This afternoon I was able to get my first outdoor bike ride of the season in! Putting on my kit, I was a bit giddy. Its strange how you can be so excited preparing to get out and push your body as hard as you can!
At the start of every season, I make a series of season goals. These are realistic milestones I'd like to hit, beyond a specific race. For example, this year, one of my goals was to get my average speed up to 16 mph.
I left my driveway pushing hard. I looked at my speedometer. 14.2 mph! What! How can this be! I'm pushing myself as hard as I can! Admittedly I was more than discouraged. Moving on. A mile into my ride, I'm going downhill, pushing hard. I look down... 17.4 mph. No! I can't have gotten this out of shape over the winter! Thats when I noticed the letters AVG next to my speed... Thats my average speed! Whew! I switched over to current speed and was much happier.
I had a fast first 2 miles. When I turned around, I realized it was because the wind had been at my back. The rest of my ride was a grind. I spent most of it trying to find the best body position to cut through the wind. I also did a lot of self talk in an effort to tell myself to push up the hills. That I was strong.
After the ride. I checked my stats. It was a short 11 mile ride but my pace was 16.4 mph! So happy with that! New goal for the season... Average 18 mph.
As I sat and thought about my first ride, I had a few realizations.
First, Sometimes we operate with false data. We perceive results and not our effort. I pushed as hard as I could and a speedometer told me I was failing. The world will tell you you're failing, but the world doesn't have all the info. The world doesn't know your effort. You do.
Run your race, push yourself, don't compare and eventually you'll be stronger. Eventually the result will match the effort and the worlds standard. But, that won't be your satisfaction. Your satisfaction will be in your self-approval. You will no longer NEED validation.
The second thing I realized was I spent most of the ride fighting to find a more aerodynamic position. Fighting to tell myself how strong I was. Fighting to believe it. In the hard times we need to constantly remind ourselves how strong we are. That we believe in ourselves. I've learned before I can believe someone else telling me I'm strong, I must first believe it when I tell myself.
Finding a better position to take on the wind built me a new skill set. in adversity we learn how to take on the challenge. When we mindlessly go through the trial, when we drag ourselves through it defeated, nothing will be different the next time trial comes. When in the adverse times, we try to find a better way to get through it, next time, we will be better equipped to attack the problem.
The last thing I realized was you can't count on the wind stopping. The winds of life change. They may be in your face or at your back. They may last for mile after mile, no matter what direction you turn.
I kept telling myself, "Get through this and after the turn, the wind will be at your back." But, when I turned, the wind was still in my face. I'd get mad, want to quit. Its not fair! The only reason I felt this way was because I was surviving the wind, expecting it would soon stop and my ride would be easy. Anger is always rooted in unmet expectations.
Life's like that. We can survive a season, because "After this one, it gets easier." Once I get out of high school, life will be better. Once I graduate college, life will be easier. Once I get a new job, once I make more money it will get easier. But often life doesn't get easier. Life is messy and if we expect the relief to come after the turn, we won't be mentally strong enough when the relief doesn't come.
We can't look at the finish line, we must keep our eyes fixed 20 feet ahead of us.
Take life 20 feet at a time. 20 feet at a time.
It never ceases to amaze me how much hope can be in my face, how many relationships can grow/develop, how many puzzle pieces can fall into place, and still, I have mornings like these.
A few hours ago, I shared a post about hope. About loving yourself, and here I sit, not taking my own advice. But I’m no hypocrite, I’m wounded. PTS (Post Traumatic Stress) is a formidable foe. Its an ever changing bedmate. This is why I believe a single plan of treatment is grossly ineffective. We need therapy, community, a cause to fight for, a race to train for. We need a voice and we need to use it. We need to create and not be afraid of our emotions. We need to honor them.
I had a rough morning after a good start. Thats PTS. Its guerrilla warfare and if you're trained in tradition combat, you're done. PTS requires a modern fighting approach. If the Red Coats fought the modern US soldiers, the battles would be quite a bit shorter!
Its time we get creative in this fight. The old way wasn't working so I reached out and went the non-traditional route. I kept my therapy appointments and they are still very important. They just can't be the only thing we do in out pursuit of healing. Because I reached out I received non-traditional building blocks. I was then able to build a healthy structure on top of my traditional foundation. Because of this, I am writing and stopping my downward spiral.
Lets get tactical!
For me, that means adding to my therapy visits additional healing measures. Its getting a service dog, attending Save a Warrior, Getting to know Magnus at Mission 22 and Elder Heart, Its training for triathlon, Its creating an opportunity to lead others as they train as well, and Its being vulnerable.
