You can’t rise like a phoenix until you fall flat on your ass- Pt 1
I achieved every single career goal by the time I was 34 years old. I was a Marine Corps Sergeant, a police officer and K9 Handler. I had a combat deployment to Ramadi, Iraq in 2004-2005 as a bomb detection dog handler. I was a law enforcement training officer, defensive tactics instructor, survival skills instructor, Krav Maga Expert, National and International Krav Maga Instruction Team member, Head of the US Krav Maga Law Enforcement division, business owner, father, husband and so much more.
Life should have been pretty grand.
I should have been feeling pretty accomplished and successful. I mean, I’m no Elon Musk or Robert Downey Jr. but I was doing pretty good for myself. However, in reality there I stood, in the massive Krav Maga and Fitness gym that I built with my bare hands, depressed and preparing to die. There I was, standing under a large squat rack with monkey bars eight feet off the ground above me. I was standing on top of a large wooden box with a rope tied to the monkey bars at one end, and the other around my throat. Tears streamed down my face as an endless rush of thoughts flashed through my head so fast none of them were clear nor coherent. It was like the opening scene of a Marvel movie. All the pages of every superhero comic book is flipped across the screen so fast that you can only make out parts of each character in the split second it flashes in front of your eyes.
The physical pain that comes with deep depression, anxiety and PTSD had become so great that my body was physically breaking down. My joints hurt 24/7, my muscles ached, I had developed a tremor in my right hand that was moving up the arm and into my head and neck and back at times. I moved as if I was 80 years old and it looked like I was suffering from some advanced form of arthritis. Everything I believed I had accomplished and built in this life seemed as if it were crumbling into a catastrophic burning pile of rubble at my feet. My law enforcement career had ended due to depression and PTSD. The gym I owned was crumbling and near collapse. My marriage was in shambles and my relationship with my son was strained. I felt like a complete failure at life and a burden on my clients and loved ones.
With the rope securely tied to my throat and to the monkey bar above me, I stepped off the box and sank into it. Allowing it to strangle me and hoping to die quickly so that I could just stop the pain. I was surprised in that moment, I wasn’t wiggling and wrangling around like you see in TV or movies when someone is hanged. I just swung slightly from side to side. I was also surprised that this was more of a blood choke than an air choke. Those who train the martial arts will know exactly what I’m talking about. I could breath slightly but I could feel the world getting darker as fresh oxygenated blood was being constricted from my brain. I knew that it would be just moments before I passed out and fell into the depths of the afterlife, whatever that may be. And in that moment while I hung there, I learned and discovered many things about the process of my pending self inflicted death. I learned it was much like falling asleep. I felt that it was like sinking into a deep pool. Just floating there completely suspended in nothingness. I actually felt a wave of calm come over me and I felt at peace for just that moment. I knew the pain was about to end for me. But in that split second of feeling everything close in and the depth of death coming over me, I had one rational thought. I saw my son’s face. It wasn’t a memory of him per se, but rather it was a premonition of what was about to come within the hours after I completely surrendered to the darkness.
With that premonition, I reached up and grabbed the belt that I was dangling from and lifted myself in a pullup motion and began kicking my feet behind me to try and locate the box I had just stepped off of. All the meanwhile I could still feel the blood constriction and the tunnel vision was setting in. At this point, the world looked as if I was looking through a toilet paper tube. Once I found the box, I was able to get the tips of my toes on it. I lifted myself upward by pulling on the rope and pulling with the tips of my toes. I’ve searched for all the ways I could possibly describe how this physical feat was completed, but those words elude me. Regardless, it was a very tough challenge. It was a physical feat I’m sure was more complicated and strenuous than I give it credit for, but in the end I was able to stand back up on the box.
Now uncontrollably sobbing and dizzy from the blood loss to my brain, I removed the rope from my neck and jumped down to the floor where I collapsed and cried until I lost all energy to cry any more. So here I lay, a worthless pile of utter failure, weeping like a weak and pathetic child or so I thought at the time. I just laid on that floor and thought about the ripple effect of my decisions. I once read in an Instagram meme that said, “Suicide doesn’t kill your pain. It passes it off to everyone else.”
