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A Guide for Youth & Families Affected by Hurricane Sandy

Maureen Underwood, LCSW

People who were not even there will be talking about Hurricane Sandy for a long time. You’ve probably already heard their stories, their second hand accounts and observations about the destruction to the beaches and boardwalks and towns they may have never even knew existed before this storm hit. Maybe you’ve even begun to hear the stories of recovery, pitched by those same well-meaning strangers, who are trying to capture the strength of human spirit that rises in the face of disaster to rebuild, recover and move on.

Your picture of the storm is probably different from what the rest of the world has seen on television or read about in newspapers.You could tell stories about the sound of the wind, the fury of the waters, the darkness and the cold…or the numbing fears about what will remain when you’re forced to evacuate a home that has now, suddenly, become dangerous and unsafe. While some people lost a place to hang out in the summer, you lost a place to live every day and the comfort of being surrounded by the familiar things in life we all take for granted until they’re gone.

You know, all too well, the other part of the story that outsiders cannot begin to tell or explain – that the physical aspect, the defiance of Mother Nature, was only the first storm you had to face. Now you have to deal with the internal concerns and chaos that come with trying to put the pieces back together, hold onto what you can and recreate your life.

While you alone must talley the losses to your personal property, the things that cannot be replaced, you’re not alone in some of the other challenging tasks of recovery.

Something our country has learned about the impacts of natural disasters is that one of the most healing components in community recovery is the community itself. You probably have experienced some of that strength already – in the stories of neighbors helping neighbors, amazing acts of courage by heroes who remain anonymous and simple acts of kindness by people you hardly know. Your community will unite and rebuild. We know this happens, it just takes time.

So how do you sustain yourself in the meantime, when things may still seem uncertain and a bit out of control? Here are a few suggestions that hopefully can help.

  • Don’t watch a lot of news stories about the hurricane. Looking at pictures, hearing stories, even if they’re not about your home town or people you know can sometimes cause you to re-live your own experience of the storm.
  • If you feel a need to tell the story about what happened to you and your family in the storm, tell it!  Many people will need to re-tell that story more than once, until all of a sudden, that need goes away. Organizing the facts of what happened into a logical story is one of the ways we eventually come to terms with unexplainable and uncontrollable events in our lives. If you can’t even begin to put your story into words, however, or if the telling keeps getting you upset, talk with one of your trusted adults – they went through this experience too and may be able to help you organize some of what’s going on in your mind.
  • Try to create even a small piece of your current environment that feels safe and familiar. For example, if you lost all of your clothes and had a favorite snuggly sweatshirt, make it your mission to find something else that gives you that same snuggly feeling. You will not be able to replace the sweatshirt, but you can recreate the feeling it gave you. Finding ways to recapture positive feelings is a small, but significant step in emotional recovery
  • Find something you can do to make a difference. Being a part of clean-up and rebuilding can be good physical exercise but can also help you focus on the future when things will be better than they seem right now.. Working together with a group can also lessen some of the feelings of isolation that sometimes accompany disasters.
  • Give yourself permission to have a “pity party.” You are entitled to your feelings and if you’re having a bad hour or bad day, it’s okay! You do not have to become a super hero who always sees the bright side. That being said, however, if your bad day lasts longer than a day or so, or it gets SO bad that you find yourself thinking about checking out or killing yourself, ABSOLUTELY reach out to the adults in your community who are there to help you. They get it, and will be able to help you figure out a way to get back some hope.
  • If you lost a lot of your ‘stuff’ in the storm, it’s okay to be sad about the things you’ll never be able to replace. Over time though, you want to try to think more about the things you still have: like your family, your friends, your pets and your hopes for yourself in the future. What you may also want to consider are the things this storm taught you about yourself that you might not even have realized before. For example, to get through a disaster like Hurricane Sandy really takes bravery and courage. Most of us never think about those things because we’re simply doing what we have to do to get through, but it can be helpful to think about some of your simple acts of courage that you will stay with you for the rest of your life.
  •  Don’t forget the power of your imagination! When things around you feel bleak, find a quiet place, sit and close your eyes for a couple of minutes and imagine some place you’d rather be than where you are right now. This may be a bit challenging if your favorite place was always the beach and now it’s clouded with bad memories, but go past those, and try to recapture the feelings of magic or comfort you felt back then. Remember that nothing can take our good feelings or memories away from us, even if they feel long ago and far away.

Download Tips to Help Your Child prepared by Denise Wegeman, MSW, LCSW

Tips to Help Your Child