In this moment, I feel better. From the moment my pen hit paper to now, I am a different person.
I challenge you all to write! Force yourself to write when you're scared or hurting! If you'd be brave, secure, and ready to, share it somewhere, somehow, and with someone! We struggle when we're alone, when we try to keep up appearances. We keep ourselves sick believing the fallacy that showing emotions, good or "bad", somehow makes us weak.
In truth, showing emotion means we are strong and close to the heart of true humanity.
I try to meditate for 20 minutes right before I go to bed every night. I fail with consistency and lately, the nights of failure, far outnumber the nights of success. Its funny how the things we know are best for us, can quickly become the things we forgo most often!.
In meditation, there is an element of self-discipline that is required and developed. Sitting still and keeping your mind clear for 20 minutes is far harder than it sounds!
As thoughts sneak in, and they do, all the time, we acknowledge them and let them float away like clouds across the sky. "We are not the itch, we experience the itch." I had to repeat that so many times last night it became a mantra! I had so many itches that desperately wanted me to scratch them! I focused, breathed, and watched them and their dagger like edges float by only to be replaced by another grouping!
Just when I thought I had claimed total victory, and believed I could finish the session without scratching the itch, a barrage of fresh itch breeched my walls and sought to usurp the throne of self-control. It reminded me of something I read in the book "The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho.
In the book, a Shepard boy ventures out in search of a treasure that has appeared to him in his dreams. On his journey, he has a chance encounter with a king who tells him about a mans "personal legend." According to the king, the only responsibility a man has in life, is to find and live out his personal legend. This concept is one I liken to finding your "core purpose."
The king explained, on the way to fulfilling your personal legend, the universe would at first seek to show you favor, call it beginners luck, in an effort to affirm you and motivate you to continue on your path. things magically fall into place, people are responding to you, you are making a difference! Oh my gosh! This is going to work!
The king further explains that a time comes when the journeyman would be tested before the fulfillment of their personal legend. He or she would need to use all the lessons they had learned through various trials in order to not quit or turn away. In that moment, they must prove their dedication to purpose, their personal legend. If they fail, they prove they are not ready for life after their personal legend is lived out. My meditation became a microcosm of that journey!
At first, I was doing well. The first 6 minutes I was still, clear of mind. Beginners luck. Keep going. Then came the itch , the trials. I won, I overcame. But when the final barrage overtook me, I wanted to itch, I wanted to quit, I wanted to turn away from my "personal legend." I wanted to once again be comfortable. But, I resisted and am stronger for it.
My life has mirrored this journey, and without introspection, it would continue in failures. The phrase "strength through pain" has been important to me recently. Strength is required to go through and grow through pain. Pain is required to grow in strength.
Running is painful, it isn't comfortable. Forgoing pleasure is painful. But we fail to grow stronger if we trade the pain for comfort.
Psychologist Carl Jung said "Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens." To realize our purpose we must look inside ourselves and find out who we really are. Not who we were told to be, not who we strive to be because society calls your path honorable. Jiddu Krishnamurti said, "It is no measure of good health to be adjusted to a profoundly sick society."
I'm not comfortable. I'm not trying to please anyone. I'm not trying to see how many likes or shares I can get on Facebook. I'm finding my purpose. I'm accepting the obstacles, limping over them and not looking in the crowd to see whose laughing at me. It's my journey and I'm doing the bucket work.
Hold The Space.
Since my friend, Dr. Michael Salonius, shared this concept with me, it has become my mantra. Holding the space has become the root grounding me in my new sobriety. The more I hold the space, the more I come to understand it, the more I believe it may be the single most important thing we can do for our veterans. It may well be the most important thing we do in any relationship.
In truth, holding the space is the hardest, easy thing you can do. Being and staying present is the foundation. Our hearing is the muscle we flex to hold that space. Space is heavy. It’s a muscle we need to actively work.
Understand this. Veterans have looked behind the curtain. We've seen the dirt and grime in the cogs of government. We've seen the best and worst of society and culture. We have been manipulated and when our guards were down, when we were most vulnerable, people have died. Then, we were asked to stuff down the embers of grief. When we couldn't swallow it, it was forced down our throats, "Suck it up and drive on." When that didn't work, we tried to washing down the bitter pill with alcohol. Once swallowed, we self-medicated, desperately trying to counteract the effects of feeling. But, the only way to heal is to first feel, then speak.
We can’t speak it unless we trust someone to hold the space with their whole heart and their whole being. For us to feel safe, to trust again, we are risking death.
