Don’t Tell Me There’s No God

I felt him release his grip on my life jacket.

I turned my head, still frantically clinging to the dirt and rocks on the embankment he had pushed me to.

I saw the look of surrender in his eyes, and the violent current responded by beginning to pull him away. I was safe. He could give up now.

It seemed like everything was happening in slow motion as panic welled up inside me and I decided in that moment that I would rather die with him than live without him. I let go of the embankment to grab the strap of his life jacket. “Don’t leave me”, I screamed over the roar of the raging river as we were sucked back into the current we had been fighting so hard against.

July 30, 2018 is a day that will forever be etched into my mind. As a survivor of childhood trauma and a Masters level mental health professional, I thought that I would handle the aftermath of surviving a fatal tragedy better than I have. But, then again, maybe that is part of my problem. I tend to have unrealistic expectations of myself.

My brain is not any more immune to a trauma response than anyone else’s, maybe even a little less so since this awful day occurred less than two years after experiencing an unexpected brain clot/stroke at 37. That played into my feelings of guilt and remorse- that somehow I caused this to happen to everyone on the boat that day. I picked out the excursion, I was on the boat. Surely, this wouldn’t have happened if I had not been there.

I walked around (and laid around, if I’m perfectly honest) in a tear laced fog for months. Everything, and I do mean every stinkin’ little thing, would make me either cry or lash out. Irritable would be an understatement. Nightmares kept me awake at night and flashbacks tormented me during the day. Every time I closed my eyes all I could see was the awful, horrific moment that haunts me the most. The one where my husband couldn’t reach the gentleman that struck the same rock I slammed into. He couldn’t reach him without letting go of me.

Someone died. Steve lost his life in the glacier river that day. Sheri lost her husband. I know rationally that his death is not my fault. I know that my life wasn’t spared at the expense of his. But survivors guilt is a really awful, really real thing and it just about took me under as many times as that current sucked me under the silty glacier water in Alaska.

I had never seen a psychiatrist in all my 39 years but I found one when we returned and he became a very important part of my world as he and my therapist developed a plan to help me calm my mind enough to sleep, to work, to finish grad school, to be present for my family. Medications, EMDR, self-care, journaling and leaning on the other survivors have helped me emerge from the daze and be able to function.

I don’t function as the woman I was before July 30, 2018. I don’t even remember who all that woman was and I don’t know that I will ever see her again. I still have really bad days and sleep is still elusive most nights. I’m easily frightened and easily overwhelmed. I’m different.

But, there is a hope that lives deep inside me. The same hope that has gotten me through many difficult times before and two prior times where I almost lost my life.

That is the hope I have in a power higher than myself. The hope that wraps itself around my soul like a warm blanket. The hope that soothes my fears and calms my worried heart. The hope that reached down and scooped us out of that water and set us on the solid ground.

Yes, you read that right. After we were sucked back into the crazy, swirling current, Mike and I looked at each other and the last thing either of us remembers is my tearful cry “we are going to die in this water”. And then, we were up on an embankment trying to figure out how we got out of the water.

We didn’t talk about it for a few days. We were too traumatized and too spent. Hiking in the Alaskan forest barefoot and bleeding will do that to you. Being lifted in a wire cage by a Coast Guard helicopter over the very water we had just escaped from will do that to you.

But, when we did whisper our trauma to each other, both of us asked the other the question “do you know how we got out of the water?”, “how did we make it to that embankment and climb up”? “why can’t we remember?”.

And my sweet, brave husband, more sure of himself than he’s ever been said “because God Himself lifted us up out of the water and set us on higher ground. I don’t know why but He did”.

That’s right, babe. I don’t know why but I’m glad He did.

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