When The Levee Breaks

I sometimes feel sadness or depression. sometimes it’s slow, and eases up toward me and I can feel it coming; other times it’s like that one big wave when you’re playing in the ocean or in a river and you didn’t realize the wave was quite that big and then it hits and you’re not sure where the sky is and you try to find the bottom and you can feel the current pulling your feet down into the dark. surprise. panic. water up your nostrils.

people like me, who grew up in families filled with violence, addiction, and mental illness, often end up in the middle of a feeling – overwhelming joy; fear that’s way out of proportion to the present situation;  sadness that feels suffocating; anger which we’re sure will crack the earth’s crust open – and we don’t know why or how we got there.

over the last decade-plus of psychotherapy, Men’s Work, recovery, spirituality and following jesus, i have learned many coping skills for when i get overwhelmed.

one of the biggest tools I’ve learned – and it’s completely counterintuitive – is to let the water come.

for years i tried to hold the water back. i was afraid that if i felt anything that i couldn’t control, i would die. so i build dams, walls, levees, all meant to keep the deep waters of anger or grief or sadness away. when a powerful river crashes through the levees, the houses we have built may flood and fall over, and the fields we’ve plowed and seeded may turn to mud, and the plans we had may be washed away. it’s terrifying.

but … delta bottom-lands are some of the most fertile in the world; wherever the floods come, they infuse nutrients and organic material into the soil. and much of what people construct is knocked down and shown for what it was: temporary, not safe, not strong.

sometimes it is good to let the levee break.

i am going through some big things and the water in this season is deep. there is joy in new beginnings, and also grief for what is ending. part of me wants to panic … but … with god’s help i choose to welcome the water, as best i am able. things i built that won’t stand anymore? wash them away. if they flood and fall, they weren’t strong anymore anyway. ground that i thought was well-tended and fertilized but is really barren? let the water carry richness from what is dark and deep, and renew the hidden places in the soil.

when i am having trouble staying in the moment, i can stop. i can breathe. i can say the serenity prayer or a thomas merton prayer or read a rumi poem. i can read an al-anon slogan. i can take a walk. i can write down things i am feeling, and things i am grateful for. i definitely put on Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks” and listen to it as loudly as i can play it in my truck, as many times as it takes for me to settle back down into my body. and i put on my Warrior talisman and stand on the earth and call in the directions.

rather than helping me not feel my discomfort or fear, these actions help me feel everything. and then, when i am present, i discover that i’m not drowning after all. i can know where the sky is and where my feet are. i’m still in deep water – but it isn’t my enemy; it’s just where i am in this moment. the water wasn’t going to be held back anyway. let it come and do its work.

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