We have been fed a lie that it is other than honorable to share our burdens carried home from war. The fallacy “A real combat veteran doesn’t share their combat experiences. Those that do are phonies. They’ve probably never seen combat, because had they, they wouldn’t talk about it.” Has driven many to the dark, lonely caves of depression and isolation.
The veterans that don’t share, that don’t have a safe held place, that live with a false sense of “honor” laid out by a pseudo-initiated warrior tradition, are the unhealthy ones. They are the lost ones.
We don’t need to share the graphic details. We don’t need to be understood. We don’t need to talk about it all the time. We need a safe, held space. We need it so when the feelings creep in, and they will, we have a place to purge the poison we’ve allowed to sit deep in our soul.
Hold the space. If you’re a veteran, or someone with PTS (Post Traumatic Stress) hold the space and get rid of anything that keeps you from doing so. For me, that means no smoke, no alcohol period.
If you know someone with PTS, hold the space. Don’t “fix” anything. Don’t force anything. Love them and be present. If they don’t share their burden, love them and stay present. Accept the reality you may never be the person they share with. In time they may share with you, but what I’m suggesting is your motivation to hold the space can not be that someday, they’ll bare their whole soul to you. We need to know we are supported, loved. We need to feel this way until and after we are able to receive those truths.
The path to healing is built on the foundation of holding the space.
Hold the space.
I am a journeyman. I don't claim to have amazing insight, or profound wisdom. What I do have is an honest heart and an authentic spirit. I'm finding my core purpose and the road is paved with success, failure, vulnerability, courage, joy, and sorrow. All these things are necessary. Any wisdom I gain, or understanding I come to know, I freely give to you. It is my prayer that some realization I have, or utterance I make can in some way impact you, aid you in your own journey to wholeness.
My journey is one free of pride. My journey serves as a source of my own healing and I can think of no better honor than to help you heal as well. Holding that space with you is the pinnacle of anything I can achieve while alive on earth.
Let us fix our eyes on the present moment. Let us glance ahead at what is to come. Let us look over our shoulder so we can reach back our hand and help those behind us. There is always someone behind you, waiting for your hand. Don't believe the lie that you don't matter. That you are irrelevant. You are valuable to me. You are valuable to others. Believe it. The path to fulfillment must include a heart of servant leadership.
Struggle, run, win, lose, cry, laugh, heal. Don't give up. The good days will come. So will the bad. Some days will be so gut wrenchingly awful you'll want to quit. I promise they will as they still come to me. In those days, character forms. Foundations are laid through hard labor and teamwork. Lets do the work together. If its not with me, grab those you love. Challenge one another. Challenge me.
We are in this together and together we will heal.
The Trouble with love is, people hurt us. They let us down, disappoint us, leave us, and sometimes they even die. Love isn't safe, so I built a fortified wall around my heart. For my safety, I didn't let love in.
People leave me. People leave us. I have loved and lost over and over again. Heart ache became the mortar for my fortress wall. Every brick laid was formed by a memory of a loss, a hurt, a confirmation, a reminder that love isn't safe.
I built my fortress and slammed shut the gate. It got lonely. No new faces, no new memories. I was surrounded only by the brick and mortar. Isolation is robbery of the heart.
The trouble with love is, we must also grieve. Truthfully, as long as we love, we will also then grieve. But when we grieve, when we hurt, we must also realize we hurt only because we allowed ourselves to love.
I was safe in my fortress, but alone. To avoid hurt, we must avoid love. To avoid love is to not feel, to not feel is to not live.
Let down the gate, tear down the walls. Allow love to enter. Embrace it with a hug and tip your hat to the grief that follows. Embrace the tears. They are the heritage of hurt, love, and joy. To silence one, is to silence them all.
The trouble with love is there is no guarantee. To love is to be courageous, to be courageous is to be vulnerable with no guarantee. To be vulnerable is to open yourself up to Joy, love, and hurt.
Let us love courageously.
I said it wouldn't always be pretty... Today... Yesterday... They weren't pretty.
Part of this journey I'm taking you on, a huge part, is a healing journey. I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It comes in many forms, from many different points of origin. In my case its from my time over seas in combat in Iraq 2003.
It rears its head at random sometimes. The last couple of days have seemed random. I've scratched my head trying to figure out why I've had intense depression and rage. We're on vacation and I've been so angry, at times to the point I don't feel safe. I don't feel I'll be able to keep my emotions in check. I've secretly been hoping to get into a fight so I could give this rage purpose.
