Hibiscus Affair Part 3 – The Rule of Thirds

Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.
Anaïs Nin

Photography is the story I fail to put into words.
~ Destin Sparks

The rule of thirds is notably one of the first rules a photographer puts to active use in their craft to establish well-balanced and appealing images.  Aligning a subject at the guidelines and intersecting points, a horizon on a top or bottom line, or allow linear features to free flow from section to section make the photograph artistically captivating.  The same can be said about life.

Embarking on my artistic photographic endeavors, I apply the rule in daily practice and experimentation.  It has been especially useful in weaving together my affair with the hibiscus flower, photography and the healing process of love and loss.  Hubbard has become my muse.  Settling in to his new role in his new home, our new home.   I step outside, camera in hand and photograph him.  We play and practice together.  I shoot various stages of his flowering lifecyle —  growth through death.  I’ve captured his blooms mildly wilted from a drenching rain, eavesdropped on a pair of ants rendezvousing on a firm, unopened bud, and attempted a film noir style visual in black and white incorporating a single color element.   Hubbard is the perfect model: stoic, obedient, and never needs a smoking break.



Reviewing images I’d collected with these new skills and new camera a fresh idea was sparked for that trio frame of the Kona, Hawaii hibiscuses now hanging in a guest bathroom.   Update the photos.   The idea was as clear as Hubbard’s uproot was.  The plan:  Hubbard will provide all the content; I will provide visual perspective and creative story.   Together we will apply the rule of thirds:  One plant, three flowers, three varying stages, three different exposures.  We’ll create a new story together.  A story of rejuvenation in the aftermath of loss and heartbreak.  A legacy story, how the gift of love keeps on giving and living happily after.  Together, we’ll illustrate how to revitalize the memory of your loved one, their influence on you and how to artistically integrate that memory into the life you now have without them.   A reality story, now matter how hard you may try to prevent it, doing your absolute best, life is impermanent and you are simply powerless over that fact.

Shortly after the framing revamp was finished, the rainy season that is Florida summer began earlier than usual.  Afternoon showers were long and the downpours intense.  Hubbard struggled to keep up with draining the water out of his pot.  He couldn’t, and went into saturation shock.  I was finding standing water in his pot after every rain.  More and more of his bright green leaves were turning yellow, some trimmed in brown.  I was doing everything I knew how to do to help him.  The leaves kept turning yellow and falling from his branches.  It was out of control.  Hubbard was drowning, in severe shock and at high risk of dying.  Each day, I was taking another preemptive step to nurse him through the trauma.  On July 23rd, the 20th anniversary of my first date with Boomer, I was with Hubbard.  I got him out of the pot, dumped the remaining sulfur-stenched soil and gave him a deep root cut, losing a branch in the process.  My heart raced in urgency to do the next right thing for him.  While he basked in the sun, I dug a hole in the ground the very spot where his pot had rested and set him directly into the earth where he began.   I blended the natural soil with fresh potting mix, rubbed his now naked branches and asked to him to hang on.

The next day, struck by the number 17 sweeping across my mind, I emotionally fell apart.  Boomer died 17 months after we moved.  Hubbard had been living in the clay pot for 17 months and was now close to dying too.  Without knowing it, a p.t.s.d. fashback had symbolically tripped and was I reliving the end of Boomer’s life.  Drowning.  Boomer drowned; drowned in his disease, metastasized by his internal bleeding that couldn’t be stopped.  For a time, I too was drowning — in love and in helplessness —  for Boomer and now Hubbard.  Terrified I can’t do anything else to save either one of them.   I spent the day working my healing practices to move through these emotions as smoothly, swiftly and lovingly as possible.  I was feeling better within a half a day.

Hubbard is holding steady.  I am hopeful while still afraid he may die.  Hibiscus shrubs thrive best in the ground.  He’d been out of the ground too long.  I understand and accept the truth that one day Hubbard will go.  This is the circle of life.  I’m just not ready yet; we’re still enjoying new memories together.  It was the same way with Boomer — I wasn’t ready for him to die either.  I don’t get a say.  I just have to accept it and be, as a friend recently wrote in an email, “…just grateful for another day on the planet.”   That I am.

Boomer, Hubbard, and Me:  The hibiscus affair.  The circle of life, through the rule of thirds.

All truth passes through three stages.
First, it is ridiculed.  Second, it is violently opposed.
Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.
 ~ Arthur Schopenhauer

I walk, I look, I see, I stop, I photograph.
~Leon Levinstein


Ref:  Part 1, Part 2

The Hibiscus Affair Part 2: Hubbard

You hold on and I don’t know how. And I wish I did.
Maybe you were born committed…
I can’t get negative enough.
I can’t get angry enough.
And I can’t get positive enough.

~  Hubbell Gardiner, The Way We Were


Hubbard entered my life that summer of 2011 a few months after our arrival in Florida. Boomer brought him home.  An optimistic, loving gesture in an attempt to shift our collective moods.   Life in Florida wasn’t going well;  Boomer’s drinking was getting worse along with the emotional and physical distance between us.   He use to make frequent gestures of thoughtfulness, tenderness, and surprise — his way of trying to suture our shared despair and disappointment at the sliding decline of our lives and our relationship.   “Hey SMO, come outside, I brought you a present,” he said.  Stepping outside the backdoor, there on the driveway next to the house in a ten-inch black plastic garden center bucket stood Hubbard, a three-foot tall hybrid hibiscus shrub.  He had no flowers, but he did have his tag describing the two color blossoms, solid white and solid red, he would grow for us if we cared for him.

Hubbard got his name from Boomer.  Boomer intended to name the shrub after Robert Redford’s character in the movie The Way We Were — Hubbell.  He got close, Hubbard stuck.   Boomer spoke in symbolic reference how the movie and its emotionally distraught main characters in familiar ways reminded him of us and the way we were — then and now and our shared enjoyment of the hibiscus.

We planted Hubbard in the ground the same day and watched him quickly acclimate to his new environment, displaying those dynamic white and red flowers his tag promised.   In the years following Boomer’s passing, Hubbard continued to be a source of joy, inspiration, comfort, and hope to me.  In the winters he went dormant, got a good pruning and I eagerly awaited his spring resurgence.   This reliability for me acted as a surrogate of Boomer’s spirit-centered loving devotion.


