Don’t

IMG_2603“Don’t even think about playing around the river. You’ll slip in and drown.” This order, bellowed by my Mom, topped The 10 Commandment list of my catholic childhood. Drummed out of me was the notion of trying to take risks.

On the other hand I heard, “Life is nothing more than a game of numbers.” Mom said I would die. My coaches and teachers told me, as an elementary school student, the more risks I tried to take the more rewards I would receive.

Underlying all this rhetoric was my fear. I didn’t know how to tell the world how scared I was, nor was I encouraged. I didn’t even try.

I was afraid to tell anyone that my Dad beat my Mom. That my brothers beat my Dad. That there wasn’t any food at home. That we were on welfare. That I was gay. That I was afraid of being afraid.

False Evidence Appearing Real. Fear was real for me.

Living from the vantage point of ‘don’t’ is exhausting. Learning to take risks without being encouraged or even taught how to take risks made me sad.

From a philosophical, theological and even a spiritual perspective I’ve always thought that my work, in this lifetime, centres around acknowledgment. So of course I’d come through a woman who gave birth to ten kids.

Robin Sharma shares, “To live your life to the fullest, start taking more risks and do the things you fear. Get good at being uncomfortable and stop walking the path of least resistance.” I hear, “Stop trying to be secure.”

Years ago, while studying in San Francisco with a powerful spiritual teacher by the name of Matthew Garrigan, I told him that I ‘tried’ to do the homework he assigned. Matthew abruptly stopped me and said, “Pick up your pen and listen very carefully.” He quickly told me he was going to ask me a simple question. I can still feel his intensity.

With a higher pitch in his voice Matthew said, “Try to drop the pen.”.

The pen dropped from my fingers. “What did you just do?”, Matthew asked. I nervously said, “I dropped the pen.”

“Pick it up”, he ordered and then said, “Now try to drop the pen.” Again I dropped the pen. With the patience of a saint, he said. “Thomas, what did you do?” Feeling scared I said, “I dropped the pen.”

For the next twenty minutes Matthew repeated this lesson.

Finally I got it. There was no such thing as ‘try’. I either held the pen or I dropped it. My story disappeared.

I’ve learned to stretch my boundaries, while being afraid, and not be the least bit concerned when someone says “Don’t do that” or “Give it a try, Thomas.” I am free.

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2421

TKD 2421“I had no idea there was a restraining order, honest Officer, no one told me.”

I remember the police cruiser rolling around the corner onto 6th Avenue, it’s lights turned off, as my father was pushed to the ground by one of my older brothers. Mom told us he was never coming back.

From the moment I met my partner nearly 6 years ago I told him I wanted to visit the neighbourhood he grew up in, his backyard, in Taipei. That honour took place nearly a month ago. Taipei has such an amazing rhythm, very similar to the man I love.

Just this past weekend, in Calgary, it was my turn to share my backyard experiences. The rhythm was palpably different.

The Dolan’s grew up, more like survived, in what Calgary labels as old ‘wartime’ houses. Many of these houses still stand in the older neighbourhoods of the city. Typically, they are two-bedroom houses that I am sure don’t even qualify as bungalows. Mom and Dad had one bedroom, three sets of bunk beds resided in the second bedroom and a single bed was laid out in what we called the back shed. Nine kids lived in this place.

As my partner framed a photo of me with the house number 2421 in the background, the memory of yet another violent ordeal flooded my mind. I even remembered that the Officer my father shouted to about the restraining order my Mom placed on him, had been dispatched to our house for a previous domestic violence disturbance. I remember feeling such shame.

My partner teased me that I had plunged the memories of 15 years of living, in that house, into a 30 minute neighbourhood visit. It was all I could do to stand on the street.

What I marvel at today and most humbly assert, is that from those meager beginnings often filled with uncertainly, fear, dysfunction and a myriad of other childhood traumas is, I am ok.

As I drove by my elementary school playground, as part of the tour, I remembered walking with my grade 5 teacher during recess. He shared with me, “I’m not sure the world will ever be ready for who you really are Tommy, but it’s only important that you are.” Little did I know, at the time, that a gay man was talking to a gay boy.

The trip to Calgary and my willingness to share where it was that I came from, neatly strung together with some entertaining stories, had me acknowledge how willing I had been to turn tragedy into triumph. Add to that the blessings of having been connected to some wonderful people who cared deeply for me.

