I’ve been lost in a circle of shame. Lost with untold stories. And my partner in crime is not here to release me. He died of cancer. I tell others that there is no shame in a mess. That it is all usable by the Divine. To turn that mess over to God and watch the miracles multiply. It seems I hold myself to another, less forgiving, measure. I found the quote above in a Somerset Life magazine that was tucked into a care package of goodies intended to help me heal from flu/bronchitis complications after my breast surgery. Dropped off by an earth angel who had no way of knowing the key to freedom her gesture – and this quote – offered. I was in agony. Not from the flu or bronchitis or even the breast cancer. They paled in comparison to the hurdle mounting within me. Survivor’s guilt had escalated to shame. And my grief was complicated by a relationship decision, made by Ray and I, to preserve the love between us. Our decision to divorce acknowledged both our stumble and our treasure, and embraced the best “save” we had with the information at hand. Some days it is a load to be the one left behind with that decision – knowing what we didn't know then. “You divorced. He died of cancer.” God grant me the serenity to share and shed my shame. The roots of the word shame derive from an older word meaning "to cover.” There are stories I desire to tell without covering, censoring or questioning myself at every turn. There will be no joy expressed in my healing work or creative play without owning this place where I stumble. “We divorced. He died. I got breast cancer.” How do I claim health for myself when I could not claim it for him? That’s a question that shame and judgment ask. Not reason. Not compassion. Not forgiveness. I am giving myself permission to accept that my guilt grew to shame for the years of divorce. I am letting go of the shoulda-woulda-coulda stuff. I am not going to layer pain atop more pain in berating myself for a messy organic progression of feelings – feelings that I can love you through but not myself. The "shush don't talk about it" shame train stops here. No more soul-crushing judgments on myself. They say we are only as sick as the secrets we keep. I tell stories to open doors, give permission, offer connection and invite forgiveness. I am grateful to have you witness my shame, released through this story. It is a story about life and death and love and forgiveness – and what it looks like to thrive while moving through the meSSy sTuFf. I am not telling this story alone. Ray is with me, looking over my shoulder. He is saying, “Honey. We made that decision together. And it did save US. We never stopped loving. That is our story and the one I want you to move forward with. I am not here in the guilt or the shame. My death freed us from those struggles. Please don’t carry that load. I’ve got this now. Let it go.” To be continued? I'm thinking so. Take a deep breath. Now exhale. That felt really good, didn't it? I always love to hear your thoughts, DEar HEaRTs. You matter to me! And I have no shame in admitting that! Mwah! XO Bernadette Subscribe to this blog or follow me on Facebook. And if you like this then LIKE this! Remember, SHaRiNG is CaRiNG. If you found something here that inspired, you may know someone else who will feel the same.
I find myself on the merging ramp to a mastectomy and wishing to yield, for just a moment, before this breast becomes a blurred memory in the traffic flow of life. She is the part I must release to protect the whole but she will not go without notice or appreciation for what she held space. There is a body of experience in this sweet breast of mine. She and her sister were late bloomers. No doubt, I got that premature training bra because my mother was tired of fielding questions that always started with a whiny “When???” As intimate partners go, both breasts have been first class beyond their champagne-glass classification. But she is the one that held space over my heart. For that I grieve her loss. I would love to kiss her for all that we’ve gone through together – but she is not that large nor I that agile. Sound strange?
