the muck, it’s really hard to see the silver lining.

The Flood Took Away.

Along with bringing some things to light, it also took away some things from us. It took away convenience. Security. Coping strategies. Jobs. Normalcy. A sense of home. The list goes on.

When things come to the light, it’s an immediate step towards health. It doesn’t feel good, but you’re better off for it. The next steps are crucial. Seeking the help of a professional counselor can be crucial in getting you from exposure of an issue or wound to walking through the healing process.

When things are taken away from us, we need to grieve them and seek to find a new sense of normalcy. It’s 6 months after but for many the process of dealing with the unexpected and unwanted gifts of the flood is still in the beginning stages.

The best thing you can do after a tragedy is to connect with others. Connection is the antidote for a lot of the wounds of trauma. There is no reason you have to walk through this season alone.

If you think you may need some help talking through some of the issues mentioned in this post, please contact me. I have offices in Livingston Parish and Baton Rouge.

For those who are interested, here is a post I wrote about how I’m praying for those of us affected by the flood.

The Great Flood of 2016: How We Get Through This

meadowlark

In the last few weeks, so much of what makes our lives “normal” in the greater Baton Rouge area has been smashed to a million tiny pieces. Everything…and I mean everything…has changed. Everything is hard. Nothing is right. It has stretched us beyond what most of us thought we could endure. This entire region has experienced a trauma the likes of which few have ever lived through.

Yet here we are. Here you sit using your phone, tablet or computer, reading this blog. Many of us have survived a reality that made our worst nightmares seem like a walk in the park. Yet here we are.

I began my therapy career in 2006 with a counseling practice called Counseling Services of New Orleans, Inc. My first clients to ever counsel were in the throes of “post-Katrina syndrome.” I, myself, had evacuated the rent house I shared with fellow graduate students off of Carondelet in the beautiful Garden District in NOLA. It was over a month before I was able to return home to see what few possessions I still had to my name. The next few years I spent burning up I-10, driving back and forth from Baton Rouge to New Orleans, finishing my masters program and seeing clients. Walking with people through the same trauma I experienced.

And here I am again.

Flooded. Broken. Mending. Seeking to offer empathy and to be a support for a painful situation that I feel oddly equipped to handle.

Since experience is the best teacher, here are some things I’ve learned from losing everything (twice) and through helping others walk through this process.

Time markers and clarity. For those of us who were around for Katrina, we have this simple way of categorizing our lives: before and after Katrina. There are very few events in life that drop such a big time marker down in the middle of your life like that. People may use that type of language after the death of an extremely close loved one, like a child or spouse, or if they came to faith late in life.  Now, we all will have this new time marker: pre and post flood.  The thing about these time markers is that they bring a lot of clarity. Not only does it order our lives chronologically, it also tends to clarify our priorities. Let this flood help you see your life through a simpler, clearer lens than ever before. Take it for the clean slate that it is meant to be.

Same problems, different day. If you were having difficulties in your marriage prior to the flood, you may have experienced a brief cooling of the tensions but that’s probably worn off by now and you’re arguing at levels that are bigger and worse than before. Whatever limits you’d run into with your parenting abilities before the flood, those are heightened now. Substance abuse problem that you were trying to “handle” before? The cat’s out of the bag now. Were you easily angered before? Angry at God before all this went down? Money management issues? Watch out, friend! Everything that was an issue before…let’s just say that the flood waters were flammable and the stress of this situation will light your issues on fire. You might have been “getting by” with some of these issues for a while, but by this point you’ve exceeded your capacity to handle it on your own. Come get some help. Let the flood be used to bring health and freedom into your life. Contact me because I’d love to walk with you through what is holding you back from the life you’ve always wanted.

New trauma brings up old trauma. When you experience a new trauma (for instance, having to be rescued by the Cajun Navy and taken to a make-shift shelter), you are often able to access other trauma memories that you typically attempt to not think about much. If your memories all live in the same building, trauma all lives on the same hallway. Once you’re in the hallway, you can typically access the other rooms as well, even if it’s difficult to do so on a regular day. So after Katrina, I’d meet with people who had experienced the hurricane and then remembered old sexual abuse from childhood. If you’re experiencing something like this, it’s totally normal and how your brain is designed to work, but you shouldn’t have to walk through that alone. I’d love to help.

Self-care. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times, “This is a marathon, not a sprint.” In a sprint, you just put your head down and do the thing. A marathon requires more strategy and refueling along the way. If you haven’t experienced this reality already, you will soon: you can’t just rebuild 24/7. There are set-backs, waiting periods, back orders, yes. But even if those frustrations weren’t in play, the process of rebuilding your home is so emotionally taxing that you must focus on self-care intermittently, or you will lose it. Lose your pleasant personality. Lose your cool. Lose your grip on what’s most important. Everything. We have to force ourselves to take time off from rebuilding every so often or else you won’t have what it takes to finish strong…in whatever way you’d define that. Even if your home didn’t flood, you need to take breaks in helping others, too. We all need to take care of ourselves so that we can take care of our kids, our spouses, our parents, our neighbors. If we don’t take care of ourselves, we can’t take care of anyone else for very long. A few months ago I wrote blogs on grieving well here and here. We are all grieving right now. Make sure you’re doing your best to process it well instead of numb the pain or suppress it. Also, if you just need a reminder of why and how to fight for joy, check out this old post as well.

