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Carry The Weight!

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I really don’t have a specific message in mind as I write this. I mostly just want to get a few thoughts out in the open. Spoiler alert, I’m going to ramble a little bit.

I posted a while back about being capable of exploring all the different routes to take with a non-profit. My hope is that if we can make the goal of it to be focused on veteran suicide awareness and resiliency training for our young men and women in uniform. While I have several ideas in mind, and I know that I have the tools to overcome some hard times, I am having a hard time narrowing any of that down.

Tonight I had about an hour and a half conversation with a great friend and fellow Marine. We discussed starting a blog to get his own story out there, which is a remarkable one to say the least. This is a Marine that did his time, moved home and was diagnosed with brain cancer. The doctors gave him 6 weeks to live and here he is, still fighting two years later.

We didn’t know each other in the Corps, but his senior Marines were my juniors at one point. While we didn’t know each other at all, he reached out to me a few years ago to talk about what he was going through and we have since developed a pretty solid relationship. He was having some doubts about writing because he doesn’t feel his story is worth telling. Despite his doubts, Marines and strangers have been reaching out to him for help and advice. All of this is because at one point, he publicly posted what he was going through.

Obviously, my advice to him was to shut up and start writing. Hope to read something from you soon Hughes!!!

So what’s my point?

We all have a story. My wife has a quote from Les Brown that says, “Don’t die with that story in you”. I’ve always loved that quote but after all, I am the Gunny and those words might accurately reflect my thoughts on this, so here goes.

Shut the f*** up, pick up the weight, and f***ing carry it! If anyone asks you what that weight is, show them. You never know if they’re carrying that same burden and are ready to drop it.

I consider myself somewhat of an agnostic. Organized religion is a really hard idea for me to jump behind, but there is no doubt in my mind that there is a higher power out there. I’ve prayed and begged for a few things and when they magically appeared out of nowhere when I was in a dark place, the harsh reality that I am not in control. Things are going to happen to me and my family that I don’t get a vote on. Things are going to happen in the world, that are so far beyond my control, there’s nothing to do but carry it.

Whatever your idea of a higher power is, eventually, he is going to give you a great and powerful weight to carry. He’s not going to ask you if you want it. He’s not going to tell you that it’s ok to put it down if it gets to heavy.

He tells you to shut the hell up and carry it.

Period.

When I was getting sober I had Anthony Keidis’ autobiography, Scar Tissue. As I read this book, I was completely blown away by how much I had in common with a heroin addict. The self loathing, depression, and destructive behaviors were all too familiar to me. The fact that his weight seemed to be so much heavier than mine, and despite all of that, he found his way back to the light. This was nothing but pure motivation for me.

Before I quit drinking I was ready to end it all. I was in such a dark place and time in my life that I saw no other option. but I carried the weight.

I planned it out at one point. I held that weight over the edge by my finger tips. It was the testimony of another who had walked in my shoes that helped me see the big picture.

Two years later I married a girl I had a crush on in high school, started raising her two little girls and had a child of our own.

Four years later our lives were turned upside down in some legal problems that I can’t exactly get into, but I can tell you that it challenged our faith in everything. While I went back to California to pack up our house, which to this day was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, Heather set out to find us a place here in Oregon. When I came home I took one look at her face and just knew.

We were pregnant with another child. We didn’t plan on it. We couldn’t afford another baby and we didn’t even have a house. But we carried the weight.

The weight made us stronger.

We grew from it.

As we got stronger, people noticed.

We shared with others and soon, the weight got lighter.

We kept moving forward and after a while it was like the weight wasn’t even there anymore.

It turned into something else.

Now I can’t speak for my wife, but for me what it became is a culmination of a lot of things. It’s my kids, my marriage, my relationship with others. My relationship with myself and my higher power. My ability to drown out the noise at night when I go to bed, or in the morning when I wake up and tell myself to shut up, and carry the weight.

