So there I was drowning in the South China Sea off the coast of Taiwan and the only person near me thought I was joking. I wasn’t. An undertow had scooped out a trench and I went from standing in knee deep water to swimming for my life in, what appeared to the casual observer, a couple of feet of water. I called out for help and my friend laughed and continued his enjoyment of the surf. I screamed and he ignored me as I thrashed about in the abyss just feet away from a hand that could have reached out. I felt the water pulling and there was no ground under me. I swam as hard as I could and flailed around for something to grab. In what felt like my last ditch exhausted effort, one big toe felt some sand and I wiggled one toe, two toes, half a foot, another toe, and eventually felt a small edge that I used to get a grip. I desperately fought and dragged myself forward as the ocean pulled relentlessly against me. Eventually I pulled myself out of the swirling hole and back to the shallows.
I stood on the shore shaking. There should have been dramatic music. As it was I was alone in the experience and no one believed me. It was amazing! The ocean almost took me… and no one blinked an eye. In fact, they thought I was joking. They could not believe that I had almost been lost at sea. They had been right there and missed the entire episode! The aloneness of that near-death event changed me. Until then I had no idea that within close proximity people can have dramatically different experiences and that some people do not see anything real. I was deeply impressed that no one believed me and daunted by the laughter. The second time I heard the same kind of laughter was when a man threatened suicide from the roof of our condo. A few people laughed at him, and a person actually urged him to jump. I called 911. He was rescued that day. His young child had died from an accidental fall off his balcony, and this Daddy had mentally recreated his horror show in his mind in order to stop drowning in his sorrow. I recently heard that he finally succeeded in jumping to his death. It breaks my heart. I used to ride the elevator with this fellow and we would chat about how hard it was to lose a child. He constructed little memorials on the ground where his baby had died. He was a human being drowning in his undertow and eventually was pulled out to sea. Some people spend their entire lives swimming against that pull. Some of us have water-wings but not everyone has those essential resources. And how hard it is to reach out to someone and say, “you’re not alone?”
- Some sole (soul) survivors of tragedy cannot get past the time they almost drowned alone, when no hand reached out to say, “I’m here with you.” Reach out just in case.
- Losses can be relived when someone they reach out to denies their feelings, dismisses their fears as silly, diminishes their anger, laughs at their disappointments, minimizes losses, denies the sense of aloneness or fear, scorns visceral feelings of abandonment, adds guilty humiliations to asking for support, shames them for their “emotional immaturity” as a life failure. To the suffering person that person appears as just another callous bystander. Don’t be that person.
- Do you love someone who has had a trauma? You don’t need to understand it. It was theirs. But your credibility is determined by your empathy or lack of empathy.
- But really, I ask ya, how hard it is to reach out your hand and say, “I’m here with you.”
- The error in thinking that co-dependency recovery means you never help another person is as off track as an alcoholic who decides to never drink water. It is too extreme. Helping and supporting is not the same as rescuing or forcing solutions.
- Survival stories are not contests. Everyone has had something that has been their “worst experience.” It isn’t a contest. My “worst” and your “worst” may not be the same thing, but it was our “worst” and we can respect each other for the resiliency that allowed us to survive and move forward.
- If you can, do your best to find strong emotional, spiritual, physical and mental “water wings” resiliency and an Empathy Buddy BEFORE you fall into the deep.