I’m the first to admit the strong emotional attachment I have to this hibiscus shrub.  I concede Hubbard is my pet; my pet shrub.  I love this plant more than is probably reasonable to.  One morning, while sitting on the front veranda I heard a whisper…dig him up, get him in a pot so he can adjust was the specific instruction.  You’re taking him with you and he needs time in the pot in order to survive the move, the directive finished with, do it now, do it today.   So I did.  Hubbard was one of two plants I uprooted from the yard of Sunset Place.  I asked a friend to foster-parent Hubbard and his companion plant through the move.  They camped out on Lisa’s front porch for two weeks during the transition from old house to new house at the other end of town.  When we reunited, Hubbard got a new home along the pavers of the front walk. It suits him.  He gets bright sun all day, which is his favorite and his pot sits next to a sprinkler head so he’s never thirsty.


Some memories last forever was a tagline for the motion picture The Way We Were.  Moving to a new home in the wake of losing a spouse aroused confusion for me.  I didn’t know how Boomer, my memory of him, and our time together integrates in this space and the new emerging chapter of life.  It’s more uncharted terrain. I think that’s why Hubbard is still with me, to keep drawing in Boomer’s sunshine through his beautiful blossoms.

Lately I’m discovering a balanced center where Hubbard is playing a staring role, but I see myself scrambling to capture and protect all that I can for posterity…

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.
~ Marcel Proust


Ref:  Part 1, Part 3




All discarded lovers should be given a second chance,
but with somebody else.
~ Mae West

If you’re over the age of 18, you likely have a former love-flame or two, or three in your personal history book:  a boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse, lover, you name it.   So do I.  These are the relationships that ended.  The relationships that taught you something about love — good or bad.  They’re the ones that hurt when they ended.  They’re the ones that dragged on a day, a week, or 10 years too long.  The relationships that left baggage behind.  The relationships that drove you to say or do things that made sense to you at the time, but to any other ‘normal’ well-adjusted human appeared insane, irrational and down right crazy.  They’re the relationships that lead you to go against your better judgement, challenge your morals and ethics.  The relationships that yielded heartbreak and heartache.    The ones that turned you into a cyber-stalker or a regular run-of-the-mill psycho-stalker.  They’re the ones where you sometimes say, “he/she was the one that got away,” though you don’t really want them back.  The relationships that directly made a permanent embossed imprint  on your history book, uniquely and directly contributing to your formation as a person and a few specific outcomes in your life.

I ask you this:  What do you think about when you think of that person today?  Do you think of them?  When?  How?  How has your continued life changed how you see that individual or the relationship you had with them?  Is it different than it was when you broke-up?  If you sat down with that person today, what would say?  Have you ever thought about it?   I have.

I recently answered a writers call for personal essays about an ‘Ex’.  Personally, I hate the term ‘ex’ in its association with a former significant-other whomever it may be.  ‘Ex’ to me elicits venom, malice, hatred, resentment, disrespect, and all the other anti-lovey-dovey feelings of a jolted sour-apple.    I prefer ‘old’ or ‘former’ over ‘ex’. It models maturity, healing, dignity, and an adjusted reflective perspective.    I immediately knew who I wanted to write about.  I sat at the keyboard an cranked out 1,750 words like a jack rabbit chased by a cat.  It was sitting inside me waiting. Waiting to be poured out and shared.  Waiting to be told.  Not because it is so extraordinary or unusual, but because it is ordinary, more ordinary than we prefer to admit and an equally translatable work of fiction as much as it is a true story.  Its relevancy has yet to be permanently extinguished from the fabric of society.  It’s a telling of second chances, of Spirit-driven do-overs, the kind I once secretly prayed for and previously wrote about, and the kind of do-over that may surprise and inspire you to think and act — differently…

Hello Jack (not his real name) 

She turned 35 this year.  I wonder if she ever crosses your mind?  I know at least one time she did; more than 20 years ago, soon after your biological father appeared on your doorstep, when you made that call to a mutual old friend.  “Does she know about me?” you asked.   “Yes, she does, but your picture certainly isn’t on the piano,” our friend bluntly told you.  That’s as far as it went.  Back into the shadows and behind the bushes you returned.

Yes, she knows about you.  She knows you opted out.  She knows we passed loved notes to one another between classes our junior year, during the height of our first-love relationship.  She knows the notes included intimate conversations about taking our relationship to the next level –  you know, the sex pitch.  She knows I was apprehensive, saying ‘no’ more than once. She knows I still have those notes.  I kept them in preparation — just in case — in the event she (as any naturally curious youngster would) might start asking the ‘big’ questions.  It is her history after all; it is how she got here, how we got here. 

She knows she was conceived the night I returned home from Sarasota, Florida, at the end of Spring Break in 1981.  She knows we didn’t use protection.  She knows it was the first time for both of us.  She knows it happened at my house, on that 1970’s gold sculpted carpeting of the living room floor, less than 20 feet from the front door.  She’s also once driven by the house with me.  She knows no one else was home at the time.  She knows it lasted about five minutes.  She knows I still do not know how I went from saying ‘no’ to saying ‘yes’.  She knows I was 16 when she was conceived, 17 when she was born, and 18 when we graduated high school, six months later.  She knows you ended our relationship within the week of me telling you I was pregnant.  She knows I kept it a secret for four months.  She knows you ran track and were prom king.  She knows at our Senior Superlatives ceremony, our class voted us “best matched couple,” yet, we approached the stage to receive our award from opposite sides of the auditorium because we weren’t speaking to one another — again — and you were dating someone else.  She knows it was a tumultuous time for both of us, we were a couple of 17-year-old immature idiots after all.

She knows for you there was pressure from your mom and step-dad to ‘make it work’. You were forced to put up phony facades of love, let alone like or subtle interest, when you didn’t want to be involved or be responsible and had an eye for a new girl.  She knows we attempted multiple false-starts to reunite, none lasting more than a week or two. 