Do you really need to wake up in the morning and read a self help book or listen to a motivational video on YouTube? Is that really what all of this is about? Those things help, that’s for sure, but give your own story some credit now and then.

Reflect on where you’ve been daily.

Remember everything you’ve overcome daily.

Sounds crazy but after a while it stops bothering you. While you still have some feelings about it, you can’t let it stop you from the task at hand, which is always the same.

Carry the f***ing weight.

For my friend that I spoke of, one of the many weights he’s been handed is telling his story. You can’t give it back. You can’t set it down. Carry it.

Back story on the photograph. The wife and I took the kids camping for the week on the Oregon coast and on the way we passed about a dozen bull elk. The picture is my son and I looking at these magnificent animals.

My son.

Looking through my daddy’s binoculars.

At a dozen bull elk while sitting on his daddy’s lap.

Great picture right?

Now how would this picture even exist if I didn’t carry the f***ing weight?

Life sucks. Heartache, loss of a loved one, and drastic life changes, they all suck.

But carry the f***ing weight.

Keep moving forward.

Trudge. Trudge, Trudge. Be well friends.

If you liked this post, please share and leave a comment. If you hated this post, please share and leave a comment. Tell me I’m wrong and that you hate my face. You do what you got to do. That’s your weight.

Carry the f***ing weight.

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Custom 3rd LAR Flag Raffle Ticket

If you're interested in this item, you are most likely a member of the pack! This flag measures 21 x 35 inches and I can add 3 lines of custom lettering! Normal price is around $175.00. I will sell a limited amount of raffle tickets. Proceeds will be going towards research and development of the Non-Profit I've been working on to help combat the stigma around Post Traumatic Stress.

$10.00

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Are you making the most of this?

It’s been more than 2 months since I’ve written anything.

After losing one of my Marines to suicide in March, I guess I sort of lost my way a little bit.

To be honest, I just wanted to crawl inside a hole and isolate myself for a while.

I wanted to spin questions between my fingers over and over again and ask myself why this happened.

I wanted to stop thinking about it completely.

I wanted to ask him why?

080211-M-9943H-021.jpgI questioned everything about myself, and the way I was living my own life. I wanted all of the pain to stop. I was picking up my kids daily, but I wasn’t holding them. I was feeding them and providing for them but I wasn’t being their father. I slept each night next to my wife, but I wasn’t her husband. I felt like a shell of a man I used to be.

While his funeral was most definitely somber, it was good to see everyone. It was good to sit around and tell stories of him. It was good to tell stories of us, and how we used to be. Back when we could watch the entire night sky turn from blue to purple and eventually to black. So many different colors that only the desert sky can hold. How the stars seemed like they gathered from across the galaxy to light up the night sky, just for us. How the sand felt beneath our feet. How it was deafeningly silent when we didn’t focus on it. The wind felt like it came from the ground itself as it slipped through the scrub brushes at our feet.

Maybe we don’t think about our past when we’re still engaged in a deployment rotation because we are only concerned with the next one. When the music stops we struggle to remember it all. All the horrifying moments entangled in the good. Those smooth and youthful faces, full of grief and misery, yet capable of laughter that only someone who has walked in our boots could understand. Only someone who has looked at his or her own mortality and walked away would know anything about.

Perhaps we should spend a few minutes of our day and remember those months and years of our lives when we were capable of doing so much more.

080211-M-9943H-014.jpgPerhaps it would remind us of our true potential. When you look out your windshield you have three mirrors to give you clarity. A sense of direction. The rear view mirror helps to remind you of where you’ve been. It alerts you if something from the past might be coming up behind you too close.

Those side mirrors help orient yourself to what might be lurking beside you that will directly effect which direction you choose to go.

And when you make a big move, you have to actually turn your head to see what’s there with your own eyes.

I think that when we just barrel down that open road without looking back is when we really put ourselves in harms way. We forget that there are others who are on their own roads that might have encountered similar obstacles.

Are you calling them?

