Stripped Naked

“Why didn’t you come over to me?” she asked. I playfully responded with, “Girl! Because you were a little slow with your customer.”

Her colleague, who was waiting on me, and the colleague beside him both let out this loud and scary, “Whoa! You didn’t just say that to her!” It felt like the whole Post Office heard their comments. I literally stopped breathing.

Months ago I met this amazing woman, full of life, and always engaging, she works at the Post Office here in Honolulu. She is super helpful, very funny and I love my connection with her.

Last Thursday my husband and I completed the first six lessons of Brene Brown’s ‘Living Brave Semester’. It is based on Brene’s book called ‘Daring Greatly’.

One of the assignments from Lesson Six was to create a manifesto.

A manifesto is a written statement declaring publicly your intentions, motives, or views. In essence it’s declaring to the world what you’re all about.TKD Manifesto

After I regained my breath, from the “Whoa!” comment declared by her co-workers I instantly recognized I was in deep shame. All I wanted to do was sprint out of the Post Office.

The gentleman helping me slid my package my way and said, “Here you go, she can help you.” I felt some relief. He instantly drew it back stating, “She’ll never help you again.” Terror was now layered over shame. How mean of him I thought.

As I turned toward her I could see the impact of my “… you were a little slow with your customer” comment and I felt deeply saddened, pained and confused. I had no idea that could be one of the worst things I could say to her as she performed her job. Especially as her colleagues continued to rib me for what I said. Her hand went up and I heard her say, “I’m not talking to you.”

Brene’s work teaches about shame. The devastation of it and how to become resilient to its toxic impact. I’ve read all her books. Now I needed the wisdom to apply it.

As I stood waiting for my transaction to be completed I could feel the energetic weight of the elephant that had sauntered into the Post Office. The man helping me was silent, as was the colleague beside him, as was my best helper, she like me had disappeared.

I began to draw on what Brene taught about shame and what I learned. After all, I just completed Lesson Six – Daring Greatly – the night before.

In those moments, which seemed like they would never end, I recognized the deep shame I was in. In previous shame episodes in my life I could never recognize the symptoms.

I remembered Brene stating, “Shame hates to be spoken.” That inspired a quiet whisper to myself, “You’re in shame. I love you. Just breathe. And get out of here.”

Fear, confusion, frustration, nervousness and deep sense of desperation coursed through my body as I exited the Post Office.

In a panicked attempt to connect with her by using a bit of levity I said, “Good-bye.” She threw up her hand and repeated, “Not talking to you.” My heart sunk.

As I walked home I suddenly remembered a line from my Manifesto, “With each fall I rise.”

“Shame derives its power from being unspeakable. Shame hates words wrapped around it. If we speak shame, it begins to wither.” Thank God I remembered that quote from Daring Greatly.

It was time to share my story of this incident with my husband. He’s the foundation of my ‘shame resilience’ support group. The withering of shame needed to begin.

He listened. He never uttered a word. He reached out to hold my hand. I knew he knew what I had just gone through. I felt exhausted.

The two predominant values that I move through life with are courage and clarity, both of which I was able to declare because of my work with Daring Greatly.

It is taking an enormous volume of courage to share this shame story and even more to be 100% responsible for what unfolded because of my inappropriate, unfeeling, and careless comment.

I’ll draw on clarity, knowing the importance of empathically reaching out to her, to inspire me to take a copy of this blog, along with a card and a bottle of wine as a way to apologize for my comment.

Of this I know for sure; even though I felt stripped naked by shame, using language and this story has brought light to it and destroyed it.

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Elementary School Intention


LB stepsI love remembering Mrs. Lamb, my grade one school teacher. Every morning she would sing this to us, “Good morning to you, good morning to you. We’re all in our places with bright shiny faces, now this is the way to start a new day.” She made me feel special.

I have many teachers who changed the course of my life. Mrs. Lamb did it with such grace, love and wisdom. And she did it with such simplicity considering the times, circa 1964.

I had little to be proud of in my elementary school days and what I wanted to share about my family during ‘show and tell’ was strictly off limits. I already knew I was not supposed to share family secrets.

I wonder how so many adults in my life were clueless to the impact of the antics that went on in the Dolan household. Alcoholism, violence, poverty and neglect had to have been so evident in my behavior as well as that of my siblings. Yet no one said a word. The sixties were a time when being a good neighbour meant minding your own business.

School became a safe haven for me. I loved being there, staying there for lunch and making sure I took my sweet time walking home after the final school bell rang. The consensus by my family was that school wasn’t all that special. No one ever praised my progress at St. Peter’s.

Besides the daily singing by Mrs. Lamb, she always encouraged us to share our dreams. This was particularly hard for me because there was no one in my family that had any dreams or, at least if they did, had the courage to share them.

