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Dr. Gregory Jantz, Ph.D. Headshot

Shelter From the Storm

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Did you see the story last week about Theresa Christian, the woman found stuck in her freezer after five days? Authorities and family members are still speculating about this peculiar turn of events, but surmise Theresa became concerned about a possible tornado. Looking for shelter from the storm, Theresa apparently climbed into "a small chest-type freezer in a closet." That was Saturday.

On Tuesday, after not hearing from her, family members went through Theresa's apartment. They didn't think to look in the small closet off the kitchen. Finding no one and hearing no response to their cries, the family left but they didn't stop searching for her. On Wednesday morning, they went back to the apartment and this time her son heard Theresa's faint call for help. Opening the closet door, he "saw his mother sitting in the freezer with the lid open, unable to move." Theresa Christian was taken to the hospital in critical condition but is expected to survive.

Theresa Christian thought she was in danger. In her anxiety, she ran for shelter. Worried about surviving a tornado, she decided the steel construction of a chest freezer would, hopefully, do the trick. This solution at first seemed far-fetched to me until I remembered the opening scene of the 2008 film, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Indie finds himself trapped at the site of an imminent nuclear explosion. He can't outrun the blast, so he hides himself inside an old lead-lined refrigerator. The bomb goes off and the refrigerator goes flying away from the blast site. Indie emerges banged up, but survives.

In the movie, Indie got out of the fridge, but Theresa couldn't get out of the freezer. At some point, when Theresa decided it was safe to leave, she couldn't. She either became too cold to function or the lid was too heavy for her to lift off herself; whatever the reason, Theresa stayed with her legs in that freezer from Saturday to Wednesday.

There was an element of complete strangeness about this story that first caught my attention. How do you climb into a freezer in your kitchen and not be able to get out? I don't even have a chest freezer; but, if I did, I wouldn't climb into it. When I read this story, part of me was baffled, unable to identify with Theresa Christian at all. But the more I thought about her story, it hit me; I know many people like Theresa Christian, including myself.

Theresa panicked over something that might happen but didn't. She chose a solution that factored in a short-term threat but failed to consider the long-term implications. If you're going to try to save yourself in a chest freezer, you need to consider at some point how you're going to get out. You need to be careful because the solution you choose for one problem can sometimes lead to an even bigger one.

As a mental health and chemical dependency counselor, I see people who are figuratively stuck in freezers all the time. They climb into alcohol or drugs as a shelter from their storm. They climb into denial or anger or shame as a way to escape. All of these shelters make a certain sort of sense to the person at the time. They understand the fear and panic that causes them to climb in, but fail to factor how hard it will be to climb out.

Several years ago, I found myself stuck in a freezer called workaholism. I wound up not with a case of freezer burn, but with a case of burnout. I needed help to lift the lid and climb out. So, in that context, I completely get Theresa Christian. I started out reading this story thinking I had nothing in common with her. Now, I'm going to use her story in my counseling; I'm going to remember her story in my life.

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