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.

**Click**

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.

Fondly,
SMO

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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.

~~~

Impermanence

Each time the losses and deceptions of life teach us about impermanence,
they bring us closer to the truth. When you fall from a great height,
there is only one possible place to land: on the ground-the ground of truth.
And if you have the understanding that comes from spiritual practice,
then falling is in no way a disaster, but the discovery of an inner refuge.
~ Sogyal Rinpoche

‘Twas Christmas night, and the 2nd night of Hanukkah when my phone started blowing up with multiple ping-a-rings of incoming text messages.   Resisting temptation, I left the phone alone – until 5 a.m. the next morning.   Nooooo!!  Musical artist, George Michael died.   People I knew well, who knew I was a career-long admirer reached out; sharing the news, expressing their own shock, perhaps seeking solace among a fellow fan.  I spent the day mourning the loss through continual play of his music, watching videos and interviews.  I fully immersed; reminiscing with many songs:  where I was, what happened, who I was with, etc.   Keenly aware another life — there have been stunningly many lives this year, 2016 — has transitioned and something has ended — again. impermanence-2

“All humans must cope with the death of their loved ones…”
Unknown, From Survival to Recovery

George Michael is a stranger, yet also a loved one.   I did not know him personally, I only knew his musical talent – – and I love it —  the gift he was given that he gave to me and others like me who enjoyed his music, who grew-up with his music:   Hypnotic, seductive, rebellious, soulful, elegant, sophisticated, kitchy.  George Michael is one year older than me.   Perhaps we grew-up together and how as his career evolved and his life unfolded, I remained loyal.    As he was changing, so was I and it still fit.

A day later, barely catching my breath, another loss…Carrie Fisher.  Sure, she’s Princess Leia for thousands, that’s how I met her too, in 1977, but that’s not who I loved.  I loved the broad who came from a dysfunctional family, struggled with addiction, mental illness and rose from the ashes of her own privileged chaos of a life to become a writer, author, and comically outspoken empress of story telling.

And now the very next day, her mother, the great Debbie Reynolds died too.  I can’t keep up, though it’s not about me, it’s about acceptance of the time-limiting fragility of life.  Journalist Dan Rather, following the announcement of Ms. Reynolds’ passing poignantly wrote, “Life is fickle and death all of our eventual destination.  We must to do our part to take the moments given to us and cherish the love of those we hold close.”

While the news of all these life passings are both a shock and emotionally draining, I’m in a better place of acceptance than I was… 8 months ago, last April,  when I learned Prince died.

The surprise announcement of The Artist, Prince Rogers Nelson’s, death, hit me in a way I didn’t understand.  I didn’t know Prince either.  Yet, when I learned the devastating news, while standing in a Bed, Bath and Beyond store, I began to sob as though I’d just lost a dear friend.  I wept for days every time I heard his music, watched the movie Purple Rain, and reminisced.  I couldn’t put my head around it, let alone my heart.  All I knew (and didn’t) of Prince nothing made sense.  Prince was an icon, an innovator, a creative force that penetrated more than his own individual performances.  Charismatic, tough, private, mysterious, sexy, flamboyant, generous and most of all –his own person, on his own terms.    For this, I always admired him, I wanted to be like him, fearless and devout to his own individuality, his ideals and beliefs.

These talented humans are my generation.  I’m confronted with the reality of mortality, also known as impermanence.  It’s part of my pain in their passing.  I’ve felt sadness of the news of many people who have passed this year, yet, those closest to my age or who’s talents I love and chose to infuse into aspects of my life hit me the hardest.   I resist admission of impermanence, believing somehow I am immune, exempt from the experience.  Quite greedy of me, isn’t it?

In Buddhism, the term “impermanence” is part of doctrine describing the three marks of existence. The doctrine asserts that all of conditioned existence, without exception, is:  transient, evanescent, inconstant.

