I Matter

matter“Don’t you understand, if you’re gay, you’ll never play football again.” These were the words of a dear friend and former high school football coach after coming out in 1988.

I stood alone, with my truth of being of gay, yet my entire world tried to convince me I was not. What scared me most was the thought of considering listening to them and stay in my married relationship. All I heard was, “It doesn’t really matter.”

Overnight my entire world, all those I loved and whom loved me, disappeared.

July 14th, 2014 would have been my 30th wedding anniversary. As I walked through this day remembering how scared I was, at the age of 26, I began to get present to the courage I summoned in order to lose that entire world. I told my truth. Where did that strength come from?

Having endured that experience and taken the time to figure out what it was about, I am proud that my story of being married makes significance sense to who I am today.

Marriage represented an opportunity to escape the pathological dysfunction of my family. Alcoholism, violence, drugs, sexual abuse, living off welfare and believing suffering had some degree of nobility.

The act of being married, even after being forgiven by my former wife, still felt chicken shit and it took a long time to forgive myself and embrace the real lesson I had created for myself.

As I reflect on my personal evolution from a closeted married man to this fully expressed and powerfully contributing, out gay man, I pause to be grateful for a quality I’ve discovered that’s supported my choices.

I’m 1 of ten children. I’m number 7, lucky 7 I like to think.

I made up a story, my parents never told me this nor did any one else, but the story was that I didn’t matter.

Not mattering was at the heart of being married. Not mattering was the foundation of not coming out. Not mattering inspired hundreds of choices that would simply have me disappear. After all, that was exactly the point of disappearing… no one thought I mattered anyway.

Today, I understand how I did everything to make sure my story was true.

Six years ago I stood in the kitchen of my home and shared with my partner that I felt I needed to change my relationship with him. We both agreed that what we had been enduring wasn’t working for either of us. Together, we began to dismantle our intimate relationship.

I knew there was something extraordinary, at the heart of spending nearly 6 years with him, that was available for me to learn.

So I chose to participate in a coaching program, a 12 week process, called Spiritual Divorce.

What appeared in short order was the discovery of my old story of not mattering. At the heart of creating circumstances that felt so painful, within my relationship, was a part of me that believed I didn’t matter.

The old story had never been healed.

It’s classic for me to want to discard a part of me I hate. Yet my coach, with ruthless compassion, invited me instead to learn to love this part of me that felt I didn’t matter.

There actually were gifts from thinking I didn’t matter. I got to let go, not care what people thought and I could also let go of expectation. All pretty freeing gifts.

What was really available to learn was how to create a story that was completely opposite. What would life be like if I mattered?

I’m proud, today, to have built a story about my life as mattering.

Here’s what I receive by knowing I matter: love, truth, unbridled passion, significant relationship, forgiveness, play, vision, clarity, heartfelt desire, worthiness, patience, gratitude, appreciation, boundaries and immense self love.

Each morning, as part of my ritual of self love, I place a silver ring on my left thumb and  proclaim, “I matter.”

 

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I’m Not Feeling My Usual Wellness

Anns handI find myself tender and lost in places I used to feel confident and familiar. I thought I was stronger.

I’m not able to hold people where they are, at least that’s my story. It feels hard to listen to others heart pain and when I do, it pains mine.

Having held the energy of four people dying since November 2012, two of them siblings, has me feeling sad and frightened. A part of me feels I will never have as much strength, resilience, stamina, or energy, or be able to do everything I used to.

In the last two months of my life I’ve felt the slow descent of grief. I’ve noticed a fatigue that is familiarly daunting, the remnants of it relentless. Yet I’ve put off choosing to take the time to regain my vitality or even notice that it might be missing.

Was I going to keep pushing the limits of my body’s endurance, trying to maintain some semblance of a life I could not honestly or honourably pretend to be living? Or would I accept, make peace with, what had been taken from me?

My healing could only begin if I dropped the reluctance to tell the world what was going on for me.

I could still be kind, listen well, offer something of beauty to others’ hearts. The most I could give is my unhurried, undistracted company.

I could stop hiding.

Choosing to tell this to my world, to say that I need to live slowly, slowly into this new, smaller life, is a gift of powerful generosity to myself.

I now hear others share their experience of grief and more readily recognize its manifestation even if it remains a secret.

I’m on the receiving end of accepting that it’s ok to acknowledge the limitation that grief has bestowed upon me and to hold it with grace. I’ve found some peace in cutting myself some slack.