I was at the mechanic and saw a guy staring at me for what seemed like 5 minutes. I wanted to scream at him "Can I help you?" "Is there a problem?" But I held back. PTSD can make you look for fights that aren't there. Everyone becomes the enemy to include my children and my wife. The baby cries, my 4 year old doesn't listen at times and my wife isn't perfect... How dare they be human... But, in these moments it's all I see. There humanity becomes a negative.
I've made great progress with my PTSD and so have many others, but we still have our days. They have become fewer in number, but it wasn't that long ago I had at least 3 days a week like this. Horrible way to live. Its one of the reasons the veteran suicide rate is so high. 22 a day. ABSOLUTELY HEART BREAKING. I won't be part of that number. I hope to eradicate that number.
So what to do in my state... It was getting late and there was about 30 minutes before sunset. I decided I needed to get out and run. Burn off this adrenaline that had been dumping into my system the past 2 days. I ended up running 3.84 miles at a 9 minute mile pace. Its a good pace for me at this point. In the last .5 miles I started to have a conversation with myself.
I was heading home and decided to keep a faster pace and not quit if it got tough. It got tough... Life always gets tough. Before it got tough I realized how bad a father, husband, son and friend I am when I get like this. My mantra became my wife deserves better, my daughter deserves better etc... I said it over and over. I asked myself is my body in charge or am I in charge? If my body says I'm tired, I can't do this, do I listen or do I tell it the race isn't over?
I deserve better.
I realized in that moment I deserve a better quality of life. It's not just for everybody else. Do I let the relationships in my life, as important as they may be, determine if I'm doing a good enough job or do I tell myself how I'm doing?
I deserve better because when I'm a better man I feel better and my family gets better from me as well. When I tell my body I know its tough, I know you're tired, I know you want to quit but we're not going to, I fight forward. I get stronger.
On this race there are setbacks. Our days won't always be something we want to write about or share with others. Its not a success only journey. I'm not always going to be the best family man, my event times won't always get faster but I'm not going to quit. On any of it. When set backs come I'll take a deep breath, really think about things and when I get that moment of clarity, I'll tell myself your're done quiting. If we don't quit, theres still a chance we'll get better.
Its not a success only life. We aren't perfect. We never will be. Obstacles will come... a lot. It will get difficult. We will fall short. There will be tears. There will be anger. We'll feel like we suck. But if we don't give up and we work, the bad times become the exceptions.
I have been in therapy, I have a service dog and the teachings from the trauma resiliency program, writing, Film making and now I have swimming, biking, running and a literal race to run. If we can find outlets, we can workout our demons. We can learn a lot about ourselves in those moments when it gets hard instead of giving up. Many call it the pain cave. Its a place we put ourselves on purpose in a healthy way (like exercise) where we must give it our all even when it gets hard.
Maybe your pain cave is getting out in public for a while because your afraid of crowds. Maybe its going to the fireworks wearing headphones and during the show, taking them off a listening to the booms. Maybe its picking up the phone and talking to that broken relationship you've been avoiding for years. Maybe it's telling your spouse you love them. Maybe it's planning a date. Maybe its playing with your kids. It takes effort. It takes love and dedication. But when the thing you try gets tough and you enter the pain cave will you quit? or will you address the reality of your situation and really think about it. Will you push forward?
I'm not perfect, but I'm pushing forward. It may take a day or two or longer to get back on track but I'm always working to find the trail.
What trail do you need to get back on?
Have you ever started something new, or been doing something for a long time and still felt like you were nothing? Felt you aren't good enough and never will be? So much so you get angry. Anger followed by resentment and doubt? If so, welcome to the club.
This has been a pattern of mine and over the years, it's something I've been working on. Why do I feel this way? My response to an emotion may be severe or irrational, but the emotion is trying to tell me, tell us something.
It's telling ME, comparison is the robber of joy. A good friend of mine shared that pearl with me and its become a life changing reality.
More often than not, we don't begin something and compare ourselves against the beginners. We compare ourselves to the best of the best. How do we stack up?
I start making short films and immediately compare my work to that of the greatest hollywood directors! When I do that, I don't stack up very well... I don't think I ever will and I lose the drive to try. The drive to get better.
I train for a triathlon and look up times from last years racers to see the averages. I find the average time for each event is far faster than I am currently capable of completing individually, let alone back to back! So do I quit because I most likely won't place well in the race? Who's holding me to these unrealistic standards on which my success is determined?
Why do we, or at least I, compare myself to top level industry professionals and elite athletes who have been working, improving, getting better for years?
Perfectionism mixed with impatience.
I want to be the best. Now. I don't want to work for it. I want to be great without doing the work because doing the work is hard and involves failure. It involves adversity and I just want to fly.