With some gentle, loving encouragement and, as I reflect, not one ounce of shame, Mrs. Lamb sat fascinated as I shared with the class my dream of one day living in Hawaii.

I knew nothing of Hawaii and, as a child of a welfare family, the last thing I was supposed to have was an idea that one day I’d like to live there.

Yet as I remember the innocence of sharing my dream, what readily comes to mind is a question Mrs. Lamb had for me, “Tommy, what do you imagine the people of Hawaii to be like?” she asked.

“I think they are friendly. They smile a lot. They have no snow to make them cold and they get to play in the ocean all the time.” My classmates laughed. Mrs. Lamb said, “I think you’re right. I think they are lovely people.”

For some odd reason that day I told my Mom about the dream I shared. Her response was simply, “Yes dear. Where the hell is Hawaii?”. Needless to say the sharing ended promptly.

In junior high, at the same school, a boy named Francisco, from Spain, joined my class. His parents moved all over the world and one day, during recess, he shared that his family was going to Hawaii for Christmas. He told me he’d bring back a t-shirt for me. I was in awe of him and couldn’t wait for school to start after the Christmas break, in 1971.

Sure enough he brought back a t-shirt with a large Hawaii #71 emblazoned across the chest. I was in heaven.

The response at home wasn’t all that enthusiastic. First of all I was reminded I’d never live there and, secondly, everyone laughed because #71 was a number that did not correspond to any Calgary Stampeder football star my family liked. I don’t think I ever wore that t-shirt.

In high school, I met many friends who had been to Hawaii. In fact, I fell in love with a young man who would go to Hawaii twice a year with his family. He was kind enough to bring puka shells back for me.

My high school football coach would ask me to watch his condo while he and his wife, with a group of friends, would jet off to Hawaii. I remember sitting in awe watching Super 8 movies of Hawaiian people they had filmed who smiled a lot, played in the ocean and whom I was sure had never experienced snow.

It wasn’t until my university days that I began to notice this pattern of being surrounded by the energy of Hawaii. Yet I was still too unconscious to get a sense of what I was setting myself up for.

In 1984, I finally made it to Hawaii, the island of Maui to be exact, for my honeymoon. It was then I began to feel the island call out to me. I literally felt a pull to live there.

Fast forward nearly 9 years later, I had come out, and the call from Maui was still incessant. On a scouting trip to Maui in 1993, the island opened up for me and I was able to spend nearly a year living there. In that year I learned to listen to my intuition. I called my time there, while journalling, “A Year of Listening”.

While meditating on the beach one morning in 1995, I heard a whisper to leave the island and go to Vancouver. I knew no one there, but I had learned to listen, so off I went.

From 1995 to 2015, I built an amazing life in Vancouver. The bounty of people, opportunities, lessons and love were unimaginable. My time there was balanced with many visits to Hawaii.

In 2009, I chose to close down a highly successful consulting business as, again, a whisper beckoned me back to Maui. A colleague asked, “So what’s waiting for you on Maui?” I responded only with, “There is something there for me.” So off I went for a month.

On June 5th, having been there for a week, I stopped by Little Beach. I had just finished a long walking meditation I had been taught by a Buddhist monk. I was tired and laid down for a rest.

After what seemed like hours of rest, I was stirred and awakened by an energy directly in front of me. My sleepy eyes opened to the glare of the sunlight off the ocean and I watched as a man walked gently across my path. I remember thinking, “Oh I didn’t know there were others on the beach.” Back to sleep I went.

Shortly thereafter, I again felt the same energy, this time to my right. As I turned to look up, I could sense this same man looking down at me. Having lived on the island I had learned that if my eyes connected with another person’s eyes I was to go over and say hello. So that I did.

He introduced himself as Adam. We had an amazing twenty minute conversation and then he left to celebrate his birthday. He lived in Honolulu.

For the next 6 years, I would travel between Vancouver and Honolulu falling deeper in love with Adam on every trip.

On February 20th, 2015, we were married. On December 8th, 2015, I moved to Honolulu. Two weeks ago we submitted my application for permanent residency to live in the United States, specifically Hawaii.

I never stopped listening to the whispers that have me here today. And, at its epicenter, is Mrs. Lamb, who kindly held my elementary school intention to, one day, live in Hawaii.


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TKD Heart“Is he drunk?” I asked the young boy seated by the window just as the flight attendants began the safety demonstration. As his father slumped forward, he edged back in his seat to quietly whisper, “Yes he is.” I felt his embarrassment.

I prefer to take an aisle seat when flying, it gives me the freedom to move about especially on long flights. I also wait for the passengers in the middle and window seat to show up before I buckle up.

As the last four passengers bustled to their seats I caught a glimpse of the woman, she had a small child in tow, and she felt scared to me. She sat in the row behind me with her son. Her other son, along with her husband sat in the middle and window seats in my row.

