Hurricanes, Depression, and Recovery
"Hurricanes, Depression, and Recovery" article is a story of one person’s tragedy from severe depression and hurricane losses. Experiencing a larger force of nature brought him not only to a deeper understanding of his life but to healing and recovery. The hurricane calamity also affected the multitude of people living in the same destructive path. The devastating hurricane or a storm can be compared to depressive illness: both need a path to recovery. A story presents one man’s journey of despair and loss, to redemption and healing.
I met Dan*
when he was living in Florida. He was fifty-four years old at the time and had depression (read more) and substance abuse problems (read more). He felt it all started in childhood with parental neglect, physical, and emotional abuse. His father was an alcoholic and drug addict who abandoned Dan’s mother and him when he was nine years old. He saw repeated domestic violence in the years before his father left. Dan had problems from age fourteen with narcotic, cocaine, and alcohol. He received treatment at mental health facilities for depression and substance abuse. He was on several medications for depression, sleep, anxiety, and blood pressure problems.
(*Dan is not an actual person, but a composite of people with similar problems encountered in the past.)
Dan also as an adult had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (read more).
His PTSD came from early childhood trauma, combat duty in Vietnam, and history of an auto accident. Episodic severe depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and nightmares occurred. Dan felt like he was living in a storm of negativity. His mind was often a swirl of traumatic intrusive memories. Sometimes he felt like he was falling into a deep black hole where he was going to lose his mind. He at times had suicidal thoughts about taking his own life to escape. Dan lost his pleasure in doing things and his appreciation for life. He disliked being around people and became withdrawn and isolated. His wife left him, and his support network disappeared. He became despondent, felt hopeless, and helpless. He used an increased amount of pain pills and alcohol in the attempt to turn off all the stuff in his head.
After a blackout, he woke up from a drug alcohol stupor in a detox center. He was told that his small trailer and belongings had been destroyed by a recent hurricane. He had been picked up by a rescue team and brought to a hospital and then later moved to a drug alcohol rehabilitation program. In talking to a counselor after being detoxed, he realized he was a survivor of not only the destructive hurricane but also of the devastating storm in his mind: affecting his body and spirit. He became aware of the many destructive elements in his life, and of the impact of past trauma.
Dan began trauma-based therapy for PTSD
and remained in an addiction treatment program. He committed himself to regular participation in Alcoholics Anonymous and felt AA contributed to a profound spiritual awakening. He had the realization that there was something greater than himself and his self-interests. Feeling more stable with his connection to a calming, gratifying spiritual connection, he began feeling compassion for others. He started committing himself to helping others. Dan built a sustainable recovery program with a nurturing support network. His addiction and difficulties with PTSD and depression were now, he felt, on a healing path.
Dan had felt trapped in the powerful destructive swirling storm of frenetic mental activity. His mind had been filled with intrusive, painful memories. He tried to deal with the many wounds and loses in his life by convenient and superficial fixes - all which failed. The hurricane was the great and final injury to his self-held configurations of life. The great storm, literally and figuratively, swept everything away - leaving him open to deeper inner change, acceptance, spiritual emergence, and restoration. His life had been taken over by addiction, mood disturbance, and self-destruction. His recovery and redemption began when he was at the “end of his rope.” Finally, in treatment, he did a profound self-assessment which led to an awakened awareness and change. He developed compassion for others and surrendered much of his self-centered arrogance. Finally, he could begin a real rebuilding process.
The eye of the hurricane, an area of calm, is a relief from the storm's activity.
A depressed person, even when there are moments of calmness or spiritual reprieve, still has dark forebodings. Dan feared he would
relapse back into the devastating experience of depression or his drug addiction: back into the fury of the storm.
Uncovering the peaceful center, in the heart of the storm, is the portal to serenity. Now, there is the experiencing of timelessness, unity, love, and peace. Becoming centered is an essential part of the healing journey, beginning in moments of freedom from mental turbulence. Gradually, there is an extending to longer periods of relief. Dan became better at resourcing the serenity state as part of his healing journey.
For many years, Dan had been seeking a state, or place, of no “storm” of mental activity. He was to find in his recovery, the peaceful spiritual center. He described this as a naturally present place of calm, happiness, peacefulness, and love. It was comforting to find the space. It was just beyond the disturbing mental activity that hid this always present zone. He was to establish a growing foothold in this calm center of the storm.
In the mandala art of the East concentric circles surround the center.
mandala appears like a storm or hurricane which always has a core. The ancient yogis described the experiencing of the eternal peaceful center as "Satchidananda" which interprets to mean the journey to enlightenment: being, consciousness, bliss, happiness, and truth.
The outer bands or swirls of a storm appear to arise out of a calm originating hub. The way of survival or healing is to come back to this place of sanctuary or respite. A movement towards the center is healing.
A decrease is needed in the destructive frenetic outward activity
of a hurricane or a mental storm as seen in depression. A mental storm of worries, fearful thinking, feelings of vulnerability or a sense of lack, can lead to mood or functional impairment. The spinning of a hurricane or a tornado recalls the spiritual spinning dance of the Whirling Dervish. Likewise, the stimming of an autistic child (read more) is a purposeful movement to offset the storm of mental activity and stimulatory overload. Yoga is a traditional practice from the East which involves movement, stretching, holding postures, relaxed breathing, mindfulness, and finally resting quietly in a peaceful repose. All of the activities mentioned can lead to a place of calm and peacefulness - a sanctuary from the storm.
