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Money,greed,and entitlement

I wanted to write about this topic while I am still angry…sort of strike the iron while I’m still hot ! Why am I angry? Someone just hit me sideways with a resentment from thirty some odd years ago having to do with my accident and the money I received. And because I guess after living on this planet for 52 years I still can’t believe the gall of some folks. In this case,I’m pretty sure that it’s not gall,it’s probably a mix of ignorance,misinformation and entitlement. There is only one thing worse than greed. And that is greed mixed a with a sense of entitlement. As some of you know I received an out of court settlement as the result of the burn injuries I sustained in 1979. It took over three years to prove our case and finally settle. The oil company ( then the third largest corporation in the world! ) used every dirty trick in the book and some new ones they came up with. But their vast resources and lies thankfully didn’t prevail. Instead I was awarded the largest out of court settlement in the history of the state of NJ. It sounds like a big deal and it was at the time. But only because it was the only tangible thing that they could give me to compensate me in some very small way for their gross negligence. I was unprepared for what came next. I was raised in a very modest home with many children and not much money. As a result I learned the value of a dollar and a good work ethic. Overnight I went from a disability check of a couple hundred dollars a week to receiving a check that made me a millionaire. I had people who tried to warn me and protect me. They knew in advance what might lie ahead for me. I had lawyers,financial advisors and others who told me what to expect and still I was amazed at what I experienced. I’m not going to go long on this topic because everything I write about will be covered in detail in my book, Beyond Recognition: An intimate view of a burn survivors life and recovery. I’ll just say a few things…One of the worst things that happened was that the settlement was made public. The media splashed the amount across the pages of all the local papers in South Philly and South Jersey and everyone who read that paper and who might have known me had a piece of very personal and intimate information. Something I was totally against. I don’t believe that people who have to go through ordeals like the one I dealt with should have to have the financial details of their life made public. It is absolutely NO ONES business how much compensation someone receives for a catastrophic injury. Could you imagine a total stranger asking you how much money you make a year or how much money you have in the bank !? Secondly NO ONE is entitled to any of that money except the person who suffered for it. It still amazes me that people think ” wow , he got millions of dollars”.  Are you nuts ? I was almost burned to death ! My family and I were torn to pieces by this event and it took many years for us to have any kind of normal life. I had total strangers soliciting me for money. People I never meant asking for mortgage money. I was all of 24 years old and all I wanted to do was have a chance at a decent life and some stability. The money I received was nothing compared to the pain I endured and to the struggles I’ve since had to deal with and go through. Even now today ,32 years later, I still struggle with issues from the accident that affect my relationships. You can’t compensate someone for pain. Its impossible. I was compensated for the income that it was calculated that I would lose as a result of my injuries. The calculations were wrong. I lost much more than any statistician crunching numbers could ever imagine. I’ve wandered from one thing to another for years trying to find something that gives people that inner feeling of satisfaction that we derive from knowing that our hard work is what supports us and makes our life happen or not. I’ve gotten other things on the inside that you cant find on the job. Ive found parts of me that Id never have been able to access had I not been injured. But make no mistake about it ,it wasnt worth the money. You couldn’t pay me to go through that again. No amount of money would make me say yes to that. Anyone who saw me in the burn unit and in the first few years afterward would say the same. But money does strange things to people. They kill for it,die for it,sell their souls for it and end up with nothing but an empty hole inside. Believe me I know. I wanted that money I received to make everything better for me and for my family. But it didn’t. It only meant that for a time we didn’t have to worry about where it was coming from or who was going to pay the hospital bills for all my surgeries. For that I am extremely grateful.I know many who have not been so fortunate. They have no income and no one to look to for help in paying hospital bills and long-term care expenses. My family and I didn’t have much when I was growing up ,but we had all that we needed. We experienced having just about anything we could want and that didnt make us any happier.  Many misquote the old saying by stating that ‘ money is the root of all evil’. It’s actually ‘The love of money is the root of all evil’. Money doesn’t make people happy. As my friend Dutch says ” Happiness is wanting what I have”. Just for today,I want what I have. There for I am happy. 🙂



