Donna Smaldone
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Saturday / October 24 / 2015

Awaken to find you have wings

Photo by Mike Bruscia, Chincua Butterfly Sanctuary

For nearly three decades, I allowed the untapped emotional terrain held captive in my soul to corrode my self-worth and devalue my survival until I finally discovered the courage and the means to grab it by the throat and embrace Truth. It was 29 years ago today, October 24, 2015, the car I was driving crashed into a tree at 100+ miles per hour and burst into flames. The accident claimed the young lives of two dearly cherished friends, Dan and Tina and forever altered the lives of our intimate community and the three who survived.

In 2011, I processed the pain of tragedy and forcibly shed the heavy yoke of self-imposed teenage guilt I’d carried for 25 years. Tears flush and fuel the soul if you let them, right? So raw. So cleansing. Liberating. The metamorphosis of my self-forgiveness took ages to achieve and I wasn’t done yet. I still longed for the impossible, to unshackle my soul from the pain and anguish of that day. To dig deep and find peace. It seemed unimaginable.

The gift of that peace came on December 10, 2014 when I sought EMDR Therapy with my counselor Lynn in upstate New York. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a psychotherapy that enables people to heal from the symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of disturbing life experiences, that once took years to make a difference. Following is the journey I took that day…

———————————

It wasn’t difficult to trek back to Friday, October 24, 1986, as I’d been there many times. It was a brightly lit, crisp fall afternoon in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. When Lynn asked, the first word that came to my mind without effort was “irresponsible”. I felt irresponsible for establishing such a playful environment in my car, for not having better control. She asked what I associated it with and without missing a beat, I said, “pain”; the physical pain I endure every day as a result of being on fire and breaking my hip and the emotional toll of death and suffering.

With eyes closed, I could see a reddish-orange light in the form of a bubble. I heard laughter and sensed joy and innocence. A warmth surrounded me and grew stronger as my field of vision tightened. When it abruptly shrank to a mere dot and made a ‘pop’ sound like a child blowing bubble gum, I felt panicked and scared. It came too quickly and I wasn’t ready. I knew what was coming around the next bend and didn’t want it to happen. So, I simply willed the vision back and it returned.

Once a little more settled, I allowed the bubble to move away from me into blackness. The dark was expansive, limitless yet did not hold the stars I expected. I could still hear laughter but it was fading, too. I knew the accident was only moments away and with sudden depth of understanding, recognized I had only delayed the inevitable when I willed the vision back. I had interfered. There was nothing I could do. I felt helpless and even though I did not want to, I began to accept it. The longer it took to accept, the more I began to take on the role of an observer of what happened that fateful day.

Now, I could be in the car just seconds before the crash. I was like a fly on the wall, distinctly present, sitting in the back seat of the car. Everything came in to focus. I was an observer. NOT the driver. I could even see me behind the wheel. I could see the back of my head and watch the interactions. Aside from my own fear, terror, panic, frozen feelings — the ones I had felt for nearly 30 years when vividly reliving the moments just before the crash — following is what I experienced and witnessed as an observer in the Buick Skylark that day:
     Laughter
     Love
     Joy
     Sense of Elation
     Adoration & Respect
     Friendship
     Innocence
     Carefree Spirits
     Warmth
     Purity

Then, abrupt pitch blackness. I could still feel the expanse but the imagery was gone.

Sound was muted, as if standing in a field of fresh-fallen snow. So pure. Untouched. Unscathed by the aftermath. I could hear only my breathing and when I strained to listen, the laughter. Somewhere far away in the distance.

The word… what was it? I searched to find it. “Freedom”. “Liberation”. Yes, but how do I contain it. How do I describe how it feels to be in that car at that moment. Love, purity, friendship, giggling.

Innocence.

That’s the word. “Innocent”. It applies to every one in that car. It applies to me.