One must survive the outward destructive storm and get to safety or find safe ground - as then healing and recovery can begin. A peaceful center is needed to establish a spiritual safety zone of awareness and calm: to be built by discernment and practice.
Movement can begin
from the turmoil of destructive mental activity to “moments” in the peaceful center. Moments can grow into a more sustained presence and link with the "calm center". Connection with our natural home of awareness and being - is the healing way. Finally, one gains the recognition that the center is always eternally there. Even while the external mental activity and life appear to be going on, the center remains here as always.
The "center" is beyond any explanation or obvious descriptive words,
as it can only be experienced or known. Similar in the bible where God is asked to name or describe him or herself and replies that “I am that I am.” Likewise, the center of all manifestation, being and experiencing is what it is, or what we are - beyond finite description or words. Rupert Spira (click to his book) relates the spiritual center as an always existing presence. He likens it to a screen on which a movie is seen. The screen is always there, but one becomes unaware of the screen as the attending mind only sees the drama. Or like in a dream, we become both the dream and dream character and lose the awareness of who we truly are. Jean Klein (click to his book) sees the root of all desires is the one desire to come home to peace. Nisargadatta (click to his book), one of the great modern sages of India, in the popular modern spiritual classic "I Am That" - brings his audience to a clearer understanding of the nature of mind and the deeper nature of peaceful being and existence.
The goal is to move towards a greater awareness
of our universal oneness and connection. The encouraged path is towards the experiencing of the inner center of consciousness and pure awareness. The destiny is always found below the mental activity and working of the mind. As obstructions or entrapment of mind dissolves, there is a passage to moments of calm, peacefulness, harmony, and love.
In mental health, the ability to get to the moments - the “pauses,” as finding the calm place during a storm, brings respite. The moments of calm can occur between thoughts, activities, or after gratification of desire. "Centering" helps people to regain flexibility and balance. There can be a lessening of rigid thinking patterns and intrusive, painful memories. Growing moments of liberation - from disturbing thoughts, images, and beliefs - builds a foundation for recovery. In the aftermath of the hurricane comes the rebuilding process. For recovery, a stronger integration of mind, body, and spirit needs to occur. A lasting connection with the center of peacefulness, unity, and happiness, becomes the eventuality.
Water, the ocean – the place of waves, storms, and hurricanes -
is a metaphor in Eastern thought. The term, water, represents the underlying principle or origin of all things and appearances. Spiritual, religious, and Eastern philosophies support the idea of one central infinite creative source. It is the felt source from which all perceived or experienced things originate or are created.
In Eastern thought, it is the all-encompassing infinite source, the Self, or pure awareness.
The opposite point of view dominates in Western materialistic or scientific thought. In that everything experienced in the perceiving, thinking mind exists only as a real object or solid matter.
Three stages of sleep
are comparable to the journey to the serene center of consciousness. The center of the hurricane or the inner peace sought by the depressed person is similar to the third stage of sleep:
The awake state is where the mind is engaged in its alert, reasoning, worrying, or agitated modes.
The dream stage of sleep is where there are less focus and ties to mental or physical reality. A person gets some rest in dream sleep. Dream time can be an agitated, disturbing, or a poor rest experience: a frequent experience in the trauma-related nightmares of PTSD.
The deep sleep stage is where a person returns to a peaceful and recuperative state, waking to feel refreshed and revitalized. It is akin to the discovery of the calm hurricane center or like the depressed person dropping into a place of quiet, peacefulness, and rejuvenation. The calm center is free of busy mental activity or agitation. (Sleep - read more)
Dan remembered his experience in a childhood baptism ceremony being emersed in water for spiritual attunement. The Mikveh water bath was a similar experience for a women neighbor, reported to Dan. It was a part of an orthodox Jewish ceremony in preparation for the Shabbat. Dan also liked the use of a warm Epson salt water bath for calming and relaxing of his aroused body, mind, and soul.
Where does one begin a healing movement to the center of a storm?
Regular attuning of the body with health practice is a good beginning as improving lifestyle, exercise, and diet. Other essentials are regular spiritual practices like meditation, self-reflection, and prayer. Companionship with persons and pets helps get past the individual mind ego. Joining or sharing with a supportive social network – as the power of recovery seen in the Twelve Step Programs (read more) - is an important part of addiction recovery work.
A balanced program allows movement away from the hurricane or storm of the mind to the peaceful center:
Stability and balance are created with the strong presence and connection with the tranquil center of consciousness. Awareness and consciousness is the screen on which all life, as we know it, plays.
Giving, helping, compassion, charity is a direct way
to the escape the destructive storm of our self-mental preoccupation and mind ego. Our perceived separate selves, feeling of incompleteness, seeking fulfillment, seeking more security and safety with money or property – can be alleviated by sharing, serving, giving, or helping. It is a time of compassion for all those affected by the recent hurricanes and opportunity for giving aid to all those in need by all who can. With the current catastrophe - damaging so many people’s lives and possessions - one can help by giving to charity and relief efforts:
By Ron Parks, MD & edited by Shan Parks