Prayers, pleasing, and protecting

This is the part I don’t want you to see.   It would be so much easier to stay invisible, and not set obscure questions I ponder sometimes out there in the breezy air to flutter around . . .



It’s my fault.  I’m sorry. 

These phrases course through my blood like cancer cells.
I feel like they’ve always been there.
That I was born with them inside me: it’s my fault.  I’m sorry.

As an intuitive person, one with more empathy than any one person should have, I’m always sensing, always alert to how others are in a situation and to the unspoken vibration of moments.  “It’s my fault/I’m sorry” is my go-to emotional response, when a moment feels charged, uneasy, subtly dangerous.

My stomach muscles tighten, and my mind scurries across the past several minutes, back and forth, scanning, scanning:  Why is she not smiling?  Why is he not talking?  What did I do wrong?  Why is he yelling? Why is he in that room with the door closed? What did I do wrong?

I remember my 3rd grade teacher once stopped in the middle of yelling at some other student and looked straight at me:  “Am I yelling at you, Colleen? No, I’m not yelling at you. You didn’t do anything wrong.”  To her, I must have looked slapped in the face or terrified or something, I don’t know, but she could visually see I was reacting to her anger, even though it wasn’t directed at me.

So I know these things about myself now.  I spend time consciously reeling back this initial and irrational response I feel I was born with.

It takes energy and focus, but I’m doing it.

One day at the page, I began to reflect about this and a series of questions unfurled from my pen . .

Do you think an unborn baby can sense its unwed mother’s secret thoughts and prayers? Her heartbreak, her shame her sadness?  (Go away, go away, dear God, make this go away . . . )

And then, do you think it’s possible for this same unborn baby to grow up into a girl and then into a woman, yearning to be seen but never to be too much of a bother?  To feel, at her core, that she shouldn’t take up too much space, be too big.  And that she must please and protect – like some unspoken penance for causing this shame and suffering, this derailment of her mother’s then-intended life?

How is it possible to discern the beginning? Where is it?  When does one’s story start?


Postscript:  I’m happy to take the blame for my parents’ marriage.  In October 2016, they will celebrate 50 years together.

Reflection by Colleen Nolan Armstrong, drafted in June 2012 and completed today.  #outofthebox

Home coming


One hour before my 30th high school reunion

When I let myself remember and feel the good, it brings up the not-so-good too.  To be here, back in the suburban Philadelphia town I grew up in, from 7th grade to 12th grade,  I am feeling is this sickly sense of dread, of why did I do this to myself, when I told myself I wouldn’t.  (“I’ll never go to my high school reunion. I mean, never. I’ll never go back”)

I am scared to be with people I knew 30 years ago, when I was pretending to be someone I wasn’t.  When I held feelings down and deep inside, this gurgling-green, invisibly waged  war I caused, this self-destroying, controlled battle – that is bulimia and perfectionism.

Coming home, I reluctantly greet that sad & broken girl again, and it unsettles me, but I am not that girl.

Tonight,  I hold that fearful girl I once was,  in loving arms.  And I let myself remember her.





“You deserve someone just like me, but without the [shadow] baggage”

redscarf2“Nice is a knife,” says Visionary Leader Eric Klein on #Quest2015. It’s a knife you use to cut off parts of your self . . .  It’s how we adapt, fit in, survive. . . The dismembered parts don’t disappear. They go into, what Robert Bly, evoking the work of C.G. Jung, called the “shadow bag”. 

If “nice is a knife”, I am a bloody dagger.  And my shadow bag is as ripe as the hopeless Kenmore refrigerator downstairs in the kitchen with its broken ice maker and its crusted over pesto jars and beheaded month-old cabbage from some fall farm share box . . . my shadow bag is a rich compost-to-be.

Opening it, I see:

– Secrets swallowed whole, like mice, still breathing and struggling.

– Him seething fire, this silver dragon I loved.  Hate in his eyes, pounding walls, throwing clothes down the stairs Get out! tossing them out on the lawn.

– The red silk scarf I chose
to strangle myself
to remain so beautifully silent
pulled tight with double knot
ends pushed in mouth, wet and suffocating.

(i’m sorry. i’m sorry. i’m sorry. i’m sorry. i’m sorry. i’m sorry. i’m sorry.)

