Still sitting in my mother’s beautiful art studio, now surrounded by “organized” piles of clothes and toys on the floor, I continue to feel the impact of the prolonged floodwaters in Minden. Learning the news that it would be another two weeks for the waters to recede; feeling the magnitude of what that means for me, for my neighbours and for people whose houses are under water, was palpable. Returning home to tell my girls the news, comforting them while they cried themselves to sleep, reassuring them as they woke with their fears and desires to sleep in their own beds, that this “adventure” was not fun anymore, was heartbreaking. Experiencing the generosity of family and friends, overwhelming.
There is no doubt that in times of trouble, goodness and generosity flows out of you and me creating a sense of community that we often take for granted. Businesses are doing everything they can to offset costs for people and offering discounts to the many of us who are displaced from our homes. Friends and family are generously offering places for people to stay. Money and donations are already flowing. There has been no shortage of generosity within this very difficult situation and it has been an incredible experience for my girls to witness.
For my part, I am thankful to my friends near and far for their love and emotional support. I am thankful to my parents for letting the girls and I stay in their home for such an extended period of time and for the generous use of their vehicle. I thank the Pinestone for their extended special rate offered to evacuees; thereby giving me the opportunity to have a break with my girls and offset a little of the stress we are under. I thank Bill for his incredible generosity. I thank the staff at HHSS for their generosity and care package. I am grateful to have incredible neighbours with whom I share this challenging experience that has brought us closer together. I am grateful that my house is still standing, my sump pump is still working, and my basement is still dry. I am grateful that this experience, that brings with it emotional angst and pain, will also lead the way to new opportunities. I am overwhelmed with gratitude.
But for the first time I have to acknowledge that despite that gratitude, I feel emotionally swamped, like my emotional wiring is short-circuiting. I am a proud independent woman. I am used to giving, to helping others ease their emotional pain and angst. And I realize now that I struggle with accepting the help of others without feeling guilt, feeling indebted. I do not feel worthy, because there are so many others who have less. I do not feel like I have a right to feel the emotional pain I am experiencing, because there are so many others who are worse off. I do not know how to release my own pain, let alone how to do so outside of the privacy of my home, alone. And I cannot go home.
So that begs the question, how do we express emotions maturely when we don’t know how; when we are used to suffering behind closed doors? Here are the first three steps I am taking:
The first is to acknowledge that it is completely understandable how I am feeling. I do not need to justify, to myself or to others, why I am struggling. I am trying hard to be kind to myself in my thoughts as I undo the old trappings of guilt that for me go hand in hand with gratitude.
The second step is to freely express my feelings in front of others. Mine tend to come in the form of tears, and like the flooding river, I feel I have flooded myself daily. These tears come at the oddest times and the triggers seemingly have nothing to do with the flood, but I am trying to let them flow when the feeling hits as opposed to suppressing them. My floodgates have broken, unlike the dams that are gratefully holding the waters back.
The third is mental health counseling. I am trying to be brave and accept that I need help with the emotional side of this experience. I am trying to undo fears that if you seek counseling there is something wrong with you; that you are not strong enough or grateful enough; that people are going to think that there is something wrong with you; that your employer will fire you because you need time off work to emotionally deal and heal; that you are a failure on all levels; that you are weak because you can’t handle it.
I am a positive person. I have a tonne of coping mechanisms in place. I am trained to find the silver lining in every dark cloud. This experience holds no exception to that reality. But I am learning that a disaster, and now a prolonged disaster, plays on the inner workings of your mind and heart, pulling up things you buried in the basement beneath the foundation. And I do not believe that I am alone. As all of this settles out, one of the recommendations that I will make for disaster relief is free mental health counseling.
I want to show my children that it is okay to feel “bad”; that it is okay to get help. They are feeling this stress too. They too are displaced, worried. They need to cry, to get angry, to play, to love. They need attention. They are learning from us and I want them to learn that there is no shame in expressing their emotions. That it is vital to take care of their mental health.
