Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Shipwreck Survivor

You know how when you walk on a sandy beach the earth feels a little unsteady under your feet? It feels like it is solid ground, but it really isn't. You step and things shift underneath you and sometimes you lose your balance. Dry sand makes it feel like every step takes twice the effort and wet sand disintegrates as you move.

That's what my life feels like right now. 

I have survived a shipwreck that could have taken my life. This shipwreck was caused by a storm nobody saw coming. This shipwreck launched me straight into the depths of the ocean where I was tossed back and forth between drowning, coming up for air and treading water in the deep dark waves. I found myself frozen in fear, gasping for breath and feeling like I might not survive. 

But I didn't die, I was just tossed out onto the shore of an unknown island in the middle of nowhere, by myself with no survival guide. And this is where I remain. This island is my home now.

Everything is new and unknown and I feel am utterly alone. I am facing the new reality that post-shipwreck I am not dead but I don't feel quite alive. I have to figure out how to do life here on this island which requires skills I don't have because I never thought I would need them. Where is the dad from Swiss Family Robinson who takes the scraps of their boat and creates a mansion on the island complete with running water? 

I say I am alone, but I am not actually alone. My family is here with me, and some of my friends. We were all sailing together, but my boat was the only one caught in the storm. Their boats got rained on and the seas were choppy which made for a rough ride but they weren't thrown into the sea. I try to explain what it felt like and they try so hard to understand but they can't. They carry their own wounds of having watched helplessly from their boats as I was thrashed by the waves.

But I have this experience that my body and mind are marked by and I have these scars and memories that are mine alone. That is why I feel like I am here by myself. I think I have water in my ears still because everything that was once vibrant and loud feels muted and distorted. I have everything I had before the wreck, but it doesn't feel the same. Well, not everything. I lost some friends who saw the waves get choppy, and saw my boat begin to sink and they turned their boats around and sailed off the other direction. That still bothers me.

I survived the wreck but this island, I don't even know how to get around on it. I don't have a map and just when I think I have figured out where I am going, I get lost. 

My family and friends try to help "Head to this side of the island for that"... "Over here is your home, and over there is where you work".... I try to explain how disoriented I am but I don't quite have the words. Some days I feel like the shipwreck never happened. I am navigating the island well and my internal compass has calibrated itself. Some days I wake up and I feel like I am back in that cold water, drowning. 

I find it helpful to talk through it, but people seem tired of hearing about it. "Yes. We know you were in a shipwreck, we get it. You're alive though so leave that in the past". When it first happened a lot of people were listening, but the longer it's been... well, the fewer the people there are hanging around. It feels so isolating, to have been the only one who was shipwrecked in that storm. Sometimes I make myself remember every detail because it makes me feel alive. It makes me remember that I did indeed get shipwrecked and that I am not going crazy, it wasn't a bad dream. It was bad, but it was real.

I have a limp now. Some days it is intense and other days it fades a bit, but it's there. I have heard from other shipwreck survivors that it doesn't ever go away but it gets better. I want to believe them but it's only been 7 months since I washed up on shore so I have a hard time believing them. 

I find I am afraid of boats now too. I want to get back on the water and back towards where I was going, confident in who I was and what my purpose was and who my people were but I am not ready yet. I'm on the shore, although I dip my toes in the water from time to time I can't seem to get back out there. There have been days where I was brave and waded out a little farther but the memories of the wreck keep me from moving further.

Maybe I won't ever get back out on the water,  but maybe that's okay? Maybe I will discover new things about this island, and myself and the people here that came with me, or showed up after. Maybe what never should have been will become exactly what it was supposed to become. Maybe others will show up here, shipwrecked and alone, and I can help guide them around the island. Maybe I will tell others how to survive a shipwreck should they find themselves in one. 

Maybe my limp won't ever go away but instead of making me weaker it makes me stronger. 

SUPHAPORN/ISTOCK/GETTY IMAGES PLUS

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