Self-Actualization…reaching our full potential

Self-Actualization…reaching our full potential

By jflames


/ˈsɛlfˌæktʃuələˈzeɪʃən, ˌsɛlfæk-/ Show Spelled[self-ak-choo-uh-luh-zey-shuhn, self-ak-] Show IPA

noun Psychology .

the achievement of one’s full potential through creativity, independence, spontaneity, and a grasp of the real world.

After struggling to survive in the burn unit and all of the subsequent surgeries I endured after, I struggled for over another decade with narcotics addiction. It wasn’t until I entered the recovery process in 1996 that I was finally able to address the underlying emotional pain that I carried with me from the past.

The most significant event that had occurred in my life was being critically burned, but there were less obvious issues that existed before my burn injuries; issues which were further complicated by addiction, denial and shutting down emotionally. This was a defensive maneuver created by a subconscious mind that I wasn’t even aware of. It was successful in one regard and damaging in another. On the one hand it probably stopped me from killing myself or going completely insane. And on the other hand it caused more pain and more consequences, not just for myself but for everyone that cared about me. I had literally and figuratively fallen asleep to my conscious and unconscious self. That didn’t mean that they weren’t still operating on some level. It just meant that I wasn’t aware of them.

The first few years after my accident were extremely lonely and painful for me. I had no one to lead me out of the darkness, which threatened to consume me entirely. I did however have a few people who helped me find distractions and other things to do to help me feel human, my dad being the most significant person at that time. Others encouraged me and gave me tiny little glimmers of hope that never lasted very long, but were enough to sustain me between doses. My surgeon and friend Dr. R. Michael McClellan was a big contributor in that regard. He never gave up on me. These people gave me a reason to go on.

This was perhaps the lowest point of my life in terms of literally feeling like I wanted to die. I felt so alone and so hopeless that most days all I could do was get out of bed, shower and maybe eat something. It was what I would describe as my “burn bottom”; the point where I just completely bottomed out physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally. In 1996 I hit a very different bottom. This bottom was the result of having everything I used to hide behind stripped away. My family, my children, my homes, my businesses, my money and my dignity were all gone. This was another one of those opportunities for me to dig inside myself and find resources that I didn’t know existed. It was very similar to my burn injury in that it turned out to be a very positive thing. But at the time it hurt like hell and it was no fun being in that state. As a dear friend of mine says, “Sometimes lessons must be cruel to be effective.”

This has been the case more than once in my life. As a matter of fact everything I’ve ever learned that’s worth knowing I learned from my own pain or someone else’s. It’s a tough reality of life and I don’t go around looking for pain. You don’t have to. Life presents challenges for all of us every day. I realized at some point that if I didn’t learn how to meet these challenges I would be stuck in an endless downward spiral of being a perpetual victim. These challenges are uniquely tailored for each of us. That same friend of mine also says, “The victory is in the struggle because that is where we learn how to surrender.” Surrender is not something I do naturally. It’s actually counter intuitive. But surrender is what saved my life when I began to allow other people to help me while asking for help when I needed it. And believe me I still need a lot of help from other people.

I’ve done a lot of “work” in these past 15 years, most of it having to do with getting current with my self and my feelings. I continue to find out who I am and what I want from life and am not insulted by life’s challenges. Instead, I’ve learned how to see them as potential for growth and as a possibility to learn more about me and what makes me who I am. There is great joy, happiness and fulfillment in life, not just pain and struggles. But it’s the pain and struggles that make that joy and happiness all the more fulfilling. The grief, sadness, loss and pain that I’ve gone through have become a touchstone for future growth. It becomes the opening that allows me to enter the darkness and come out into the light with new information, unafraid to face life and all of its daily challenges with gratitude.