I am grateful for this experience that we are sharing because there is an immense amount of goodness in this community and the world, something that is very easy to lose sight of in our every day lives. I am grateful to the peace that flows like a river, flowing out of you and me.
Finally I write from in my makeshift porch writing studio. I am staring out at the substantially lowered, peacefully flowing Gull river. As I review what is “Flowing Out of You and Me,” I ponder the events of the past week and the desert; the desert where these beautiful waters are flowing.
As I continue to feel the intense gratitude for all that is this difficult experience, I cannot help but acknowledge the anger and frustration and realizations that are coming to light as the ground around me begins to dry. I am angered by the cold and callous policies of this system we have so carefully crafted to keep us protected and to help us in our time of need. I am frustrated by the people in positions power, who enforce these insensitive policies, while in the same breath acknowledge that the policies are broken, touting the standard lines: “but that is just the way it is; there is nothing that I can do; I’m just the messenger.” Or, “an investigation will be had to look into the matter. I will see to that personally,” which is laden with, “later, at your expense again, which won’t help you now, vote for me.” And my personal favourite, “We appreciate what you are going through and how difficult this must be, but…” But no you don’t, because if you truly appreciated what we were going through, you’d be moving water, pun intended, to help us out. This is our thanks for supporting and believing in a system that is meant to help you and me.
Now it is very easy to get riled in anger and vent and complain and spin in the ridiculousness that is this system. I mean really, who came up with a disaster relief program that requires the people who have suffered the disaster, the people who have lost everything, to fundraise for their own relief?!?! We did. Ladies and Gentlemen, we are the system. We have allowed these very policies to be written, all in the name of protecting ourselves from fraudulent people, people who will abuse the system. We have fostered the belief that everyone is trying to get something out of the system; that people in power are in it for themselves; that basic human nature is corrupt. We have allowed ourselves to become complacent. We have bought into the belief that we are just one person and there is nothing that we can do. We have created a life that is so busy that we don’t have the time or inclination to do anything but complain of all the things that are wrong with the system, of the things that need changing. But when asked what you are doing to affect change, in the hour of action, exhaustion sets in and the excuses roll out. We have accepted the life of the victim.
That was a difficult realization for me to face when it washed over me. Like many, I have sat at the kitchen table, the coffee table, the lunch table, the bar, wherever discussing the “if only” this and “if only” that. What “so and so” should do and the “can you believe it” criticisms and complaints. I have railed at injustices and rolled my eyes at the “here we go again.” I have stood on my soapbox so often I could fund the flood relief program and rebuild Minden.
And on that soapbox, I have long since questioned the approach that we write policies with the underlying belief that people are out to take advantage of the system. Maybe I have a naïve perspective of humanity, but I have always believed that 95% of society is good, caring, hardworking people. Yet I feel like rules and policies do not reflect that reality. Rules and policies make me feel like I have to constantly prove that I am a good, caring, honest person. Throughout the entirety of the flood, I took pictures, 186 to be exact, to prove that I was indeed impacted by this flood. That I wasn’t making it up. That I have a right to be upset and hurt and going through this emotional upheaval. Sadly the pictures are not enough. On top of that I have to fill out form after form after form and continue to feel that I must prove that I am impacted.
But who is really feeling the weight of that impact? The impact of that wait. My children, our children. They hear our conversations. They feel our frustrations. And they wonder, what will happen next? What are we going to do about it? How can we be the system and not be able to change the system? They ask the tough questions. The motivating questions. The ones that force us to end the chain of complacency. The ones that make me get off my soapbox, move into action and make difficult change.
Our children are of the good, decent people of this community. They will watch us raise money and put our town back together despite the arid adversity of the system. They will watch us lead to way to strike policy. They will witness how to affect change as opposed to complain. They will feel the empowerment of compassion and community. They will see that despite the harsh desert of policy and system that we have created, we have the water that flows out of our goodness to create an oasis of change.