Death is inevitable.  Truth.  For many, denial of that reality, acceptance of truth, an end of life,  is where pain and suffering exists.  For others, myself included, we aren’t afraid of death;  what we’re afraid of is when and/or how the death will come.  How often we hear someone say, “Gone too soon.” Really?  Says who?  You?  Greedy you. You don’t get a say.  Neither do I.  Deal with it, because life is indeed fickle and death is all our eventual destination.  This is impermanence.

What I welcome is how death forces me into gratitude.  I look at the legacy that I was impacted by, affected by, embraced by, loved by and loved.  How it will always be with me, even if the human no longer is, there is a permanent impermanent force.

“Death is a natural part of life.
Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force.
 Mourn them do not.
Miss them do not.
Attachment leads to jealously.
The shadow of greed, that is.”
~ Yoda

Healing Paradigms Through Politics

I learned long ago that in order to heal my wounds
I must have the courage to face up to them.
~ Paulo Coelho

The heart has its reasons which reason knows not of.
~ Pascal

Step back.  Step away.  Breathe.  Reflect.  Feel.  Release.  Rejoice.  Let go.  Carry on.

I’d never seen the photo before — an image of me, laying in bed on my back with the vintage orange, yellow, and brown chevron stripped afgan covering me from neck to toe like a mummy.  My eyes were closed.   Boomer had taken the picture in 2012.  Whether or not I was actually sleeping is speculative.  I stared at the digital image for while then hit the delete key and emptied the recycle bin of the old computer.  Gone.

That photo I’d found was taken on Election Day, November 6, 2012 and Boomer died eight days later.   Are you f***ing kidding me?   A presidential election is another grief trigger?   Apparently it is, has been, for me.   Naive me.  Here I thought I’d long since gone through the heavy lifting of “firsts” in my grief recovery experience only to confront a first presidential election, post Boomer.     But wait, there’s more.

You see, I didn’t vote in 2012.  Sadly, I remember it vividly, because I’ve felt guilty about it for the last 4 years.  I was too sick to get out of bed that day.  The crisis and chaos of living with an active alcoholic had taken such an emotional and physical toll on me personally, I literally could not pull myself out of bed.  Mostly I was curled up in a ball overwhelmed with despair, struggling with ulcer-level stomach cramps, tendinitis, chronic migraines and lower back problems.  Desperate for my life to be different than it was, the man I love so lost himself, and we as a couple were no where near where we were four years earlier, in 2008, when we voted together, watched the returns together and welcomed our first black President in that history-making election.  We were now distant, lost, lonesome and sad, and one of us was dying, drinking himself to death.

That isn’t all I’ve had to confront and revisit — thanks in-part to the last few months of this 2016 Presidential Campaign; history-making in its own right.  This political cycle of our country’s democracy has surfaced some very specific incidents and episodes in the life of SMO, spanning 4 decades, that required paradigm shifts of healing:

  • In my teens, it was the wall-pressed choke-hold I experienced by the hands of an estrangeboyfriend at a party who didn’t approve of my behavior.  Though he was no longer my boyfriend, having dumped me several weeks earlier after learning I was pregnant and knowing he was the father, he believed he had some influential power over me.
  • In my twenties, it was a first-date, only-date, with the guy who attempted to force himself on me in his car at the end of night.
  • Then in my thirties, it was the co-worker of a higher corporate authority position who inappropriately grabbed me at a business function.
  • In my forties, it was my own husband, who told me about the “code” among “men”; how they talk to each other about their sexual exploits unless she’s a woman of “significance” in their lives.  It went as far as even my overhearing parts of those types of conversations when we lived together.

I began having a recurring series of vivid flashbacks, of every single sexual aggression, attempted assault, sexual objectification, and gender nullification I’ve personally and directly encountered, endured and witnessed in my 52 years as a woman.  The political cycle was traumatizing me — again — in ways that forced me to honestly confront and heal from what — unbenounced to me at the time — was wrong, inappropriate and violating.   Doubled-down by my silent guilt of not having had the strength to vote in 2012 — I hadn’t missed voting since I turned 18.