In learning to be spontaneous and trying new things, one of the most important factors is risk. Love takes risk, creativity takes risk, being who you really are takes risk. I can’t tell anyone else the way. I can just tell them that there is a way to achieve our full potential as wholly integrated men and women. It’s scary as hell because it means letting go of everything that makes you feel safe. It means experimenting with new ideas and trying on new things. It might even mean leaving people behind and pissing others off. It means leaving the safety of what we know to explore the most feared of all things; the unknown. There was a saying that a friend of mine from Maine sent me in an email about 10 years ago. I held onto it for a long time and I read it often. It went like this, “The will of God will never take you to where the grace of God will not protect you. In order to have what is truly worth having in life it may be necessary to let go of everything else.” You can’t surrender with one hand. You have to throw both hands up and open them up. The good news is you don’t have to do it all at once. You get to do it in pieces….for the rest of your life.


A Lifelong Journey

On this, the 32nd anniversary of the explosion in which I was critically burned I wanted to write about my expierence at the World Burn Congress (WBC) which took place in Cincinnati last week. Once again I was on the panel for the Addiction/Substance Abuse and Trauma workshop. I felt it appropriate to write my blog on this theme, and to take it a step further to include grief/grieving.

I’ve spent time around hundreds of burn survivors over the last 32 years, and it is amazing to me that I’m always affected in some way by just being in their presence. I’ve written before about how I don’t see myself most of the time. And even when I do see myself, perhaps in a mirror or my reflection in a window, I’m not thinking about my appearance. But when I’m around other burn survivors I am transported through time back to that place where I was just learning to cope with being burned and disfigured.

I was only a kid at the time, and like most people my age, had lots of hopes and dreams. I planned to enjoy being single, hanging out with the guys, traveling and riding motorcycles from place to place (and bar to bar). Then someday I’d get married, have kids, settle down and be a family man (more by default, I suppose, than choice at that time). But all those hopes and dreams went up in smoke, quite literally, 32 years ago. The John that I knew back then–the one that I had been for 20 years–was gone.

Suddenly I was a very different version of me. To say that I was devastated would be an understatement. My body, mind and spirit were crushed in the explosion and the aftermath. The pain was excruciating in every way and every day for months on end. Then the years of physical therapy and reconstructive surgery so that I could move about freely. I lost count…I think its 72 surgeries now. I had to learn how to walk again and talk again and use my hands. I had to get used to eating with a mouth that had no lips and breathe through a nose that was almost gone. I had no feeling in my skin grafts for years. I could feel pressure when someone touched me only because of the nerve endings under the grafts. It felt like there was a piece of thick leather between me and whatever or whoever was touching me, and it was almost intolerable at times. But the hardest thing to get used to was the way others saw me.

I’m not just talking about strangers on the street or friends. My family members were deeply disturbed by my appearance. They loved me very much, and because of that it made them hurt, and I hurt for them. It’s my nature to not cause others pain or make them uncomfortable, so I took it on as my own pain. I was already carrying a trainload, so what’s one more boxcar full of baggage? I remember one young niece who was so frightened she would cry whenever she saw me. It was awkward for everyone at family gatherings and especially for me, because I didn’t want to upset anyone, especially my little niece.

At that point I was heavily dependent on narcotics to help me cope with my daily life. Even though I had seemingly made the transition from physical isolation to being in society, I was still very much isolated emotionally. The trauma I experienced as a result of the explosion was further complicated by my addiction to narcotics. The ongoing surgeries served to retraumatize and further institutionalize me. I was not only dependent on narcotics, I was also dependent on the institutions and the people who cared for me.

First I needed to address my addiction to narcotics. After many tries from 1983 to 1996, I finally succeeded. I was able get the help I needed and begin healing inside. I knew much about physical pain and suffering, but I understood very little about emotional pain and suffering and especially the grieving process. I realized I needed to have a network of people in recovery in my life, and some professionals to support me on my journey. I’ve found it necessary to create a safe space and have safe people around (could be a support network, significant other, friends, pastor, priest, rabbi) who won’t judge or invalidate your feelings.