She knows for me, it was daily self-defense combat:  navigating gossip, rumors, accusations, and innuendo on all fronts from family, staff, friends, acquaintances, and enemies alike.  Having been dumped by my boyfriend of a year-and-a-half and feeling abandoned, unloved, unworthy, and alone as I went from wearing a pom-pon uniform on a Friday to wearing maternity clothes the following Monday.

Most of all, she knows it was fear, at its virgin purest; yes, the pun is intentional.  Fear, at its all-consuming, all-absorbing, all-controlling best.  Fear mashed with shame and guilt.  A trifecta of emotion that perpetuated force-feeding my own denial while keeping the secret from everyone those early months.  Fear you may leave me, just as you did.  Shame and guilt that I was, by all accounts, a ‘good girl’ who knew better and still let this happen.

For this naïve, young teenager, every morning as I brushed my teeth, I’d stand there looking in the mirror scared, forced to confront fear head-on and put on a suit of armor.  Every day self-terrorizing with wonder, no, worry about what possible traumatic interaction I’d be forced to defend myself against – alone – amid the hostile environment known as the school halls of hormonally-charged teenagers.  Who will it be today?  You? Again.  She knows it was that same fear simultaneously bully-whispering in my ear, non-stop, 24-7, with barreling thoughts of desperation of what the future will hold:  what will I do? where will I go? how will I do it? My life is over. Who will love me, now?  The thoughts forcing my hand to hold-on, not to hope but tightening the grip of the growing anger and resentment that brewed inside like a slow-cook chili, over how you seemingly rejected me. Rejected me, rejected responsibility, and were killing my fantasies of ‘happily of ever after’.  It was all evaporating fast, faster than I could handle or willingly admit.  Fear was winning, or was it, and we were all losing, or were we?

There’s an Eleanor Roosevelt quote that sums it up well, “You gain strength, courage, and confidence, by every great experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.  You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”   Underneath all the presiding fear, shame and guilt, a fierce determination was quietly weight training with resilience in preparation for a demonstration of confident courage and confrontational showdowns that were Olympic gold caliber.  A mother lion, not yet a mother, beginning to find the internal roar to protect herself and her cub against all sabotaging predators, including you.  You didn’t want to be responsible, you didn’t want to be in a relationship with me, yet you deemed it appropriate to choke-hold me in displeasure of my choices.  Oh, hell no!

She has your hands, your feet, your tall stature, and before braces a space between her front teeth.  She refers to you as, sperm donor.  It’s how she sees your contribution to her life.   She’s not wrong.  Yet, part of me also believes, as I know and love her, it’s a blend of protective coping humor with a sarcastic jab of honesty.  She’s fascinating to me that way.  She has modeled a level of acceptance that has taught me so much about my own life and brought clarity to the reasons why I made the choices I made when it came to dealing with you, and raising her… solo. 

I know you made choices, too.  Choices that both directly and indirectly contributed to mine, beginning with the earliest one – dumping me.  I lashed out at you, and about you to others.  I set demands, higher than you could or ever wanted to meet.  Every time my resentments grew, I made it easier for you to bow out.  Ironically, that also began to pave the way for it to be easier for me.

Growing up with parents who divorced when I six-years-old, who, throughout my life harbored little more than contempt for one another, prevailing bitterness inhibited their ability to communicate respectfully or co-parent lovingly.  I knew, first-hand, what it was like to be used as a pawn, as a piece of bargaining collateral in a hostile relationship.  It was familiar to me.  I watched it, lived it, learned from it, and began behaving the same way when my relationship with you ended, while also on my way to becoming the mother of your biological daughter.  I recalled the countless actions I had seen, heard from my parents and grandparents; berating one another behind their backs, blaming each other for their unhappiness or failures; sometimes turning all that angst and cruelty onto me or my brother, verbally and physically. I hated it, and in my fear of being 17, pregnant, alone, over-wrought with fear, I equally hated that I was uncontrollably doing the same thing – to you, to her, to myself.  

Forcing you to do and be more than you were capable of or interested in was the repeating recipe for the disaster that had been my own childhood.  Still, the fear of going it alone lingered.  One thing I always knew with absolute certainty, I didn’t want any of that for my own child.  A deep personal conviction that eventually tipped the scale to cease trying to force you into our lives.  The risk of letting you off-the-hook, free to walk away, with no future association or recourse from me was the high price I was willing to pay for the reward of changing a family pattern of dysfunction, irresponsibility, hostility, cruelty, and abandonment.  By the time she turned 1-year-old, it was done.  I didn’t pursue you, I didn’t sue you in court, I didn’t make you do anything.  You were free.  It was the best decision I made, second behind choosing to keep her.  I have no regrets.
You know how people talk about second chances and do-overs?  They usually refer to such do-overs as it correlates with themselves. Renowned author and poet, Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, you do better.”   Because of our teenage pregnancy and the choices, we each made, several members of my family were given special do-overs I never could have imagined at the time.  As a great-grandparent, my paternal grandmother got a do-over to be the kind of grandmother she always wanted to be for my brother and I but couldn’t because of bitter divorce.   As a grandfather, my dad got a do-over to be a present, nurturing, influential surrogate-parent as the primary male role-model in his only granddaughter’s life. As a mother, I was given a do-over to be the kind of parent I’d often wished I had, and cultivate the kind of mother-daughter relationship I’d always hoped for.  Some call these blessings in disguise.  I say, ok, and thank you.  

She knows I do not speak ill-will of you.  She knows this was written.  I hope you have known do-overs and second chances yourself out of the knowings which our shared experience together created.   You know, there’s a silence inside me that is relieved all this occurred during the 1980’s when social media wasn’t even a blip yet.  I can’t imagine, nor do I want to, how that would go.  I’m not sure I’d have survived, certainly not in the ways I have.

Oh, and by the way, we never had a piano.  She played clarinet — through college.

SMO, 19 & Baby, 1 – circa 1983

Be well, Jack. 

Though disappointingly, the story was declined for the specific publication it was first created for, it is now on its way to another for consideration and in the meantime it gets to live here.  Because everyone deserves the very best kind of indirect second chance and do-over possible, we simply have to try again, look a little harder to recognize the subtle knowings,   allow ourselves to be vulnerable, keep going, and share our hope-filled lessons with others.   Peace.