I discovered during this process that though I had long forgiven those you had forced themselves upon me, I still secretly held myself responsible.  That was my pain.   Was there something I might have done or could have done differently to prevent what happened?  Something, anything that would have deterred such arrogant, abuse-of-power attitudes or behaviors.   Questioning myself was at the root of what surfaced for me to work through and the feelings within them.  I felt:  shame, guilt, embarrassment, belittlement, disgust, disappointment — all with myself.

I am not responsible for the behaviors, attitudes, or actions of someone else.  I did not invite, entice, instruct, or condone what was done or said.  Yet my feminineness has been conditioned to take on that emotional responsibility.   The 2016 Presidential Campaign was my personal healing platform to release and let go of those self-defeating, limiting beliefs  — once and for all.

At the same time, I have been emotionally conflicted to openly admit, acknowledge and rejoice, that my life is indeed better than it was four years ago, eight year ago, thus debunking the flood of loud, obnoxious political rhetoric that mercilessly wanted me to believe otherwise.  I chose to withdraw from social media activity to get and sustain my bearings as I worked through my healing process.   You see, I am not a victim in this life.  Yes, stuff has happened, but I can’t afford to relentlessly point blame outward, and forever wear a cloak of fear and martyred victim.  I can’t do it.  I won’t do it.   There’s alot in life I don’t like, but I always do my best, and keep my focus on what’s ahead.  Part of that natural process of living is to let go and free myself from the past.

In all this mumbo jumbo, I saw light coming through the tunnel of all I was working through — early voting.   This was my gateway, the right of passage to my healing paradigm brought on by politics and my civic duty as a US citizen.  October 24th was the start of early voting in Florida.   I had it on my calendar, I set my alarm to be sure I was mentally prepared and ready to go. That same day I was also honoring the 1st anniversary of my Grandmother’s passing, so I chose to walk to the election center — just over a mile.  Gram never drove, so we would walk, just about everywhere.  As I walked I could hear her encouraging me to walk faster like she use to when I was a little girl learning how to keep up.  The walk to vote was also an homage to the last election Boomer and I voted in together, we walked to the voting site.  The air was brisk, the sun was shining and I could feel the momentum of personal freedom and the lifting of regression paradigms building inside me.  On the other side rapture awaited.  Spiritual freedom.  Emotional healing.  History making.

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Thank you, candidates.  You certainly put me through my spiritual, healing paces.  Life is messy, politics is really messy and whatever is going to happen at the end of tonight, one way or another we as a nation will regroup, rebound and continue to progress forward.   That’s the only option.  That is democracy.    What this grief trigger reinforced for me is that I can do nothing about the misgivings of the past, but I can lay the foundation for a better, healthier future. Let it begin with me.   That is what I’ve done for myself out of the many wrong doings, traumas, tragedies and crises that have occurred in my life.  It is exactly what I will continue to do — carry on.  Peace.

  Wisdom is a living stream, not an icon preserved in a museum.
 Only when we find the spring of wisdom in our own life
can it flow to future generations.
~  Thich Nhat Hanh

Three to Five

“No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away…”
~ Terry Pratchett

What’s happening here? I asked him. He replied, “A key broke loose and I’m gluing it back in place.” Ha, well that’s certainly a creative way, I retorted speculating on the curiously odd way he was going about it. The late model laptop was laying on the living room floor next to his chair with a large brass dolphin figurine resting across the keyboard, it’s nose strategically placed on a function key was the silliest looking thing I’d seen in a while — so much so I had to take a picture.  This will come in handy one day I told him.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
~~~