Having someone who will just listen to you is one of the most precious things I’ve found. I’ve shared my story with anyone who will listen (and probably some who did not). I’ve shared in groups the details of some of the procedures I endured and watched people cringe. And I learned that some people just don’t want to know and some details are too much; not everyone is safe to share everything with.

I’ve logged countless hours with many therapists (some good, some ok). I’ve gone through training to help and support other burn survivors and I attend conferences and advocate for the burn community. I’ve written more than I can remember about this; I still write and I’m still uncovering and unfolding me. I wrote poems, read Voltaire (don’t ask me why) and read everything I could get on spirituality. I painted and did woodworking and built a motorcycle. I did yoga (still do) and Tai Chi, took up golf and am now doing woodworking again. I’ve taken long trips by myself to Europe and the west coast, and gone on retreats. I’ve also danced around the pain and avoided it for many years with many other distractions.

During the WBC, we saw a private screening of the very poignant and compelling documentary, Trial By Fire; Lives Reforged. As I watched myself on that screen I was catapulted back to the grief and sadness I still carry. It was a surreal moment to see all these images of myself strung together with my voice. I was watching me tell my story, and it hit home. This is a good thing. Feelings are meant to be felt, not avoided, suppressed, ignored, drowned in alcohol or numbed with narcotics. They are meant to come up and out, not go down and in.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross is credited with identifying the five stages of grief (based on her experience with the terminally ill). Although this model is widely accepted as the catch-all for grief, it is not a template that everyone’s grief process will follow. Trauma and addiction have many manifestations and are complex in many ways. They are both difficult to diagnose and treat. Grief can be complex and overwhelming. It is not a neat tidy little package and it doesn’t come with instructions. It comes with denial, as do addiction and trauma. There are many good books written on the grieving process. There are counselors who specialize in grief and groups to help support those who need help.

I can’t tell anyone how to grieve or how long it will take or when it will be over–if it ever is. I can tell you that it’s messy some days, and that’s ok. I now enjoy life more than I ever have. I can tell you that the grief process has gotten better for me and that I have gotten better with it too. A process is a series of prescribed steps taken to achieve a desired result—in this case, healing. You have to take action in order to get results. It may take a lifetime.

In my experience, service seems to be the one thing that promotes healing more than anything else. Giving back to others who have also suffered helps me deal with my pain and it helps them deal with theirs. For me, the healing continues and I have yet to fully recover. Maybe that’s not possible. Maybe the infinite intelligence that created us has given us a lifelong assignment. That’s a good thing too. My first journey began 32 years ago on October 5, 1979. My second journey began on October 1, 1996. Here we are in October , 2011; 15 years later and I’m still on the journey.

Books on : Grief/Grieving

On Grief and Grieving: Finding the meaning of grief through the five stages of loss
by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross ,David Kessler

Grief Recovery Handbook- The action program for moving beyond death,divorce,and other losses
by John W. James, Russell Friedman

Good Grief: A constructive approach to the problem of loss
by Granger E. Westberg

by Haddon W. Robinson


Discrimination : A Tainted View

Discrimination based on physical appearance is perhaps the oldest form of discrimination. It is unique in that it has no basis in politics, religion, skin color, ethnicity or ideology, but is based purely on physical appearance. There are many varieties of physical discrimination. Biases based upon someone’s size–too fat, short, tall, skinny, etc.–are probably the most common, and we all have them. In this context we are both perpetrator and victim. Even if it’s not outright discrimination, it’s some form of judgment, usually based on an association of some kind or a personal preference (e.g., people are overweight because they are lazy). Judgments are not inherently negative or stereotypical, but they limit our perceptions and ideas about people. They can categorize, pigeon-hole and condemn other human beings before they have a chance to show us who they are. We are not limited spiritually by stature, weight, skin color, scars, gender, sexual preferences or anything else external. We are more than our appearance. Knowing that is a gift, because regardless of what you look like now, you won’t always look that way.

