One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do Two can be as bad as one It’s the loneliest number since the number one
~ Three Dog Night, One (written by Harry Nillson)
One thing I can tell you, if you’re in a relationship with an active alcoholic, you are living a lonely life. Your significant-someone is fixated on the bottle first. You and your relationship, if you’re lucky, are number two. I was lucky number two, in my relationship with Boomer; the drink was always first. I didn’t realize just how lonely a relationship I was in until we spent a week in Kona, Hawaii, for our honeymoon, when we traveled — on day two — to the Kohala Forest Reserve in Waimea where I embarked on a Pololu Valley hike toward the breathtaking black sand beaches by myself. Boomer opted instead to sit in the rental car at the lookout point, he was passed-out in the front seat when I returned.
Later, as we looked through photographs taken during the trip, the evidence was undeniable that he hadn’t been a part of most of the sightseeing. He spent the majority of the time hunkered down in the condo, drinking, watching football and making calls to his cronies on the mainland. The irony is from that time forward, until he died, he revered our Hawaiian honeymoon as one of his most positively memorable trips. This baffled me because it was a sad contrasting memory for me –my honeymoon, alone, without my husband.
Still, one distinct pleasure we mutually shared from that trip was the splendor of the hibiscus flower, you don’t see a lot of them in the Midwest. The vibrant array of blossom colors from shrubs and trees were everywhere greeting you with a giant fragrantless smile amid the lush tropical landscaping of the condo complex where we stayed. Since the yellow hibiscus is Hawaii’s state flower, naturally the big bloom with its darting appendage of pollen is everywhere at every turn on everything from being tucked behind a woman’s ear to printed t-shirts and body tattoos. A visual feast.
The evening before we left Kona to return home, Boomer asked me to go around the development and take some pictures. He specifically mentioned the hibiscuses, a tiki statue that caught his eye, as well as the sunset over the Pacific Ocean at the edge of the community. I obliged. Alone. He stayed inside and drank. I amassed over 60 images that evening with an Olympus 8.0 megapixel digital pocket camera Boomer gave me for my birthday earlier that year. Most of photos were total crap. That camera and I never played very well together, yet I salvaged about a dozen images of what he expressed keepsake interest in. What I’ve learned since that time, through my own recovery process, his request as an active alcoholic was a manipulative tactic to create a diversion to satisfy the ulterior motive to continue drinking uninterruptedly. He cleverly leveraged what he knew would be a guaranteed positive reaction from me without question, hassle, or forethought. He manipulated me into going out alone to take the pictures because he knew he’d get my agreement. I like taking pictures…check. We both like hibiscus flowers…check. It’s our last night…check. How could I say no?
A year later, our lives were on rapid decline, and in an effort to lift his spirits I assembled a ‘floating’ trio collage frame as a Christmas gift of three hibiscus flower photos I had taken (‘floating’ means a photograph is pressed between two pieces of glass with no other support to hold it in place). Memory of a time and place he held fondness for even if I didn’t. From me, to him, for us. He loved it.
When we moved to southwest Florida in 2011 the hibiscus collage made its home hanging on a narrow kitchen wall adjacent to the bedroom and dining area, a primary pass through of the little 1920s Spanish-style bungalow then our home. Before long, the orange-colored hibiscus went rogue, slipped out of place igniting my affair with the flower.
Boomer was the first to spot the slip and the week before our third wedding anniversary began having extra fun at my fastidious tendencies toward home decor perfection. It started with him simply saying he noticed something. Every day he mentioned it with accompanied laughter as I scampered around trying to figure out what the something was. He offered no clues for a week, finally surrendering to the old ‘hot and cold’ clue game leading me to the discovery I’d walked by hundreds of times without noticing. The hibiscus gave us moments of levity during the increasingly dark time when our life together was running short of joy, laughter, and time. While an orange hibiscus in particular, collaborated with Boomer to teach me to embrace the gift of imperfection. I’ve kept its displacement in tact.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
“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.
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
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.
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.
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
“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-Anonspecifically, 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.