Florida: Then and Now

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

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

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

Then:

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

Now:

  •  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.

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Prelude to Eruption

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My implementing application process went like this…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dig in, excavate your dormant volcano:

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

Four steps:  Reveal. Feel. Deal. Heal.

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

May my story help you heal.  Peace.

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

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

A Ghostly Starry Night

Put your ear close to the whispering branch and you may catch what it is saying.
~ Guy Murchie

By all standard conceptual accounts she is a stranger.  We met online after I read her article about the stupid, insensitive things people say and do when you’re grieving.  I wrote about it myself, then reached out to her to express gratitude and consensus how her piece resonated with me.  There was a familiar spark with Aimee in our written exchange, we were like-minded in life matters and like-experienced with premature widowdom.  She was further along than I in the healing process and the assemblance of a new life, and I was hope-filled and inspired connecting with her.   We are by no means besties, though we have stayed in touch.  There is an automatic kinship that occurs among people who have lost someone they love, a relationship that naturally sustains itself when each individual continues in similar ways.

Fast forward to last month, Aimee dropped a private message my way through Facebook.   It’s always an unexpected and welcome surprise for me when a real social media connection escalates to engage personally one-on-one:  “Hey Shannon, Thought of you today while I was at the eye doctor. After taking out my contacts and waiting for the doctor, a magazine rack was in front of me, one with the biggest letters spelling out BOOMER. How cool is that? Think someone wants to say ‘hi’ to you.”   Now if I hadn’t already developed an acquaintanceship with Aimee, I probably would have ignored her, and silently rejected her message as some trolling phish preying on emotions, a premise supported by the number of random male ‘friend requests’ I’ve received from bogus profiles classified as a ‘widower’.  Not in this case.

Recalling the numerous postmortem communications I’d encountered with Boomer since he died — through his wedding ring, those middle of the night wake-up whispers, and other various signals and symbols — letting me know he’s around and watching over me,  this latest run-in, especially now having moved out of our house, was both new, captivating and yes, pretty damn cool.    Contact coming direct from a ‘stranger’, someone Boomer certainly  didn’t know, yet embodied special credibility as a fellow widow, a heart-centered person whom I admire and respect.  I’ve heard supernatural stories of loved ones who from beyond the grave leveraged another living spirit to communicate a message. Aimee explained this has happened more than once for her, the spirit souls of those who have passed use her to send messages to their loved ones.  It was the second time ‘Boomer’ showed up with her;  she was compelled to reach out.  It sounds so bizarre.  Like something right out of the 1990 movie Ghost.  It was.  As if Aimee were a personal Oda Mae Brown.  Still, I was intrigued, curious and simultaneously comforted as I followed up with her offer to continue a deeper exploration sending her a picture of Boomer to meditate on.  “Let’s see what comes up,” she said.

The next day, Aimee had more to share.  She was clear in her suggestion to take what resonates with me and leave the rest.    Much of what she initially messaged me were short, incomplete abstract statements that didn’t make any direct sense, it was like trying to translate jibberish.  As she said,  “Some starry night was another phrase that came through,” I froze.  Reading the words again — some starry night —  it seemed Hitchcockian in nature as I slowly took my eyes off my tablet screen to gaze at the framed print hanging on the upper right corner of the wall in front of the desk in my study… Van Gogh’s Starry Night.20170316_165431

Boomer hated this print.  It hung on my side of our shared office when we lived it Evanston.  He often remarked how much he disliked it –without cause or reason, he just did.  I laughed as I cried at how much this new experience was hitting me.  Each remark Aimee shared following starry night was spot-on; nothing she would have known or had read from me and I was rattled by it. He’s baaaaack.

The timing was serendipitous itself; on the cusp of upcoming calendar dates, Boomer’s birthday and St. Patrick’s Day, what would have been the 10th anniversary of our engagement. Again, nothing Aimee herself would have any first-hand awareness of.  You explain it.  I can’t.  I naively thought that when my address changed and the pictures and memorabilia trinkets were safely tucked away in storage Boomer would cease to continue within my life.  Not so.  A deeper lesson emerged; spirit does not die, nor does end. It is the human form, its temporary occupant, that goes away.  Teilhard de Chardin gave explanation to such a phenomena, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience.  We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”  Even my all-time favorite music group, The Police, understood, “We are spirits in the material world.”  In my humanness I clumsily operate as though Boomer no longer is.  Through Aimee, he taught me otherwise.  He is and forever will be a spirit within my life, I am tasked to expand how I see him, where I see him, when I see him.  My human heart is acclimating to the news, of which Aimee was already aware, referring to him in both present and past tense, “He has a beautiful spirit and it feels like you picked each other before this lifetime,” she concluded, “He was one of your great teachers.”    Yes, he was.   All evidence points that he still is and always will be.   I love knowing this.

The world needs your strength right now.
Go get ’em.

~ Boomer to SMO, through Aimee DuFresne*, February 23, 2017

*Feel free to contact Aimee DuFresne through the link, if you’re interested to connect with your spirited loved one.  It’s quite cool. 

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 a boyfriend 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