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was a gift, that blue model sail boat. A gift from me to Boomer, in 1999, the second summer I spent with him in Saugatuck, Michigan. I’d spotted it in a tourist gift shop. He loved sailing and his favorite color was blue. The purchase was a no-brainer for me and probably the easiest gift I’d given him in all our years together. He loved it. The boat was one of his favorite things and always made its home in a prominent place of stately presence in the three residences that followed. It was all the sentimental history surrounding the boat why I kept it.

I never imagined a time when it wouldn’t be in my home or moreover, the home I shared with Boomer. Yet there I was, taking pictures of it and placing it on Craigs List to sell — three years after he died — as I began clearing out and packing up the house, preparing to move. It was time. He was the sailor, not me. I’d been selectively assessing what I’d take with me into a new home. The new home without him. What items were special to me, my tastes or my likes that also meshed with fond, loving memories of Boomer or our history together. The blue sail boat was no longer such an item.

A woman in a neighboring town called late-morning that Wednesday with interest in the boat for the nautical-themed redecorating of her guest room. She could be there in 30-minutes. I walked into my own guest room to retrieve the boat from the top shelf of an increasingly empty bookcase. I stood there looking at it, remembering its life with us, its life with Boomer and said a private goodbye when I spotted a small piece of dust in a corner of the bow.  As I blew on it, something moved and I leaped out of my skin in startlement.  What on earth is that?  A peculiar, misplaced, square piece of black plastic.  I picked it up, turned it over for examination… BAM!  I am stunned by what I am holding… the function key. 20151014_124916

That boat had been moved, adjusted, repositioned and dusted countless times in the last three years.  The laptop had been discarded and recycled over two years ago.  A deluge of questions dominated my bewilderment: What the?  How the?  Where the?   Then the grief hit; a trouncing blast of paralyzing mourning shock and awe of Boomer’s passing, my love, my sorrow and loss, and a spiritual affirmation of his presence right there with me in the moment; all so intense I could barely breathe or stand, and had instantly usurped the surprising discovery of the laptop key so much that I was now terrified over my inability to contain my emotions — and the woman was arriving in 15 minutes to buy the boat.  Pull it together, pull it together.  I chant to myself over and over, when I recall Amber’s counseling words: It’s a three to five year process. The full emotional healing process of bereavement, mourning, and loss can take three to five years. Welcome to year three, SMO; you’ve arrived.

I desperately wanted to rebuff Amber’s trained, educated insights each time I heard them during the 22-months of my grief recovery therapy with her.  Three to five.   Sounds more like a distorted criminal judicial sentencing.  I thought she was crazy.  Yeah, crazy like a fox.  And so is grief.  As the time passes and you move through life, making the adjustments, while the subtle natural emotional healing of time passages occur, surprises will beset you. Bet on it, and yet you can’t. That’s the irony of grief and also what’s so damn frustrating.  You are blind-sided — every time.

The sound of a car door coming from the driveway, jolted me back into an assemblance of coherent composure.  We did the transaction — taking all of five-minutes — as the blue sail boat was placed in the trunk onward to its new home, new owners, new memory making excursions. I walked back into the house, picking up where I left off, and uncontrollably dropped to the ground, landing in the very spot where the laptop and dolphin gluing project had been staged.  For a few moments, I felt like he had just died — again. I surrendered to the second microburst of tears, pain and anguish and let them run their course as I sat there on the living room floor.  A phone call to a nearby friend, spawned a in-person visit and talking through the experience with her, I regained my strength and felt better within a few hours.  This is grief…the later years.

Grief need not be a life sentence.  But the healing unequivocally does take time.  Expect the unexpected.  Take comfort in knowing that that is what is guaranteed — the absolute unexpectedness of emotional triggers.  Yes, I know…it’s always easier said than done. Do it anyway, for your love of you, your loved one and your healing.  The moments may hit hard,  but they don’t last quite as long, so long as you give yourself permission to unfold with it when they do.

I can’t help but wonder, what will be next?

Death is not the opposite of life, but a part of it. 
~ Haruki Murakami

God Schmod. Waiting on a Friend.

I believe in God, but not as one thing, not as an old man in the sky.
I believe that what people call God is something in all of us.
I believe that what Jesus and Mohammed and Buddha
and all the rest said was right.
It’s just that the translations have gone wrong.

~ John Lennon

“Be still, and know that I am God.”
Psalm 46:10

Pushing through the double doors exiting the CICU of Lee Memorial Hospital, I walked past the elevator bank, toward the waiting area.  Handbag over my shoulder, cell phone in my right hand,  I looked up, threw my arms out saying, “Well, what’s next?  What do You want me to do next?”  Wait.  My worst nightmare, the one thing I’d been most afraid of was now reality — Boomer was dying.  He entered the emergency room the night before;  during the night he took another hard, rapid, declining turn and was now sedated and intubated.   I was called in before dawn as it was happening.  I knew the situation was dire, moving too rapidly for me to keep up.  There were calls to make, but I didn’t have answers.  There were decisions to make, but I didn’t have all the information.   Wait.   I’m a doer, not a waiter.  When crisis hits,  I am all-hands-on-deck.  Wait.  Waiting is another nightmare for me.  God was telling me to wait.