Eric Klein asks:  How will you face your shadow bag and stop the stink, so you can bring forth what is best within you in 2015? What can you claim right now?  I am going to gather some wet leaves from outside the shed, and place them in that damn awful bag and I’m going to grab a pitchfork and plunge it in, and toss it all together, add some water and then, I’m spreading it all out in the backyard for everyone to see.

And then, oh yes! There will be flowers again.

What do I claim right now?  My voice.  I cut it free.

– See more at:

The founder of the Wisdom Heart School and a longtime internationally respected spiritual teacher, Eric Klein has been a pioneering voice in bringing more spirit, meaning, and authenticity into the workplace. He’s worked with over 20,000 leaders from Fortune 500 companies, healthcare, governmental and non-profit organizations as well as mid-size companies. He’s author of the bestselling book Awakening Corporate Soul: Four Paths to Unleash the Power of People at Work, To Do or Not to Do: How Successful Leaders Make Better Decisions, and You are the Leader You’ve Been Waiting For (a 2008 Nautilus Award-winner as a world-changing book in the conscious leadership/business category). His online meditation program The Meditation Habit is used by corporations and individuals globally. (Twitter: @EricKlein)

Scarlet’s Letter

blackgownA reflection written in response to visionary guide Todd Kashdan (The Upside of your Dark Side) asks: “Which emotions do you feel most guilty about having? Afraid that others might find out?”

Shame & desire.  A black taffeta gown, with black satin cloak, hooded – I stand with hazel eyes deep and piercingly green.  Enticing enchantress, I turn and walk quickly back through wintry Dickensian alley . .. you follow.

I loved him for so many years.  Through births of each other’s children, through years of kids’ birthday parties, during game nights with theater friends, and New Year’s Eve parties (kids sleeping on floors) and one Disney vacation with 5-year old daughters twirling in princess gowns . . .oh how I loved him!  And the ease of that great love! the dancing, fiery, unmistakable pull of what we both knew, but hadn’t sought, and wouldn’t act upon (well, not for many years) – it was the most exquisite, shared secret:  a deep, black shining stone.  For a time, it was enough just to admire it, not even to name it, just this shared understanding of what was not ever to be, but what might have been possible, had life been different, or through  great and treacherous risk.

And then, there was cancer.
And then, there was my divorce.
And then, there was this opening, this moment, spilling out before us, like a spring river rushing in sunshine with golds and greens and spectacular pewter-y silvers .

I, now an unmarried woman.
He,  still a married man with children – children whom I loved as much as my own children, who called me “Aunt Colleen” and whose mother was my friend, but yet. I could, with little effort and no guilt,
lie to her face,
in the threshold of her own home.
for I knew (and he knew) that a love this strong could never be wrong.

Until it was wrong. Irrevocably wrong.

That last night, he stood at my front door, suitcase in hand, a scene out of an old Hollywood movie.  A moment we both had imagined and longed for, and yet . . .

He seemed changed.
His smile strained like thread pulled and glued on a puppet’s face
He couldn’t look at me.
His eyes like hot iron, hammered, darting this way and that. Unseeing.

He paced from one room to another room
like an animal, caged, unable to sit, even when sitting.
His presence felt like crackling high-tension wires

My son crept down the stairs in his pajamas, a look on his face like it was a Christmas morning, sleepy, bright and wondering eyes.   At once, I  stepped to the space between them, shepherding him back up, as calmly as I could, out of this invisible danger I sensed, but could not name.

I don’t remember what I said for the next several hours, as I made up the sofa bed with extra blankets and sheets. I do remember, though, how, as he lay there finally, his eyes seemed cold, loveless, like night-black stones.  They demanded satisfaction from me, an exacted payment for my having broken him.

I talked a lot.

Said all the words I could think of to convince him he needed to leave, that this wasn’t to be. That he needed to go home.  I remember his shadowy form as he hurried up the family room stairs, not turning and I not following. The front door open, then closed. A car motor started, then drifting away. And then silence.

The next morning his wife texted me:

“I know everything”
“He wants you to know that he is fine”
“He is in the hospital”
“He is not allowed to contact you”
“I am doing this because he made me promise to.”

To love someone and not to see. 

[Bipolar disorder.]

To me, that is the most shameful thing.