Florida: Then and Now

Some people think that to be strong is to never feel pain.
In reality, the strongest people are the ones who feel it, understand it, and accept it. 
~  an Instagram meme

What the hell am I still doing here?   A question I posed closing out the blog essay it’s linked to (I encourage you to read it, even reread it).  It was written four years ago.   Tomorrow, June 10th, Florida will be my state of residence for the past six years.

Two days ago, an old friend tagged me on one of those ‘this day in history’ reminiscent Facebook posts.  It was lighthearted, witty and fun as I did my proverbial social media duty to give it the ‘ole thumbs up ‘Like’ click.  I didn’t think anything more of it — or what else was happening back then — on that day, four years ago as I went on with my scroll-troll activity.  Yet, in the last 36 hours, the Rolodex that is the memory bank of my brain has been firing off nuggets covering a 5-day period, June 5 – June 10, during these last 6 years.  Here’s a reflecting retrospective stroll down memory lane capturing how and where renewed peace, patience, progress and hope evolved between then and now:


  •   2011:  Selling a house, offloading furnishings, leaving Illinois — my lifelong home — with my then-husband, Boomer.  Saying goodbye to family, friends, a profession, a town I loved, winters I hated and venturing south, well beyond the Mason-Dixon line near the gulf shores of southwest Florida without a plan, nor a clue tragedy awaited our arrival forcing me to confront harsh realities.
  •   2013:   Two weeks in Chicago doing all this.
  •   2014 – 2016:  Surving.  Healing.  Figuring it out (what’s next, including what the hell am I still doing here?).  Weeping.  Cursing.  Cutting ties and process closures.  Learning.  Finding and losing a few nonsensical, misguided part-time jobs.  Growing spiritually.  Turning 50.  Cutting off my hair.  Taking a few steps backward, a few more forward, several stalled stand-stills.  Beginning a new relationship. Losing a grandparent.  Selling another house. On a few occasions, I’d even considered throwing in the towel and running away.


  •  2017:  I’m still here physically — geographically placed in SW Florida.   Emotionally and mentally I am not where I was.  Whew!   What’s weird is how the details are fading.  The raw specificity I’d written about back then, has dramatically faded.  I catch that exasperated breath as I witness how much has evaporated all together.  June 8th this year came and went without even a fleeting thought of 2013.  I’m astonished rereading it — this was my all consumed life the last 6 years.    As significant as those drive-by visits were in 2013, as June 10, 2017 arrives tomorrow, I have neither inkling nor appetite to drive-by the old house 7 miles away.  I can’t go back.  I won’t go back.  The scale tipped to an absolute, no way, no how looking back closed door.  A good sign its all about looking ahead.

Where I’m focused now is moving from surviving to thriving.  In order to do that I have to define what it is I want.  Where do I want to go?   Where do I want to be?  What do I want to do?  When?  Literally answer the questions; get specific about my life today, right now, and where I want it to go, as I had about each of those agonizing memories of the last six years.  That is taking all of my time.  To be honest,  I have never sat down to lay it out:  condition, plan, prepare, short-term, long-term, pairing the strategic view with the tactical actions.   I just bopped along, getting through one day, one week, another month, another year, shooting from the hip.  It wasn’t awful, but it was directionless which yields a low satisfaction-ceiling.   I’ve always been career dissatisfied , bored as hell personally, confused and lost.  In order to change that, it requires serious focus, concentrated focus,  the unwavering conviction kind of focus.  The kind of focus that wakes you up in the morning, I must do this, my life depends on it.  No matter what; I must do this. 

To this point, life has done me; I haven’t done life, intentionally, with a purpose.  I reacted to life, I wasn’t proactive pursuing a vision, a dream, like photography which I’ve fantasized about and am now, finally undertaking, along with all the other  juicy delicious stuff that makes for an interesting, well-lived life, to me.  I’ve always looked out and wanted that ‘other’ life, but never applied myself to actually attain it.  I wrapped myself tightly in the weeds of present situations and circumstances; playing both martyr and victim of the status quo, while pretending I was doing what I wanted to do.  It was safe, familiar and I knew when the weeds were cut, they’d grow again, giving me an immediate excuse to remain where I was, perpetually unfulfilled.

During a press conference golfer John Daly did in the 1990’s, following his meteoric rise and plummeting series of career stumbles and fumbles, he acknowledged,  I was never taught how to be successful.  I said to myself, hey, me too.  That doesn’t mean I’m a lost cause.  It just means there’s work to do — NOW.   So I’m doing the work, maybe a little later than some.

I agree, the strongest people are the ones who feel it, understand it, and accept it.  It doesn’t just stop there.  Acceptance is the launching pad to what’s next.  You need to invest the time to map it out, try it out, stumble, fumble and make adjustments.  No looking back.  Eye on the prize to what’s ahead.  For now, Florida provides a satisfactory base-camp space to do the work I need to do.  The full picture is still unfolding which excites the hell right out of me.


Prelude to Eruption

Everywhere you go, there you are.
Jon Kabat-Zinn

You can’t start a new chapter
if you’re stuck at the table of contents.
~ Fortune Cookie Journal


Eight words.  Four steps.   This is the basic formula.  The formula to change you, to change your life;  to heal and repair from whatever happened in your life that got you here and has you stuck, lost, confused, joyless, empty, miserable, or living in perpetual state of overall bitchiness.   Eight words.  Four steps.  At the risk of sounding like a sideshow huckster, allow me to demonstrate…

Restless.  Irritable.  Discontent.   Inside I was smoldering with dis-ease over everything and everyone, everywhere.  Everywhere I went, there I was…smoldering.   Something was wrong – with me – yet I couldn’t put my finger on it.   The fire burning inside me was getting stoked, an upwelling was gaining;  the pressure was rising, momentum building.  I suffered silently, tried to at least, as the smoke around me grew thicker and darker in my mental agitation and physical discomfort.  I was righteously critical of others.  I had no patience and certainly no tolerance, and it kept growing.  I couldn’t concentrate; I couldn’t get anything done.  An eruption was inevitable if I didn’t triage myself.

