For now, I'm choosing to create a compassionate container to hold it all, moment by moment. Sometimes this means tears of gratitude for the animals and families (myself included) whose homes survived the fire and other times tears of sadness to see the struggle and hear the stories of friends and loved ones who have nothing left or who have lost a loved one. Seeing the apocalyptic scenery of the forests, knowing that thousands of animals were most likely consumed in the firestorm and these forests will most likely not be replenished in my lifetime, brings a deep sadness and sometime uncontrollable sobbing.
At first, I experienced survivor guilt--not only was most of my neighborhood spared, but I had even closed all my windows, so the damage to my still-standing home was mainly dust and a broken potted plant on the back deck as the winds, whether from the fire or the overhead aircraft, blew over an umbrella and sent it crashing.
It's hard to have compassion and sympathy for myself when I hear of friends that have lost everything to the fire, and now having to spend their mourning time listing the contents of their home for insurance purposes. Exhausted and drained from the trauma, some trying to work full time, having to pour through memories of things that will never be again seems unintentional torture. Maybe it's therapeutic and an important part of the mourning process and moving on for some, who knows, but for those I've heard from, it's not helping their recovery--yet they feel guilty if they aren't working at it night and day.
In order to receive a bit of peace, I came to a place of understanding with my own path and stopped comparing myself to others. I decided to accept my experience completely, whatever it was, whenever it was.
In order to receive a bit of peace, I came to a place of understanding with my own path and stopped comparing myself to others. I decided to accept my experience completely, whatever it was, whenever it was. This has freed me up to not only accept my experience, emotions and responses to events as they come, but it has relieved a self-imposed pressure and created room for a more kind and compassionate response to myself and to all those that are struggling--regardless of their situation and their story. I am able to be more present and compassionate with others, because I'm not busy comparing my experience to them.
This trauma is community wide, regardless of our losses.
So far, this has opened in me an attitude of acceptance when I'm not able to function normally (early on I referred to it as #ValleyFireBrain), as well, I'm able to volunteer bits of time and do small gestures of gratitude and kindness to those I notice giving their time and expertise seemingly tirelessly.
This is my path of healing right now and this is only one pixel in the bigger picture of the #ValleyFire healing.
I was talking with David Schneider the other day, a psychotherapist in Santa Rosa. Part of his work is consulting with agencies helping communities wend their way through the healing process of large traumatic losses such as this, sometimes working with groups of first responders. Part of what he does is create a safe container and guides people to share their stories together, which helps everyone understand the bigger picture of the event, as well as help re-weave the fabric that was blown apart by the incident. Hearing the experiences from all the differing perspectives creates a community picture of the tragedy that helps us move on, both individually and as a community. It sounds like a powerful healing process and maybe one we should pursue.
In the meantime, I invite you to bring your thread of experience and perspective with the Valley Fire to this blog...the re-weaved fabric of Lake County will no doubt look different, but my guess it will be stronger as a result.
And, whatsoever your story with the fire, may you, too, find an inner peace through self-acceptance, kindness and compassion for your unfolding experience of healing--however it may show up.
JoAnn Saccato, MA is a mindfulness teacher, author, life coach, educator, and consultant in Northern California. She is author of Companioning the Sacred Journey and Mindful and Intentional Living: A Path to Peace, Clarity and Freedom