Persistence and assertiveness are learned skills for people with codependency issues. Sometimes, you just can’t take no (or nine of them) for an answer. Discerning between pushing and persistance is paramount, but when you feel in every fiber of your being that you need a yes, you can’t let a no scare you off.
On Monday, I drove to Englewood, parts of which like some of the better-known areas of southwest Florida, were devasted by Hurricane Ian. My intention was to provide support, but I wasn’t sure exactly where to do that. So I went to the base of an official volunteer organization and asked where I could serve.
I wasn’t expecting to be told I couldn’t. Especially not after stating I had extensive hurricane disaster relief experience as well as over twenty years of professional experience helping people with trauma, anxiety and emotional distress. Personal experience losing everything didn’t qualify me either. I hadn’t attended the organization’s orientation that morning.
Most people leave when they’re told “Come back tomorrow.” But I’d driven over 90 minutes to get there, and I knew it hadn’t been to learn things I could have read on this organization’s website. Someone – perhaps many someones – needed me, and I was going to find them.
I had no issue setting out on my own; I just didn’t know where to go. Unlike when Hurricane Sandy hit Long Beach, New York in 2012, it wasn’t obvious. In LB, you couldn’t have found a block where people didn’t need help. It was an island, and all of it had been under the five-foot storm surge. I had no clue where to go in Englewood; I’d just heard parts of it were in very bad shape.
By the fifth no, I’d given up asking to volunteer with the organization and had begun just asking for directions to the hardest hit area. I told them I was comfortable going alone. No one seemed to want me to do that, either, nor did they seem particularly interested in my trauma support background. They told me they had champlains going around for people to pray with.
I’m a big fan of prayer, but I suspected not everyone in the community would be open to that. It can be hard to find a buy-in for a loving God when someone just lost their home and everything they own. That type of experience can certainly take you to a much stronger connection with faith, but that’s not generally immediate.
I wisely kept that opinion to myself. Instead, I realized it was time to speak their language if I wanted them to help me help.
“I don’t think Jesus had me drive 90 minutes to turn around and come back tomorrow,” I said to the tenth person. “Someone needs me here, and I need you to point me in their direction so I can do what I was sent to do.”
Having said the magic words to the right person, an exception was made for me to help out.
I was even sent directly a mobile home community that had been completely leveled.
Countless homes were destroyed in Long Beach, and wreckage, possessions and seaweed lined cars were scattered every which way on sand-filled streets. But you couldn’t tell by looking at most of the houses and buildings that they’d been condemned. Most of them were still standing. Disaster support in Long Beach had been harder in other ways: it had been my community. I had close friends who were homeless and suffering; there was no power and nothing was open.
But in this mobile home community in Englewood, almost no houses were intact. Many were literally just piles of what they used to be, as if a tornado had blasted through. I have to admit it was pretty shocking at first, and as I expected, kicked up a bit of my own PTSD from 2012.
I prayed and worked the very tools I teach others and within minutes, I felt nothing but really aligned, happy to be there, and ready to support people.
I was proud of myself for having been persistent, a trait I lacked when I was in the throes of codependency a decade ago. It was only the first of many positive changes I saw in myself from that day, a far cry from the woman who did that long stint of disaster relief work in 2012.
This time, I didn’t show up as someone with savior syndrome, needing to help others to feel good about myself, but rather, as an empowered woman. A woman who knew the difference between forcing and asserting, and knew how to do the latter with respect and grace.
A woman who knew why she was there, and wasn’t going to take no as an excuse to chicken out, and give up on herself or the people who were waiting for her compassion and hugs.
I got in trouble for the latter that day. But that’s a story for next time!
I decided to share a photo was from the following day’s sunrise in Sarasota, which despite there not being any rain, arrived with a rainbow of hope. While the photographer in me couldn’t help taking some disaster photos, it doesn’t feel right to share them.
Have you recently received a no for something you know intuitively is meant for you? It might be time to ask again. Or perhaps, nine more times.