In the aftermath of disaster there are discernible patterns – stages of thought, behavior and emotions. Fifteen years ago I began to map them. To document – from the experiences of people who’d faced the unthinkable – those patterns and stages. You can read some of what I’ve written about them on my website. This is not a plug. I’m just trying to avoid writing it all over again here.
The earliest stage is Survival. We seek safety – higher ground. If we’re helping it looks like rescue. Keeping people alive. Then we move into Sanctuary/Shelter – seeking a place where we can rest, find those we love, make sure they’re okay as well. Meeting basic needs is our focus.
A pause follows: Limbo – we are suspended trying to absorb the enormity of what’s happened. From our shrunken/narrow field of vision we try to come to terms with the scale and scope of catastrophe. It’s exhausting and we live in a kind of suspension. Help doesn’t really help if it comes with expectations of movement. We can’t move. We just try to catch our breath. Without the energy to even to be angry or sad. It’s a necessary stage -though people in this stage are often chastised to “get moving” this suspended state is essential.
Once we think we we’ve grasped the situation – and have created some expectations of what we must do – what we ought to tackle – we set out to restart our lives. All that comes is frustration, pain and anger. Chaos and Upheaval. Like a limb that’s been asleep, circulation starts again and it’s painful.
Everything that was simple and easy before the catastrophe is now difficult. Whatever was difficult is now impossible. And it must be someone’s fault because you’re doing all you can. You’re determined. You’re heroic and noble. You’re responsible. You’re not helpless. And it would be going well if not for those “other folks” thwarting your efforts. And the help? Forget that. It all went to “other people” so it’s harder for you than it is for them. This is the stage of blame and resentment. Everything’s changed and though you believed you were ready for it – prepared – you’re not. You’re still operating on predisaster assumptions. Can’t help it.
And your neighbors (not you -you’re a paragon of kindness, generosity and acceptance), but those “other people” are awful. Acting out. Pitching fits. Or they’re wimps. Cowering in the face of what you’re sure you can conquer with your determination.
You have names for everyone not handling this like you are.
I hate to tell you – we’re all a bit crazy right now and our degree of insanity is the distance between our expectations and what’s actually possible – your perception and what’s actually occurring.
We are all a really hot mess.
We will improve in our ability to live with and through this disaster/aftermath. But not right now. Right now we are still coming to terms with what’s here for good – and what’s gone.
Our next milestone is a fork in the road. ACCEPTANCE/RESIGNATION.
Acceptance: We can’t rush it because we’re still learning what must be accepted as changed versus what we can reclaim from our old way of living and working. Some of us will choose to accept and eventually do so with a measure of grace, humor, even tenderness toward ourselves and others.
Some of us will go the path of resignation. Grumpy and miserable, pissed and pitiful, we will regale others with tales of suffering and woe as if we’d been singled out especially for hardship.
There are days when we will be both of these people – accepting, gracious, grateful and gentle with ourselves and others and then – that one more thing – and we snap into enough is enough.
More about this fork in the road later.
I wrote this for me and maybe for you too.