Instantly I smelled alcohol on his breath. I watched as the young son struggled to get his Dad’s seat belt done up. Noticeably I felt the absence of his wife, she was quiet in the row behind me.

I immediately felt frightened and at the same time somewhat paralyzed seated beside this drunk man. I wasn’t breathing and suddenly felt like I was 14 years old.

So I took a breath and began to get present to just how I was being triggered unconsciously. Without an obvious explanation, this triggered response was difficult to tolerate… not to mention, disorienting and disturbing.

This trigger was body based. It automatically showed up creating fear and a loss of breath. In fact, it showed up even before my mind consciously registered it. That’s just how I am wired.

A flood of memories streamed my way. I remembered being on a flight from Vancouver to Calgary, my older brother was very drunk, and it was 43 years ago. I was 14 years old.

I remember the shame of having to be seen with him, his loudness was excruciatingly embarrassing, but I was helpless. I remembered wanting to scream for help. I didn’t make a sound.

With nearly a decade of studying shadow work with Debbie Ford and the Ford Institute for Transformational Change, I was able to quickly recognize what was going on in my brain. And instead of disappearing like I did 43 years ago, I was able to presence myself to what was really going on for me.

Our brains are organized to constantly make connections between what’s happening on the inside and outside in the world around us. It does this so that we can more reliably predict the future and with that, ensure our survival. For me, it is about creating my own sense of safely. In my lifetime that is one of my primary responsibilities given my experience with alcoholics in my life.

Having experienced trauma on that flight with my brother 43 years ago, my brain remembered the necessary aspects so it could prompt me to avoid a reoccurrence of the event. Each aspect of that event was registered as an emotional charge in my brain.

I am really proud of how I responded to the circumstance on that flight even as I listened to a tiny, but loud voice in me, which was saying, “Be quiet. Don’t even think of asking for help. No one cares about how you feel.”

As the man beside me passed out and his son struggled to get him seated upright, I quietly raised my hand to get the attention of the flight attendant who was just finishing the safety demonstration.

As she walked towards me with concern in her eyes I again heard the voice in me say, “Don’t create a scene. You’ll be okay.”

I suddenly heard myself saying, “This man is drunk and I do not feel safe flying with him beside me.” I glanced over and caught the eyes of his son. They instantly reflected relief.

The flight attendant asked how I knew he was drunk. My glance to her must have translated my fear and she immediately went into action. I shared that his son told me. They immediately questioned his wife who sheepishly said, “Yes, he’s a bit drunk.”

Citing federal law prohibiting passengers who are drunk from boarding an aircraft the flight attendants quickly inferred that they needed to consult the captain. In short order the plane was headed back to the gate. The announcement to the passengers stated that a situation had arisen that required immediate attention.

I was quick to notice all kinds of emotions as the four passengers were escorted off the plane. I felt huge compassion for the young son seated beside his Dad; my heart went out to his Mom whom I felt had been here many times before. And to the youngest boy I felt relief for him; perhaps he was too young to realize what just happened.

Although not usually easy, I love discovering the light at the end of my trigger. The more conscious I choose to be, the easier it is to recognize what’s triggering me. Not surprisingly, it’s also a heck of a lot easier to self-care during these moments.

A Mom, travelling with her two young boys, seated across the aisle from me thanked me for helping to keep her boys safe. One drunken passenger, according to the flight attendants, is a very serious safety issue.

To the Dad who was drunk I offer my gratitude. Through you I found my healing after 43 years.

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peace“Oh dear, I’ll miss this place.” These words were quietly shared with me by my Mom as we left her favourite restaurant in Calgary nearly nine years ago. In the midst of a good night hug she told me, “This will be my last date.”

Fast forward to nearly a year later, as I summoned the courage to find the final words to share with my Mom as she drew closer to taking her last breath, I asked, “Do you remember our last date?” She squeezed my hand and said, “You are my best date.”

From as long ago as 1969 I can remember sensing when it was that I might not see someone again.

It started with my grandfather. He and my grandmother stepped off a city bus on Kensington Road in Calgary as I happened to be walking by. After a quick chat, a warm hug from both of them, I felt this uneasiness. It was towards my grandfather. I remember spinning around to wave good-bye to him. Two hours later, that day, I was told he died of a heart attack while watching sports in his easy chair. I would be the last grandchild to see him alive.

In 1987, my oldest brother Rick called to wish me a Merry Christmas. I was married at the time and remember telling my wife how uneasy I felt after saying good-bye to him. I said, “I think I need to go and see him.” Rick was living in a small town north of Edmonton and it was quite a trek to get there. Something nudged me to make the trip. It would be the last time I saw him alive. He died in March of 1988.