“I am innocent,” I whisper it aloud for the first time ever, daring to embrace Truth. I look Lynn square in the eye and try to say it out loud. “I am innocent,” but the words are muffled through my tears of liberation. I’ve never felt this way before. I clear my throat, not wanting to miss a moment while I attempt to regain my long gone composure. “Innocent,” I pronounce. “I am innocent.”

I close my eyes again. White. The blackness is gone. The expanse has become the most breathtaking shade of white. So pure. So beautiful. Honest. I can see no figures but with perfect clarity know Dan and Tina are there, smiling and shaking their heads at me with a look of, “……FINALLY!! She gets it.” I can almost feel Tina flick me on the forehead to further make her point and I can’t help but smile.

Right then, I realize I hear the laughter again. I feel it. It’s distinct, profound and radiant. With acceptance and understanding, I realize the laughter, love, joy, purity, innocence and peace that everyone else felt in the car that day….. never died. Dan and Tina are still in that beautiful moment I’d just experienced for the very first time. They lived there. They died there. It’s where they’ve been all along.

———————————

Now, I can breathe, throwing my arms around true liberation and peace. Something I never dreamt I’d find.

Just a week ago, the sky played host to several monarch butterflies. As I watched them soar higher than I knew they could, some wilding flapping their new wings, some simply surfing the air with confidence, I could feel their liberation. I could feel them smiling. How magnificent it must be to see the world from a snail’s pace on the earth only to awaken to find you have wings. How many can say they’ve seen life from such vastly diverse perspectives? And then it hit me. I have. And I am forever grateful.

It’s time to embrace your wings, sweet friends. Come, soar with me.

55 responses to “Awaken to find you have wings”

  1. Skip Smaldone says:

    Beautiful…

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      I have such beautiful newfound freedom after these 29 years and my heart is at peace. Thank you for sharing it with me.

      Love, Donna

  2. Jen white says:

    You are beautiful and amazing and I’m so unimaginably proud of you. You are fierce and strong and most of all, my favorite…BAD ASS. xoxo

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      Thank you! You make me smile, Jen!! Strength and growth come from not being afraid to be weak and imperfect. Being badass every day is a lifestyle and I’m glad we’re living it together.

      Love, Donna

  3. Fran Pickens says:

    Donna, what a beautiful and moving testament. You are a very special young woman who has a wonderful outlook on life.. I love you, Aunt Fran.

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      Thank you so much, Aunt Fran. I am so grateful to have been surrounded every step of the way by family and friends who love me, you and Uncle John included. I love you!

      Love, Donna

  4. Dana Fagley says:

    Love this, love you. Love your innocence, your vulnerability, your life, Donna ☺️

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      Love you-n-Jonn, too, sweet Dana. Grateful to call you, friends. Thank you for sharing this with me.

      Love, Donna

  5. Amanda says:

    I hope the light that finally shone to reveal the peals of laughter never leaves you. I cannot fathom your pain, but I celebrate your exhale here and wish you more.

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      Everything you say is like a poem to my soul, Amanda. Thank you for sharing that with me. And thank you for reading. Miss you!

      Love, Donna

  6. Patti Siano says:

    Beautiful…thank you for sharing. God bless.

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      You are a light in my world, Patti and I miss you! Thank you for reading. God bless you and your family, too.

      Love, Donna

  7. Nancy says:

    Donna,
    How beautiful your story is, I am glad you have found peace! You deserve it! I remember how strong you were then, and even remember you coming to visit me after my accident! You ate am amazing person 🙂

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      Your soul has always been one of beauty, Nancy. Thank you for your kind sentiments. You, too are an amazing person and you shine.

      Love, Donna

  8. I am speechless by your ability to describe the agonizing journey in your mind and I am in awe by the power of your indomitable spirit that rose like a Phoenix from the ashes. Your heart became stronger like steel tempered by fire. You are an inner rockstar!