Our bodies are living, breathing temples that hold space for a fusion of body, mind and spirit – from the most elemental level to the most sublimely sacred that life has to offer. And each part speaks to aspects of experience that leave imprints – clues – as to how we maneuver through and integrate events from the significant to the mundane.From the time she first popped onto the scene, this sweet gal of mine protected my heart from, as well as expressed it to, inexperienced curiosity seekers and seasoned explorers until she found the one who gave her no need to shield and every reason to expand into a union of body, heart and spirit. She is visible, palpable evidence of an evolving woman’s journey into and through the greater portion of womanhood – edging into crone. Granted, she does not hold the life-sustaining importance of a lung or heart but she holds emotion-sustaining space for what works – and what doesn’t – in choices made to love and nurture self and others. Choices for expression, play, creativity, sensation, flirtation, exhibition, pro-creation, courage, pride, compassion – just pull out a dictionary and read on. You will find a piece of her on every page. She never nursed a child but experienced the loss of two miscarriages. She was with me through betrayal, reunion, divorce and death. She was present to those who honored and dishonored her, to those who gave love and withheld love. She registered the difference between body-to-body encounters and body-to-heart lovemaking. Eaten away by cancer, she is not looking particularly attractive by today’s standards but she is beautiful to me, for she kept vigil at the altar of my heart. And she is taking the hit for the cancer of disappointment, grief and good old-fashioned stress. Her final act of nurturing is one of surrender, as she and I hope to contain the damage with her removal. She will be replaced by a re-constructed stand-in, made to mimic her and topped off by a knotted piece of skin and tattooed nipple. (Somewhere, I hear Joni Mitchell singing, “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot ... don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til its gone?”) Trust me, though I joke, I do not feel flip about this loss – one that rides on the tails of an overlapping grief for Ray, who lost his battle with cancer in March. (See Life. Death. Breast Cancer.) Surely there is a ritual fitting for this part of my body that represents sexuality and sensuality – courtesan and Madonna alike? This part of me that society deems a symbol of my femininity, both object and recipient of pleasure and sensual sensation that now speaks more to the simple pleasures found in life. Right now, it’s hard to register how I will respond when this part of my body is no longer able to feel the hot water from the shower or the itchy sweat from yard work, the pressing purr of one of my kitties or the clutching ache of grief. So much in this world carries on without notice or appreciation – body parts included – until there is a failure or challenge in the system. After which, maybe, we wake up and realize how much we took for granted and strive to correct that with gratitude for what is left. (Kind of like people in our lives.) Is this post self-indulgent? Perhaps. But you know what? I don’t care. Because, by now, I hope you realize that I am also casting light on LIFE and how we race through it – with or without body parts. There are too many precious moments lost in the flip of a calendar. Too many fast good-byes, the depth of which don’t register until it’s too late. This is one good-bye that will not be lost in the blurred shadow of cancer. Indigenous cultures offer rites of passage marking significant transition points – and this gal of mine is going to get one. I don’t know what other women have done to mark the point of life-before and life-after cancer, but would love to hear any stories you are willing to share. And I mean that for any type of cancer or life altering dis-ease. For now, I will savor her, throw her this virtual party (as well as one at the local coffee shop) and kiss her a mindful good-bye. She resisted gravity’s pull pretty darn good. I will strive to do the same without her. For every bit of love that she now hands over to her sister and me – for every woman who lost or is losing this intimate partner, as well as any other – I kiss my breast and yours for what they held space. And, even if all your parts remain intact, take a moment to extend some gratitude with a little self-pampering, sweet ones. Sharing is caring. If you found something here that inspired, you may know someone else who will feel the same. XO
Here’s an idea to play around with. The next time someone or something upsets you, ask yourself, “Does this define me or refine me?” Why? Because your answer determines how you move through the experience and the baggage you carry afterward. Let’s see what Webster has to say about these two words.
Define: to determine the limits or nature of; describe exactly.Hmmm. “Determine the limits” seems pretty limiting. And “describe exactly” is a crazy-making quest. I don’t know about you but my life – and upsets – defy any exacting description. This defining business is feeling a bit tense.