Are you answering their calls?

Regardless of where you’ve been or what you’ve done, you’re here now.

Are you making the most of it?

Comanche.jpgI told my daughter a few weeks ago something that I never heard from my own parents. We had a fight over a pair of jeans that I wanted her to get rid of. They offered up more of her than I wanted the world to see. She’s my little girl, and knowing that these jeans cast her in a particular light simply did not sit well with me.

We fought like only fathers and teenage daughters do, but in the end I told her that I could get her a new pair of pants.

I could get her a hundred new pairs of pants.

But I only get one of her.

Applying that to my brothers and sisters that have shared those desert nights with is easy. Applying that to myself is just as easy if I can stop thinking of my faults and see myself for what I’m truly worth.

I’ve got plenty of friends. I’ve got plenty of associates. But each one is different. Am I not?

The world only gets one of you.

Are you making the most of it?

Custom 3rd LAR Flag Raffle Ticket

If you're interested in this item, you are most likely a member of the pack! This flag measures 21 x 35 inches and I can add 3 lines of custom lettering! Normal price is around $175.00. I will sell a limited amount of raffle tickets. Proceeds will be going towards research and development of the Non-Profit I've been working on to help combat the stigma around Post Traumatic Stress.

$10.00

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Quest for Resiliency

 

Sadly I am here to report that we lost another brother to suicide this month. This one hit hard mostly because we never expected this to come from him. The month has been extremely trying for all of us involved but I was blessed to be in the company of 3 brilliant men as we discussed ideas to stop this madness. This was the kind of conversation that was so powerful, about 15 minutes into it; I had to start recording it. The basic summary of our conversation was about resiliency and how we can better promote it amongst our ranks.

Operation Iraqi Freedom FY-08

Now I really don’t know how to pinpoint where we’ve missed the mark in the last 17 years of war fighting, but the one thing I do know, that I don’t think anyone can deny, is that something needs to change. This war has been fought as background noise to most of the American public, but still we have came home to a much better reception than our brothers who fought in Vietnam. We have the ability to reach out to our brothers and sisters in ways that our grandparents who fought in World War II and Korea probably never imagined, but still we are killing ourselves at an astounding rate. So where is the hang up?

 

We have access to seminars and briefs at least twice a year. Most regiments have a full time civilian social worker on staff whose soul purpose is to talk to the troops about this epidemic. We have online courses that we have to take every fiscal year that are monitored by higher command. There is no denying that it’s a not a case of not knowing where to go for help. So if we have the knowledge and we have to tools, why are we not using them?

 

I think that the biggest issue I see is that we look at suicide prevention as a problem that we can address directly when it might be a side effect of an entirely different issue. From the start, young Americans are joining the military under the pretense that after the war they will be damaged. The media, government programs and even our commands are lending their hands to this debilitating habit of thought when in reality they need to be promoting something that all warrior cultures possess. Resiliency.

 

Now before anyone says that each branch of the military has a resiliency program in place, let me counter with this. They suck. The programs are monotonous, boring and usually taught by a guy in his mid-thirties in a polo shirt, slacks and brown dress shoes named Chad who has never had to stuff someone’s testicles back inside their body while waiting for Pedro to reach their position. While I am 100 percent behind teaching our troops these skills, they need to come from those that are sharing the weight, not by a bystander. Every small unit leader should be a resident expert in the art of resiliency and overcoming diversity.

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While I would like to say that I did this to my Marines and Sailors, I obviously can’t say it’s going to work every time. The Marine we lost last month was on my vehicle for a deployment that kept us in the field for months at a time. Surely we shared time together discussing our viewpoints on life and I know that we shared one specific and terrifying moment, so did I miss something? Could I have done something different? Had I understood the true weight of my command, I might have made more time, and made myself more available to these brave young men. I might have better fostered an environment of mutual respect and empathy.