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      Thank you, dear Gerhard. It certainly hasn’t been an easy journey and I’ve learned so much along the way, surrounded by such beautiful love and support from so many. I am grateful beyond the words I can use to describe it and I am thankful writing is so therapeutic for me, and as I’ve discovered, for others as well.

      Love, Donna

  9. Deb Holton-Smith says:

    I too was in an agonizing crash with a lifelong world of struggles and a brother who’s never been the same. Maybe I too should discover how to release the demons!!! Thanks Donna for sharing this! XOXOXODeb your Sista

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      Beautiful sistah…. how did we spend so much time as roomies and never get to this part of our lives? I’m so sorry for your long-term struggles and empathize with you. I highly recommend discovering a way to release the demons. Perhaps EMDR? Gift yourself with wings to soar. You are cherished and you deserve peace and happiness in every area of your life.

      Love, Donna

  10. Deb Holton-Smith says:

    EMDR is definitely intriguing. Will find out who does this in Florida. Any suggestions for the search? Where did you go? Would love to sour with wings…instead of being weighed down by the sorrows.
    Love you SISTAH!!!!!!! XOXOXODeb

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      Yes, Deb! Let’s soar together! I think it’s important to be open as an individual to receive the healing. I will private message you so we can chat more about this offline. I have heard many good things from people finding amazing results from EMDR Therapy. After my session, I embraced my counselor and just said…. “WOW”.

      Love, Donna

  11. Karen Schanck says:

    Donna, my heart is filled with such joy for you as I read what you wrote. I am grateful that the Lord used EMDR to bring you freedom and peace. I have seen that effect many times using EMDR in my private practice since 2012. You are such an amazing inspiration to others!

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      Thank you, my beautiful (short lol) friend! You, too are an amazing inspiration and I’m so grateful our paths crossed. Thank you for doing what you do. It matters.

      Love, Donna

  12. Gordon Woodworth says:

    Donna: Joy fills my heart as I read it now fills yours again. You are an inspiration to me and so many others. We all have our stuff. It’s how we respond, bounce back. You’re doing it magnificently. Love you. Nod

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      You’re on point, Nod. Thank you. I always taught my children, “Life is a series of responses.” Both good and bad come our way, sometimes so does awesome and horrendous. Once we’re dong reacting, WE get to choose how to respond. It’s my hope each one of us will choose to continue to evolve into the beautiful creations we were designed to be.

      Love, Donna

  13. Karen Ulrich says:

    Dear Donna,
    I’m so flag you found the peace you deserve. With love always, Karen

  14. Dottie Klein says:

    Donna, I don’t know how to express in words how touching the article is. You are a wonderful and amazing person and you have come a long way. You are here to help others in there journeys, so keep up the good work.

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      Thank you so much, my beautiful, flexible friend! It has been heart-warming to meet you and Mike and I know we’re in each other’s lives to help encourage and inspire one another… and for this, I am grateful. You, too are a wonderful and amazing woman! Namaste.

      Love, Donna

  15. Jamie Randall says:

    What an amazing excerpt. What raw emotion you shared Donna. You are wonderful. I have known you for almost 4 years and I would’ve never known the pain you endure(d) on a daily basis. I love you my friend. Thank you for sharing such a real, emotional experience.

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      You are wonderful, too my gorgeous sistah and I am grateful to count you and Karl amongst my friends. We all have pains in one form or another and for me, life has been so much more enjoyable learning how to navigate them rather than lean on them. Your love and zest for life shines through Emma and Quinn with radiance. Thank you for being who you are. And thank you for reading and sharing this part of my journey with me.

      Love, Donna

  16. Jeanne says:

    You are beautiful and amazing, roomie. Your strength is inspiring. May you continue to build on your new found discoveries and soar high my love.

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      Yes, roomie! Thank you! I look forward to continuing to build, soar and evolve into ME. How thankful I am you and I got to share such an up-close-and-personal slice of life together as roommates. I smile every time I think of you, my love! Thank you for being you.

