Poking my head above the surface, I spotted the shoreline in the distance. Wave after relentless wave pounded me. Swimming as hard as I could, my fatigue built with each stroke. I felt the water violently shift and noticed the myriad of colorful fish around me likewise fighting the current. My breathing became erratic. I was going nowhere and tiring quickly. Again lifting my head above the water, I realized I was alone.
Submerging myself in the turbulent sea, I concentrated on my breath noisily echoing through my snorkel. I mindfully returned it to a steady, calm rhythm. I attempted to close the distance between my flailing being and the rocky shore. Looking ahead, I noted a couple reaching the safety of the beach. I took off my mask and snorkel, looked up at the cloudless sky and pled for guidance. As I recalled the numerous fatalities I’d read about in Hawaiian waters, I shivered with the feeling I may become one of them. Taking on water as the waves continued to pummel me, I heard myself exclaim, “Help! Help!”
Fortunately, my distress calls were heard. As his gentle blue eyes and huge lashes met mine, I knew I was going to be okay. He grabbed my hand and we exhaustedly battled the current together.
Reflections in the last two weeks since my near-drowning, unveil parallels to my transition back from Peace Corps service in South Africa.
These last several months have been painful. Simple tasks have been arduous. Reorientation has seemed impossible.
Several practitioners told me I was suffering from PTSD from the varied tumult I lived through in South Africa. My sadness mounted. My mood was heavy. My self-imposed isolation intensified. The shadow was pervasive.
The dam broke on my emotions. 27 months of trauma accosted me like the relentless Hawaiian waves. I was adrift, seemingly lost in the current.
Muscling through wasn’t working. I finally asked for help.
A tearful visit to my Primary Care Physician resulted in a prescription for the first psychotropic drug of my life, which I dutifully filled, popping my first dose before leaving the medical campus. Once I returned home, a conversation with a friend about my rote drug consumption echoed the whispers of shame I’d been experiencing since my calls for help on that Kauai beach.
Shame hissed, “Why not try alternatives? Acupuncture? Herbs? Why not try swimming with the current until you broke free? Why did you take the medication without doing more research? Why were you snorkeling alone? Why did you ask for help? Why can’t you get it together?”
I stopped the shame spiral by recognizing the truth.
I was exhausted.
I did the best I could with what I had at the time.
I was fatigued.
Could I have eventually reached shore on my own? Could I have healed this shadow on my own?
The prospect of mustering my meager swimming skills was as plaguing as identifying healers in my new city.
I was depleted.
Could I have done things like I normally do, on my own, muscling through, trying to prove how strong I am?
Maybe, but I have learned.
I emerged from the Pacific Ocean the day of my rescue grateful for only three cuts on my leg. I feared the residual effects of a shaken mind, body and spirit would bar me from the sea during my remaining time on the islands. Three days later, though, I relished the sanctuary of the crystal waters, despite a couple flashbacks. As I floated along, I reeled myself back into the present. The next day, I donned a snorkel for the first time since my rescue. In murky waters in search of turtles, I had two flashbacks, but was able to calm myself, orient and self soothe. The next day, I desired to take full advantage of snorkeling in Hawaii’s fishbowl. I utilized orientation and mindful breathing to enjoy the experience.
Our survival skills, much like our healing abilities, are innate. We cultivate connection without even knowing it. We want to show up for one another in our most desperate moments.
It is not weak to ask for help, whether mumbling it through choking tears at a doctor’s office, hurtling the request over treacherous seas or merely requesting it in your normal tone on an average Tuesday.
Through a powerful combination of therapy, medication, meditation, energy healing, time, space and love, I started feeling the first flutters of my Self right before my trip to Hawaii. With each practice, pill, conversation, tap, session and asana, I capture a little bit more of my breath, reclaim a little bit more of my light and return to the woman I thought I’d lost. The tide almost took me under, but hope keeps me afloat. Regardless of the current, I’m going to keep swimming. ♥
Resources and a Request:
♥ I’ve read a lot about currents and snorkeling since my sea rescue two weeks ago. Snorkel Bob’s, a gear rental company in Hawaii recommends a minimum of 5 minutes of snorkel meditation before entering the water. Snorkel meditation includes watching the surf, current and surge on the reef and rocks.
♥ Peter Levine, a leader in the field of trauma work, created Somatic Experiencing, which teaches that trauma must be resolved in the body before it may be effectively processed emotionally and cognitively. Levine describes orienting as, “the primary means a through which the animal tunes into its environment. These responses are constantly merging into one another and adapting to allow for a range of reactions and choices”.
♥ I’m incredibly grateful for Julian, the young man who rescued me in Kauai. In this moment, please send him some love and gratitude for his selfless heroicism.