I believe that judgments based on negative assumptions, ignorance, fear, unfelt emotions and feelings, and even personal preference are the cause of all division in the world. These limiting factors can be destructive to those who feel them and to everyone around them. My beliefs, fears, ideas and feelings about the people in the world and the world itself were developed in my formative years and beyond. They were greatly influenced by my parents, siblings, relatives, friends, teachers, neighbors, religion, TV, music and other forms of media. As an adult, I realized at some point that a lot of the information I received was based on opinion, hearsay, lies, faulty logic and reasoning, fairy tales, old wives tales and the prejudices of others. As a child, you really don’t get to choose your ideas. You have no real “intellect” or adult way to reason. This, coupled with the fact that my survival depended on the people around me, meant that I was extremely dependent on their views of the world. My limited experience with life and exposure to the world around me also added to this equation. I never really knew what I believed in or questioned anything about my ideas until I decided to learn more about myself.

In exploring who I am, I’ve learned that beliefs, ideas, opinions and yes, even the truth, can change. I don’t have to cast anyone off anymore just because I have a reaction to their physical appearance. And I do still have reactions based on old information that no longer serves me. The difference is that I don’t believe these old ideas anymore. I know there is room for everyone in the world. We all have a choice in how we view the world and people in it–much more of a choice than we might ever imagine. It’s a daunting task some days, but no one said it would be easy. Choice involves responsibility. We are responsible for our choices and the results we get. If you like the results keep choosing the same. If not, just know you can always change your mind.


Tattoos as Colorful Scars

I realized after I was burned that tattoos are actually just scars with color in them.

I was among the first of my friends to get a tattoo. I was 17 years old. My friend Scott and I drove to Camden, NJ in search of Sailor Eddie Evan’s tattoo parlor. I had been to Camden as a child with my father (he was born in Camden and we had family that still lived there), but not on my own. Our lack of familiarity with Camden and maybe a few too many beers landed us in Jack Dracula’s tattoo parlor instead of Sailor Eddie’s. Jack was a very intimidating fellow; probably 6′ 2″ or 6′ 3″ and tattooed from head to toe! He was a former sideshow freak at Coney Island back in the day and he wasn’t a very nice man. As if that weren’t enough, there was a sign on the wall that read, “You came in for a tattoo and you are leaving with one.” It worked. We were too scared to leave. Both of us grew up in rural southern New Jersey (aka “the sticks”), and we were way out of our element. I left Jack’s with a hideous tattoo of a snake and dagger on my right forearm. Scott had an executioner on his shoulder! I don’t know about Scott’s folks, but my mom wasn’t very happy.

Thus was the beginning of my love affair with body art. I was getting tattooed when tattoos were considered anti-social. Most people equated them with criminals, drunken sailors, motorcycle gangs and assorted other unsavory fringe-of-society type characters and groups. Probably the most negative connotation attached to tattoos is their use by the Nazis during WWII to mark concentration camp prisoners. It was said that Adolph Hitler even had a lampshade made from human skin with a tattoo on it. Yikes! Today tattoos are mainstream and more socially acceptable because so many people have them. People who don’t look like criminals or drunken sailors either. I’m not sure they have any significance except to the people who have them. For some, the only significance may be the statement having a tattoo can make — rebellion, FTW, I got drunk and ended up with a tattoo, I look cool, you’re not the boss of me, etc.

Some folks might assume I’m trying to hide my scars with tattoos. Not true. I actually struggled with the thought of not seeing my scars as clearly because of the tattoos. I’m proud of my scars in a weird kind of way. They are a testimony to the journey I’ve been on thus far. They say in no uncertain terms that I know and understand pain. They say I am a survivor. My first tattoos were about fitting in and being cool and macho. My oldest brother had a couple and I thought he was really cool! But later, especially after my run-in with Jack Dracula and my burns, tattoos became a form of self-expression.