I can own my particular limitation, with its physical and energetic constraints. Today, I can respond to these choice points, without using vital energy to cover them up.

In his book, “a life of being, having, and doing enough”, Wayne Muller shares a Tibetan parable.

If we put a tablespoon of salt in a glass of water and drink it, the water will taste terrible and bitter. But if we were to stir that same tablespoon of salt into an enormous, clear blue mountain lake, the water in the lake would remain sweet; we would not taste the salt at all.

The problem, the Tibetans say, is not the salt we are given. The real problem is how spacious is the container into which the salt is poured.

My challenge is not, never, ever, whether or not I will be given challenges and limitations. I will. The question is, how will I hold them, how will I be changed, how will they shape me, what will I bring to the healing of them, what, if anything, will be born in its place?

Will I summon the courage to tell you that I’m not feeling my usual wellness?

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Trust

true

 

Trust

As I prepared to welcome another chunk of my second half century on this planet, 2014, I enrolled myself in a 10 week class to remind myself how to acknowledge my light, those parts of me that I think shine. Since 2005 I’ve spent most of my time unearthing my shadow parts. It was time to turn up my light.

Mary Herndon, one of my teachers in the class, encouraged me to embrace what I thought were negative qualities, my ability to be controlling and manipulative. She wondered if I could see these qualities as some of my best. Not likely, I thought.

Mary reminded me that some of our greatest leaders were great manipulators and controllers: Gandhi, Christ, the Dalai Lama, Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela, Indira Gandhi, Hilary Clinton, Martin Luther King Jr., and Gloria Steinem, just to name a few.

She went on to share, “Great leaders know that it is valuable to be present to the listening of others in order to convey the message they intend (in a way that it is received and welcomed). One could say this is a form of manipulation and control.  It’s all in your perspective I suppose.” I liked that!

What would it be like to embrace that every message I’ve conveyed, every whisper I’ve passed along, every bit of controlling and manipulation I’ve engaged in, was shared for the highest good of all.

So instead of doing this work alone I reached out to former partners, dear friends, colleagues and family, as Mary suggested.

Here’s the request I made of them; “I’d love your support in helping me remember my light. What three qualities do you love most about me? What three qualities would you love to see more of in me?”  Yikes!

Upon receiving the feedback, one friend wrote back saying, “I love you and your light, Thomas. I am also very impressed that you are prepared to go to such lengths to better understand and accept yourself and your qualities.”

He added a comment in reference to Mary’s quote, “I can’t honestly say you always did this. Sometimes you delivered a bit like a freight train might deliver a message, thus MAKING me welcome the message whether I was prepared or not. But I don’t regret that either.”

He opened his heart and shared that by controlling him, I showed him how to live without cigarettes. I taught him how to run his fastest 10K EVER. I helped him create the most beautiful build he EVER sported. I made him take back his full name. I made him go back to a prospective employer and tell them that he deserved $10,000 more annually (they re-wrote the employment agreement giving him $10,500 more than the previous agreement). I made him face and then pay off his debt. I told him to ask his employee for same sex benefits and that in turn inspired his employer to announce same sex benefits to all 700 employees.

Finally, if all the above wasn’t enough control, I forbad him to buy more clothes that were brown, beige and green and invited him to see how great he looked in full colour.

A little stunned, yet feeling the control freak in me had done some good I went on to breathe into his experience of the impact of my manipulation on him.

I manipulated him by inviting him to know that he had a beautiful swan neck and not a scrawny chicken neck he had been trying to cover up for years. I made him believe that he disliked the taste and texture of meat and having him believe that he became a vegetarian. I made him believe he belonged when he didn’t believe he was welcome. I made him save money which allowed him to travel the world. I showed him how to live ‘on purpose’ and how to be in the moment. I told him I could see through his lies rather than allowing him to believe that he was fooling me or anyone else around him. I taught him how to recognize and value his true friends and let go of those who were not.

I really didn’t trust that what I judged as my darkness; control and manipulation, and all the energy I expended to make sure no one thought I was a controller and manipulator, could have such a light-filled and profound effect on someone in my life.

Just a few days after receiving that feedback, a dear friend who had also received my request shared, “You need trust. Trusting that you are safe no matter how you show up.” 

So today, I do.

 

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Fag

Haku TKD“Please don’t use that word, I hate it!” yelled my Mom as I playfully told her I was her little fag. I felt shame, fear, and enormously unsafe. What was confusing for me was that this is how I felt when someone used the word against me.

