Overcoming trauma: helping others recover from chaos and hopelessness

Cleaning up after the hurricane and subsequent flooding has been difficult for so many.

Initially, after traumas like Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, or after loss of a loved one or an accident, the outpouring of love and attention is immediate.

But often, this outpouring of support fades quickly…

And it is important to remember that people need you to reach out to them as time wears on. They may not ask for help. Actually they likely won’t. But you need to help. And you need to help next week…next month…and however long it takes.

We each have our gifts and our abilities and ability to share in different ways… and it all matters.

So let’s pay it forward together. Ask for help if and when you need it and give help when you can.

Here is a guest article that really hits the mark as to how to help others

It was written by Matthew Williams (reprinted with permission, including photo) and focuses in on his own experiences as a flood victim.

It is beautifully written as well as containing helpful information that you may not have thought of as to how you can support someone impacted by flooding in their home and/or community.

There are so many simple things you can easily do!

And then yes, there are things that require more commitment, time and energy.

The article talks about how life for a flood victim changes once the adrenaline of the initial event wears off…and how the ordeal is such a slow slog thru clean-up, throwing out (and saying goodbye to) damaged lifelong treasures…rebuilding…and trying to move forward.

TRAUMA IS TRICKY by Matthew Williams

A flooded home is a traumatic event. Like any trauma, it is tricky to know how to help someone experiencing such a terrible ordeal.

Jen and I flooded on Memorial Day 2015 (see photo) and again on Tax Day 2016. The second flood came just days after completing the restoration and decoration of our house from the first flood. If cruelty was a color, we saw red for a long time.

Flood victims often experience what I liken to shell-shock meets heart break meets chaos. Toss in moments of exhaustion, terror, and rage and you’ve got a pretty fair description of what’s in store.

When people wrestle with trauma like this, one of the last things they will ask for is help. But it’s what they need most.

BE THE TORTOISE

The good news is that if you want to help someone who has flooded, the best way is to show up.

Helping the flooded comes with an understanding that this is a marathon, not a sprint. They’ll need you more in the weeks after, when most have moved on and the adrenaline has worn off. So pace your help and pace yourself. Be the tortoise.

If you know someone who flooded, get out your calendar and pick a day or two a week for the next ten weeks or more and write down “show up.”

One day drop off something and say hi. Another day work for an hour or two. And another day have them over for dinner on a weekend. If you can only do one thing, one time, then do it. No act of showing up is too small. Dropping off a hot cup of coffee will be remembered for years to come.

As a rule, don’t just ask if they need anything, ask if they need anything else. Say “I’m coming by with trash bags and lunch, need anything else?” This signals that you’ve already committed to coming by. They’re likely to tell you what else they need.

GESTURE UP

Jennifer Castillo De Williams and I will never forget when someone we hardly knew drove up to the side of our yard. It was so full of flooded belongings that the driver didn’t get out.

She rolled down her window and handed over a giant bag of Chick-fil-A. She smiled, offered her sympathies and drove off. We were exhausted, caked in mud, and heart broken and in that moment, Chick-fil-A never tasted so good.

We promised we would remember how simple gestures like this meant so much to us at the time. They offered beautiful brief moments of normalcy in between many long abnormal ones.

Help of this kind is fairly easy. Try to work it into your weekday or weekend routines. Plan ways to make thoughtful gestures for anyone you know who has flooded.

LIFE ON MARS

When you flood, you might as well be on Mars. Everything that was easy and familiar is now complex and foreign. You can’t find files, documents, cards, keys, devices…you name it. Simple tasks get sucked into massive black holes of work. It’s maddening.

Then there are the things of sentimental value: the drawings from the kids; the shoes they wore on their first step; the wedding album. Those treasures, they’re all gone.

Yes, it’s just stuff, but make no mistake, sifting through the filthy wreckage that was once your life’s memories is brutal. You will have some good, long cries as you toss them out en masse. But you will get through it and you’ll be tougher for it, maybe even enlightened.

FLOOD CLUB

Those who survive the salvos of Houston’s floods enter a club that knows something about loss and have an appreciation for what matters most. For me, it brought a little less whining.

Be aware there is something unsettling that lingers for some club members. I suppose it’s a kind of PTSD that seeps in between the evacuations and ridiculous toil. When I hear the rain now, it’s no longer my soothing friend. It’s kind of a sinister thing that taunts me when I look outside to see what’s snaking its way up to the door.

It comes down to this: every thoughtful thing you can do to help someone recover from a flood is probably one less thing they’ll have to manage alongside their overwhelming grief.

So try to give the flooded a few moments of peace in what feels like a surreal unprovoked war.

SHOWTIME

Here are some practical ways to “show up” by bringing or doing stuff. Feel free to add to these lists in comments, it’s endless.

Stuff you can bring

-Face masks and work gloves to reduce exposure to mold and other particulate matter. Be aware that if you are using hazardous solvents for cleaning you may need half-face respirators with cartridges.

-Cases of bottled water

-Antimicrobial spray designed to fully kill mold (turns out that bleach is less effective than many believe, especially because it does not prevent the regrowth of mold). Concrobium brand mold control spray kills and prevents mold. It is sold at Home Depot and other home supply places. Remember to wear a face mask when you spray the studs to kill and prevent mold after damaged sheet rock has been removed

-Floor fans or dehumidifiers

-Old newspapers for packing items

-Cases of paper towels

-Cases of toilet paper

-Cases of sanitizing wipes

-Battery powered camping lanterns

-Power strips

-Work gloves

-Pop up tables to place and stage smaller important stuff

-Step ladders

-Drop cloths and tarps for staging bigger, good stuff that protect it from wet floors or yards

-Hammers, blade utility knives

-Sharpees of different sizes and colors

-Good first aid kit (many cuts and scraps during clean up)

-Rolls of duct tape and packing tape

-Hand sanitizer

-Plastic bins/containers of different sizes with lids

-Cardboard boxes (small, medium, and large)

-Bags (contractor, trash, gallon zip locks)

-House cleaning solvents

-Bug repellent (mosquitoes are vicious inside a hot, muggy, muddy flooded house)

-Fast Food. Forget the healthy stuff for the moment, it’s about convenience, comfort, and containers that you can eat from quickly and toss. Buy several kinds of fast foods and just leave it. Someone will eat it and be thankful.