I lost something in the fire that most people wouldn’t think about. I lost certain natural ways to express myself. I cannot grow a beard or mustache, for instance. This is something I totally missed out on, as I had never grown one before the accident. It may not seem that important, but it’s still something I missed.  Because of the scars on my face and around my neck, I have lost some of my ability to form certain facial expressions. Since I lost both ears, I can’t wear an earring anymore, which I had done since I was 16. I also lost all of my tattoos. They were burned away.

I never realized how these were forms of self-expression until much later in my life. Now my tattoos or body art make up for other forms of self-expression I have lost. My hair is rather long too. Another form of self-expression. I’ve found that my woodworking serves me in the same way. They all bring to the physical world what we have in our spirit, in the unseen world inside. My tattoos do have meaning to me. They tell a story and show what is important to me — my family, relationships, principles, spirituality, nature, freedom and love. I chose them for myself and they are a part of me. I don’t ask that you like my tattoos or even that you like me. I’m just being who I am. And because I can be who I am and accept who I am today, I can do the same for you. And that’s pretty cool.


Should I ask?

Approaching someone who looks different is a quandary for most people, and asking what happened to them shouldn’t be taken lightly. It’s difficult to tell if someone like me who has a lot of facial scarring is approachable or not.  Should I look? Should I not look? Do I just ignore them?  What’s the polite thing to do?  There are no hard and fast rules.  In fact, if I were on the other side I’d probably not ask at all.  I’d just try to be kind and treat them like everyone else.  Some people might say, “It’s not polite to ask questions like that,” but neither is staring at someone while wondering what in the world happened to them.  Maybe nothing happened to them.  Maybe they were born that way and have some genetic defect or physical challenge or both. Or maybe they were involved in an accident, like I was. People who looked different always intrigued me when I was a child. But I can’t recall ever being rude or staring in an inappropriate way or making comments that were cruel. Maybe I was already sensitive about such things. I grew up with three developmentally challenged cousins. I saw the way people gawked, laughed and made wisecracks about them. It hurt me even though I wasn’t the focus of it.

I believe there is an acceptable way to look at someone who looks different or even ask what happened to them. First and foremost, remember that I’m no different than anyone else; I just look different than most people.  I want to be treated like anyone else.  One of the reasons for writing this blog and book, Beyond Recognition, and participating in the documentary, Trial By Fire: Lives Re-Forged, is to educate the general public.  I believe that many people don’t’ know how to respond or react when they see someone who looks like me.  Some people have never seen an actual burn survivor.  Advances in medical technology mean that more burn victims than ever actually live to become survivors, leading to more and more opportunities for interaction.  I hope that by going mainstream with burn survivors, we can overcome the stigma attached to our appearance.

I personally do not mind if people ask me what happened. But first ask yourself a question.  Why do I want to know?  What’s my motivation?  Is it just morbid curiosity of the train wreck variety or something that is heartfelt and sincere?  I really believe this makes a difference, and the person you are asking can tell the difference, believe me!  Here’s what I like: ” Do you mind if I ask what happened to you?”  It’s a direct question, and I’ve been given a choice.  I can either say, “Yes, I do mind,” or, “No, I don’t mind at all.”

