Back to School

This week, my kids, like others all around the country, started back to school. Classes officially started this week, but the kids had already gone back in some respect. Cross country practice, band practice/band camp, and swim practice. A junior, a sophomore, and twin freshman, all at the same school and all active in one thing or another. That’s only four of six. The older two have already moved out to conquer the world. And so far, they seem to be doing that. At one time, not long ago, including the oldest at college, the six kids were at five different schools. It’s nice to have the last four all at the same place for the next couple of years.

Every year about this time it’s a great time for students to start anew. Provided they take advantage of it. They really don’t know how good they have it. I didn’t know back then either. As parents, we can only say so much to implore them to make the most of this time of in their lives. Free rent, free food, little or no bills. They have no idea what’s in store for them later in life. I can say with certainly that being an adult is overrated. They won’t know that for years to come. But for now, they only have to jump through the hoops of high school and get passing grades.

I’m sure we’ve all, at one time or another, wished we could go back to those carefree years. But only with the caveat of knowing what we know now. I’m pretty sure teenagers would disagree that they are in the carefree years, but we, as adults, know better. How different would things be if we possessed all the knowledge we have now and were able to go back to our high school years? We would all be rich and famous, successful and happy. In theory. But that’s not how it works. And probably for the better.

I am not rich or famous. I’m not successful. I do have happiness, but sometimes it’s overshadowed by the PTSD, depression, anxiety, hypervigilance, and life. Even so, I think I would miss out on too much if I went back and changed anything. All of my life experiences make me who I am today. If I changed one detail, I probably would not be who I am, I would be a different version of me. And who’s to say that person would be better or better off? As many hard knocks as I’ve had (most of which were brought on myself), how do I know this is the worst version of who I could have been? Everything has a trade-off.

I went to war, that changed me. I failed in business, that cost me. I’ve made a million bad decisions to become the person I am today, good or bad. And even though I struggle through life sometimes, as I wrote about last week, I don’t want to be anyone else except who I am right now. I would choose to not go back in time with all I have learned up to this point. Too much would be at risk.

To my children, make this your best school year yet. Put some effort into your studies. Go the extra mile in the sports you have chosen to participate in. Shine bright in the band. And above all, enjoy this time in your lives. You will never get this moment back. And the moments in the past cannot be changed. Period. Love y’all bunches. -Dad.

Thanks for reading this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave

Advertisements

Lessons Learned

When I was a young teenager, probably 13 or 14 years old, I had a dog that was a master at climbing the fence and escaping the back yard to roam the neighborhood. Eventually, my dad installed an electric fence kit to the top of the back-yard fence in hopes of curbing the dog’s desire to be free and explore. It should have only taken one jolt from the fence, maybe two, for the dog to no longer try to escape. That beagle sure could climb a fence. I’ve seen dogs that could jump a fence, but that was the only dog I ever saw that could climb one that way.

I was curious about the electric fence. I tapped it with my finger. Nothing. I touched it for a second. Still nothing. I decided to grab hold of it. Not the brightest thing I ever did in my life, but still not even close the dumbest thing I’ve ever done. I was “shocked” to learn that the fence worked when I grasped it fully in my hand. It was slightly painful, but a life lesson that I still remember to this day. I won’t be testing anymore electric fences. No need, I satisfied my curiosity and fully understand how they work.

Most of the things we learn in life are directly related to the decisions we make, whether those be good decisions or bad ones. Ever since my children were little, I liked letting them make their own decisions about things when they could. When my two oldest were in pre-school, I would let them choose what to wear each day. Living in Florida, they usually chose shorts and short-sleeve shirts. One morning I told them a cold front was coming through and they should take a jacket. Neither wanted to take a jacket, so I took them to school with only what they had picked out to wear.

By noon that day, the temperature had dropped to a “frigid” 40 degrees. When I picked them up from pre-school, I heard one teacher comment that I should check the weather and dress them accordingly because my children were cold. Really? They weren’t going to die from hypothermia in 40-degree weather on the walk from the classroom to my car. I promise. And they both learned a valuable lesson that day, that sometimes, dad knows what he’s talking about. On the flip-side, on a trip to Colorado in January years ago with the kids, I made sure they had more than enough warm clothes. The trick is to know when to let them decide and when to plan for them. I don’t care what that one teacher thought, I was teaching my young children by giving them all the information available and letting them make the final decision. I think using that philosophy has more than paid off with them.

But what about the times when a decision is made without any idea of what all could possibly happen? And what if a decision is made with the best of intentions, but it turns out to be a disaster? That’s a great ethical question that has been debated for centuries. I don’t have the answer to it, in case you were wondering. During an army reserve weekend years ago, a fellow Service Member found a puppy. There was no collar with identification on the dog. And after asking around, he believed it to be a stray or an abandoned pet. He went to the store and bought a dog bowl, some dog food, and a leash. He was going to give the puppy a home. Since it was a couple hours before quitting time, he put the puppy in the bed of his truck with food and water, and put a collar and leash on the dog and tied it to the inside of the bed of his truck. The puppy climbed up on the wheel well and hanged himself trying to get out of the truck. The man’s intentions were pure gold, but the outcome was tragic.