“If we can learn ways to touch the peace, joy and happiness that are already there
we will become healthy and strong, and a resource for others.”
~ Thich Nhat Hanh, Living Buddha, Living Christ

Six months earlier, I laid in bed, staring out the window, desperation consuming me:  lonesome, hopeless, helpless, terrified, fed-up and done with the whole thing.  It was the time – the only time –  I contemplated leaving.   Leaving Boomer.  Leaving the marriage.  I didn’t have answers.   I didn’t have solutions.   Just thoughts.  One thought and it scared me.  It’s not my nature to leave.  A phantom whisper interrupted the thought:   Stay.  Wait.  Don’t leave.  I need you.  Boomer needs you.

I’d been doing the very best I could, studying, listening and learning of the suggestions being offered in the rooms of 12-step recovery, Al-Anon specifically, make no major changes to your life for at least 6 months, focus on your recovery, work the 12-steps for you. I had been at it for eight months when the thought of leaving surfaced and the whisper found its way to me.

Growing up, I knew God to be anything other than a friend and only as someone you visited on holidays, like your Aunt Louise.  God as I understood was to be feared.  God was judge, jury, punisher, rule maker, also like Aunt Louise.  God was also a misogynist, sexist, and later, child molester.   If I told lies, God would get me.   If I didn’t confess my sins in a dark room on my knees, God would get me.  If I was married more than once, or had sex out-of-wedlock, God would get me.  If I didn’t follow the genuflecting workout exercises during a mass, God would get me.  If I ate a juicy burger (or even a dry one) on Fridays or that candy bar during Lent, God would get me.  If I didn’t hand over 10% of all my income to the church, God would get me.  If I didn’t follow the “rules”  — which I could barely comprehend anyway — God would get me.  God as I knew “Him”, was a do as I say, but not as I do dictatant.    I developed a real pessimism for God, kind of like the one He evidently already had for me.  God was good.  Really?  If He’s so all that then why are my parents divorced?  Why was I beaten as a kid?  Why did the biological father of my daughter cut and run?   Why is everyone’s else’s life so much better than mine?  God is good?  Bullshit.  God sucks.    Still I towed the line, followed the rules, did my time of a living penance and shuffled my daughter along through the dogmatic system until she finished 8th grade, because that’s what good parents do.  But when internal secrets broke loose of children being molested by priests…Bastard!  Fuck you, I’m outta here.   I didn’t go back.

God schmod.  Good riddance.  That’s were I left Him.  God couldn’t be trusted.  God was a liar.  The whole God thing was a sham.  I was through with all of it.  So I switched gears, by way of lexicon.  No more God.  I’ll take The Universe, for $1,000 Alex.  Oooooh, The Universe.  Trendy.  Mystical, magical, cosmic, and an ideal approach for wayward agnostics and newborn atheists like me to set up spirit camp, divorced from the doctrine of Roman Catholic Christianity, all Christianity for that matter.  Yet, deep down in the caverns of my heart and soul I knew something did exist — beyond me, greater than me, and wildly incomprehensible to me. Because I had some proof — direct personal proof –to back it up.

Pregnant at 17, something inside me knew.  I knew, I would be raising my daughter as a solo-parent.  It’s not the way I wanted it and in my still-a-baby-myself, immature 17-year-old ways I tried all I could to force a different outcome.   But way down, deep down, I knew, all along, it would be The All SMO Parenting Show.  I regularly had these quiet private secret moments, I couldn’t call them prayer, but that is what it was.  I regularly asked the Air up there, the Air over there, the Air anywhere, for my baby to be a girl, a healthy girl.  I’m going to be doing this thing on my own and I need the support of relatability in order to succeed as the good, loving parent I want to be.  I’m a girl; I can relate.  I want to be the kind of parent my own parents were not.  Please give us both a fighting chance here, let this baby be a girl, that will help me out a lot.   Anytime, day or night, whenever I was overcome with fear, shame, guilt, or hopelessness about my situation, I asked the Air for my baby to be a girl.   When I gave birth, the doctor handed the baby to me, laying the tiny body on my chest at an angle that prohibited my ability to physically identify gender.  “What is it?” I exhaustively asked.  A girl, a healthy girl.

