Posts Tagged ‘burns


what a life

Who could have ever imagined that I would have the life that I have today? I certainly didn’t. Not lying in the burn unit lingering somewhere between life and death. I was sure my life was over, I felt hopeless and I was broken in a way that I didn’t even know existed. That brokenness is one of the reasons that I have the life I have today. The ‘accident’ drove my life onto another course and set me up for the ultimate indignity; Public deconstruction. My life fell apart on the public stage and it was pretty much laid bare for anyone to see. It had become quite obvious to just about everyone who knew me and some who didn’t that I really couldn’t function anymore. After many years of surgeries and a grave dependence on narcotics my life had finally crash landed. As someone once said “any landing you can walk away from is a good landing”. I agree. At least today I agree. Although I wasn’t really feeling all too positive about it back then, as I stumbled through the wreckage that had once been my life and sorted through all the fragments and pieces . Turns out it was, in a major way. I had been handed what would turn out to be the greatest opportunity in my life by some Divine Power, Universal Consciousness, call it what you want . Many people were harmed in the swirling chaos that I had once called a life and everywhere I looked I saw collateral damage. I had a lot of work to do, but thankfully I didn’t have to do it alone or all in one day. With the help of that same Divine Power, Universal Consciousness and a whole sh*t load of people I was able to experience a transformation.

             A spiritual transformation that has led me to the life I have today. Spiritual to me doesn’t necessarily mean something mysterious or religious; although it does have some of those qualities. To me it’s simply the unseen powers that are both within us and outside of us. It’s about finding the Highest good in myself and others and using that to serve. I use the capital ‘H’ because I believe that it is the part of us that is directly connected to the Infinite powers that be. I also want to say that I’m really not all that spiritual for the most part, I have a pretty solid intellectual understanding of spirituality but when it comes to the emotional part of it, I have lots of work to do. As I’ve mentioned before many of the things that I’ve gone through have not been pleasant. As a matter of fact some of them were excruciatingly painful. But they have been fruitful in that they have  furthered my own personal growth and understanding of me and my responsibilities to myself and the world outside of myself. My involvement in my recovery from the trauma of the burns that almost killed me and the drug dependence that almost finished the job has been my saving Grace. Sharing with others , whether in a group of addicts looking for a way out of their own wreckage ,burn survivors looking to heal from the trauma of their burns and reintegration into society or talking to someone in the supermarket who is curious about what happened to me, it’s all service.

          Visiting a local Girl Scout troop a couple of  weeks ago was one of my favorite experiences so  far .  After reading an article written ( in three different publications, two local and one magazine  with world-wide distribution) about the work I do with wood I was contacted by a local Girl Scout troop leader who asked me if I would please come out and share with her troop of 4 and 5 year olds. I immediately said yes and I spoke with the troop leader, a lovely lady by the name of Christine. We shared our thoughts on the subject of looking different and how beneficial we think it would be to talk  to children early on in their lives to help them understand some of the differences they will encounter with people in life and the diversity that exists on this planet. The other important issue we wanted them to understand is that when someone does suffer a tragic accident or is born with some challenging disability whatever it may be it doesn’t mean that they can’t have a happy and fulfilling life.

              I stumbled upon this great wisdom as a result of a tragic accident at 20 years old., just a boy really getting started in life. When I went to the Girl Scout troop meeting I wanted to show them that I was just like them and everyone else. I just didn’t look like them. In order to accomplish this I told Ms. Christine I thought it might be a good idea to prepare the children by showing them a picture of me, so that they would be a little more at ease when I came in to see them. I brought pictures of myself to the meeting picture of me before the burns, after the burns, with my family, children ,wife etc. And some from my world travels. I also brought some of my woodwork that had been featured in the magazine and newspper, along with the magazine itself, Woodcarvers magazine. And I really floored them when I promised to show them something that none of them, their friends or their families had ever seen before. Ears in a box! My prosthetic ears which were hand-made by a former CIA anaplastologist named Robert Barron a very interesting and brilliant man. They couldn’t believe their eyes when I opened the small blue box and inside lay two perfectly life-like human ears complete with piercings. I passed them around so the kids could see them close up. I talked openly for quite a while and they sat and listened attentively to my description of what happened to me and how I recovered and what it was like at first and how it is today.