If I don’t know what’s wrong, what do I do?  I’m having these familiar symptoms, but I don’t know why.  I want to know why, then I’ll know what to do.  Do I go back to my grief counselor?  I have, after all, had some weird stuff happen lately (read: Ghostly).  Maybe a different recovery group?  I am a studious proponent of 12-step recovery, I make no secret about it.  I am not anonymous when it comes to the value I place on 12-step recovery and the direct contribution its principles have provided in my own healing and awakening through grief, loss and living amid the diseases of addiction, alcoholism, and mental illness.  I’ve recently been studying the work of Melody Beattie, maybe I need to find a local Co-Dependant Anonymous meeting (aka, CoDA)?   The frantic questions kept coming while I attempted to dowse myself in literature – books I’ve read before, books I had to yet to read – faster, faster, it was gaining on me. I was praying and meditating with urgent desperation; fervently begging, pleading, sweating for direction and answers to put out the fire.  I’m watching TedTalks and YouTube videos of some of my all-time favorite, aspirational teachers.  What the hell is wrong with me?  Tell me.  Tell me now!  I need know!  My anxiousness was being fueled by the very restless, irritable and discontented feelings inside because I wanted those answers and I needed them – STAT –  like a junkie who needs a fix, or the spiraling alcoholic on a bender needing the booze.    I’m being inexplicably haunted by old SMO, who has been dormant for a quite some time and all internal signs were pointing to an eruption, with no answer why, and it was scaring me.  I don’t want to go back, back to being be that SMO, with that life.  Help me, please help me.  Two words:  inexplicably haunted.

An unfolding, delayering – call it peeling the onion – recurs during an active recovery, transforming, growing, evolving, healing process which 100% requires dormant fires of your life to be wrestled up in order to be released and extinguished.  Little did I realize there was a dormant fire that needed to be extinguished.  While reading Melody Beattie’s breakthrough book, Codependent No More, my dormant volcano was defined in six words:  unfinished business; deal with the feelings.  One thing that bites me in the ass, every now and again, is the arrival of this proverbial next layer.  Do you ever bottom out from all this discovery recovery?  Are you ever really done?  Does the volcano ever actually die?  My friend, Lisa, humorously likes to remind me “Yes, when you stop breathing.”  Oye, that’s never the reply I want hear, yet it is always the answer I need to hear.

It was this same friend, Lisa, who I turned to when my unfinished business was revealed to me, shortly after I finished the ‘Camp Shame‘ essay.  That’s when the internal bubbling progressed into a boil, its lava oozing out into my life.  I had unfinished business with that relative I wrote about.  There were repressed and suppressed feelings and emotions I never got to directly say eye-to-eye, heart-to-heart, daughter to mother:  pain, heartache, heartbreak, anger, disappointment.  Decades of pain – my pain –  had gone unexpressed by me.   I kept shoving it back down whenever it surfaced, she can’t hear it, isn’t able or willing to receive it. “Why bother?” I consistently asked myself.  I am a smart, intellectual, soulful, loving woman, this is not who was revealed to me in this disturbed state I found myself in.   Who was revealed was the hurting little girl, the still hurting adolescent, the continuing pain-filled teenager, the emotionally bankrupt young adult, now a mother herself.  I never confronted the pain I carried.  I never dealt with it head-on, direct with her.  I never seized an in-your-face blow up to vent how much she hurt me.  I don’t give a damn that she her self had been hurt or was hurting.  Intellectually, sure, I completely understand.  I had made intellectual peace with her story as I knew it (read:  One Thing), but emotionally there’s no excuse and I feel gypped every time I am reminded that I don’t have the privilege to spew at her.   My wounded spirit needs nurturing, needs love and needs to be heard.   When it’s your parent who’s incapable of providing that, well, it’ll fuck you up.   And it will fuck with your life until you deal with it.  Sit in the mess of your feelings and emotions and deal with them.  You cannot dodge it, you cannot avoid it.  It’s gonna show up….eventually.   Often it’s this very experience that can trigger relapses for addicts.  I never seized that in-your-face blow up venting opportunity, I never really got one.  So, I just chalked it up – time after time – to a lost hope, lost cause and shoved every emotion and feeling back down inside.   Suppressing and repressing our feelings is hazardous to our health — emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually.  Mine had been stoked – revealed – and it was time to feel, deal, and heal them once and for all.   Four steps:  reveal, feel, deal, heal.

**Halftime Pause**  If you’re paying attention, maybe even taking notes, this is halftime in my demonstration.  The formulaic eight words and the four steps have been presented.  Got ’em?   Now on to the second half:  applying the formula.

The work within the formula – eight words, four steps –  is about bridging the gap of intellectual understanding with actually healing the emotional wounds in the heart.  This fusing process, as I like to call it, marries intellect with spirit thus lasting healing is achieved.  Simple, right?  Sure, but it’s not necessarily easy.  This work is done at the fibrous and cellular level of who we are and our histories.  Deep down.  Deep shit.  The only way there is layer by layer.  It is only revealed to you at a time when you are willing, able, and ready to do deal with it – spiritually.  Simple, yes.  Easy?  Sort of, but not for everyone.

If you’re stuck in your life, secretly hate yourself or hate how life is going for you, and are mentally and emotionally attached to some part of your past, there’s a hole in your soul that is aching to be healthy.  You’ve heard the psychological term, ‘inner-child’.  Essentially that’s it, though I’m not a fan of the term, it is what it is.  My inner-child’s pain in her various life stages was screaming to be tended to.  She was having a melt-down tantrum in the form of this dormant internal fire inside me; the longer it was being left unattended it continued to smolder, awaiting for just the right climate condition, or tipping point that stoked it to full eruption.  To end the cycle, extinguish your volcano, you need to implement the formula:  eight words, four steps.  Think of it as a spiritual healing-form of heart surgery.

My implementing application process went like this…

Unfinished Business:  Acknowledge and recognize I got stoked – by a relative –  and the stoking source,  my own mother,  and I have unfinished business.

Reveal:  Unfinished business for me is verbally expressing in entirety the pain in my heart which affected my life, caused by her.  I want to verbally explode on her, direct to her but I can’t – never could – because of her.

Deal with the feelings:   When the reveal was made clear to me, I had a melt down.  The eruption started as I sat in my study, tucked in a chair, books, and journal in my lap. My study is a sanctuary space where many healing ah-ha’s have been revealed.

