The Road to Recovery, One Year Later

I have been so fortunate to meet so many people during the past year; one of them is an individual who has worked with natural disaster survivors as a therapist and who now is involved in research on the long-term psychological impacts of these events. We have talked many times since May 3, 2016, and in one of our recent conversations we discussed the looming “one year later” date and some thoughts on how this date played into recovery.

There are many different facets of recovery; there is the collective and community recovery, and there is the individual recovery. My friend and unofficial therapist offered me some thoughts on ways for me to cope with the upcoming day, based on things they have seen in the past.

They tell me it’s not a “one size fits all” solution, and that what they offer as advice may not work for everyone. Or that only bits and pieces will work, and that every person needs to find what works for them.

Their one emphasis, though, was the ability to get through this together, as the strength of individuals is always maximized when they have the ability and opportunity to connect with others.

Natural disasters, like any trauma, can be isolating. It is in this isolation that the peril lies, as it can foster feelings of anxiety and depression. Connection, whether with another individual, a group or even nature, can help people to overcome feelings of isolation.

The standard recipe for good mental health still applies: adequate rest, nutritious food and some form of exercise. In addition, though, my friend (therapist? counsellor? recovery guru?) talked to me about the following and how they could play into my life over the next few days and weeks.

I wanted to share them in case others find value in them; that is part of recovery too, sharing what we have learned or come to understand in the hope that it may help someone else.

The primary thing to remember is that recovery comes with no timetable or schedule, and is as unique as we are. Some may find the next few weeks exceedingly difficult while others will not; much depends on our individual circumstances. Again there is no right wrong; there is simply what is.

Here are the 5R’s of Recovery they shared with me:

Respect – Not everyone will want to talk about the day, their memories or their feelings. Respect their needs, as everyone processes these kinds of days differently. And some people may have very different feelings than your own; respect that their feelings reflect their experience and remember that whatever their experience was does not diminish your own. And respect your own feelings – don’t think you “should feel” a certain way. Allow yourself to feel what you feel.

Reach out – If you notice someone expressing thoughts or feelings you share, consider reaching out to tell them you feel the same. The greatest risk is individuals feeling isolated in their thoughts and feelings, and there can be tremendous power and healing in simply knowing that whatever you feel, you are not alone. And if you find your feelings overwhelming, reach out for help. Call someone. Anyone.

Reconnect – Remember all the people you connected with in the early moments, hours and days after the fire? Reconnect with them now, see how they are doing and just remind them that you are there. Keep building those connections. They can fray over time, so this is a good point to renew them.

Reflect – Allow yourself the opportunity to think about the day if you feel the need to. But don’t feel you have to if you don’t want to, either. There is no right and wrong. And maybe you want to paint it out, write it out, sing it out, dance it out…these forms of expressions can be tremendously freeing, even if you have never tried them before. Or just go for a walk, with others or alone. Exercise is a huge stress relief and can serve as time for reflection in busy schedules, too. And if you find yourself wanting to forget instead of reflect, remember the first R – Respect those feelings.

Reclaim – Dates have significance in our memories; and while we cannot change the events of May 3, 2016, we can make new memories on every May 3 after that, and we can choose to reclaim the date. Maybe it’s a family gathering, dinner with friends, a backyard BBQ, a trip out of town, an evening of movies and laughter; however you do it, reclaiming the date is possible if you choose to do so. There is power in countering painful memories with happy ones; if reclaiming the date is something that appeals to you, then look for opportunities to do just that.

There they are. Five very simple ideas, but each with power to help us heal, cope and conquer the next few days.

So if you see me reaching out, reconnecting, reflecting, respecting and reclaiming, you’ll know why. These simple guiding lights will brighten what could be an occasionally darkened path as I approach a date I will never forget. My hope for you is you find your guiding lights, whatever they might be; and I hope you know you are not alone. Just as we were together a year ago but each living a unique experience, so we are one year later, navigating our individual journey but still part of the collective experience. There is strength in that knowledge, my friends, and from your courage, wisdom and resilience I draw my own. I hope in some small way you can draw the same from me and others around you, as we walk further down the road to recovery, one year later.


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