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

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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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Pound of Flesh

beets“Wow, you’ve chosen all organic produce. What a great way to treat your body!” shares the new cashier, at Urban Fare grocery, as I check out.

As I graciously accept her acknowledgment I hear the voice of my teacher, mentor and friend Debbie Ford reminds me, “That thing you can never be with, will never let you be.”

Just moments before checking out I battled with a part of myself that claims my unworthiness when it comes to eating well. The whisper was clear, “The organic beet is too expensive, just buy the conventional s@#t.” I know this way of being, I call it “my familiar.” 

It’s that place, feeling, memory, action, way of being or thought that I can so easily slip back into that absolutely does not serve my highest consciousness. It’s so familiar, that sometimes I don’t even realize I’ve embraced it… again.

Yet there’s another part of me that knows “my familiar” is a powerful servant, if only to act as a wake up call to being unconsciousness.

It’s quite humbling.

Arrogantly I think I’ve got it all figured out and then I can presence a part of me that simply wants to sabotage my life or in this case have me eat genetically modified or conventional, pesticide filled food.

I’m learning how to make room for this part of me to show up. Giving this shadow part of me some space.

By welcoming it or simply noticing its presence, without making it bad or wrong, my gift is feeling more open, peaceful and free. For a moment I get to have this part of me and it no longer has me. I don’t act out as the saboteur in my life.

It was freeing to be able to tell this stranger, as she asked if $6.74 was too much for three organic beets, that I am so worth it!

By making room for the cheap, non-organic, GMO eating, conventional foodie that I can be, I allowed light to shine on these hidden parts of my personality, and allow them to be expressed, instead of pretending they are not a part of who I am.

I never thought produce shopping could be so freeing.

My cheap self saves me money. My greedy self gives me personal time. My lazy self teaches me to take a break. My racist self shows me compassion. They are all an expression of who I am and their gifts are profound.

My shadows, all of them, want to be heard. When I don’t listen to them, my life turns nasty. Demons demand their pound of flesh or in my case their pound of conventional beets.

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