Post Carr Fire Thoughts - Recovering emotionally from disaster

For many of us who live in Redding, California, it’s been an extremely stressful, anxious, painful, and scary weekend facing the Carr Fire that threatened and burned parts of our city.

I have been emotionally shaken. My family has been shaken. And so have many of my friends and those in this email community.

Thankfully, the fire appears to have passed, but we are now left with not only parts of a city covered in ash and rubble but homes and hearts too in need of rebuilding.

There is plenty of information out there regarding the physical damage that was done to the homes  in our city, ways many are helping and providing aid, and for road closures and updates, so I will only speak on one small, but important, part of the conversation that I feel hasn't been widely addressed, and it's about how to recover emotionally from a disaster.

To our readers who have also found themselves in the middle of this tragic situation, I will start by saying that I don’t have all the answers.  I too am in pain just like you.  Though I have not lost my home, I have lost places that hold many treasured memories. I too ache with sadness for the losses endured in my community. And I too feel overwhelmed and anxious still at times.

We are all under stress, pain, and fear and I believe it’s important to acknowledge and graciously accept this about ourselves and those around us as we try to re-establish our lives together.

Though many are now physically safe, many do not yet feel emotionally safe.

Our minds are still on occasional high alert.  Our emotions and thoughts are unpredictable.  And we still feel stressed.

So this is what I will add:

For the sake of your emotional well-being, even though there is hardship, suffering, pain, and people in need all around you, you must not forget that you must tend to your own self first.

It’s extremely stressful and overwhelming to experience a natural disaster like a wildfire, and even if you and your loved ones didn't experience first hand any physical loss or damage, it can still leave a strong emotional impact on you.

In the workplace, they may expect you to respond by putting your head down, getting back to work, and going to get the job done.

In the faith-based community, they'll expect you to immediately start helping those in need.

Now, I believe that helping those in need is extremely important and needed, and I would never stop someone from going to serve and help their community, but, I would first advise that you keep in mind that if you too are full of stress, pain, fear, and shame inside, you won’t be able to provide the long-term emotional safety and strength that your community, company, and family needs from you as we rebuild for years to come if you don't care for yourself first. 

So if you are ready and eager to help, that is great.  But if you are still finding your feet emotionally, I think it's also important to know that that it is completely ok too and there is no shame in how long it takes you to regain your peace and emotional strength.  Rebuilding a ruined city takes time, and so will rebuilding a heart.

So the first person you should tend to and have compassion on in this city is your own self.

I also want to give you permission to feel whatever it is you feel in the weeks and months ahead, to accept whatever it is you emotionally need right now, to encourage you not to protect yourself from or to neglect your needs and emotions, or to shame yourself for them.

Shutting off your emotions is a temporary solution for short-term survival, but long-term it is extremely harmful to your brain and emotional well-being to stay in this state of stress for an endured amount of time.

So as you move toward re-building your emotional well-being and working toward regaining your sense of power and control, here are a couple recommendations for how to recover emotionally from a disaster:

1. Know that it will take time to adjust and feel "normal" again, so be patient, gracious, and compassionate toward yourself and your process.  There is no right way out of this, there is only your way.  So take all the time you need and again, have grace for yourself.
2. Give yourself the space to mourn what you have physically or emotionally lost and to feel and process whatever pain you feel. 
3. Find friends and family who will listen and empathize with what you went through. 
4. Remember that food, rest, and exercise are vital for getting recharged. 
5. Establish or re-establish small routines (they can be as small as a regular meal, an afternoon walk, a daily phone call in the evening with a friend, etc.)
6. Seek professional help from a therapist or counselor if needed.

The goal as we recover from this difficult experience (or any negative experience that we have) isn’t to get rid of our emotions, the goal is to learn how to live with our pain and stress, and to learn how to approach our emotions without a sense of self-judgment so that we can find hope amidst our pain.

So if no else has encouraged you, I hope this does.

This is a time for emotional grieving and morning.  This is a time for you to feel what you feel.  Rest when you need. Tend to yourself. And take space to take space and process as needed.

If you need encouragement, physical support, or someone to process with, know that I am here and in this with you, and I am praying for all of you who were directly or indirectly impacted by the fire.

Love you guys,

- Josh