I’ve often identified with the mythic creature, the Phoenix.
It has symbolized to me (and many others) a period of renewal after feeling like my life has burned to the ground.
Today, I got married 26 years ago…
After we split up (the final time) I got a phoenix tattoo on my stomach.
It reminds me of leaving behind a huge chapter in my life as well as my identity.
Husband, father, business owner, homeowner, fraud… (at least, so the imposter syndrome told me).
It also reminds me of starting this journey to become who I truly believe I am:
A person who’s willing to recover from trauma and rise from his ashes…
Life is fraught with painful, yet defining moments…
At the end of last August, my father killed himself.
Once again, what I thought was a carefully (actually impulsively) constructed life began to burn…
As I felt the fences I’d built around my grief begin to crumble, I came undone.
I felt numb
And a little sad.
But mostly anger – the kind you justify as self-righteous anger.
I wanted him dead.
Those were tough feelings to sit with.
I struggled to accept that because it felt wrong to feel that way.
So I tried to run from the irreconcilable feelings within me.
I began to withdraw from my supports like AA.
I started smoking cigarettes again.
When cigarettes didn’t work, I started smoking weed again.
During the two and a half months of chronic marijuana smoking, my anxiety came back with a vengeance.
And suicidal ideation followed soon thereafter…
I was fucking miserable and wanted to die.
I am grateful for my girlfriend at the time – her enduring patience and love.
She took care of me as I spiraled.
I know it was hard on her, and I’m grateful she was there when I needed her.
She was an angel while I thrashed in hell.
They say it’s darkest before the dawn…
I don’t know if that’s true or not, but before things got better, I sat in my car with two bottles of clonazepam considering which liquor store and motel I would go to to end this fucking thing.
She came out to my car as my life teetered on the scales of my will.
Although I didn’t appreciate it at the time, she yelled at me.
I think I needed that push.
After having an uncomfortable conversation with law enforcement trying to convince them I was not suicidal, I decided I needed to leave.
I won’t go into all my rationale for leaving my girlfriend because most of it was based in delusional and self-centered thinking…
I loved her and knew I needed to go….
Shortly thereafter, I found myself on the road to Phoenix, Arizona…
Into The Flames
It’s ironic that I should end up in a place called Phoenix.
I never wanted to live here.
In fact, I’ve been historically pretty judgy about this place based on the heat and political climate.
Nonetheless, moving here has been my salvation.
Since I started recovering from trauma in fellowships that specifically deal with healing childhood wounds, I’ve operated by what I call, “The Three Day, Three Hundred Mile Rule.”
That meant that I would not live within three hundred miles of my family of origin nor spend more than three days with them at a time.
Don’t get me wrong…
I love my family.
We get along great and enjoy each other’s company.
We sometimes trigger the shit out of each other.
I’ve heard someone say, “My family knows how to push my buttons because they installed them.”
So, we get along, but in small doses.
And I’ve been okay with that for years.
It’s been a system that has worked for me as a means of self-care.
However, right before my 46th birthday, I fled to Phoenix to live with my family.
And by family, I mean my mother, my brother, and his wife.
It made sense at the time, and I am very grateful for them.
We had all been through a horrible trauma (I won’t say tragedy because it was expected – and maybe that’s still some of my anger I haven’t fully let go of yet).
So my family was willing to take me in and it seemed we should tighten the ranks to support one another during this time.
That lasted for a little more than three months.
Again, I love my family… we just cannot live together.
And that’s okay.
My brother, mom, and sister-in-law have found a flow that works for them.
I, on the other hand, march to the beat of my own drummer – and sometimes our rhythms (or other such metaphors) are out of sync.
It does not mean anyone is good or bad or right or wrong…
It’s just healthier for us to live apart and visit a few times per month.
And while living with my family, I immersed myself into the local AA fellowship and dove into CrossFit.
Burn, Baby, Burn
While living with my family and reentering the recovery community, I found myself feeling very angry.
I would sit in AA meetings and judge people.
Their laughter and levity infuriated me.
I had years of sobriety and recovery behind me (10 years at one point), and the thought of humbling myself to these idiots enraged me.
My ego and defense mechanisms were running wild (still may be for that matter 😉 ).
It pissed me off so much that I had to listen to these people I thought I was so much better than in order to get sober.
So, in other words, I was right where I was supposed to be.
Most people do not come into AA on a good day nor want to be there at first.
I found myself feeling very critical of my family, too.
Everyone and everything pissed me off.
Because I know the drill, I sought out an AA sponsor, and kept coming to meetings daily.
My sponsor and I began to work the 12 Steps together, and I started to feel more a part of the group.
My sobriety started December 12th, 2021.
The day before my birthday, on December 24th, I got (what I think was) COVID. I was sicker than I remember ever being for the next two weeks.
I finally quit smoking cigarettes cold turkey on the 1st of January.
My lungs hurt so fucking much, and I knew I wanted to let that stupid habit go for obvious reasons.
I was a fucking maniac for the first few days after I quit smoking.