Saying, “Do you mind if I ask what happened to you?” is a lot different than asking, “What happened to you?!”  Yes, people have blurted that out to me.  While I didn’t necessarily care for the delivery, I answered the question.  I have to pardon people every day or else I’d be confined to a very small world.  Now my standard reply is, “I was burned in an explosion at an oil refinery.”  The standard reaction is, “Wow, you’re lucky to be alive.”  There was a time when that bothered me a great deal.  I was still very early in the healing process and would think to myself, “Who are you to tell ME I’m lucky to be alive?  How would you know?”  I’ve done a lot of healing since those days and my response usually is, ” Yes, I’m extremely fortunate.”  This too should not be taken lightly.  If you ask somebody what happened and they tell you, you may feel you need to say something back to them. Like, “Wow! You’re lucky to be alive!”  Or, “Oh my God!  You poor thing!”  Here are some alternatives. “Thank you for sharing that with me. I’m glad to have met you.”  Or simply, “Thank you for taking the time to share that with me.  I wish you well.”  This is my experience and I certainly do not speak for anyone but me.  Personally, I’d rather someone ask me.  I feel like I’m doing a service for others and myself when I tell someone what happened to me.  I sometimes even share details if people ask or I feel they want to know more.

There is one thing that I believe is totally out of line — questions having to do with money.  Yes, I’ve had people say such things as, “I hope you got paid for that!” Or, “I heard you’re a millionaire,” or, ” So how much money did you get?”  I would consider this area of questioning inappropriate for just about everyone.  The other area that’s out of line is probing for details.  If the person offers details, that’s fine. But don’t ask for more.  It’s usually not hard to tell if someone is comfortable in his own skin.  But at the end of the day, it’s a crapshoot, and there’s no easy answer. In some cases it’s cool to ask, and in others it’s really not.  Discernment and tact mean everything when dealing with people, especially those of us with obvious differences.

There is an appropriate way to look at people. You look right into their eyes. If they can’t meet your eyes, then chances are they aren’t comfortable.  You can never be sure where someone is in the healing process, or whether they are healing inside at all.  And that’s what it’s really about.  Healing on the inside.  Because that’s what all humans have in common.  We all have healing of one kind or another to do.


Trial By Fire: Lives Re-Forged

We in the burn community are very excited about a documentary being produced. Called “Trial By Fire: Lives Re-Forged,” it takes a close look at the special hell burn survivors go through, and our lifelong struggles to heal—physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Producer Megan Smith-Harris explores the dramatic and deeply personal stories of seven ordinary people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Each story chronicles the triumph of the human spirit along with horrific pain. I am proud to be included among these brave individuals.

I am normally a very private person, but I am embarking on this very public road in hope that my 30+ years as a burn survivor give me a perspective that may help others on similar journeys through life’s challenges, especially when they involve burns. Megan’s purpose in producing the documentary is to give a compassionate voice to the entire burn community – not only burn survivors, but also our families and the medical and support organizations committed to our recovery.

You can learn more about Trial By Fire: Lives Re-Forged and see video clips at I invite you to follow this blog and maybe even share your own story, as we add more voices in hopes of fostering understanding. As Megan says, “TRIAL BY FIRE: Lives Re-Forged is a film about acceptance that will resonate with anyone who has ever felt rejected or marginalized for being different.”




Speaking for burn survivors

It’s not what happens to you in life that matters, but what you do with it. You can let life make you bitter and hard or you can let it soften you and open you up to all of its possibilities.

My life is a work in progress. I’ve fought through unimaginable physical and emotional pain, rage and self-pity. With a lot of help from others, I’ve clawed my way back from the depths of denial and drug abuse that resulted in spiritual, emotional and financial bankruptcy. I still work every day to keep anger and isolation at bay and do my best to stay peaceful and hopeful in my daily life. But I have achieved some self-acceptance and peace. I’ve discovered that at the core, I am just like everyone else—just as beautiful and just as ugly.

It took me years to realize this. Everyone struggles with his own demons. Mine came to light as a result of a horrific accident. I’m writing this blog to help others, especially burn survivors, on their journeys of self-discovery. It is a painful road, but the only one I have found worth taking. Maybe having a friend who’s been there can make it a little less lonely.

As I share some of what I’ve learned, I hope you will do the same. Telling our stories helps take the power out of the trauma we have suffered and retraumatization that we continue to endure. Sharing our stories gradually opens the door to healing.

Beyond Recognition

An intimate view of a burn survivor's life and recovery


May 2023

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