In my humanness, I keep wanting to make God this 3-dimensional entity of flesh and bone — tangible and opaquely  visible in accessibility to me at all times, 24/7/365, and 366 on leap year.  Nope.   Not so.   Religion confuses this for me.  Religion keeps trying to tell me that there’s one guy, and only one guy,  the carrier of a single message.  No.   What I continue to experience, study, embrace and be fully dazzled by time-and-again that the proof is the prize for faith, for asking, without knowing certainty.  Ask.  Believe.  Receive.   And sometimes I have to wait too.   There are many carriers of a message, whatever the message is that I uniquely and specifically need to hear.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
~  Hebrews 11:1

Back to that dire morning at Lee Memorial.  Over the course of three hours, God delivered everything I needed to know, needed to say, needed to do and used fellow humans:  doctors, nurses, friends — near and far — to communicate to me those instructions.  First point of proof was the doctor.  He sat me down in front of a computer monitor and walked through Boomer’s stats, what they meant and the seriousness of the situation.   He spoke to me in simple, calm, easy-to-understand terms.  “Do you have calls to make?”  Yes, I do.  “OK, here’s what you say…”    It was amazing, God, through the doctor, gave me the script word-for-word to make those phone calls; the hardest, saddest, scariest phone calls I’ve ever had to make.  While I was on the phone, a nurse walked over and handed me printouts with highlighted areas specifically describing what Boomer had, what was likely to happen, that enabled me to have those conversations, to answer the naturally impending questions.  Nurses brought me coffee and sliced apples to help keep my energy level up.  I wasn’t alone.  Nor was I alone, when I had my daughter.   God needed me and so did Boomer.  God gave me what I needed to be there for them both.   I stayed.  I asked.  I waited.  I listened.  I followed the whispered instruction.  That’s all God wants.

I’ve come to acknowledge that I am a deeply spiritual being having one helluva a  wicked human experience.    I’ve struggled readopting use of the term God.  I tried on Universe, Higher Power, Source, Spirit, Energy, all the others.  I heard writer Anne Lamott say, she sometimes refers to God as Phil, for her favorite scripture quote from Philippians.  I like God.  God works.  It’s simple.  It’s one syllable, 3 letters and I like simple.   I once heard an acronym for God:  Good Orderly Direction.  That’s good too,  God is my internal GPS.  What I didn’t always know or willingly admit was I’ve always had that internal GPS, that guide for good, the nudge I get in the center of my gut.  It’s a navigational alarm of what is good, or not, and I often sense it before my brain grabs hold to dismantle and manipulate it into something different, often denial, and always troublesome in one way or another.    I just didn’t understand that nudge is always for good; my good, and the good of those I interact with.  An invitation to dialog, ask for what I need, what I want, like a healthy baby girl or the right words to communicate terrible news.

I awoke to God in my despair — a Gift of Desperation.  God is ecstatic with me that I have finally chosen to be active in our dialog together, welcoming the friendship.  The grief counselor I spent 22 months with after Boomer died,  said to me once, “God has been pursuing you.”   Heavy and true.  Though it took difficulties and tragedies and trauma to get it, accept it,  God has been a patient friend, waiting for me.

Ironic how God is, has been, so patient with me, yet I do not easily reciprocate that patience.  That’s how we are different.  God is omnipotent and omnipresent.  I am not.   God loves when I get it, when I mess up and try again, and even when I get mad.   I do not.  I pray for guidance, direction, support and protection.  Then I wait.  The whole patience thing is something I struggle with daily.   God is also a prankster with me, making me wait little longer, like when I ask for patience and then all I get are red lights when I’m in a hurry, or the slowest line in the grocery store.  In prayer, I ask God for the help.  Then I wait.   In meditation, I listen for information or answers.  They come, though rarely on my timeline, always on God’s.  I can never project, I just get to piece it together later.  I live life forward, understand it backward, that’s how God rolls with me.  It’s how I’ve see God’s answers:  Yes, No, or I have something better in mind.