As a boy I was teased for being sensitive. As a closeted gay boy the story I made was that only sissy’s were sensitive. I got pretty adept at masking my sensitivity with an athletic, more masculine persona. I used the jock part of me to hide my sensitivity. To that I would add never feeling safe enough to tell anyone about this ‘sense’ I possessed.

Darcy was the first man I ever met who was living with hiv. His strength astonished me, as did his courage. It was early 1991 that he shared he was going home to visit his family and wanted to know if I would  meet him for a tea before he left.  Before accepting his invitation, I remember sensing that this might be the last time I saw him.  Shrugging off the feeling, I quickly said yes to our tea date. A week later his former partner called to tell me Darcy died at home while visiting his family.

This ‘sense’, so I thought, was supposed to be relegated to family. Clearly, I was wrong.

It would be within the confines of therapy that I would feel safe enough to explore what this ‘sense’ was connected to or what I thought it meant to me. I distinctly remember the first question my therapist asked me relating to this dynamic in my life. “Is there anyone, you can remember, who told you in some way you possessed this strength?” First, he called it a strength and next I remembered my grandmother telling me, as a little boy, that I was special.

As my life has progressed and right up to only recently I now know how to use this sense, strength or specialness, as Grandma called it, as a way to be present with those I love. It is also empowering to share this story perhaps as a way for others to also relate to a specialness they possess. It helps me remember that I am not alone.

Today, this sensitivity is one of my many strengths. Listening to this sense has gifted me with seeing some friends and family for the very last time and never feeling regret for not showing up with them. For as much heartache as I have endured saying good-bye, I have been equally blessed with knowing I showed up when I was called. My gift through all of this is peace.

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su·i·cide ˈso͞oəˌsīd/ noun 1. the action of killing oneself intentionally. “he committed suicide at the age of forty”

“I love you Tom”, was the last phone message I received from my brother Jim. His voice was very calm, yet I knew something wasn’t exactly right.

A dear friend , on Facebook, posted this graphic yesterday: 


What eeked from my heart the moment I saw the post was, “No”, at least not for my brother. He had attempted to leave one time before and was not successful. This time he was.

I wrote this to my friend, “It (suicide) took my brothers pain away and from that I gained one of the most exquisite lessons of my life. It was his gift to me.” My friends reply was, “I’m speechless.” I couldn’t resist and replied, “So was I.”

This is not a post about the wrongs, rights or religiosity of suicide. It is me sharing that in the darkest of circumstances, if we are open, there is always a lesson to learn.

My family never spoke of Jim’s suicide. I don’t even have a photograph of him. All too classic a response for a catholic family riddled with the devastation of addiction issues.

Jim was gorgeous. He was a talented writer, one of Alberta’s top junior football prospects, bright as a whip, a hilarious storyteller and someone many people admired.

James Joseph, named after my father, was the fifth of ten children my parents would bring into the world. He was part of the older five. We younger five never really knew them.

From all of my older siblings I sensed great pain. It was as if they all harboured a horrible secret that no one ever spoke of or didn’t know how to speak of.

I have no facts to back up my story, but I always felt that every older sibling of mine had had their innocence ripped away from them.

Each of them used a different strategy to cover their pain. Yet the common denominator were substances with the constant companion of addiction.

Jim’s pain seemed more palpable. He chose not to express it violently like his older brothers, but I could somehow relate to it in a way I couldn’t with my other older siblings.

There was a quiet temeluchusness to his presence. I felt his fear. He would spend many years in prison for crimes I knew nothing about.

He and I had something in common. I thought it was that he too was gay. That wasn’t it, it felt more connected to how we learned to hide.

Jim would become the perpetrator, my perpetrator. As he had learned to hide, so did I.

I remember a huge breakthrough in my therapy that had me connect to the compassion I needed to find for my brother. I got there by wondering who sexually abused him.

My heart ached for him.

A few weeks prior to listening to my brother tell me, via a taped recording on the phone,  that he loved me, we had a chance to speak.

He told me how proud he was of me for finding the courage to come out and uttered something to the effect that he could never summon such courage. Also, as he turned away from me he said, “Please forgive me for what I did to you.”

Jim had always scared me. Yet something that day moved me to follow him back into Mom’s kitchen, ask him to turn around, look into his beautiful blues eyes and say, “I forgive you.” He said nothing.

It was in the wee hours of the morning, perhaps 7 – 8 hours after listening to his taped voice telling me that he loved me, that his girlfriend Sheryl called to share that he had died.

Days later, in Victoria, as I sat beside his casket it suddenly dawned on me that this was the first time I hadn’t felt that my brother was in pain.

I leaned over and whispered two things to him. First I said, “My hope is that the choice you made to leave is powerfully serving you.” Secondly, as I gently wept I shared, “Thank you so much for teaching me how to forgive. I love you.”


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