Feel:  Alone the in the study, (be in a safe, comforting place) I talked out loud as stuff was coming to the surface.  I listened to my own words, the language I used, the tone of voice, the energy within the voice.  Anger and sorrow mixed together.    I want to yell.  I want tell her off.  I want to pick up the phone and explode right now directly to her.  I’ve never done that.  I can’t do that, she’s not well.  I’m mildly hyperventilating, and I ache inside from head to toe, I’m home alone and talking out loud:   I want to request, no, strike that, I want to demand you go away and stay away.  You did damage, plenty of it, and your consistent defiance of any accountability or responsibility is baffling, appalling, offensive, hurtful and is not permitted in my life.  Period.  You never own your part, you don’t want to.   You refuse to admit you yourself are responsible for the non-existent relationship you have with your children and only grandchild.  You’re blind to the reality you have exactly the same non-existent, toxic, dysfunctional relationship with me you had with your own mother, yet you don’t seem to care for it to be any different.  You carried all that dysfunction forward and created the same mess with your own children.   You keep making it worse.  Ok, fine, that’s you’re choice, I accept that.  That does not mean you get to psychologically belittle or diminish me anymore because of it.  Go away now, stay away.

Deal:  Step five in the 12 steps says, ‘admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.’  For me this exercise is admitting my wrong of suppressing and repressing my feelings and my emotions, all my life as it specifically relates to this relative with whom I have this piece of unfinished business.   The unfinished business of growing as a whole-hearted, fully expressed human being.   I call Lisa, tell her what’s happening with me while asking a favor of her.   I’m borrowing a grief recovery technique I learned while working with Amber on how to mend relationships after someone dies.  It’s also the very same technique used in Step 9 of the 12 steps – ‘made direct amends whenever possible, except when to do so, would injure them or others.’ – this technique is used when someone we want to amend with has passed or there are other special mitigating circumstances where personal safety may be a concern – theirs or ours – physical or emotional.  I’m writing a letter.  If you had an opportunity to uninhibitedly say what is on your mind and heart, without fear or worry of retribution or retailiation, what would you say?  Write it down and let it rip.  Don’t hold back.  “Lisa, I need your help,” I said.  I explained I was going to write a letter and wanted Lisa to act as my surrogate, someone I can read it out loud to in-person, face-to-face, eye-to-eye.  I need someone I trust who will listen without judgement, criticism, condemnation or prejudice.   Allow me the healing space to say it all, out loud and release the pain with it once and for all.  Plus, by the time I’m done, I know I’ll need I hug.  “Lisa, will you help me?”  “Yes, absolutely.”  “I’ll call you when I’m ready.”

Heal:  Two days later I texted Lisa, “I’m ready.”  Life is short, as Ferris Beuller taught me, I don’t have time to messing with this ancient old nonsense anymore, nor do I want to (that is a key factor:  desire and willingness)   The next day Lisa and I met at her home, just the two of us, a quiet safe sanctuary space.  I read her my 8-page hand-written letter on notebook paper as if I was giving a oral report.  Appropriate since I was dealing with issues as far back as my last oral report in school, and beyond.   There were tears, there was kleenex, there were questions, there were a few f-bombs and there was healing.  I was feeling better.  I was lighter inside myself;  a burden had lifted, an old injury was healed.   Three weeks later the test came when I discovered a second shaming swipe had been attempted on a video on my YouTube channel.  The timelimes of the cruel comments were the same, what was different this time was me.   No smolder.  I extinguished the old wound. Healing had occurred.

In summary, it boils down to eight words:  inextricably haunted, unfinished business, deal with the feelings that will change your world, your life and how your are in it.   Four steps will get you through it:  reveal, feel, deal, heal.    Otherwise an eruption, your eruption – new or continuing – eruption is inevitable.  It won’t go away on its own.  You are worthy of love, peace, harmony and happiness in your life – right now, today and going forward – no matter what happened in the past.

Dig in, excavate your dormant volcano:

  1. Who or what inextricably haunts you?  Is it a specific event or episode in your life?  Is it a person?  Who?  What are the emotions and feelings that come up?  I correlate emotion as the deep sensation inside my body, my heart.  I define feelings (or mood) as the external description of the emotion inside.  For example:  Pain is an emotion (inside the body, the spirit, the head) the feelings are anger, joy, sadness, loneliness, pride, etc.
  2. What is the unfinished business with your who or what that is inextricably haunting you?    Be as specific as possible.   Trust me, it’s causing a block in your life in one way or another.

Four steps:  Reveal. Feel. Deal. Heal.

  1. Revealing is automatically happening as you sort through the unfinished business.  Capture it.  Write down.  Say it out loud to yourself.   Allow it to surface.
  2. Feel the emotions.  Most of whatever it is is pain, unresolved, unacknowledged, unexpressed pain.  Be gentle and kind with yourself in the process.  Allow it to rise up, be released, purge it out.   Work with someone if necessary:  a therapist, a recovery sponsor, a counselor, a trusted friend.  You may be able to go it on your own if you’d done the process before.
  3. Deal with it.  Action.   Identify what you need to do, want to do to finish the unfinished business.  Reach out for support, surrogates, resources as necessary.
  4. Heal.  The prize of healing is freedom, spirit freedom, renewed confidence, increased self-esteem, self-worth, self-love.  If sounds selfish, it is.  Because this your life you’re dealing with, no one else can do it for you.    You will be better on the other side.

May my story help you heal.  Peace.

 I was never insane,
except upon occasions when my heart was touched.
~ Edgar Allen Poe

Live your life from your heart.
Share from your heart.
And your story will touch and heal people’s souls.
Melody Beattie

Relative Undoing at Camp Shame

Shame is the intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging.”
~ Brene Brown, PhD LMSW

Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable.
Be honest and transparent anyway.
~ Mother Teresa


I’ve been around Camp Shame most of my life – as visitor, vacationer, permanent resident.  I know the camp’s location, sensation, and mission statement well:   You are bad.  Bad in every way, any way, at every thing or any thing.  While the faces and names of the camp counselors might have changed season-to-season, the variety of episodes and incidents played out similarly, lending harmony to those reinforcing camp songs, full of lethal strokes of verbal punishment that I am a bad person; unworthy of love or belonging, while fully worthy of rejection through the frequent refrain of shame on you fervently fired toward me.  It carried on year after year.