      Love, Donna

  17. Theresa Trella says:

    We almost lost you, in more ways than one. Why things happen and the full ramifications of events is beyond our understanding. All we can do is choose to love and become fully realized as God means for us to be in all circumstances. Thank you for choosing life, for choosing love, for choosing to let Him heal and use you! He carried all your pain and guilt, forgiving you long ago; now that you’ve fully embraced that forgiveness, may you continue to share that hope with others. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28). LOVE YOU , L’IL CUZ!

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      Our family knows well how fragile life is. Perhaps it’s one of the reasons we embrace life the way we do –and each other– (constantly!!) at weddings and funerals alike. There is nothing quite like the beautiful bond of family and I am so grateful for ours. I will continue to choose life, to choose love, to choose to let Him heal and use me. Accepting forgiveness brings such peace and liberation. Love you, too, cuz!!

      Love, Donna

  18. Linda Abare says:

    You are always such a joy to be around, such a stream of light in a room. Now I understand how. Thank you for sharing this Donna. If you were able to emerge from the cloud of such heart wrenching pain, then others (myself included) can get through whatever struggles we are facing.

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      What a beautiful thing to share, Linda! Thank you. Each one of us endures hardship and pain in one form or another. It’s not about who has “more” or “less” because everyone’s pain is real. I believe it’s about being purposeful in sharing life, love and light with one another. Thank you for reading!

      Love, Donna

  19. Kathy says:

    Donna, my heart is full for you! Finally, you heart is free to reap what you have sown in so many.. You can live the pure joy that you are. You are God’s masterpiece! And I miss you xo!

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      “God’s masterpiece”….. I LOVE that, Kathy! Thank you. Each one of us is God’s masterpiece, beautifully crafted to be perfectly imperfect. The more we can embrace our imperfections, the more fully we can live out life. Thank you for your kind words and your beautiful heart and love for others, me included. I miss you, too!!

      Love, Donna

  20. Sara says:

    I’m so glad that you’ve found peace, I agree with all the beautiful sentiments above, you deserve peace, happiness and joy. What you came to see through the therapy is so true. Keep that peace, love and joy know that this was truth and you are free. I love you my friend.

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      Sara, you are the reason I learned how SWEET “Salty” can be — and how beautifully “Salty” and “Peppah” complement one another. Thank you for your love, friendship and authenticity. I am so thankful for this peace, love and joy and plan (not only) to never let it go, but to also share it with as many as I can. I love you, too.

      Love, Donna

  21. Jim Thorpe says:

    Your post left me shaking… for real. deep and profound – I remember; & in a strange twist my family’s shop in Luzerne burned down in Oct 86 & I was breathing nasty stuff trying to battle it. Takes time to process these things. I sought help a few years later myself and was changed by the experience for the better. Way better. Gotta tell you, I had completely forgotten about your own trials back then until you posted. Within a few words, the whole thing flooded back… Thank you for awakening and sharing that incredible post, Donna.

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      Truly a deep and profound experience for me. Thank you for sharing your story with me, Jim. I’m sorry your family’s business burned down and you had such obstacles to overcome. I am also very happy you sought the help you needed & deserved and for your transformation to happiness. Life’s trials can be overwhelming and time to process can be such a gift. Thank you for reading and for your comments. It matters.

      Love, Donna

  22. Susan Hala says:

    I remember it well Donna. We were all so young. That day truly changed our whole community. It opened our eyes to the fact that tragedy can happen to anyone anytime. I remember walking through life as if it was a dream. It truly was an accident.
    I am so happy to see how well you are doing. It’s so nice to see your smile here on fb. To see how you spend your life making a difference. So many of us don’t know God’s true purpose of our lives. Your purpose is evident. God bless you.

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      I simply couldn’t blink back the tears when I read your comments, Susan. Thank you for making my heart smile. We truly were so young and did a lot of very fast growing up. You and Marie were such an integral part and to this day, I appreciate your love, support and kindness. God bless you and your family as well.

