5 Things Swimming Out of My Home has Taught Me – Hurricane Harvey

In August of 2017, we were evacuated from our home before nearly five feet of water came in and destroyed homes in our neighborhood.  The extensive flooding was due to the massive rainfall from Hurricane Harvey.  Here are a few things I’ve taken away from the natural disaster that forever changed the coast of Texas.

  • Some “stuff” is not just “stuff”

Friends, family, well-meaning strangers; many people told us that “it’s just stuff”.  I understand that I’d much rather lose pictures than lose a family member, but it made me so upset when people said this to my family.  Personally, it felt like we were being told “Don’t be upset about losing everything that held a memory”. My mother’s cookbook collection that I’d spend sleepless nights reading through, my stepfather’s grandmother’s old sewing machine, and baby pictures of my brother and I- all gone in a matter of hours.  Yes, it is stuff, but some of that “stuff” was family history, treasured memories, and irreplaceable originals.  While I do appreciate my family and the memories I share with them, I have a totally new appreciation for the “special” items we salvaged.

  • Sometimes, it really does take a village

My mother and I are people who like to be independent and aren’t ones to ask for help.  Harvey put us in a position where we had no choice but to accept help, and learning to let go was a lesson I will take with me for the rest of my life. Total strangers helped us carry our belongings out of our home, some friends put us on their boat, my grandparents picked us up, a church I’d never been to extended their welcomes, strangers and friends came to help clean up, and people we’d never met were flowing through our home and brought us meal after meal and donation after donation. Without the help of strangers, friends, and family, we may not have made it through that storm, and we most certainly would not be back in our home yet.  I am forever grateful to everyone who helped us through this disaster. To the stranger who hugged me- soaking wet and sobbing- after lifting me off of the flatbed that rescued us, and my teachers who came to help clean out our home- thank you.

  • True shock evokes very diverse reactions from different people

I will never forget carrying my brother out to the boat.  I look back now in utter confusion as to how I reacted to such a disaster.  Despite the urgency to get everyone out, I was totally calm as I helped load up the boat.  Mom, on the other hand, was a total wreck and unable to even walk out of the house as my stepfather- who was trying to keep it together himself- was coaxing her out.  After the military had brought us to dry grounds, my mother relaxed some while I was in shambles.  When driving through the neighborhood after the waters receded, I remember seeing people crying, some standing in silence and staring at their entire lives sitting in their front yards.  Some people were walking around aimlessly, while others worked vigorously in an attempt to somehow normalize their lives more quickly.  I remember seeing on the news stories of natural disaster, terrorist attacks or other traumatizing events, and thinking how I would’ve reacted in that situation.  However,  from Harvey I learned that when real shock sets in, there is no way to tell how you’ll respond- and that’s okay.

 

  • PTSD and survivor’s guilt are both very real demons of natural disasters

After being rescued and sent to a church for shelter is when I finally got a hold of my dad on a cell phone.  I get teary eyed every time I think about the moment I finally choked out “Dad, our first story is gone and it’s still raining.” Although my dad’s house was high and dry, Interstate 10 was underwater going either direction, so he had no way to get to us.  I’ve only heard my dad cry a few times in my life, and this time he cried as he said, “I just wish I could come get you”.  I remember mom’s friends calling to check on us and crying because they felt helpless, even though their homes weren’t affected. That entire night I sat by the glass doors of the church watching the rain still come down, scared out of my mind that we would have to evacuate yet again. My first rainstorm after Harvey sent me into a full-blown anxiety attack.  Every time I know it’s going to rain, I feel sick and find myself picking everything up off of my floors. I’d never heard of the term survivor’s guilt, but that is what dad and several others have experienced along the coast of Texas. These things, although both nuisances, are something to be talked about.  These feelings are totally normal after a disaster such as Hurricane Harvey, and there are therapists and hotlines out there available to help.

  • “Small” victories after a big setback are worthy of celebration

The first item I bought after the storm hit was a vintage Betty Crocker cookbook.  I paid a pretty penny to have one in good condition, but it was worth it to see my mom’s reaction.  She owned a vast cookbook collection, but this cookbook was one gifted to her parents at their wedding- all lost to the unforgiving floodwaters of Harvey.  We found ourselves celebrating with our neighbors over the installation of a water heater, new floors, walls being painted, and any other minor step toward the return to normalcy.  I found myself thinking about how something such as a new microwave would usually be minor, but to flood victims it was another victory in defeating the trauma that Harvey caused.  Sometimes the long road ahead can make our victories seem smaller, but we must remember to remember that a victory is still a victory- no matter the size.

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