Free…what does it mean to be free? According to the Compact Oxford English Dictionary, the first meaning of “free” is to be “able to do what one wants; not under the control of anyone else,” and “captive” means “imprisoned or confined; not free to choose an alternative.”
Three months have passed since the beginning of the flood. For three months I have contemplated the meaning of the words “free” and “captive” in relation to my feelings and experiences surrounding the flood that began on April 19, 2013.
Three months have passed since the “Peace is Flowing Like a River” article was published. The middle articles of this series, “Flowing Out of You and Me” and “Flowing Out into the Desert” have been written, but due to employment circumstances, I had to make the difficult choice of not publishing them.
Life has returned to normal in Minden and the season of relaxing summer floats down the river has begun. The sand bags have been cleared. The river walk has been dusted off. Most of the basement debris from flooded homes, the ones people could return to, has been dumped. Driving through town one would never know that our beautiful Gull River immersed Minden with its waters; that there are still flood evacuees who have not been able to return home; that although we have fixed up our front yards, our facades, the insides of our homes and our selves remain a mess.
For most, memories of the flood are receding with its waters. I’m speculating that some people are tired of fundraisers for Minden Flood Relief and reading about this ODRAP program with its two for one cash possibility. I’m speculating that some are thinking that people should move on. The town looks good. The houses look habitable. They’ve done their part; they’ve got problems of their own. Let’s get back to work, stop talking about it, enjoy the summer, and all will be fine. Fine for them perhaps, but for the people directly impacted, the real work and pain has settled in, holding them captive.
So to the people of Minden and our surrounding area, I ask your continued support and patience for the proud people who are suffering a loss of freedom, who are feeling trapped financially and otherwise by this circumstance. Believe me, if it was as easy as getting back to work, stopping talking about it, and enjoying the summer, we would all do it. In a heartbeat.
And we are trying. But the reality is the weight of the damages in dollars and cents, the weight of our financial security or insecurity, the weight of what was lost, the weight of the time it will take to put our homes back together, hold people captive. The realization of memories lost, the items that have value to us and us alone, the true weight of the pasts we tried to save, leave behind, ignore, or hide in the basement, painfully hold people captive. As do the difficult decisions and choices we have to make as we try to salvage the pieces, and cope with the mental and emotional struggles and frustrations. We are trying to find hope, make change and free ourselves from this unexpected captivity.
And I am still wrestling with the last line and title of this last article, “Setting All the Captives Free.” I am wrestling with the freedom that this flood promises to bring. I know it is there; I can feel it. I can feel it like I can feel the wind on my face, but I cannot actually touch it. It is ever elusive, yet ever present and I feel it most in the depths of my despair, in those moments when I realize I have never believed myself good enough, responsible enough, capable enough, strong enough. When I realize that my inner critic is actually my inner bully from my childhood days, the one who continually criticized and judged every step I took or even thought of taking. The one who anchored me with so much guilt and insecurity that I closed myself off from feeling altogether, and like a sheep, followed what everyone, especially my inner bully, told me I was supposed to do to make myself happy and to make everyone else happy. The one that told me I was selfish to think of myself before others. The one that kept me chained to a life I was too afraid to leave.
Well now I want to leave that chained life, the one I now realize was built on fear. For me the flood undermined my inner foundation and the beliefs with which it was built. The flood put everything into question, work, relationships, faith, prompting me to make changes I did not have the courage to make otherwise. I am approaching this inner foundation restructuring as an opportunity for true emotional freedom. It is proving to be a very painful journey, but one, I believe, will be well worth it. There is courage in change and I am letting my girls see my pain and joy and fear and love as we float these waters.
To all of us held captive by our fears and insecurities, may we feel the elusive lessons of the river. May we find the peace it brings, share it with others, bring it to the world, and set ourselves free to be.
MINDEN, ONTARIO, CANADA TELEPHONE 705.854.0243