October 26, 2017

A Harvey Refugee Story - Creating a Home Where You Can

You become untethered from the routines, the comfortable spaces and the people who make your life feel normal

When Harvey came to Houston, overnight people lost their homes, their cars, their belongings, but more than that, the floods took their sense of security and displaced their communities. Overnight people became untethered from the routines, the comfortable spaces and the people who made their lives feel normal. 

Before I came up to speak, singer/songwriter Sandra McCraken sang her song "Refugee."  The chorus "Welcome home, gather round. All you refugees come in." It is a reference to coming home spiritually, eternally, but it speaks to what all of those who are displaced long for - the comforts and sense of belonging that you get from coming home.

We wander, like refugees, till we can get back home

After Harvey, we were displaced, as were so many of our friends and neighbors. People are scattered all over the city. There is not one place that we can call home, at least not for now. We have tried to make our new place feel as comfortable as we can because we do not know how long we will be there. But I still feel like a tourist, on a journey I did not choose, with no real road map and no sense of our final destination. We wander, like refugees, till we can get back home.

This sense of being displaced can be very disorienting. If you are going through it, you know that there is a steep learning curve. In our regular life, we know where to get groceries, how to get from point A to point B, who to ask if we need help, where to vote, where I keep my sweaters when it gets cold. But now, I have to think and look up even the most basic information. It all takes emotional effort and time, both of which are in short supply these days.


Your relationships will take a hit

That drain and strain on our emotional energy will take its toll on your relationships. You are likely more cranky and short tempered. You may become angry or tearful and depressed from events that seem insignificant  A natural disaster or other traumatic events can cause significant strain on your marriage. And in the brokenness of our relationships, we can feel displaced. When that interpersonal conflict exists, it is hard to find a home, a refuge in your partner. They are not themselves and neither are you. 

All of this is normal. Your reaction to the trauma of the floods is normal. And it will not last forever. Be compassionate with yourself when you are struggling and bumbling through recovery. Small things will feel like a big deal. Find what you can control. Make plans and change them as needed. Find what is comforting to you and do more of that. 

There is not just one things you can do to feel at peace. But my encouragement is to learn daily to find joy in the now. Don't wait and hold off till you can rebuild, till you can get to your physical home. 

Finding your way back home - Peace in the moment

Our minds have a powerful ability to help us feel good or bad. It is not only our circumstances, but more importantly our perceptions that can affect our moods. If I tell myself that we will never get home and life will always feel hard. If I focus instead on the progress of the day (however small it may be), or if I focus on the beautiful cool water and learn to give thanks in the moment for that small gift, I will likely feel more optimistic. 

I talked about the effects of gratitude in this blog post. There is a lot of research to support how transformative it is for people to intentionally express gratitude. Robert Emmons, professor of psychology at the University of California-Davis, has noted that practicing gratitude in a systematic way can actually change people by changing brains that are "wired for negativity, for noticing gaps and omissions." He explains, "When you express a feeling, you amplify it. When you express anger, you become angrier: When you express gratitude, you become more grateful." This expression of gratitude has been shown to boost emotional health as well as physical health.
This is a hard journey. Don't go it alone. Reach out to friends and family. People love you and want to help. It may also be useful to talk to a professional counselor. At Wilson Counseling, we have Houston based therapists who are available. If you want to know more about this, please call us at 713 - 591- 3612 or you can learn more on our website at www. wilsoncounseling. org.