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My story: Tobias

My Story‘ is an ongoing series featuring previous participants of The Quest Workshop.

Tobias Oliver attended The Quest Workshop in November 2014…..

What brought you to The Quest Workshop?

The last two years has seen a great deal of challenge and change, both good and bad, for me and my family. Perhaps inevitably, this brought with it a greater sense of introspection and self-examination. (I turned forty a few years’ ago, so perhaps it’s just a mid-life crisis or ‘spiritual awakening’!)

Whatever the reason, I felt compelled to take a long, hard look at myself and my life. Something I have so skilfully avoided in the past, mainly because it’s difficult and I don’t usually like what I see. I had a good idea what was probably lurking there and it scared me. I was afraid.

Then I picked up a flyer for The Quest in Soho on a visit to London – I live in Sheffield, but am frequently in the capital to visit family or for work – and it spoke to me. I kept reading it, and visiting The Quest website.

I had read ‘The Velvet Rage’ – both the original and the second edition – and found it interesting. I had then carefully put the book back on the shelf and convinced myself that it was ‘job done’. Nice try.

So, I thought The Quest would give me the push I needed to tackle the real job of confronting the shame I still felt. The shame that was still there holding me back: making me feel that I was different, dirty and a fraud. The shame of being gay.

Eventually I plucked up the courage to mention The Quest to my partner. I did this ever so casually as though it was just a curiosity, testing the water. Half of me wanted him to rubbish the idea, leaving me free to agree and stay in my comfort zone. But he didn’t and that comfort zone was feeling less and less of a helpful place to be.

I looked at the website some more, finally acknowledging it was something I wanted to do. I pencilled the dates in my diary, but only signed up less than two weeks before. The fear was trying to hold me back, but I wanted to change.

What was your experience of The Quest Workshop?

Toby Oliver with LennieIt’s really hard to express how profound an experience the workshop was. The word that keeps coming back is ‘amazing’. I am truly amazed at how effective, how supportive and how caring it was. I have never before been so honest and open with other gay men – apart from my partner – and I shared things that I have never shared before.

Yes, it was very challenging. Yes, it was very emotional. Yes, it made me take a long, hard look at myself. Yes, this was scary. But it was worth it. Really worth it.

It helped me to face down the fear, confront the shame and realise that I don’t have to let the past control my future. And you know what? I actually enjoyed doing it, well most of the time!

Was it what you expected? Tell us how

I’m not sure what I expected to be honest, but I certainly didn’t expect it to be quite as good, nor as professional as it was. I was worried that it might be half-hearted or tokenistic as is so often the case with activity targeted at gay men. But I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I owe a huge debt of gratitude and thanks to Darren, Ade and the other facilitators for creating such a challenging yet supportive and caring environment. And to my fellow ‘Questors’ for being so open, honest and courageous, and for allowing me to be so too. I really can’t recommend it highly enough.

What did you get from the workshop?

The workshop gave me an amazing gift. It gave me the opportunity to take back control of my life. It helped me to explore my childhood and to understand why I behave and think in ways that are not helpful. It forced me to acknowledge some things I have been denying and gave me insights that I hadn’t had before.

In short, it gave me a huge amount to think about. It took about a week from the workshop for my brain to not feel like it was working on overdrive!

I realise now that I have all too often let shame and the fear of that shame make my decisions for me. That this fear and shame often expresses itself in, seemingly irrational, anxiety or anger. That I have let other people – mainly the other men in my life – fight my battles for me. That I had got into the habit of withdrawing and of not connecting, truly connecting with people.

The workshop not only gave me these realisations it also gave me both the means and the support to change. It also gave me access to a wonderful network of compassionate, caring and courageous gay men.

I feel that I am becoming the man I was supposed to be. The man I want to be.

What difference has the workshop made to your life now?

I know it is early days – I only completed the workshop in December (2014) – but I feel much more positive and much less aloof. I am making more of an effort to connect and it feels great. I feel more connected to my partner, family, friends and even to people I meet day-to-day. What’s more I also have a wonderful new ‘band of brothers’, my fellow participants on The Quest weekend. There is still a lot more to do. I know that I can’t change the patterns of forty years overnight but I feel confident that I can change them a bit more each day.

And I’m up for the challenge.

To find out more about The Quest Workshop or to register, click here.

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