      Love, Donna

  23. Marcia says:

    Donna you never cease to amaze me. Every time I look at your picture on FB I smile. You bring sunshine to so many and I thank you for sharing. I am so glad to have met you. You are an inspiration to me and many.

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      It warms my heart so much to hear you share I bring you smiles and sunshine! I am humbled. What a true blessing that is to me. Thank you. I am so glad to have met you, too and am glad our paths crossed. Thank you for being you.

      Love, Donna

  24. Diana says:

    Hi, Donna. I’ve always known you and I have some things in common. I also drove a Buick Skylark (green) in 1986 pushing three digit speed with friends laughing and whooping it up right along with me. I drove so fast I couldn’t even see the flashing lights behind me in the distance. The police couldn’t keep up. They found me, though. They drove slowly past the driveway, saw the car, then backed up and pulled in. We thought they were there for someone else living in the house who was always getting into trouble and were surprised when they asked who had been driving the car. The only difference between our two very different outcomes is that I got lucky. Any guilt you have felt should just as well belong to me along with everyone else who has ever been a teenager and pushed the limits. It’s a rare teenager who hasn’t.

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      Hi, Diana. Thank you for sharing your story with me. It’s true so many of us shared times of frivolity as teenagers and as you said, with varying outcomes. One of the things I used to do is impose my knowledge and life experience of a 40-something on my young 16-year-old self. That was sheer torture and truly liberating to let go. The last piece of peace I needed was accomplished in my EMDR Therapy last December and I feel I can breathe so much easier now. I also wish you the very best as you move forward and continue to evolve into the best version of You.

      Love, Donna

  25. Rod Johnson says:

    Donna, I read this last night before going to bed. Not a good idea-couldn’t sleep. I remember 10/24/86 like it was just yesterday which is really something since I can’t remember where my glasses are. Asking forgiveness from God is easy-we ask, he forgives. Forgiving ourselves, not so much. When we lived through that horrible tragedy, one of the most profound elements for our family was that Tracy decided not to go with you after the field hockey game. Why God blessed us and not others can never be answered on this earth. It seems we are all connected, much like a spider’s web. The silken strands spread further daily. I learned about your post because two friends on facebook liked it. Back in 1986 there was no facebook or internet or social media; now we can be connected instantly all over the planet. I never heard of the therapy that helped you find your breakthrough moment. I suspect you were just finally ready for forgiveness and were willing to face the pain once again. I wish you the best as you move forward. A better version of you is a great undertaking.

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      Hi, Coach. It’s so good to ‘hear’ your voice. I know how up-close and personal Oct 24th, 1986 was and is to you and your family. Your silken spiderweb analogy is profound and comforting. Indeed, we are all connected for a lifetime and that love and support has played a vital role in my healing. In so many ways, I wish I could have found peace decades ago. I also know evolving into the best version of Me is a journey taken at my own pace. For me, that journey included holding on to self-imposed teenage guilt in an attempt to be “responsible” because it was the only thing I had control over in those final moments just before the crash. Letting go and seeing the peace, joy and innocence Dan and Tina reside in has been liberating beyond measure. Thank you so much for reaching out and sharing. You and your family will always hold a special place in my heart and life’s story.

      Love, Donna

  26. April says:

    You are an amazing writer, Donna. I am so glad you are feeling more at peace than ever before. Love you!

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      Thank you, sweet Ape. Yes, finally embracing whole peace feels SO good. Refreshing. I’ll forever be grateful for our long, late night “tennis court chats” in Springfield, Missouri! Love you, too.

      Love, Donna

  27. Jeremy says:

    I am so absolutely floored by the beauty and love of this blog. I am rendered speechless and you know that is something. I just don’t have smart enough words to speak to the amazing. we all love you

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      Thank you for the beautiful way you always make me smile, my lil ‘brother’. I am grateful to have you, Allana, JD and Marina in my life and love you guys, too.

      Love, Donna

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