The Texas floods are a firm reminder of the devastation which can be caused by violent weather. It can almost instantly bring destruction of life and property changing thousands of lives forever.
We have seen the pictures and videos of the rising water and people being rescued from isolated areas caused by the floods but that’s not the entire picture; there are also the unseen pictures of the devastation brought to the minds and spirits of the victims of the flood.
Of course most self respecting Texans wouldn’t dare refer to themselves as victims; for them it’s only part of life to which many would simply say, “Stuff (or something stronger) happens, so deal with it”.
Texans however, are very proud people and rightfully so, but as the Bible so adequately says, “Pride goes before the fall” (Proverbs 16:18) and attempts to recover physically too quickly can be detrimental to both mind and spirit.
Following Hurricane Andrew in South Florida as both a Pastor and Psychologist, this writer counseled many people who tried to press on toward rapid recovery without stopping to analyze their situation or even taking time to grieve over their losses.
As a result, many people began the process of recovery only to find themselves disoriented, unsettled and unclear on how to continue; in essence they could no longer function.
For many it was more than the stress of being overwhelmed from rebuilding and recovery of property, it was a full and complete breakdown of both mind and spirit often resulting in the loss of reality.
For these poor souls it was as if they had entered another dimension; a twilight zone where nothing seemed exactly as it should be and they were stranded on a deserted island.
Following *Hurricane Andrew which destroyed most of South Miami Dade County/Homestead, Florida in 1992, I counseled people from every walk of life; not immediately (although there were some) but primarily months after the real recovery had begun.
Over 3,000 dead were ultimately related to Hurricane Andrew but many other deaths took place in the months and years of the recovery process.
Many of these deaths resulted from suicides of people who had lost spouses, jobs, homes and sentimental items which destroyed their life and memories; for these victims, it was just too much. As such, they lost touch and could no longer deal with their personal and private pain.
As a specialist in Crisis intervention, working with other counselors, ministers and mental health professionals we attempted to raise the awareness of the need for people in the catastrophe area to seek out professional help if they became overwhelmed in the recovery process.
Thankfully many people sought out this free counseling and the results were amazing; lives were saved and families were restored or at least repaired.
There were tremendous mental health issues which had to be dealt with far beyond the scope of the content of this article but like all examinations, a variety of potential problems would often surface which had been long buried deep within the unconscious mind; some more serious than others.
Everything from simple neurosis (which admittedly is not always that simple) to more serious psychosis was discovered in those trying to recover from the disaster; their lives had been put into catastrophe mode sending them straight over the edge.
Mental health disorders such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Delusional Paranoid Schizophrenia, Alternative Personality Disorder and Social Anxiety Disorder were found to be common in many victims seeking recovery counseling.
Some of these victims were aware of their disorder while the vast majority had no idea why they were having difficulty handling the recovery process long after the storm had passed; most were delighted they had sought out the counseling and received the help.
The examples of what people do unexpectedly in a catastrophe recovery are quite remarkable.
In my experiences, I witnessed fellow pastors who saw their church facilities totally destroyed and their congregations nearly dissolved from displacement lose their faith, turn violent and angry, run naked through the streets, tie themselves to the church steeple and even try to commit suicide by jumping from church balconies.
I saw people including my own family just sit looking aimlessly at walls for days at a time; sometimes in the midst of the rubble that was once their home and life.
I counseled children and adults several years after the hurricane that began screaming and crying at the sound of thunder or even a hard rain storm fearing the great storm was returning.
People to this day are plagued with bad dreams and night mares from seeing their whole world turned upside down; for many it seems like they are still locked into a bad situation from which there is no escape.
Probably the worst situation for many victims following a disaster is what I refer to as “Catastrophe of the spirit”; this is where many begin to rely less on their faith or lose it completely.
People stop praying, going to church or their house of worship and even turn bitter and angry towards God. They blame Him for their negative situation and conveniently forget that God that allowed them to survive and that God that will guide and help them through the recovery process.
Often those who experience a Catastrophe of their spirit even withdrawal from social interaction with friends and family and refuse all outside help.
Please remember more often than not God helps people through other people; not angelic beings.
In short, catastrophic recovery is usually long, tedious and difficult. It cannot be rushed and time must be taken to step back and assess yourself and how the process is going.
Emotional and spiritual recovery from a disaster or catastrophe is not unlike any recovery process. Just like alcohol or drugs the recovery is often painful. After all, most of us are addicted to life; that’s the life we love and are use too. When our normality of life is interrupted we begin to go through a withdrawal process.
The first road to recovery is to acknowledge that you have a problem.,
We must ultimately take charge, assess our situation and do it on our own but we should remember that God is always with us (Deuteronomy 31:8) and we are never alone. We also need to allow qualified people to help us through the recovery process when things get tough.
For those attempting to rebuild from the flood, please don’t jump into the recovery of your houses, cars and personal property without taking time for yourself.
Evaluate periodically your situation making sure your recovery is not just speedy but also thorough; as the old saying goes, everything takes time.
If you become overwhelmed by the sheer complexity of the situation, don’t hesitate to get help.
Consult counselors, psychologist, ministers and chaplains in the area and on the ground from a variety of denominations and agencies; that’s why they came and they’d be happy to listen to you.
Fellow Texans, you are in my prayers.
May God bless everyone in the flood recovery process.
*Please read my 3-part series on One One Pastor’s Memories of Hurricane Andrew
© 2015 Dr. Lee W. Outlaw III