I absorbed every morsel of those hurtful, venomous words like a damp sponge.  Soon, I believed it, I’d ring myself out, then absorb more by singing along as I memorized the refrain and drank the camp kool aid.    Later I adopted the practice, became a counselor myself following through in adapting the shame on you mantra as part of my personal arsenal of outward punishment toward the next generation of campers in the psychological game of self-centered insensitivity and indignation so as to keep you small – smaller than me – and prove beyond question that I am right (always) and you are wrong.  Sound familiar?   Ah, those were the days – the god-awful sanctimonious days.

Whenever I was on the receiving end of belittling shame words it was my emotional undoing.  I’d spiral into a cavern of self-doubt, self-loathing,  isolation, and frozen fear disguised as procrastination.  My life was small; I felt small, played small, acted small.  I believed I didn’t count, didn’t matter.  I believed whatever it was I shamed for.  Unbeknownst to me the shaming worked.  As a result,  I wouldn’t rock boats, stir waters, challenge perceived authority, or have any individualistic idea or opinion of my own.  I didn’t speak up or speak out.  The hopes and dreams for my life were stunted and stalled as a result.   This cavern was my Camp Shame and I was terrified of it.

There is an inherent risk when you put yourself, your voice, vulnerably out in the stratosphere of public access for anyone and everyone to see and hear you.   The risk is it may not be received well;  you may be judged, chastised, verbally bashed.  You hope not, but that is how it goes.  The hard sting is when you receive it directly.  For me, this risk is a perpetual invitation to return to Camp Shame to stunt and stall me once again, maybe a little longer this time or altogether permanent.  Yet in the risky business of honesty and speaking your truth, you have a responsibility to yourself, your objectives, and your fragile psyche to mentally condition for the shaming backlash.  You must work to build your inner immunity, resilience – shame resilience – as Brene Brown refers to it.  That’s another kind of undoing, one where Camp Shame can be both training ground, healing house and test site.  I recently drove by the old Camp Shame neighborhood – unintentionally – when I vulnerably shared another personal story to the masses.

Shortly after my last essay, I received an email alert that a submitted comment required my pre-screen managing attention.  The comment read in-part, You forget that… you also forget…YOU… lies… Oh, and… Shame on you.   Between the ellipsises were cruel, hurtful words, and unrelated to the essay topic.  One more thing, that comment came from a relative – a relative of mine.  It was a drive-by hit and run at the gates of Camp Shame.   Three words that can open the gate, if I allow it to:  Shame on you.  Words can hurt.  Words do hurt.   When delivered by a relative, well, let’s just say it down right sucks.  I get lost for words to describe how much it hurts.  There was nothing kind, loving, sensitive, thoughtful, compassionate or constructive in the remarks that were submitted.  The purpose was to maim.  I love what author Stephen R. Covey writes in his notable book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “And unless we value the differences in our perceptions, unless we value each other and give credence to the possibility that we’re both right, that life is not always a dichotomous either/or, that there are almost always third alternatives, we will never be able to transcend the limits of that conditioning.”

The important lesson I share with you is not what someone else said or did, but how I responded to it, transcending the limits someone else was compelled to restrict upon me, dismissing my view and experience, quash my feelings in a hostile attempt to diminish me as an autonomous human being.  I share what happened inside me and what external actions I took as an example of how I have overcome those heavily conditioned reactions that were regularly my emotional and physical undoing.  In his book, The Power of NOW, Ekhart Tolle explains, “The script in your head that you learned a long time ago, the conditioning of your mind, will dictate your thinking and your behavior.  You may be free of it for brief intervals, but rarely for long.  This is especially true when something ‘goes wrong’ or there is some loss or upset.  Your conditioned reaction will then be involuntary, automatic, and predictable, fueled by the one basic emotion that underlies the mind-identified state of consciousness:  fear.”

Upon reading the remarks I felt the familiar ping of ‘fear’ in my gut as I muttered in shock to myself, “Wow.” Calmly I paused, took a deep breath and reviewed it again.  I had to sit with the reality of seeing these words in front of me, addressed to me,  while comprehending who sent them, and nuture my spirit knowing this individual found me, has followed me, and has not changed and is still not a safe person for me to engage with.  Before me was a litmus test…confronting my fear head on while undoing my conditioned reaction.  Can I do it?  Will I do it?

During the last six years, I’ve done the most serious, concentrated-focus work of healing, growth, and reconciling.  I’m learning to love myself,  and undo of a lifetime association with, reaction to and response of that dreaded shame and the subconscious buy-in agreement I had with it.  This same effort has also gone into eradicating my own shaming behavior, cleansing my vocabulary thus dissolving my counter-weaponry fortress.  I need not tear you down any more, the way I was torn down.    20160409_135345

I’m still getting comfortable detaching from the theoretical philosophy that claims if I share a bloodline with someone I’m required to be and stay in a relationship – of any kind- with that person, let alone take their shaming.  False.  I do not subscribe to this thinking, yet it has not been an easy premise for me to stay behind and practice, especially when this philosophy has been preached by the same shaming participants.  Here I am, in a catch-22, being challenged to practice letting go and staying away – for my own well-being, because some relatives are too sick, dangerous, unsafe, or unhealthy to be around. It is quite easy to do when there’s no contact.  I’ve been there too.  When there is no contact the problem miraculously solves itself; when there’s no contact, there’s nothing to do.  Easy-peasy.    Now there was contact, I was looking at it, an email, being confronted by Higher Sources to walk my talk and do something about the shaming game before me.  Make another bold transformative move to undo the shame I’d absorbed in the past from similar occurrences.  It is a empowering act of self love at a new level, and a healing, strengthening gift to myself.


First, I hit the delete button of the email.   Next, I went to the administrative action page of the blog and rejected the pending comment.  Third, I blocked the email address for any future submission attempts.    Last, I called a trusted friend to talk through what happened and celebrate that for the first time in a long time, that individual didn’t wound me with their shaming words.  I didn’t absorb it.  I repelled it.  It bounced off me.   No response is a response.   My deleting action silently stated that shame-baiting or any other malicious attitudes are not welcome.  I declared that my love for my emotional well-being was more important than someone else’s snark nasty comment.

