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.

~~~

Three to Five

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

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

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~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Allegiance to the Period

postcard35“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
~ Francis Julius Bellamy, 1892

Hang with me for a moment…

About 10 minutes into the calming, quiet stillness of mind I was enjoying during this morning’s meditation practice, I was abruptly interrupted.  Salty water was backing up behind my closed eyes, when a tear broke through like a cracked dam and rolled down my left cheek.  I realized I was silently reciting the Pledge of Allegiance – the 1954 (and current) amended version.    It evolved into a mantra chant of sorts… with liberty and justice for all… repeating those six words many times as the dam broke, tears multiplied, drenching my face.
We are not there – yet.  It’s been 240 years since our ancestors declared our independence in hot pursuit of freedom.  Liberty and justice for all.  Still, here we are, 240 years later, we are no better at holding the baton of accountability – liberty and justice for all – than we were.  We keep dropping the baton in our rhetoric-rich, action-empty attempts to deliver it –  liberty and justice for ALL.
What hurts my spirit and is fracturing my love of this country, my country, the mighty US-of-A, is our crippling inability to honor punctuation.  Period.  There’s a period after the word all.  Every time.  Interestingly, iterations The Pledge endured one thing didn’t change…the period.    And we’re still ignoring it too.  Two-hundred-and-forty years later, our actions, our attitudes, and our behaviors are bankrupt of love for the period at the end of this specific sentence.  We continue to conjoin  proverbial commas or semi-colon to conjunct exceptions, sustain division, separation and restriction.  I am heartbroken.  Because I love you.  I love my neighbor.  I love the stranger I’ve yet to meet.  I love the person who acts, thinks, looks, prays, believes differently as I do.  I’m ok with it.  I want you to have sanctuary: the privileges, the resources,  the opportunities as I do, without conformity or inhumane, loveless conditions.  That is honor and respect as the adoption of Francis’ words were intended to be.  It makes sense to me, I empathize with Mr. Bellamy’s daughter’s objection to the 1954 changes; they epitomizes the exception, surrounded by commas.
Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the ark of the covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment. I knew that age well; I belonged to it, and labored with it. It deserved well of its country. It was very like the present, but without the experience of the present; and forty years of experience in government is worth a century of book-reading; and this they would say themselves, were they to rise from the dead. I am certainly not an advocate for frequent and untried changes in laws and constitutions. I think moderate imperfections had better be borne with; because, when once known, we accommodate ourselves to them, and find practical means of correcting their ill effects. But I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.
~ Thomas Jefferson, 3rd US President
Jefferson, a chief architect in getting us here, the USA,  himself imperfect, was wise in articulating he misguided sanctimony we were and continue to confront.  Something I believe the simplicity of Mr. Bellamy’s tender words inspired.
My plea:  Please stop bastardizing what we’re suppose be about; liberty and justice for all.  No exceptions.  No exclusions.  Please stop it.  Stop giving it lip service.  Please actually do it.  Abide by the period.  Give allegiance to it.   For this, I salute you in hopeful reverence.
I love you.  ALL.  Period.