 

While I know that I will never get those moments back, and I understand that it is not my fault that he is no longer with us, I do have to ask myself, how could this have been prevented? How could I have made my Marines stronger than I already did? While talking with these three fine gentlemen over tacos we came to the conclusion that the United States Military doesn’t need another resiliency program. It needs better leaders.

 

Had I been approached when I was a 27 year old Staff Sergeant by a veteran that had seen the ugly side of war and been affected by suicide, I might have put more into each and every word I told my troops. I might have made more of an emphasis to them on being able to rely on their brothers and sisters for support when they needed help. I might have been more honest about the horrors they would see and the difficulty that would come with returning to the real world after they’ve been touched with that kind of power.

 

In the next few months, I will be researching the resiliency programs already in place with each branch of service. I will be looking at how they disseminate this information amongst themselves. I will also be looking at how we can better train ourselves for the future by looking at the past. While the facets of modern warfare are fantastically grotesque, they are nowhere near as personal as the hand to hand combat fought by our ancestors. So how then did they manage to build such incredible resiliency in themselves that they could do the things they did, and see the things they saw and still function in society?

 

This is going to be an overwhelming task but one that I would not turn away from in a million years. If you have any thoughts on this topic, resources that you think might help, or if you’re name is Chad and you’re offended, please help me out. Send me your thoughts and share the post amongst your circles. The idea is that, along with outdoor therapy, I would like the non-profit to fund several trips throughout the year where veterans would go to our bases and speak with small audiences of small unit leaders. The conversations would focus on better understanding and embracing the warrior ethos and leadership principles that will keep our men and women in the fight long after they return.

 

Thank you for reading this and please subscribe to the blog to get updates on future posts.

 

 

Don’t give up. Someone is watching you!

Even though I’m the one that actively went out and aded myself to about half a dozen veteran social media groups that claim to be centered around PTSD Support and Recovery, I find myself at odds with the posts I see on a daily basis.

“I keep looking at my pistol.”

“When will the nightmares end?”

“I don’t know if I can go on.”

I see posts like these on a daily basis and while it does elicit a response from me to reach out and try to help, why does it also make me so immediately and almost blindingly angry? What is it about other people’s weaknesses that makes me so damn hostile? My counselor tells me that my internal calendar will set off an alarm on specific anniversaries but I don’t usually notice it on my own. In the latter weeks of summer I set aside some time to reflect and remember my brothers lost in Iraq but there is usually some prompting from members of the group. It’s not something that really comes up on it’s own for me.

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All that said, the last few days I’ve really had a hard time focusing on school and work. On Tuesday evening after work I found myself heading towards Cave Junction on highway 199. I was headed for Deer Creek Cemetery but I wasn’t sure what caused the sudden need to see him.

I was deployed when it happened. I had called home to my first wife and she told me that she had something horrible to tell me and asked if I would want to hear it over the phone or wait until I came home. I immediately thought that she was leaving me or something crazy like that but what she actually told me changed my life forever. My best friend growing up had taken his life on February 21, 2002. He was at a party, drugs and alcohol were involved in some degree, and he killed himself.

I have never in my life been so rocked by something like this. He was one of the biggest reasons I joined the Marines and even though he was not able to join because of a shoulder injury, he was my number one fan. Sure, we had drifted apart over the years but he was always on my mind and in my heart. We were brothers.

Years later, I had a dream. I was reunited with him in a field on a high mountain plain. When I write it down, I know exactly where we were. We had camped there when we were maybe 13 and 14 years old. Our parents were pissed that we set off on such a long trip by ourselves. For 5 days we stayed up there with only the food and water we carried in and our BB guns for protection. We sat under the stars and watched the lights of our sleepy little town go off one by one. We ate cans of bean and bacon soup, top ramen and pop tarts. We hunted birds and squirrels and explored the far side of the mountain that you don’t see from town.