I can't fly and its unreasonable to think I can. I can't run an Iron Man race so it's unreasonable to compare myself to someone who can. But, it is reasonable to aspire to that end. To learn from the established and work towards a goal... Over time...
It's not always reaching the goal thats important. Sometimes its what we learn on the journey thats the real victory. Thats the real goal.
To what end do you strive?
I think it happens pretty quickly. You go from inactive to active and realize, oye, I've really let myself go! For me, it's the biggest hurdle to "trying". When my mile time has risen from 6 minutes and 30 seconds to 9 minutes and 10 seconds, I get a wee bit discouraged. I tell myself things like, "Whats the point? You'll never get back to the way you were so don't try. Just quit." It's a horrible, common stream of logic.
I think in part, it's a problem with the connotation of success, failure, and try. For me, I operate on a continuum of success and failure. I try and either succeed or fail. When I fail, I usually quit. But can't success simply be defined as trying? For a long time I've viewed the word "try" as timid. It leaves room for the failure and is surprised by the success. But in trying haven't you already succeeded?
Trying is getting up and running even though you may finish the run in a walk. Trying is playing with your kids even though they look at you like you're crazy because, "This is weird, daddy never plays with us." and though its awkward, you play, you stick with it and do it again tomorrow. Trying is succeeding in putting forth the effort to start and without a start there can be no success or failure. So lets embrace the "try". Lets celebrate the failure as much as the success! Lets celebrate the failure because we tried and failure isn't permanent unless we never try again.
There was a sentence painted on the wall of my high school weight room. It read "try to fail". In its context, it referred to lifting weights and trying to reach muscle failure during a strength training workout. Now, I see it as much more than that. What if we lived our lives trying so hard we forced ourselves out of our comfort zone and into the unknown. Into the unknown where failure lives. What if when failure comes, we learn from it and try again strengthened by the failure?
I'm not going to finish my race come race day if I don't fail now. I'm not going to fail now unless I try. If we don't try we stay ok. When we stay ok we don't get stronger... We stay ok...
So lets "try to fail" so we can get stronger, so we can be better, so we can thrive.
Since running my last triathlon, my knee has been giving issues. I can’t seem to run more than a mile before a sharp pain reduces me to a walk, or light jog. I’ve tried to rest and ice it, slow down my pace, and even not run. Nothing has made a lasting impact. At mile one, the pain returns. At the 1-mile mark, my leg becomes unhealthy.
Yesterday, I needed to run. I needed a physical outlet. I’ve been reading about proper running form and had some new things I needed to try. It was 12 degrees yesterday morning when the time came to run. The first mile burned my lungs with cold, but I felt alive! But, after that first mile, the sharp pain jolted through my leg. I stopped and walked. I was frustrated but calm.
I asked myself, “What is going on!?!” Unsatisfied with walking I started to run again. I shortened my stride, doubled my cadence, and looked at the road, 20 feet ahead of me. With these things and only slightly bending my knee as I ran, I was able to finish the second mile. Setting out that morning, all I wanted to do was finish a 2 mile run.
I felt good about it. I didn’t finish without pain, but I finished. My pace was slower than I would have liked. In the past, I hated any regression, but now I see it differently. Here’s what I learned yesterday morning.
I tend to focus on the future, but stare at the ground in front of me. My thought process is a little like this. “I want to finish an ironman and help others compete in the sport I’ve come to love. But, my knee is preventing me from running more than a mile. My dream then, is impossible. Now I’m hopeless.”
I disqualify myself rather than step back and reevaluate my circumstance. Maybe I should run slower for a while instead of just quitting. I had been running a 5K in the 23-minute range. Maybe I need to run it in the 27-minute range until I’m stronger and understand the origins of my pain. That’s ok! Setbacks aren’t closed doors. Setbacks are more like hurdles, and hurdles were designed to be overcome.
Whatever dream I have, and there are several, will undoubtedly come with setbacks and hurdles. The question isn’t if or when, it’s what are you willing to overcome in pursuit of your dream.
Don’t stare at the ground on the way to your dream. You won’t see the hurdle coming and you will fall hard. I promise.
Don’t mistake the temporary for the permanent. Slowing down for a time doesn’t equal failure if it helps you ultimately get you to your dream.
Climbing Hill 22, that thing you feel if attempted would overwhelm and kill you, requires success and failure, sprints and walks, and hurdles… A lot of hurdles.
Nobody wins a race because they were comfortable. They win because they committed to what was required to overcome the hurdles. They new the cost’s, weighed them and decided their heart was willing to pay the price. They showed up to the race wounded, bearing their scars and appeared comfortable because the physical race is the easy part.