State of the Onion in Pearlington - Part II
Trauma and loss affects all of us in a variety of ways. We tend to move firstly through shock and disbelief into an angry stage, wanting to blame something or somebody for our loss and pain. This is often followed by a period of great sadness, despondency or depression. In time, we come to a place of acceptance and, when appropriate, even forgiveness and the hope and faith of a new and better future.
The residents of Pearlington were very much in the first stage when I arrived in town in September, just after the storm. Each has inhabited the middle two places - anger and depression - and some are still there. It takes a person of great emotional maturity and/or deep spiritual commitment to have moved to the final stage by this phase of the event. Some, unfortunately, seem to get stuck in the middle two stages for an extended period of time.
Every volunteer also experiences these stages. Last Friday night, as I addressed a team at the PDA Camp in Pearlington about what to expect upon returning home, I asked who of them had experienced each of the first three stages. Almost all hands went up.
Some people deal with their anger appropriately, some do not. Family violence tends to increase around this time and people find it hard, especially men, to express their deep feelings of grief and loss and instead store it up until they explode. Some attempt to stay in denial and that can cause problems down the road. Many people resort to alcohol and drugs - prescription and otherwise - to deal with their feelings of helplessness and depression. Both alcohol and many drugs are depressants to start with, so this method of coping has the opposite effect.
What can we do as volunteers? Recognize firstly that many of the same coping methods the folks of Pearlington may be using, we also may resort to if we don’t stay balanced. Be patient; this is incredibly hard for everyone. Avoid making judgements; we are not often catching people at their best. Be gentle and compassionate and remember that the expressions of emotion - like anger and tears - are just that. Encourage people to talk. Offer lots of hugs and, of course, ask permission first, especially with children. My favorite way with kids is to say: "Are you giving hugs today?"
Be cheery and upbeat; it offers hope. Take care of yourself emotionally, by regrouping with each other and by calling home - anyone outside the area that may be able to give you perspective. Avoid heavy drinking, gambling or drug-taking. Take a break regularly. Have fun - find a way that’s respectful to yourself and to the community. Celebrate each victory. Cry when you need to and laugh just because it’s good for you. "Keep your head when all about you, are losing theirs and blaming it on you." *
Have Faith. No doubt the Universe is unfolding as it should.
* Rudyard Kipling’s "If"