God keeps reminding me I’m not in charge, of my life or someone else’s.  Whaaaat?  Trust me, the shit that’s gone down in my life, I did not want it — none of it.   I never said, hey, wouldn’t it be cool to be married to a drunk who dies?   I never said as a little girl, I bet it might be fun to be pulled down a flight of stairs by my long brown hair.   No, and yet that crap happened anyway.   War and peace.  Love and hate.  Life and death.  Health and sickness.  Where is God?  Right there, orchestrating it — ALL of it.  Since the dawn of time, ask Adam and Eve, or their kids, Cain and Abel;  talk to Job, he’s got stories too.  It’s divine design this God thing.    To open my heart, have faith, sometimes that means waiting, often with uncertainty and confusion.

It was only a few months ago, I came to terms with the possibility that God takes loved ones, when we perceive it to be too soon,  because God knows they won’t get better;  God uses them to be teachers for the rest of us.  God uses us, to help carry that message — whatever it uniquely is for us.  Like in Boomer’s case, he was so incredibly sick, with a disease that is destined to kill, God intervened and took him.  God said it was enough, enough suffering for all of us.    And as a result, turned me into an advocate of recovery, and addiction awareness.  Who’da thunk?

Organized religion doesn’t fit me, it never has.  God showed me that and said it’s a-ok,  because I came to believe in my own way at my own time; or was it God’s?   Ah the mystery of life.  Today, I study all faiths, I practice the principles of Buddhism – peace, love, and compassion for all living beings, along with the 12-steps, one day at a time.

I woke one morning, a voice whispering in my ear, and tears running down my right cheek. Everything was necessary, the voice said, absolutely necessary to get you where you are today and to get those who are around you today here too.  Absolutely necessary.  It still baffles my mind, but I roll with it anyway.  Faith — find answers in the heart — is where God is for me.

God didn’t give up on me.  What a terrific friend.  Thanks for Your patience.   It’s good to be with You.

every-loving-thought-is-true-e1414013444433
image credit:  footprintsholistic.com

45 + 7 = ?

“It took me a long time to realize we are not meant to be perfect;
 we are meant to be whole.”
~Jane Fonda

20151119_163428 (1)

Fragments and pieces.  Look closely.  See the missing faces, darkened by black permanent marker.  Notice where parts and sections of the photographs have been manually removed, cut out or torn away.  This was no accident.  It was intentional, an attempt to erase, as much as possible, the relational presence of existence to the now missing other part.  You see images that are incomplete.  A story being told, an action taking place with only a few parts of the whole being represented, while another story is untold, one where separation, restriction, isolation, and insignificance are forcibly created.  You will also see innocence, that of a baby, a toddler, a little girl, who’s ages range somewhere around  10-months to six-years-old.  You’re looking at someone else’s pain and the action they chose to use to express that pain.  You’re also looking at the direct pain someone’s action inflicted upon someone else.  So much is there, and so much is missing.  You see remnants of a life story — mine.

This is my family photo album.  I am the baby, the toddler, the little girl in the pictures.  These are some of my early childhood memories.  They are only the visual reference to a time I barely remember and I see them, revisit and reminisce each time I open the album.   This is what I have to work with and whenever I peruse the early albums an inquisition rapid fires:  Who is that man?  When was it taken? Where were we?  Who else was there?  What happened?  Who took the picture?  What else is missing?   Why did this happen?  To me?  How can someone be so cruel?  Many questions and just one answer: pain.

There are too many people today who instead of feeling hurt are acting out their hurt; instead of acknowledging pain, they’re inflicting pain on others.  Rather than risking feeling disappointed, they’re choosing to live disappointed.”
~ Brene Brown, Rising Strong

The action taken against the photographs was my mother acting out her pain.  The outward expression of anger, frustration, fear, sorrow, despair, resentment, etc. following the end of her marriage to my father;  I was 6, my brother was 4.   Ironically, what she didn’t know was the pain she was also inflicting on me (I can’t speak for my younger sibling) in the way she chose to lash out.  It was one of many ways she inflicted her pain, but this sticks because there’s documented proof in the pictures.  Pass on the pain…   I have pain of never seeing the full picture of my history.  My father’s missing face as a young man.  His expression of pride (maybe?) of being with his first born, Daddy’s Girl.  My paternal grandmother’s missing face, her expressions of joy being a grandmother and spoiling the kids.   They and mysterious others completely removed from visual existence.  Their expressions I describe I make up, because they are not there.   People I am a part of, created from, loved by, were visually dismembered or killed off.  All I have is my imagination.  That hurts.  The pain stuck with me for 45 years.