What happened for me with this experience was assurance that if a relative, a blood relative didn’t undo me, a stranger most definitely wouldn’t.  Shamers are out there, eager to pounce.  It’s their defense weapon of superiority, ignorance, and indifference.  I’ve undone my subscription.

It takes strength, courage, time, and love for ourselves to undo the emotional undoing we’ve experienced through shame in our lives.   Please know, you are worth every effort.  Keep at it.

I am not a product of my circumstances.
I am a product of my decisions
~ Stephen R. Covey

Dr. Bill and the Igloo – A love story

“I always thought every day was a gift,
but now I am looking for where to send the thank you note.”
~  Randy Pausch

In recent years, I’ve cultivated a reputation for writing “the best thank you notes.”  Those are not my words, just a five word summary that has been repeated back to me many times by the recipients.  My beloved clinician, Amber (read: Fly Robin), for example, wrote me after receiving the thank you letter, “I don’t know that I have words that suffice… it’s a gentle touch on the heart that one does not forget.”  When I gave L.G. a note thanking him for dinner and a movie trivia book, he told me that was the moment he knew he wanted to be more than just my friend (read:  L.G.).   Now who in their right mind,  doesn’t want to be that person — the one who gently touches someone’s heart in a way they’ll never forget?  Sign me up!  Again and again.   I even wrote legendary actress/comedian, Carol Burnett, a thank you note a few years ago (read: So Long).  Funny, she never wrote back. (Hey Carol, are you listening? hint-hint-wink-wink.)  When I turned 50, I gifted my grandmother with a thank you note, “I just don’t know what to say,” she mumbled over the phone.  She peacefully passed away a year-and-a-half later.

I’ve been writing thank you notes since I was a kid.  It was required duty that had been instilled by my mother.  They weren’t the same, but it did help lay a future foundation which I am grateful for today.  My notes today come 100% from the heart, not an ordered directive.  I always choose to hand-write thank you notes whenever possible.  For me, it feels more personal, more intimate, more vulnerable, genuine, and honest.  Plus there’s a keepsake for the recipient with a hand-written note.    Today, I sent another one; it’s been a bucket list item for me, something that took 41 years to do…

Dear Bill,

My name is Shannon M. O’Regan.  In the mid 1970’s I attended Adolph Link School in Elk Grove Village, IL. You, sir, were my 6th grade teacher.

I was only your student for 3/4 of a year as my family moved away before the school year ended. I was devastated and heartbroken to leave.  The subsequent three years, a pivotal and sensitive time for every adolescent, was emotionally challenging. Those details are not necessary here. What is important, is how that short time in your classroom stuck with me. Today, at 52 years old, you remain one of a handful of educators who made a lasting impression on me and my life. You’ve never left my mind and heart. What’s so exceptional here, is that our acquaintanceship was so short-lived, yet so permanent.

Thank you.

Dr. Bill, you had the unique ability, a gift, so early in your career to see your students from the inside out. That was my very experience with you. You once said to my mother, (paraphrasing) ‘Shannon is a beautiful person inside, but the shell is so thick and hard to penetrate.’  I remember always wondering: How did you know? How could you tell? On my last report card from you, you wrote, “Shannon has shown some real improvement… I wish she could feel free to open up those inner feelings verbally instead of expressing them in poems.”

While doing research to send you this letter, I learned you are man of devout faith. I hope you welcome this letter from the space of gratitude and love from which it is intended. Thank you for your dedicated career to education. I can only imagine the impact you’ve made on all the students who’ve passed through your classrooms over the last three-plus decades.

Thank you, from the center of my heart. It was you, who first cracked my shell. While I did not become a poet,  I do enjoy reading meaningful ones. I’m grateful to you, Dr. Armosky, for being an early catalyst who helped me have the courage to open up those inner feelings verbally — mission accomplished.


Pretty in pink.  1975, age 11

I was eleven when I met Bill Armosky (now Dr. Bill, with a doctorate in education).  I did not write this thank you note for me, the SMO you know.  I wrote it for him, on behalf of that 11-year-old who couldn’t articulate how much he meant to her.  How sad she was to leave his class.  How much she missed him when she left.  How appreciative (and relieved) she was that he saw potential in her, and held faith he might make a difference.  I wanted him to know he was successful with her, though it took time, she continued (and continues) to make real improvement.

Before she met him, the path was daunting:  there were three different schools, two different dads, three towns, and four houses, abuse, neglect, and chaos.  Uproots occurred at each exchange and with each uproot, an internal brick of ice was anchored in place.  She built an emotional igloo to self-protect from getting too close — to anyone — or revealing too much of herself, her sensitivity, her beauty, because she was going to quickly go away anyway.  Why bother.

In the three years after they met and said good-bye, there were four more schools, another dad, two more towns and three more houses and the walls of the igloo only grew more densely layered before they were able to begin to melt.

This letter needed to be written and sent; it was something that has been inside me to do since Bill and I parted ways in 1975.  I had to do it, I knew it was right. As my dad likes to say, “You know when you know.”   I also knew regret lingered in the shadow of my life if I didn’t.  I don’t want regret shadows loitering around my life anymore.   I acted on faith, blind faith, not exclusively sight (Hebrews 11:1).  At first, I thought I’d make contact via email or social media to confim I had the right guy – direct from him.  Then Spiritual forces shut down the “easy” routes:  Bill’s not consistently active on social media, and the email I tracked was rejected.  All roads kept leading to a mailing address — the same mailing address.  I trusted that and went with it, surrendering to paper, pen and a stamp.   Throwing my nervous-need of confirmation first into the wind, I wrote it in 10 minutes and mailed it with no attachment to what happens next. All I know is I  followed through after 41 years and did it.  I’m grateful for that.

Sometimes I think we give gratitude more generic lip service than we do actual heart action.  I took heart to my hand, hand to pen to paper and feet to the mail box. It’s never too late to directly express big gratitude, because I know it’s never too late to say, Thank You.  I hope this thank you note makes his day.  I have no need for confirmation; my heart (and experience) says, yes, it will.