High River United Church of High River, Alberta


June 20th is Coming to High River!

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June 20th is coming. In High River and area that is a significant date. Anyone who experienced the Flood of 2013 will never forget this date. In fact, it is woven into the fibre of our being and of our community. This year we come to the June 20th date while living in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. If you are noticing that you are feeling a bit more nervous and alarmed as June 20th approaches, you are not alone. There are good reasons for people in this community to feel more on edge this spring – and it has nothing to do with the river.


Our bodies, minds and spirits are wired for survival. Alarm! is triggered in us when there is something that might threaten our survival, and our whole body engages. Our heart starts pumping, our breathing rate increases, our mind becomes alert and focused, and our stomach shuts down digestion so that we are ready to fight, flee or freeze – whichever protects us the best.


But here is the thing! Our brain does not distinguish between past alarm and present alarm. It just says, Alarm! Every past alarm gets folded in with the present alarm, and our alarm increases. We now are living on high alert – and even minor things can be alarming.


In 2013, we noticed that past alarms related to tragic events, abuse and addictions were pulled up alongside the alarming event of the flood, and people suddenly found themselves working through events long past. With the 2015 Fort McMurray fires, many of us noticed that we were having the same reactions as we had experienced during the flood. The brain does not distinguish between past and present. It’s job is to protect us; it sounds the alarm!


As the lockdown began in March this year, I quickly noticed that I was experiencing similar emotions and feelings in my body as I had during the flood and recovery. In fact, I could connect the feeling I was having now to a feeling at a specific moment related to the flood.   Our bodies remember, even if we are not consciously remembering at the moment.


So, if you are finding your alarm heightened this spring, and more thoughts arise of “Will the river flood this year?”, don’t be surprised. But here are some suggestions I have:


          -First of all, name the alarm. Name it out-loud to yourself and to someone you trust. Name

it and make friends with the alarm. “Hello alarm. I know you are trying to protect me, but I am safe right now. Thanks for taking care of me.”


          -Find healthy ways to express your alarm. Alarm is a deeply uncomfortable and disorienting feeling with which to live. You may be tempted to turn to alcohol, drugs or other addictive behaviours to numb the alarm. Yet, as you well know, that creates other issues. So seek out ways to express and release the alarm. Run, walk, draw, paint, sew, make music, dig in the garden. Alarm is energy, so let that energy flow out in a safe and healthy way.


          -Let the tears flow. Underneath alarm, enfolded in any traumatic and tragic situation is a huge amount of loss that needs to be grieved. In the flood, we lost so much. We lost the safety of our homes as they were damaged or destroyed. Memory items and photos were lost. Friends and family moved away. Jobs changed or were uncertain for a long while. People died during the flood and in the months after. The list is long. I cried every day for 2 years and I still don’t feel as if I have had enough tears to cry for all the loss. Now the pandemic is creating more loss and uncertainty.        We need our tears. They are a gift. When we cry, we release the alarm, frustration  and sadness held inside, and it paves a way for us to adapt to our new situation. So find a safe place for your tears. Listen to a sad piece of music or watch a sad movie. Cry with a trusted friend or cuddle up with a favourite quilt. Let the tears flow. Crying a lot is not a disorder. It is the way through huge grief, trauma and loss.


          -Talk to someone you trust. If the alarm is shutting you down and making it hard to function, find the person to whom you can honestly express what is going on. As  we name the alarm and its effects aloud to someone, we see the alarm in a new way that often lessens the fear. The other person’s questions and comments allow a new  perspective. We also are reminded that we are not alone in dealing with this.


          -Don’t judge yourself. Everyone reacts to a situation differently. There are so many           factors that influence how much alarm we will feel and how we will experience it.  Don’t compare yourself to others. They may not be dealing with it as well as you think. If you are feeling the alarmed and are overwhelmed by it, get support. Don’t tough it out!


          -Finally, get good information from trusted sources. Our town is providing careful           updates about river levels this year, and I am so grateful. We need that information this year to help our alarmed spirits. For pandemic information, go to government websites. Read news from sources you can trust to be as accurate as possible– and avoid the rest. And stop reading the news when you feel the alarm increasing. You have enough alarm already in your system. Don’t let speculation add to it!


Alarm is nature’s way of protecting us. But the alarm system, quite naturally, can get stuck in high alert, especially when we have been though more than one traumatic situations. So don’t be surprised if June 20th is triggering more alarm this year. Name it. Express it. Cry about it. Talk about it. You are not alone in this.


Because I always have the children in my thoughts: Any children in our community, age 8 and over, who lived here at the time of the flood, may also be feeling this alarm in some way. The younger ones perhaps not so much since they won’t exactly remember the flood, but those who are in high school may indeed be feeling alarm from the flood connected with alarm surrounding the pandemic. As their caring adults, we need to pay attention and be aware of this, and offer them a safe place to express what they may not even know how to put into words.


As people of faith, we have the gift of having One in whom we can always lean with our alarm, our grief, and our frustration. We can cry to God and cry with God, shout to God and shout at God. God’s heart is big enough to hold all of our grief, anger, alarm and frustration.


I echo the words of Psalm 18:


          I love you, o Lord, my strength.

         The Lord is my rock, my protection, and my deliverer,

         my God my rock in whom I take refuge.


Thanks be to God that I have a place to go – into the loving heart of God – when I feel alarmed and overwhelmed. Then, having rested in God’s heart, I can step out again in faith.


May 28, 2020    ©2020 Susan Lukey OM, B.Ed., M.Div. Th.M.

High River United Church, High River, AB


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