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How to Know How Strong You Are (a hurricane Harvey story)

Only the partially submerged stop sign gives any indication this was once a street….the very same street where I grew up!

In late August of this current year, (un)coincidentally just hours after hurricane Harvey had swept through my home city of Houston, TX, I encountered a new me.

She was much stronger than I expected she’d be.

She was kind of….awe-inspiring, actually….especially considering disaster struck so very swiftly and oh-so-very-close to home.

Here’s what happened:

While my neighborhood (um) weathered “horrible Harvey” fairly well, my parents’ neighborhood didn’t enjoy the same good luck. My folks actually have one of the biggest bayous in the city right on the other side of their back fence, so their home stayed dry all the way until the day Harvey waved goodbye to Texas and headed off to visit Louisiana instead.

But then our city officials, apparently attempting to cope with wildly outdated reservoir capacity that threatened to overflow and flood all of the downtown area, decided to open one of the major dams and let the extra water out before it could reach that area. Guess where all that extra water went?

My parents were evacuated from their flooded home by kayak just hours after Houston opened its own floodgates.

The days and weeks that followed were….heart-wrenching. Horrifying. Disastrous. Panic-inducing. And sometimes miraculous.

There was so much to be done and it all needed first-place priority, from filing claims to applying for FEMA assistance to locating temporary housing to finding a contractor to turning the house my folks have lived in for 42 years literally inside out….until pretty much everything that had previously been contained safely inside their four walls was sitting out in full (and gloriously moldy) view on the front lawn instead.

A very stressed out canine family member attempts to relax in the aftermath of “horrible Harvey.”

Not to mention that our puppy, Flash Gordon, took one look at that kayak and rather instantly commenced to having panic attacks, panting and shivering and shaking and whimpering nonstop from that point forward whether we were at the hotel, in the car, at a restaurant, or anywhere, really. He wanted his “home” and we couldn’t explain to him why going back home just wasn’t possible right at this particular moment.

Anytime this type of disaster strikes, it takes a team to work your way through it. I joined up with “Team Cutts” ASAP, of course, and spent long days working side by side with my folks, the workers, the contractor and caring volunteers as we went wading through the mountainous urgent to-do list the dam flooding had generated.

In many areas of our city, people emerged mostly unscathed from Harvey. But in pockets, such as in my parents’ neighborhood, the formerly neat rows of polite one-stories with carefully trimmed hedges had turned into epic disaster zones, complete with Homeland Security, police reinforcements and community teams monitoring entry and exit for weeks.

At the entrance to their neighborhood, where several Homeland Security agents stood watch during daylight hours, one enterprising homeowner had made up a hand-drawn sign that proclaimed, “You loot, we shoot.” On the nearby table were mounds of donated water, baked goods, bleach, paper towels, mold masks and other things residents might need that were hard to come by at local hardware stores.

It was a beautiful time and a terrible time. And it is still not over. To date, my parents are as yet unable to return to their beautiful classic home, which is even now undergoing a full makeover to make it livable again.

During this time, I have lost many days of work (as a freelance writer, I only get paid when I work, so you can imagine the impact there) in service to the “Team Cutts” effort. I have also lost sleep and occasionally sanity as we have all put our heads together and tried to decipher what our next moves should be.

But we are getting through it. And I think I personally have recovery as well as daily life to thank for this, since recovering from an eating disorder, panic attacks and chronic depression has taught me that any goal can be achieved if the achiever simply refuses to stop trying.

Daily life has also taught me that help can arrive at the most unusual moments and from the most unexpected of places and people, like the hotel concierge who spontaneously organized a “Harvey happy hour” for his full hotel of displaced Harvey evacuees and their dogs, which has since resulted in lots of new friendships, both human and canine.

Since Harvey, we have witnessed equally great devastation from Hurricanes Irma, Jose and Maria, an unspeakable 7.1 magnitude earthquake in Mexico, massive monsoon flooding in India and southern Asia, two back-to-back typhoons in Japan and epic wildfires that have swept through Canada and the northwestern United States.

Our hearts go out to each and every individual – human and non-human – whose lives have been and continue to be touched by these catastrophic events.

From our team to yours, we also have a prayer and a message to share:

You are STRONG. SO very STRONG. And we are all stronger TOGETHER.

Always remember this. <3

Today’s Takeaway: Have you ever been hit with disaster, catastrophe, great loss, from totally out of the blue, to where you had to mobilize literally immediately just to stay one step ahead as it all unfolds? What did this experience teach you about your own inner resourcefulness, strength, perseverance, heart?

P.S. This post is from my free monthly zine, Good News for Recovery + Life. Read the full edition HERE!

How to Know How Strong You Are (a hurricane Harvey story)

Shannon Cutts

Parrot, tortoise & box turtle mama. Writer. Author. Mentor. Champion of all people (and things) recovered and recovering.

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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2020). How to Know How Strong You Are (a hurricane Harvey story). Psych Central. Retrieved on June 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 30 Mar 2020
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