In the moments that followed, I decided that I would begrudgingly keep living. Not for me, but for my son. He didn’t deserve the trauma that I was about to inflict on him. I didn’t have the heart to traumatize others simply because I was in pain. I still didn’t know what to do or how to overcome this cold and excruciating darkness I had inside me. I didn’t know how to stop the flurry of thoughts that rushed through my head day in and day out. I couldn’t quiet the noise and the voice telling me I was utterly worthless, a burden, a failure and a dirtbag. I was terrified of the meds that the VA and other doctors put out. I watched as other veterans took the laundry list of pills issued by the VA and turne into emotionless zombies or continue to battle depression and anxiety because the medication wasn’t working. I also feared all the medications because every suicide I had ever investigated as a police officer had anti-depressants and anti-anxieties in their system. In my mind, clearly, the big pharma method wasn’t working.
So what was I supposed to do?
How the fuck do you keep living when you feel as if you have the weight of the world on your shoulders and someone is pounding you in the head with a ballpeen hammer. When you feel as if your body feels as if it’s on fire all the time? How do you continue living through that? Well, pure willpower I suppose. But that’s not merely enough to keep someone alive. At some point, the darkness would surely take over.
Due to the stigma of depression and people's reluctance to understand it or address it properly, we fail to realize just how powerful it really is. And there is nothing worse than hearing people in your life say useless platitudes like, “I’m praying for you” or “Hand your worries to God. He’ll take care of it.” My response, “Fuck off!” I appreciate your attempt at consolation, but let's call a spade a spade here. You know damn well your prayers and God won’t actually do anything to keep me alive. You are saying these things to simply absolve yourself of actually trying to understand this condition. So that God forbid something horrible does happen, you can say “Well, I was praying really hard for him. If only he had more faith in God...” This is what was said to me by my family members some of my darkest times. During my law enforcement career, I heard other absolutely abhorrent things from family members to people who had just attempted suicide or were severely depressed. I’ve heard, “Just nut up and get over it. Life sucks for everyone. You’re not anything special.” I also heard from one mother, “If you’re going to do it, just do it already. Quit using this facade as a way to get our attention. We’re tired of it.” And the absolute worst one from a wife to her suicidal husband, “If you’re going to be all depressed and dark like this, I don’t even want you in my life.” Could you imagine being in your darkest, coldest and most lonely moment and hearing someone you believed who is supposed to love you unconditionally say such a thing? I’m not gonna lie, there were times in my law enforcement career where I may not have been the consummate professional that I should have been in those moments. I remember a few times where I had verbally come down on people who showed such gross insensitivity (AKA, acted like a complete douche bag to someone in need). Now... I’m not telling you all this to garner sympathy or pity.
I don’t fucking want it and I don’t fucking need it. I’m telling you this because I know that a lot of you that read this have been in a very similar situation and have felt the same way. What I want to convey to you is that no matter how dark and painful it may get in this life, you’re merely looking at a very minute aspect of the big picture.
If life and the world were a large scale mural, you’re merely looking at only one segment of one brush stroke and focusing on the slightest of imperfections. Take one step back and you will see how that brush stroke may need that imperfection to give life to a segment of the painting. Take three steps back and you may see a much clearer portion of the picture and that imperfection is only visible if you know what to look for. Take 10, 20, 30 steps back and you will notice that you are a significant part of a much larger scale that brings vibrant life to everything else that it is connected to. That one simple brush stroke, if gone missing would fuck up the entire mural. It would deform it in a way that many people would notice and would diminish the absolute astonishing elegance that is everything you are connected to.
You may not appreciate your place in the mural simply because you don’t understand your importance in it. But without you, the mural is incomplete. People will notice. You, a beautiful and marvelous accent to all that around you. You highlight others just as others highlight you. Your contrast with the things around you makes you stand out. I know these can seem like useless hokums. But it took me going to rehab and redesigning my entire life to figure this out. It’s taken over two and a half years of consistent badgering by my closest friends to see that who I am matters. That I am worthy of a good life. I’m worthy of love and respect. That people want and need me in their life. That I serve a greater purpose on this earth. It’s not an easy pill to swallow. Even to this day. But it’s the hard pill that I need to hear. It’s also true for you. You matter and you are worthy of love, respect, happiness and joy. You are worthy of all the great things in life.
So step down off your box. It’s going to be okay. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s going to be okay. You are needed and wanted and you are an important piece of the mural that you are etched into.
So... where do we go to find brighter days? We go to a simple practice of mindfulness and compassion. A simple exercise that I have used over my life to make me a better man, father, friend, lover and business owner.