After being married to a woman for four years I finally summoned the courage to come out. It was the scariest, yet most powerful moment of my life. What I didn’t fathom was the additional courage I’d need to embrace by calling myself a fag. After all, it was a part of me.

Like many closeted gay men, my internalized homophobia was alive and well. I spent years making sure no one discovered who I was. I told the funniest gay jokes, laughed at gays with my fellow football players, and did everything I could to deflect from the world who I really was.

It broke my heart when those that loved me suddenly walked out of restaurants I walked into, just because I had come out.

Best friends never saw me again. One told me he physically became sick when he learned I was gay. At the time I’m sure some part of me made sense of the pain by simply thinking, “Of course they hate me, I’m a fag.” 

Coming out was a breeze compared to finding comfort in proclaiming to myself and the world, at times, that yes I was a fag. I was about to take a deep dive into a world filled with immense hatred, most of it self hatred.

It took a full year to have a conversation with my former wife after coming out to her. I remember asking, attempting to be funny and brave, whether or not her Mom (my Mother in law) knew I was a fag.

She stopped me abruptly and said, “Yes she knew you were gay, but absolutely didn’t consider you a fag.”  Needless to say I was stunned.

Gay was ok, being a fag was not. Huh?

I took great pride in moving through the world as an out gay man. What I didn’t realize was the energy I expended making sure no one saw what I thought was my faggy self. Those parts of me I felt were feminine, sensitive, emotional, compassionate, truthful, deeply caring or anything connected to being truly vulnerable in a heteronormative world.

Years passed feeling this pang of inauthenticity. Yet the cover-up felt so evident and the feeling of paralysis so normal. I had no idea what to do, so of course I did nothing.

It wasn’t until I experienced being pushed and shoved, called a fag, and felt my life in danger did the light begin to turn on.

Amidst all the fear the word fag evoked, I could see how I exacerbated it. Every time I denied being a fag, pretending I wasn’t or suggesting, “She was, not me!”  I died inside and the energy of those tossing the word at me became stronger.

What if I embraced the word?

What if I simply said, “Yup, I’m a fag.”  If I stopped resisting, would the world stop persisting?

A number of months before my Mom died, in 2006, I walked over to her to say good-bye when it was time to go home. Her grip on my hand was unusually tight. She pulled me close and said, “I love you. You’re my little fag.” 

 

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Running Towards Life

TKD RunMy life is filled with memories of running.

I prided myself in knowing I could “run for days” without stopping and “no one could catch me”. Running was such a powerful form of escape for me as a child and younger man.

It wasn’t until yesterday, driving home into a gorgeous sunset, that I realized most of the running I did in my life was away from things or people or scary circumstances. I can see now that I learned or was taught or made up the story that it was ok to run away from life by my family.

I had plenty of reasons to run. Whether it was from my alcoholic Dad beating my Mom, my older brothers beating my Dad, my embarrassment of growing up on welfare or me running from the terror of sexual abuse, I had every excuse to bolt.

This skill, that grew out of a challenging upbringing, also served as the foundation for an amazing athletic career.

Canadian National indoor track records in sprinting, covering 40 yards in 4.5 seconds in university football and being crowned ‘The Big Run’ champion in junior high school cross country running.

I also learned to run from responsibility, from people in relationship, from the truth, from helping people and from my sexuality. Running was my modus operandi; my method of operation.

While shopping in a downtown department store, after stealing a package of greeting cards, the grip of the plain clothed security woman was so strong I couldn’t run. It didn’t always work, yet there would be more thefts that I was successful in dashing away from. It took me a long time to stop running.

I distinctly remember, in the year 2000, telling a dear friend I was tired of running.

Shortly afterwards I began to explore aspects of my life that beckoned me to stand firm and not run away. I even chose to stop competing in sprinting in gay track events. I just didn’t want to move through life that fast anymore.

As I uncovered the reasons or excuses why I ran, with the support of an amazing therapist, the desire to flee my life circumstances began to diminish.

It’s not easy running towards life.

There are a million distractions, today, easily purchased to augment the idea of running away. It’s not a skill I’m proud to list on my resume, yet it is a part of me I can call on.

My toughest bit of work during this lifetime is to stay present, find my breath, when I confront a part of me I think I should run away from. That’s been the gift of integrative coaching in my life; holding the light and dark aspects of who I am and learning to love myself.

Being out of breath because of running away is nothing compared to finding my breath while embracing a part of me that I think shouldn’t exist. That’s a skill I’m proud to run towards.

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