               And then they asked questions. Some of them were eager to ask questions and I told them that they could ask me anything that they wanted too. Some parents were in attendance too but they really didn’t interact, most just quietly sat in the back watching and listening. After the meeting had ended a couple who came in late brought their son over and I sat and talked with them for a short while. It was very different from anything I had done before in terms of speaking to a group about my burn recovery, but just as gratifying. Maybe more so knowing that in some small way I may have touched the life, mind and spirit of a child before they became closed off from the world in which we live. It is our responsibility to give our children the knowledge that they need so they can do better in the future, than we have done in the past. Let us help them to not carry our prejudices, biases and those of the world with them, but instead to travel lightly with open hearts….. 😉


Valentines Day, Relationships And Self- Love

Valentines Day is by all intent and purposes supposed to be a happy day for people,especially couples. Filled with Valentine cards,candy,flowers,other gifts and hopefully love. But for some people Valentines day can be a sad reminder that they look different or don’t have a partner . And so they think no one will ever accept them,let alone love them. I felt much the same way after my burns. I was burned over 90% of my body in an oil refinery explosion when I was just 20 years old. The greatest damage was to my face . I lost both ears,part of my nose and had to have my entire face reconstructed.I was hopeless back then,but as I said to someone the other day at a burn survivor group at our local burn unit at Lehigh Vally Hospital.” We’ve been in recovery from our burns for many years ( 33 yrs for me) we can see the light at the end of the tunnel,because we’ve been through the tunnel.Most newly burned people can’t even imagine that it exists. That it will ever get better. And I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter where your scars are on your body or what ‘beauty’ you may have been left with. The scars become the focal point and we fear rejection. I’m no authority by any measure on love or relationships,so I’m just sharing what I have experienced in the last 33 years. I had a couple of different women that I dated and was involved with when I was injured and for whatever reason those relationships didn’t go anywhere. Then I meant a physical therapist that I dated and a candystriper that I went on a date with and this was all with in two years of my burns and I still had extensive facial reconstruction that needed to be done. I’m not gonna say I wasnt self-conscious. I was and still am sometimes. I’m not sure I know anyone who isn’t from time to time. Non burn survivors included. In 1983 I meant a beautiful,energetic 19-year-old women named Sonya . We had fun together and connected on a level that felt really good. Eventually we went our separate ways mainly because of my ongoing struggle with narcotics dependency as a result of multiple surgeries. I soon meant and married someone else. She was also quite attractive by societies standards and had two children from previous relationships. Ours was not a healthy relationship ,as we both had our share of unresolved issues and growing up to do. We had two children together,separated in 1991 and divorced in 1997. I finally found my way to getting off of the pain medicine completely in 1996 and I’ve been clean ever since. I had several more or less casual relationships with woman between 1996 and 2002. I ended up getting custody of my two daughters in 2002 and found out how difficult it was to be a single parent. One day I was asked to travel some distance to the Pocono mountains in Pa.(I lived in NJ at the time) to share my story with some other people in recovery . It was January 2003 and almost a year after I gained custody of my children. I walked into the building where the gathering was to be held with some friends from NJ in tow. As I was walking to the restroom to get ready to share my story I heard a voice behind me say ” I’ve been waiting for you for years” . I turned around and was completely flabbergasted. I just couldn’t believe that over 18 yrs later Sonya was standing in front of me at this obscure town that I didn’t even know existed, over 100 miles from where we both lived in 1983 in NJ . All those years faded away and it felt like it did back then. A little electricity. A spiritual connection. A couple of months later we started seeing each other again and eventually I asked her to marry me. I never thought I would get married again after my first wife. Because I didn’t think she really loved ME. Even though she seemed to be able to see past the scars on the outside,I don’t believe she ever really saw me. Sonya sees me and she gets me. She accepts me and loves me. Is it always wonderful ? No. In fact we are really just getting started on our relationship and romance. We’ve been focused on raising the kids and getting them set up with life, moving,business ,my involvement in the burn community and just everyday life. I’ve found that if I really want a good relationship I need to make time for it and I have to participate. It involves more than cards,flowers and the occasional dinner out. It takes guts to stay committed to a relationship long-term. I found what I feared the most was the intimacy and vulnerability. Not something most guys (and a lot of women) are very good at. But I’ve gotten better at it . I enjoy our life together and we enjoy each other. We’ve been very fortunate to have another chance to come back together as adults and find out who we really are separately and together . We try to support each other and give each other the kindness that engenders love. It’s not always easy and we both fall short but we keep on trying and that’s the most important part. Just keep at it and don’t give up ! It is my sincere wish that everyone who reads this finds happiness within themselves and shares that happiness with others. In the mean time just remember , if someone can’t love you today because you look different,they probably wouldn’t have been able to love you anyway. Not really love YOU and really see YOU. Real love goes much deeper than appearance. It goes much deeper than anything on the outside. I have found that my scars weed out the phonies in my life and I usually end up with the most genuine and authentic people on this earth surrounding me. Happy Valentines day to everyone …because self-love is where real love begins. Like happiness,love is an inside job .And there are shortcuts. You don’t have to be in a relationship to work on self-love.Our society puts too much emphasis on being with someone else,before we get to know ourself . And as my wife said this morning,” Valentines day is like Christmas. Its something we should practice everyday.” Practice with ourselves and others. So buy yourself a box of candy and some flowers and if no one else tells you that they love you or even if they do. Find a mirror and tell yourself …. 🙂


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.

Beyond Recognition

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


May 2023

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