Connection. Listen up because this is very important. The research indicates that the best way to battle the despair of a tragedy and to combat traumatic stress (post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD) is to refuse to go through the aftermath alone. Share your stories of how you got out of your house. Share the logistics and the emotions. Share your frustrations. Share your fears. Share the stuff that makes you wonder if you’re “crazy” to think. Share what’s keeping you up at night. Find someone you trust and force yourself to share. It is a safeguard to you emotionally and it is a safeguard to them as well. People need to know that they aren’t alone. People need to know that they are needed. If your home didn’t flood, don’t be afraid to ask questions and follow up when you’re able. Become awesome at listening with empathy. By sharing our stories, we connect in a real and tangible way, and do ourselves and each other a world of good for our bodies, minds and souls.

If you’re having a difficult time feeling like you’re managing your life following the flood, I’d really love to meet with you. I’ve been “here” before and I want to help see you through to the other side of this crisis. My Walker and Denham Springs offices have both flooded, but I have a new office on Old Hammond and I still have my mid-city office off Government Street. I’m offering a discount to those who have been directly impacted by the flooding, and I am still in-network with Blue Cross and Blue Shield insurance. In terms of reaching out for help, the sooner you do, the better. Don’t wait to get the support you need. Lots of people are having reactions that would be considered “abnormal” in our pre-flood world. But we’re all just responding the best we can to a totally abnormal situation. It’s ok not to be ok, but you don’t have to be there alone.
PHOTO CREDIT: Kimberly Meadowlark, Meadowlark Artistry: Faces of the Floodwater Collection.

A Christian Response to The Tragedies of Summer 2016

After a summer of senseless shootings, gorillas and gators killing kids in safe spaces, and discovering all around depressing and horrific news every time I open my Facebook app, I feel like I can’t post another blog until I tackle this question: how should we respond when awful stuff happens to someone else?

In the Christian community, we occassionally get things really right in the face of tragedy. We shine especially well in the face of natural disasters. But when things get a little more politically or emotionally charged, we have a tendency to get…a little weird, at best or damaging, at worst. Whether the tragedy or loss is large scale (like the Pulse Night Club shootings in Orlando) or small scale (like your neighbor’s mom being diagnoses with a disease), we can often respond in a way that does more harm than good, despite our intentions.

Well meaning people use platitudes like “everything happens for a reason” or even “I’ll pray for you,” as a defense mechanism, so they don’t have to wrestle with the wretchedness of a given circumstance. The goal here is to lessen the blow, and I understand the desire to want to do that, but I submit that feeling the weight of the tragedy is exactly what we all need to do. There is purpose to the weight, and healing comes through letting the weight rest on us and not discarding or minimizing it in any way, or through any shallow platitude.

If there is a reason to be had as to why awful things happen, it is this: the world in its current state is not as God originally intended. The reason that bad things happen is that the world is broken, and has been broken since Adam exercised his free will and out of his fear and mistrust, acted outside of God’s plan for the world.
Sin and death entered the world and brought with them things like hurricanes, cancer, hate crimes and apathy.
This is not what was intended, and as a Christian, I believe this is not what WILL be. But it’s where we’re at today.

Christians that respond to these tragedies with platitudes of “God has a plan” or “I’ll pray for you” miss the point entirely. Statements like that come across as aloof, disconnected, irrelevant and uncaring…the opposite of God’s response to pain and suffering. God has never been anything but with us and present in times of tragedy. He rejoices with those who rejoice and mourns with those who mourn, and what is more, knows when to engage in each option perfectly as each person and circumstance merits.

When Christ returns…whenever that may be, He will make things right once again and for good. He will restore beauty from ashes and undo the consequences of the wrong that we have done and what has been done to us. He will bring justice and healing and true and lasting peace. Both externally (nature) and internally (even emotions and strife, I believe). That is the ultimate hope of Christianity.

But let’s be real…who knows when that will be?

The hope of Christianity NOW is for all people, but especially Christians, to lead the charge of this redemptive work of “making the fullness of God be reflected on earth as it is in heaven.” Hate crimes are not God’s fullness. People feeling afraid to live their lives is not God’s fullness. Tornadoes are not God’s fullness. The part of us that rises up and says, “This is not how things should be, I want to help,” is a reflection of the image of God inside of ALL of us.

Treating everyone with the respect and compassion that is due each human being is a foreshadowing of what is to come. When we do this, we are engaged in the work of making things on earth as they are in heaven. Not judging moms for accidents is a foreshadowing. Fighting for everyone to feel safe is a foreshadowing. Making sure every child has a loving home is a foreshadowing. I could go on and on and on. Here’s an outside of the box example of Christians being compassionate and protective. Most of us have opportunity to do something much simpler than this, but just wanted to give it as an example of something kind!

The bottom line for me is this: most of the things that are a foreshadowing of Jesus returning and everything being made right involve action and using your voice, and not prayer alone. The point of truly joining in the loss as best we can and feeling all that is shaken within us when tragedy strikes is that once we can identify with the loss, the “wrongness” of it points us back to the need for Jesus, and Jesus points us on to joining him in restoration work.

Those who are directly involved in these tragedies may be thankful for your prayers, but would also appreciate your voice and action to fight injustice. This could look a thousand different ways, but it’s each person’s responsibility to figure out what that looks like for them and then to do it. Christian’s have done so much to damage our own reputation by how we deal with wrong doing in the world. Let’s refuse to meet tragedy and injustice with empty statements that reveal our own discomfort and diminish the weight of the grief of loss. Rather, let’s be brave and use our words and deeds to work towards the restorative process in making all things new, as it once was and it will be again one day.

If these tragedies, or any element of loss, grief, injustice or the like is something you’d like to process in therapy, please contact me. We are all in this together.