In the dream I was telling him all about my life and how I was doing. I told him about my family and my children. My adventures and near misses. I invited him to come home with me so he could see for himself, but he couldn’t leave. He stood there like a statue with eyes of pity and regret and watched as I faded away back to reality. He would never see the house I bought, my cool new motorcycle or the son I named after him. He could never come home. He was gone forever.

Now I’ll admit, when I was in the grips of my alcohol addiction, I made a lot of mistakes and hurt a lot of people. There were times when I felt the world was a better place without me and I toyed with the idea of ending it all. I buried the needle on my motorcycle trying to see how fast I could go around a blind corner. I gave fate every opportunity to bring me in early, but it never happened.

What I found in the bottom of the bottle and at the end of the rope was pure desperation. Hopeless and helpless I begged, and I mean begged God for an answer. In the crappy little upstairs meeting hall of the Moose lodge in Oceanside, California I heard my fathers words over and over. “Don’t give up son. Someone is watching you.”

AJ watching Daddy

And there it is. The number one reason behind my contempt. Life is going to be hard. Life is going to offer you challenges and hardships so frequently that you’re going to feel like just giving it all up. That’s normal. That’s all a part of the grand design. But someone, somewhere, is watching you. Looking to you for guidance. For a clear path or a sign of some sort. When you throw in that towel, you’re not only robbing someone else of a brother or a sister. A father, mother, son or daughter. A best friend. You mean something to someone. Even at your worst, you’re something special to someone. When you quit, that person will never get to see your smile ever again. They will lose a part of themselves that they never wanted to give up.

I feel that society has tried very hard to paint us into a corner. To label us as broken and unforgivable. Shells of the men and women we once were when in reality we need to take a good hard look at what we’ve been through. I think that when we do that, we can find that the sum of our experiences has in fact hardened our resolve. You don’t make a blade by simply pouring steel into a mold. You apply heat and pressure to it over and over again. You beat the weakness out of it with thousands of relentless blows and then, after it’s cooled off, you do it all over again. Remember where you’ve been and what you’ve done. Remember all the times that life was against you and still you remained. You’re so much stronger than you give yourself credit for.

I guess my biggest point, and I’ve said this hundreds of times before, is simple. If you’re down and the voices in your head are telling you to quit, don’t listen to them. Pick up the phone and call someone. And if you’re phone rings in the middle of the night, answer it. Stay connected and keep moving forward. Do things that scare you. Constant improvement and competition will deliver you from the brink.

My best friend’s name was Justin. He lived at the top of B Street. A short walk from his house were the woods surrounding a small mountain that rises up on the west side of my town called Dollar Mountain. Naming my business Dollar Mountain Woodworks was my way of keeping him alive with me. My daily reminder that there are still some of us out there that need help finding their way.

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The Gift of Desperation

First let me start by saying that I’ve been there. I’ve had the thoughts and the sleepless nights, the nightmares and every thing else that comes with it. I can appreciate the heartfelt and raw honesty that comes with putting yourself out there, but how are any of us going to move forward without taking the advice of those that have been there? When I quit drinking back in 2011, I was blessed with a shoulder injury. I shit you not, I tore my shoulder out choking my chicken. Seriously, I had a rooster that had to go and while I raised him up to snap his neck, he twisted on me and that minor adjustment made me yank my right shoulder out of socket momentarily. I can’t make this up. Every doctor and specialist I saw made me retell the story like they couldn’t see it right there on the chart.

Continue reading The Gift of Desperation

The long road home…

So this is something I’ve been wanting to write about for a long time, and while I’m sure I’m going to upset a few people with this, I am excited to hear what some of you have to say about it.

I retired in June of 2016 and went to work as a white water rafting guide the next day. I had my own business to fall back on as well but as we all know, the struggle is most definitely real. I started going to school in the fall of 2016 at a local community college and that is where I first saw the image that most veterans are encouraging. What I’m talking about is the guy that everyone has seen on campus sporting his day pack he kept from supply with his t-shirt covered in veteran this and veteran that.

Continue reading The long road home…