Refine: to free or become free of impurities. To make or become more polished.To “become free” and “more polished.” All right. I’m exhaling here. This feels like something I can grab hold of when grappling with an upset. How a Defining Moment Becomes a Refining Moment. Stop. Ask the question. “Does this define me or refine me?” Make a conscious decision. Then proceed in the direction of your answer. When my ex husband left to explore a relationship with another woman – back in the days of Bernadette’s Pages – you could say his act defined our marriage (failed), himself as a man (untrustworthy), and me as a wife (not good enough). Failed. Untrustworthy. Not Good Enough. Now there’s a tidy package that determined “the limits or nature of” what happened between us. Had I accepted this view as my definer I would have gotten stuck, acting out patterns of betrayal, anger, resentment, bitterness, guilt, shame, remorse, confusion, mistrust, defensiveness … and I guarantee you that Bernadette would not be sharing in this blog. But this Bernadette? She asked the question. Again and again and again. As many times as it took for her to drop the definers, pick up the refiners and proceed in the direction of her happily-ever-after. Death-Sentence Definers. Hiding in the past, present and future are relationships and circumstances that beg to define you. If you’re having trouble getting beyond an upsetting someone or something you might be trapped in a definer zone. That’s where the person or situation defines you in a way that you are not comfortable with – many times under radar. A definer like this, with no follow-up refiner, can feel like a death sentence. I saw Ted at Starbucks with Susan. (My ex must be right; I’m boring.) Samantha got the promotion. (My father was right; I’ll never amount to anything.) They didn't call me back for that second interview. (I am too old.) Are You Really Upset For The Reason You Think? This world offers lots of legitimate reasons for upset, though illegitimate definers are more common culprits than you think. (Maybe Ted and Susan were planning a surprise party for our voyeur – but skewed definers are a topic for another day.) Whether caused by the real world or the one in your head, it’s key to note there is a difference between the upset of pain and the upset of suffering. Suffering is a choice. A mental attitude based on fear and often supported by a definer. It hurt when my ex left. Real bad. I was in pain. But it was my definers that made me suffer. Not his leaving. Once I got them to surface, I saw the classroom and an opportunity to cut through the crap – all the excuses that kept recycling the past into the present relationship. Surprisingly, defusing my definers opened the door to a refining process that allowed us to reconcile and make it another eighteen years. Defusing my definers also allowed me to recognize that divorce, for reasons that extended beyond our control or recovery, was ultimately in our best interest if we were to continue to grow. (Now there's a heavy duty definer-refiner playground.) If You Get Nothing Else From This Blog Post, Get This! A reason to pause the next time something or someone gets under your skin and ask yourself,
- Does this define me or refine me?
- Does this define me in a way that I don’t like?
- Do I have to accept this definer?
- Can I use this to refine me? (Make me a better person, artist, dog lover … free me from negative relationships, jobs, speeding tickets … Get the idea?)
- Does losing this marriage/relationship define or refine you?
- Does losing this job define or refine you?
- Does your childhood define or refine you?
- Does your health condition define or refine you?
- Does an addiction define or refine you?
- Do your children define or refine you?
Be Flirty. (Take flight) Be Dirty. (Play in the dirt.) Be Loved. (From Heaven to Earth.) Here's a meSSy thought. What if you flirted with God? What if, instead of giving God your woe-is-me-where-is-he/she, you gave God a woo-is-You-love-me-through.
"There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground." Rumi "There are infinite ways for God to caress and kiss our soul." MeRomance your life. Be YOU in love ... anyway! Then it might be easier to recognize the lover who knows how to use romance for love's sake. (And not manipulate for favors.) Embrace your sensuality ... anyway. Romance the world ... anyway. BE your sexy, delicious self ... anyway. Make those divine in-love discoveries ... anyway. Woo God and unleash the love of the universe in your own backyard ... anyway. Don't wait for Mister or Miss Right to give you permission to be the YOU that you are when inspired by love, BeLoved meSSie. Grab that mixing bowl called life and add a dash of flirty, a pinch of dirty, and season with love to taste. Now, pardon me while I throw a BiG meSSy SmOOchMwah your way and wish you a Happy Valentine's Day EVERY day ... anyway. PS: You don't have to be single to use this recipe for romance. But then I think you knew that ... anyway. If you like this post, then please LIKE and SHARE because together we grow a better world! And be sure to SUBSCRIBE for more Messy Room muse inspirations to come!