It was all I could do to hide in my room lest I flip the fuck out.
The energy of my rage emanated off of me in waves that warned my family to keep their distance.
I was not a fun person to be around.
Eventually, my nerves began to relax, and I was able to resume my meeting attendance and continue my path of recovery.
From The Ashes
On January 31st, I walked into the Barbell Saves Project and began my fitness journey.
The first person I met was the co-owner, Rob Best.
My brother told me about BBS, and Rob knew who I was and welcomed me immediately.
Once I started doing CrossFit classes, I found a piece of me that had been missing for years.
Part of the identity I let go in my marriage was that of a tree climber. I was an arborist who trimmed and removed trees.
I did not realize how much I missed the physicality of strenuous exercise.
CrossFit gave that back to me and with a vengeance.
I became obsessed and told people I am competing against myself and gravity.
One friend told me I am a beast.
I have an inner intensity that makes me push myself as hard as I can.
I found an outlet for my anger.
I also found a community of likeminded, recovering individuals committed to doing hard shit.
As I felt myself getting stronger, going to the BBS became a habit.
There was never the internal conflict of making myself go to the gym.
I am fortunate that it became part of my routine that I looked forward to.
I stated going right from the gym to AA meetings, still wearing my workout clothes.
Sure, people made comments, but I did not care…
I could feel myself getting healthier and happier.
Since then I’ve lost my gut and about 20 pounds…
CrossFit at the Barbell Saves Project quickly became a fundamental part of my recovery, my mental health, and my lifestyle.
I am still a little baffled at how quickly I took to it…
At the same time, I am so very grateful for the role BBS has played in my rebirth.
While under the tutelage of several coaches at the Barbell Saves Project, my commitment to improving my physical abilities increased.
However, one coach in particular recommended the book, Can’t Hurt Me, by David Goggins.
If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ve undoubtedly heard me reference this book and David Goggins before.
I do so because this book coupled with my coaches have impacted my life and served as catalysts to my transformation.
If it weren’t for them or this book, this blog would not exist.
From David Goggins, I learned to stop making fucking excuses.
When he said that no one is coming to rescue me, a switch went off in my head.
I realized that I had been feeling sorry for myself and seeking the approval and care of someone for most of my life.
My coach’s credo, “Do Hard Shit,” began to have more meaning to me.
I became sick and tired of my own fucking excuses and self-pity.
I became convinced that I can overcome my difficulties and achieve my dreams by consistently learning to push myself physically.
Pushing through the pain of sustained physical exertion is a mind game.
David Goggins instilled in me through the power of his personal stories, the belief that when I think I have nothing left to give physically, I have a much larger, untapped inner reserve to keep going.
By routinely finding my physical exhaustion point and choosing to push past it, I began to develop greater resiliency to the mental and emotional challenges in my life.
I began to overcome the effects of trauma, anxiety, and depression.
I began to believe in myself like I had never been able to before.
I began to push past the limiting beliefs that cycle through my mind whispered in my dad’s voice.
I found a way to break free from feeling like a victim.
I found the courage to face all that life has to throw at me.
I welcome the challenges and especially the pain.
Yes, if you’ve been reading my posts as of late, I have been struggling.
However, the difference today is I keep fucking moving.
My mental and emotional setbacks are short-lived.
I see the struggle as a fundamental part of my development.
I am continuing to learn and grow.
Today, I am shaking off the ashes of my old life and taking flight in a wave of flames.
Today, I rise!
Sooner or later, I’ll start directing some life-changing advice your way again…
But I think some of the greatest lessons come through listening to others’ stories.
In the book, The Spirituality of Imperfection, I’ve read that our greatest asset is our story.
I get so much more out of hearing what someone else has been through, the mistakes they made, what they learned, and how they persevered than having someone tell me what to do.
Yes, sometimes we need to be told what to do…
And in that vein… I am telling you to find yourself in my story.
Then, in turn, tell your story.
The first challenge in David Goggin’s book is to write out your story.
This is the first challenge for a reason, and it’s a very powerful one.
I have sifted through the ashes of my story several times.
The value in telling your story is that you begin to own that shit!
Break free from the denial of your past by putting it on paper.
Telling your story will release it’s crippling hold on you.
Then, become the author of your new story!
Rewrite who you are!
Find the path where you crashed and burned and then found purpose again.
Lean into your breaking points and find the value of losing what you held on to so tightly.
There is no wasted effort or experience.
Everything you’ve been through has contributed to making you who you are today.
And you are a motherfucking survivor!
Use your story to empower yourself and others.
Your story is your gift.
Give the fucker away.
Lead by example…
And you, like me, shall rise!
Be well 🙂
Thank you for reading another installment of thriving beyond trauma. Please like, comment, follow, and reach out. I offer Life Coaching services. If you are feeling sick and tired of feeling sick and tired, let’s chat and get you on track!
You can also check out my weekly podcast found on all major platforms. Here’s a link to the latest episode found on Spotify as well as another podcast I was featured in.