TKD Little Guy

“This is our secret. Don’t tell anyone.”

One of my intentions for 2015 is to read more. These seven books top my list:

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
The Power of Less by Leo Babauta
Who Will Cry When You Die? by Robin Sharma
Daily Love by Mastin Kipp
The Future of God by Deepak Chopra
The Art of Happiness by Dalai Lama
Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu

Each resonated with my heart. Each, I feel, has something to stir my soul. All of them come bearing gifts.

I’ve been drawn to the life and times of Maya Angelou for decades. It is my first read for 2015.

From the first line of the book, “I hadn’t so much forgot as I couldn’t bring myself to remember. Other things were more important.”, I felt a call to unearth something in my life that felt buried beneath years of shame.

On page 72 Maya writes, “Finally he was quiet, and then came the nice part. He held me so softly that I wished he wouldn’t ever let me go. I felt at home.” Something took my breath away. Shame occupied my body. I listened as I whispered a faint, “No.”

I felt like I was seven years old, perhaps even younger. The event I began to recall had me running back and forth between two men who were sitting on either side of the living room I grew up in, both of them were shirtless.

Maya’s words triggered a memory that felt more cellular in my body. This was something I hadn’t remembered in a very long time. Also, as a student of Brene Brown and the work of Debbie Ford, I knew the power of shame.

This was a secret I held, but at the time I had thought my whole world knew what was happening. No one ever said a word.

Maya’s book title, ‘I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings’ has greater meaning to me now. I can relate to being caged in. A part of me doesn’t want to sing a note of this story.

I have this memory of being watched by someone as I was growing up. I’d wake up and sense a presence. Even on the rare occasion when I didn’t have to share bath water with four other siblings, I felt someone watching me. Feelings of terror, sadness, numbness and an inability to speak all flooded my awareness.

It wasn’t easy to breathe. The immense pressure of shame pervaded my chest.

As a little gay boy the sexual abuse was terrifying. Yet, I was also able to notice times when I liked it. This caused me immense shame. Yet, what I read of Maya’s childhood experience and her feeling “at home” helped me understand that I wasn’t alone.

As I explore healing from these experiences I’ve come to understand the double edge sword of sexual abuse for gay boys.

In my case the perpetrator knew my sexuality. He also knew I held it as a secret and he used that against me. So although a part of me knew what was happening was horrendously wrong, the little gay boy really liked the attention. Maya has helped me begin to heal.

I’m proud to defy my perpetrator and tell everyone. Like Maya this is no longer my first big secret.

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Counting Down Sleeps

FullSizeRenderChristmas, as a child, at the Dolan house was a time when the impossible seemed possible.

As I reflect back on those childhood days of Christmas I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the way my Mom created the magic she did.

To this day I still count down the number of sleeps until Christmas. It is a ritual that keeps the little boy excited about the season and challenges the adult in me to always remember it’s magic.

As a welfare family there were always stark reminders of the Christmas that may not come. We had little money and promises of what Santa would bring were never uttered. Yet somehow, against all odds, my childhood version of Christmas would show up.

It’s like my Mom seemed to pull it all together for December 25th. I seriously wondered why the calendar didn’t always stay on that date.

My oldest brother Rick worked as a Firefighter. To this day, because of his job,  the memory of one Christmas, in particular, is seared into my heart.

The Calgary Firefighters would create this enormous Christmas Toy Drive that was held at the Stampede Corral every year. It was a Christmas party for all the underprivileged families of Calgary. What I could never figure out though was why we as children, or at least me, never attended.

The constant threat in the Dolan household was that Christmas might not happen the way it did the year before. The reasons were never clearly stated, yet the threat was imminent.

The effects and drama of alcoholism was in large part the reason why Santa might not visit. When there was a pay cheque, it was routine to have it spent by Dad on booze or it was funneled in some other direction. Mom called it, “Robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

There was one year I was convinced we’d not celebrate the holiday.

Mom seemed so gloomy. Her silence was loud when it came to the potential of Christmas disappointment. I was very familiar with the signs. This was going to be a present-less and food-less Christmas.

I remember the taste and smell of my breath frozen into my woolen scarf on that December afternoon only two more sleeps before Christmas. I was playing in the snow banks surrounding the ice skating rink beside our house. Myself and my siblings gazed up as several fire engines turned the corner and headed down our street.

Excitement was not something that came easy to us as children; we had learned disappointment and even that was to be expressed in silence.

The fire engines crept slowly down our street and the sound of the snow under the tires reminded me of someone walking over styrofoam. I had no idea why they were in our neighbourhood especially with no sirens blaring and no lights flashing.

The trucks halted in front of my house. I stood on the frozen snow banks feeling like the scene was being played out in slow motion. The next thing I heard was a voice calling out for me and my siblings to come inside. I obeyed; after all I always did what I was told.

The next thing I remember were Firemen bringing in boxes and boxes of presents and food. I caught a glimpse of a huge frozen turkey, some mandarin oranges in the all too familiar balsa wood boxes and presents tagged with, “Boy Aged 9”, “Girl Aged 7” and so on.

The wrapping wasn’t the greatest, yet I knew that someone had known that Christmas was not a possibility for us that year.

How could our house be so silent with five young children watching Christmas being paraded in front of them?

I can still remember seeing the Firemen through my little gay eyes and thinking how strong they were as they unloaded box after box. Yet mostly I remember my Mom standing off in a corner of the living room with her hands held prayer like over her mouth. She too was silent.

The delivery stopped. A Fireman walked over to my Mom and whispered something into her ear. She hugged him and as quickly as all of them had appeared, they were gone. My silence continued with a tinge of awe.

We knew nothing of the Firemen coming that day. For years, at the bleakest of times, they would continue to deliver the magic of Christmas.

I never asked my Mom or my brother Rick how they did what they did or whether or not they conspired together. What I do know is that their gift of magic Christmas’ still has me counting down sleeps.

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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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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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