A string of pearls with the affirming message, “Today is the day to find courage within,” lightly dance around the tail of a man’s tie like the wave of the Chinese symbol for yin and yang. The oyster with its soft, sensitive body, not unlike a woman’s, creates a pearl when challenged by the irritation and discomfort of a grain of sand or grit. Wisdom that comes from life experience is hard won in the same way pearls are created. “Pearls of wisdom” dance around a woman’s throat from where she gives voice to hard won opalescent experiences of sacred passion, desire, being, creativity and so much more. What happens when a woman wears a tie or puts on pearls? As women – single, married, divorced – how do we maintain balance with bringing home the bacon and frying it? My desire with Ties and Pearls was to create a piece that spoke to the invisible partnering of the male and female in each of us, and how that manifests in our relationships in a visually appealing way. The archetypal power struggle that happens when masculine and feminine energies within us are out of balance (Jung referred to it as the anima and animus) is the inspiration for this art that mused its way into my studio with this passage from that book I am tearing up. "I see where my husband became my life, rather than came to be in my life. Somehow I deluded myself into thinking that I was strong enough not to lose myself in him. That I would know if I crossed the line. How did I get so far over it? How? I spent too many years carrying on like a man. My own distorted spin on the women’s liberation bra burning era I grew up in.... As a woman, safety in a man’s world required liberation from myself. What a paradox! The inner male I took on for strength was the one leading me astray. The very behavior I despised in a man who could not honor, recognize, or value a woman was the very behavior I supported when my male side shadowed my female side...When I let “him” lead, I am chasing my shadow, going nowhere fast. Did I lose myself in what I felt driven to, or find myself? I don’t regret for a minute letting the woman in me take the lead ... I don’t regret the time I’ve taken to get to know her, to learn to trust her. She has the map to my psyche. The wisdom and strength I need to hold true to my soul’s calling. And through all of this she is showing me how to give of myself without giving up myself. Better for my inner male to provide the fuel and momentum under her direction and inspiration. That way they both arrive at a place they actually want to be. A much healthier arrangement!” Excerpt from Bernadette’s Pages: An Intimate Crossroad This was a big classroom for me. My need to find balance and create a safe space for expression as a woman wearing pearls found its way into many journal entries through the course of that 9-month period of separation-on-the-brink-of-divorce ... and beyond. While musing over this art, my desire was to create a light visual for a heavy topic. From a distance, I wanted this to be simple and graphic. (Yang/Masculine) Up close, I wanted the layers to reveal themselves slowly, to entice the viewer into more intimate discoveries. (Yin/Feminine) In the struggle to find a balance, puzzle-pieced together text creates a man’s stark white dress shirt squared off against the inviting curve of a woman’s red bra. Background, created by text collage, represents the boundless body of a woman and the content of her experience. So many rich layers of metaphors spoke to me while playing with this. Here are just a few, captured with images and captions to springboard you into entertaining your own thoughts about this subject. The straight angular tie is cast off and almost phallic. (Something I didn’t notice until later.) It is the only piece of the art where text was not the substrate used to make its form. Gold thread and striped text whisper to challenges in breaking free of choking restraints A string of pearls, with their affirming message, lightly dance around tail of a man’s tie. Balanced, at last, like the wave of the Chinese symbol for yin and yang. Chinese characters for peace and joy (alternate corners) provide a foundation for moving forward when the male and female at last dance in harmony. Every woman has her story in relationship to ties and pearls. (Gentlemen, I invite you to consider your side of the fence with this because you have a relationship with ties and pearls as well.) I would love to hear about them! Are they working? Not working? In for revisions? And, if you are a creative-type, how do feel you about using your chosen craft as a way to see an aspect of yourself or life differently – or perhaps more lightly?
#5 from the series “Tear Up that Book and Make Art.” Prints available in the Messy Room Art Gallery (Under Construction) If you are interested in a print, Contact me.If you like this post, then please LIKE it and SHARE it because together we grow!