I left Calgary feeling very afraid and unsafe as an out gay man in the early 1990’s. I giggle today when I read the unique selling/marketing proposition of Calgary as being, “The Heart of the New West.”

Somewhere along my path in life I read or listened to someone who said, “We are who we surround ourselves with.” With 41 years passing since leaving the neighbourhood I toured my partner through, I realized the blessings I’ve breathed into because of who has surrounded me.

Today, the house that inspired so much of my formative life, 2421 – 6th Avenue NW, is now a day care. Clearly, I am ready for who I am today.

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Sugar

sugar_2533727b“Good luck with that, Princess.”

My office window has a view to False Creek in downtown Vancouver. On this particular day both the view and my common sense were foggy.

The chocolate I was about to consume wasn’t up to my usual snobbish standards. Its label didn’t bear the name of Bernard Callabaut or Thomas Haas. If I remember correctly Cadbury or Nestle comes to mind.

As the second piece was about to pass my lips I remember thinking, “You’re about to devastate your immune system with the sugar in this s*#t.” Piece number two quickly disappeared.

As I strolled back to my desk I felt a wave of sadness course through my heart. How was it so easy to be such a saboteur of my own wellness?

I chose to sit quiet and simply feel what I was feeling. I’ve learned that I cannot figure out why I’m feeling what I’m feeling, while still holding the feeling. I knew the feeling would pass and then I’d have an opportunity to better understand its lesson.

It wasn’t long before the ache in my heart subsided. What would take longer was to embrace the wisdom my body possessed by creating the feeling of sadness.

I ran the scene of my chocolate eating episode backwards. Just like rolling a Blu-ray movie scene, using the 10x reverse slow motion button. I paused the scene at the moment when I was about to release the chocolate into my mouth.

That’s the moment I began to feel the sadness in my body. That’s the moment I ignored the feeling.

I could feel my compassionate self begin to embrace me. When I allow that part of myself to be present I know I’m about to uncover a circumstance where I’ve disconnected from my authentic/divine self and have allowed my ego to run the show.

By allowing the presence of sadness and not figuring it out, I was beginning to see the very mechanic of how I could help bring greater healing to my life.

Sugar, via the chocolate, slams my immune system. I was even aware that it would and I gobbled it down anyways. How pathetic! This sugar infused epiphany inspired an idea.

What if I could have sugar instead of sugar having me?

So I embarked on a 30 Day Challenge clear of refined sugar from January 6th, 2015 – February 3rd, 2015. I didn’t die without sugar.

Over the course of this journey I came face-to-face with the part of me that is fully asleep when it comes to my wellness. It’s my super ‘auto-off’ button.

I know the law of attraction states to be clear about what you want, not what you don’t want. So my intention was that by the time the adventure was over I would feel my immune system as a fully functioning launch pad for the most powerful sense of wellness I’ve ever experienced. Gosh. It worked!

Here’s some of the gifts I received over the 30 days:

  • Pride
  • Heightened self esteem
  • Being in control of my life
  • Greater energy
  • Gratitude and appreciation for my body
  • Self respect
  • Integrity
  • Discipline
  • Devotion
  • Laughter
  • Ease

To support the power sugar had over me I chose to begin day one by not having sugar for one hour. I next committed to two hours, four after that and then eight. Day one ended with a victory over sugar. Not that I’m competitive.

Day two had me commit to half a day without sugar. I made a full day without it on day three and the remaining 27 days clocked by without my immune system being bombardment by that ubiquitous white stuff.

The 30 Day Challenge was humbling.

My body knows the havoc and devastation that sugar can wreak.

My work is to listen intently, keep my mouth closed before popping sugar, and switch the ‘auto-off’ button to ‘wisdom on’.

P.S. Here’s a little quiz that I failed miserably.

Are you addicted to sugar?

1. Do you struggle to walk past a sugary treat without taking ‘just one’?

2. Do you have routines around sugar consumption – for example, always having pudding, or needing a piece of chocolate to relax in front of the television?

3. Are there times when you feel as if you cannot go on without a sugar hit?

4. If you are forced to go without sugar for 24 hours, do you develop headaches and mood swings?

If you answered ‘yes’ to one of the questions above, you are addicted.

Why Sugar is ruining our health?

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Touched

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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