I love photographs.  I am the matriarchal archivist of our family — I’ve got all the albums. I discovered while grieving the loss of Boomer, photographs are a very important part of my healing process.  I sit with them, reflect, laugh, weep, scan, copy and share them with others.  I tell the correlating stories over again walking hand-in-hand  – once more through memory lane – with my loved one.  It’s my process and the deeper I immerse, the swifter I emerge and feel better.  Grandma passed away last October, I was all in again.  For two weeks the albums were strewn across the floor of the Buddha room – a spare bedroom of my then home where I meditate and guests occasionally stay.   I worked my way through the albums in descending order when on one Thursday morning I came to the remnants again.  I froze.  I felt the sting I always feel when I turn to these pages.  When will the pain cease?  I asked myself.  Grabbing my journal, it started coming through…

I am responsible.  For the lingering 45 years of pain;  I am responsible for holding on to it. I am responsible for keeping the photos accessible and available to perpetuate my pain.  I am responsible for self-inflicting said sustaining pain.  I had taken what my mother started and just kept on truckin’.  I have distorted the meaning to include beliefs that I too, am fractured, a remnant, unimportant, or worthless.   I bought in and I am responsible for that.   I was, as Brene Brown writes, living disappointed, I pick up in the same place every time, often anticipating it, whenever I opened those particular albums.   A misguided act of martyrdom:  see what I’ve been through,  how I was treated, why I’m the way I am.  I was needy that way.  I needed to justify and rationalize so I could avoid actually feeling the hurt, the pain, the disappointment.   It was time to stop, I’d had enough, so I did.

For seven hours that Thursday,  I journaled about it, cried buckets, blew my nose a lot and talked it out out loud alone in the house, with my grandmother and Boomer watching over. I expressed my confusion and asked for direction about what to do with the photos… throw them away?   No, not ready yet.  What, then?    Experienced with the concepts of 12-steps, I followed the principle of one-step-at-a-time:

  1. First, I removed the manipulated photos from their albums;  most were glued-in and damaged the paper pages.  I sat with them, looked at them, spread them out on the floor and took the photo above — I knew at some point I wanted to write about.
  2. Next, I removed the now empty, damaged pages, inspiring a revamp organizing project that is still ongoing.
  3. Finally, for now, aware I wasn’t ready to throw the pictures away – yet – I stuffed the photos in a white, letter-sized security envelope and enclosed a letter to my daughter:

Dear Darling Daughter Dara (our regular greeting),

If you’re reading this note,  it means I never reached a decision of what exactly to do with these photos.  The remnants hold sad, hurtful memories for me.  I knew I didn’t want to carry those feelings around anymore, nor did I feel certain tossing them out was wise either.

They are part of your history, extended-family history that’s filled with pain…not a side most people want to look at.  I don’t think I have to go into detail, other than to say you are free to do whatever is in your heart to do with them.  

…My hope is that you have never felt, from me, as if parts of your life or the people in it deserved to be erased or cut-out, especially by me.  This is a very dark, and unhealthy part of your extended family history, yet it holds a very valuable lesson in life…

Our actions and our choices, especially as parents, always affect our children.  My mother’s vengeful actions hurt me — all my life.  After all these years, I’m trying to put the hurt behind me.  This is how, for now, I did it with the photographs.  Life is full and rich with experiences.  In those experiences are episodes of unpleasantness, extreme difficulty, and heartache.  I’ve learned that it’s important to find peace and forgiveness out of those experiences.   I will never forget what happened and how it made me feel.  But by holding on to the visual proof I don’t have peace and remain a hostage to the pain that was created.  That is my responsibility to deal with.  Sealing them away this way, is a big step in my healing process.  If you never read this, well, that means I took another healing step and let them go for good.   I love you, Pooh.  Your Mom.

Two weeks later, I had dinner with Dara and I told her all about it, including what she may or may not come across one day.  There are no secrets between us, even fewer with myself now and certainly much less pain. I’ve removed the remnants and reassembled what was there to be whole — for the first time as I know it.

It took 45 years to get there, and 7 hours to do it. Right on time.  I guess it was really just about the math.  Whew, what a relief.  Problem solved.