After the Fire: Moving Up Maslow’s Hierarchy

To research my last post about how to help after a fire or disaster, I started reading blogs from fire survivors. I read government pamphlets and emergency websites. I’ve talked with disaster survivors.

One theme kept coming up that I didn’t at all expect. I knew we could get depressed. I wasn’t at all surprised that I felt totally and completely overwhelmed. I knew when I went to Europe for work for three weeks that I really wanted was to escape to a beach somewhere, reading Sherlock Holmes and eating ice cream floats.

Most of my hobbies are in this pile somewhere.
Most of my hobbies are in this pile somewhere.

What I didn’t expect but everyone who works with fire survivors knows: you’re going to lose self-esteem. I first read it in a governmental website on what to expect after a disaster or fire. I’d been feeling that way since the days after the fire, but I didn’t realize it was a near-universal experience. But it made perfect sense, and it made me feel better the instant I read it.

Think about it. You’ve just lost some or all of your possessions. You’ve lost your home, your routines, your safe place. So much of who we are is tied up in … not only our possessions, but our foundation. Your home is your foundation. I will never look at homeless people or refugees in the same way again. Even though I’d been a nomad and have travel writer friends who haven’t had a fixed address for years and just travel from place to place, they all chose this lifestyle. They had time and energy to prepare for it. Hell, I was a nomad for a year and loved it. But when you’re settled, you have no idea how much you rely on your foundations to keep you … you.

Here are a few examples of what I miss most:

My dental care routine. And you know what? I knew it before the fire, and I didn’t care how nerdy it made me. It took me years to perfect it and I could do it without even thinking. I’m the kind of person who gets my teeth cleaned at the dentist every six months, so this was not only important to my health, but made me feel less confused.

Books. Magazines. Crossword puzzles. Anything I can curl up with in bed. My Funny Times subscription.

Meditation. I tried to do it every day, even just for a minute or two. But I made a conscious choice probably while the fire was still burning to put my body aside and forget that it existed.

Television. I love Dancing With the Stars. Go ahead, judge me. But I’ll be the one giggling with my friends about overly dramatic Welsh opera singers and you’ll be the judgmental one not having fun watching Dancing With the Stars.

A Room of One’s Own. I start to cry just thinking about this one. While I’ve grown closer to everyone I’ve stayed with, I was still in their house, using their bathroom, intruding on their personal space.  I have a room now. I can decorate it how I want, close the door (I love that my door on the houseboat locks), dance naked with my cat in the mornings, do whatever I want, whenever I want, however I want, and not have to answer to anyone.

Style. I wrote a blog post about how preferences were one of life’s most opulent luxuries. Think about how many apsects of your life you get to enact your own preferences. Do you choose what to wear, or does someone choose it for you? Do you have food allergies, or can you eat just about everything? Do you have health or mobility issues, or do you have the ability to do whatever your body will allow you to do? Are you out of work or underemployed, or do you have enough money to do a few special things for yourself each month? If you answered no to any of the former, consider yourself among the luckiest human beings alive today.

One of the things a disaster takes away from you is choice. You wear what’s been donated, sleep where it’s offered, eat what and when you can. One of the most powerful tools I’ve gotten back — and one of the most overwhelming — has simply been the power to make my own choices again.

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