Oh shit the shit is hitting the fan, I’m scared and overwhelmed, better become super sensitive lose all boundaries and try to save everyone around me while becoming invisible and hiding in a black hole somewhere deep away from here.
This was my #1 basic survival strategy growing up.
And although I’ve discovered more effective strategies for caring for others and supporting my own well being, well, sometimes the great old brilliant strategy takes over anyhow.
“Jasmine, you have to put the oxygen mask on yourself first” she said through the phone.
I was curled up in a bed in the house of a couple I barely knew after a week of non-stop work helping one small town respond after rivers rose up and ran wild across the village taking roads and roofs for a ride, leaving homes and hands empty and damaged.
I had a terrible stomachache, everything throbbed, a cold sore the size and shape of Alaska had defined its territory across my face. A friend was talking to me on the phone patiently and slowly, staying with me as long as I needed while I lay there and moaned.
I heard her, but was having a hard time listening to her.
Three days later, having left the town I’d been working in, seemingly recovered from delirious fatigue of volunteer extremism, I decided with a friend who’d been helping me all week, to start a disaster relief organization.
My unconscious racing with overwhelm and triggers of old traumas after a week of disaster response I thought our organization’s basic mission should be something along the lines of “to meet any and all needs of everyone now and into the future within Vermont, but heck we’d also be happy to help anyone else in need as well.”
For over a week my friend and I worked tirelessly on this plan, recruiting our network of friends and colleagues into our efforts, coming up with so many ideas for how we could help we were beginning to drown under them.
I’ve learned over my many years of being curious about listening that sometimes the soul wisdom of the deep comes not from within us, but from someone outside of us.
Someone with a bit more perspective than we have saying something that we–as practiced listeners–have the wisdom to connect with even if we couldn’t get there on our own.
Most people I encountered during my time in Vermont were either so appreciative of my help or so entranced by my enthusiasm for saving the state that they could only cheer me on in my very goodhearted but in fact cracked plans to never rest until all Vermonters were safely tucked into loving homes with their FEMA paperwork filled out, benefit concerts were taking place on every town green, and all Vermont youth had been enlisted as leaders.
But one skeptical friend sent me a text in the middle of the week that I was making plans for the Save Everyone Always organization that read:
“I am going to be boring and remind you to take care of yourself. Differentiation.“
How did he know? I’m not sure I’d even told him about my crazy plans at that point. I didn’t even know. Just at the moment this arrived I was beginning to disintegrate into yet another heap on the floor, but even this wasn’t waking me up to reality.
It took another good twenty four more hours and a few additional wise and friendly people lining up and saying, “You sure you’re up for this, Jasmine?” before I came to and began to see how I’d let the unconscious river of conditioned patterns flood me.
But there I was, only flooded as badly as I’d been flooded, and certainly that was much less flooded than many folks in Vermont. I could now make my apologies as I disentangled from my over-reaching big reacting trauma hearted insane plans.
I felt embarrassed, but I’m a big girl and I could take embarrassment in the name of sanity.
We need leaders in this world, but equally we need teamwork and we need friends. We need to take care of ourselves if we want to be effective at all in anyway what-so-ever.
We get into trouble if we think we can leave it all to the invisible THEM, but we also get in trouble if we think we have to do it all ourselves.
I’m home from volunteering in Vermont. I’ve been home for over a month and I’ve spent a good deal of that time curled in bed with a dark cold and too many bad dreams.
I don’t think I’m the only one stumbling toward grace. Not knowing when to say enough. Not knowing where to begin.
My Vermont Irene Story—The Series
Introduction: Oh My Water-logged Love, My Home, My Heart: Vermont
Vermont still needs leaders! Go to: www.vtresponse.com.
To offer your financial assistance to recovery efforts please consider making a donation to the Farmer Emergency Fund.
To find out more about how Vermont is recovering from Tropical Storm Irene go to VT DIGGER.