-Boxes filled with easy to eat snacks (chips, bars, nuts, candy, and fun stuff) gives a happy break to long grueling days

-Paper plates, plastic utensils, cups, napkins

-Prepared Foods are nice, but more complicated

-Gift cards for food (this is for a dinner after a long day, they can get take out at their hotel or temporary place instead of having to cook)

-Gift cards to Marshalls, Target, Walmart, Lowes (they can get clothes, supplies, and other needs)

-Clean old or cheap t-shirts that can be worn as throw aways during clean up

-Clean bedding sheets, blankets, pillows

Stuff you can do

-Check electricity for hazards. You’re in a house where water and electricity have just been combined so be aware of a hazards of electrical shock and short circuiting. It’s hot, you need power for dehumidifiers and a gazillion other things, but think first and be sure before you flick the switch.

-Remove items destroyed by the flood and stage items not destroyed. This is an emotionally difficult thing and process. It’s understandable that you’ll want to believe some things can be saved and want to keep them, so keep them, reality will guide you soon enough. Just don’t bring wet things into storage units, they will stink up and destroy other good, dry things. No “bad apples.”

-Cut out wet sheetrock at least a foot above the water line. Wear a mask since there may be mold and other particulates you don’t want to breath. Use an anti-mold spray like the one listed in my first list of “stuff to bring.”

-Laundry (We loved this. People would come by and put a bunch of dirty clothes in a bag, wash, and return them folded to us)

-Write tasks that need to be done on big post it notes and put them on the wall near the entrance of the house or on a pop up table so people coming in can grab one and do the task. Tell them to try to write a new task on the wall to replace the one they did for someone else to do…create an auto filling “to do” board.

-Pull out flooring/carpet (wear gloves and googles to protect from contaminated flood waters…mostly it’s the E.coli and fecal coliform that can get into open cuts, eyes, mouths, or noses).

-Position and maintain fans/dehumidifiers throughout house

-When sorting through good stuff from bad stuff our “general” rule is: if flood water touched it, it’s destroyed. But there are exceptions. Clothes for example can usually be cleaned. Photos and other documents and sometimes be dried out too.

-Haul what’s destroyed into piles in the yard for pick up by city

-Pack and label belongings that might still be good

-Stage “still good” boxes or plastic bin containers and load in a POD onsite; or on a rental truck for storage

There are so many ways to help!

I remember the first day after we flooded. The father of my son’s girlfriend asked me what to do. I was still looking at all the loss so I struggled to give him any useful direction. He quickly realized the situation and said, “I’m going to separate good stuff from bad stuff.” I nodded and he and some other guys went to work. Hours later we had piles in the yard and the house was beginning to clean out. I have many examples of people who came from no where to help us in many ways, then left without ever knowing their names to thank.

After a flood, there’s so much to do, just guess and you’ll probably be doing something really helpful.

Last, there’s “stuff you can share” that takes more time and commitment but means a lot

-Share your car or truck for rides, pick ups/drop-offs

-Share your garage to store their stuff that survived

-Share your home for temporary living, food, showers or laundry (obvious, but important)

No one who has flooded wants to live with someone else or use their stuff. Understand how much it sucks to be so helpless, it’s dehumanizing. The best thing you can do is quietly insist and get to it.

If you are far away

 

For those who are too far away from Houston to physically show up, there are a number of places to donate money. I like this one by the Texan football player JJ Watts.

See https://www.youcaring.com/victimsofhurricaneharvey-915053

There is a lot to unpack here. For those who made it this far down the post, I hope you found it helpful.

There were so many people who opened their hearts, homes, and hard working hands to us that I still get overwhelmed by their generosity. People are a lot of things, but what we witnessed in our hours, days, weeks, and months of need was on the pure side of love. Know that it’s out there and it’s there for you.

For our friends who flooded from Harvey, no need to leave a light on, we’ll bring you a new one.

COMMENTS?

I hope this information spurs you to take some much-needed, caring action. Let me know if you have other ideas and we’ll show them in the comments here.

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4 thoughts on “Overcoming trauma: helping others recover from chaos and hopelessness

  1. Thank you for sharing this. We were finally making good progress on our Hurricane Matthew reconstruction when Irma brought storm surge flood waters twice as high. I finally hit a wall this weekend and had a bad flare of arthritis/Lupus/gluten intolerance and realized I had to back it off a bit. I’m so grateful to my friends and contractors who have been so helpful.

    1. Amy, I send you encouragement for these hard times. Really, let us know how we can help. Yes, now it is a time to be very nourishing to our bodies and avoiding all triggers. Please let us know how you do. Sending love, Dr.Anna

  2. Thank you for this thoughtful, considerate list.

    Having suffered a shock about a dear loved one just this morning, I inserted a grieving trauma in some places for the flooding trauma. Caring for others in a meaningful way is so important to the victims. As you stated, they’re in shock and don’t even know what they want. But if you provide something, anything, they will be grateful and will never forget it.

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