In 2007, I decided to go back in to military service in the army reserves. I wanted to serve my country again and take care of Soldiers as a chaplain assistant. Although my life does not reflect it now, it was a matter I prayed about and truly believed it was something God wanted me to do, so, I rejoined. I still believe that. I volunteered to go Iraq in 2007. Then, I volunteered to go Afghanistan in 2013. My intentions were admirable, but the outcome of my decision cost me my mental health, my physical health, my marriage, relationships, a business, my favorite job I ever had, and who knows what else. I basically lost Me, the Me I used to know, the Me I used to be. I lost my identity. I had even lost my will to live at one point.

There have been times when I would figuratively touch the electric fence just to see what would happened. There were times when I learned from my decisions like my young children did from theirs, in learning that sometimes we should heed the advice or warnings of others. And there was a time when I was like the puppy, trying to escape, even though I didn’t know it would kill me.

All the decisions I’ve made in my life make me who I am today. Same goes for you, too, by the way. I’m grateful and lucky that to have survived some of my decisions. And even knowing what I know today, I would still rejoin the military and serve again. There are definitely some things I would do differently, but I know for certain I made the right decision to rejoin the army reserves. I don’t understand some of the consequences I’ve had to endure since I believe that decision was made with the best of intentions. And I don’t care to debate it or dig into the philosophical principles of whether or not it was the right decision based on the outcome. I’m moving forward with life.

Thank you for reading Story of My Life this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave

Other related posts you might like:

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/02/13/the-irony-of-life/

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/08/06/suicide-intervention/

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/08/20/the-storm/

Mediocre Determination

I was on the wrestling team in high school. I did well. My junior and senior years I won the Regional Championship in my weight class. I had a natural talent on the mat. I also had a great coach. He was a tough S.O.B., but to this day, I still carry some of what I learned from him all those years ago. In the state tournament my senior year, I lost in the second round by one point in overtime to the eventual State Champion in my weight class. It was a hard loss. I still carry that, too.

This week I attended two sporting events that my kids participate in. Middle school tennis and track. My twin girls are each a student athlete, one in each of those sports this season. I was watching a boy’s tennis match after my daughter finished her singles match. One of the young men on the court was hustling, running, playing his heart out to make it a competitive match. The other young man, who was a little further along in his adolescence, put in far less effort and still won the match 6-5. It was a great match. The young man that lost probably played one of his best matches ever, but still fell short. As soon as he got off the court, I heard him ask the coach if he could be in the doubles match against the opponent that just bested him. He was not going to give up, even though his chances of winning were not good. I like that kid. He’s not afraid of a challenge, and not afraid to fail.

Isn’t it challenges and failures that make us better? Or at least strive to be better? Granted, you must have the desire to put in the work to get better since natural talent can only carry one so far. Of course, there are exceptions, but for the most part, natural talent without hard work to elevate and hone those talents usually leads to mediocrity. Did you know that Michael Jordan was told his sophomore year in high school by the coach that he wasn’t good enough to be on the varsity basketball team? He failed to make the varsity team. He didn’t quit, he played junior varsity that year, worked hard, and ended up becoming, arguably, the best basketball player of my generation. Failing may have been the best thing that ever happened to him in high school. It sparked a desire to succeed. And that, he did.

michael-jordan-quotes

Sometimes I think back to the State Tournament my senior year and wonder if 10 minutes of extra practice or work a day would have made a difference. I don’t dwell on it, it’s more of a nostalgic memory, remembering good times. It was a terrific match. It was the best I ever wrestled, and I fell short. I think most of us in life have had that experience. Here’s why that loss was tough: There wasn’t a next match for me in the tournament. I was a senior and done with my wrestling career. But the kid that lost the tennis match has many games left in him. He may not have the success that Michael Jordan had, but he has the determination to keep trying.

I miss that determination in my life. I lost it in 2015 and I almost died because of it. Maybe I lost my determination before then and was just trying to survive on my life’s natural talent, whatever that is, and it finally took its toll on me. I got tired and gave up. But I’ve learned some things. There is a time and place to have the determination of the young man that lost his tennis match. There’s a time to be mediocre and survive the storm, even taking a couple steps back. And there’s a time to simply pace yourself while moving forward, with no need to be a hero and no need to keep running into the brick wall at full speed. That’s where I’m at in life right now. And I’m OK with it. I’m moving forward. I’m taking it at my own pace. And I’m going to survive.

Gone are the days that I need to go full throttle with everything in life. I’m done running into walls just to prove I can. I already know I can get back up and do it again if I wanted to. No need to keep proving it. I’m content with being mediocre because I’m still moving forward. And also because I have such wonderful memories of all the times I ran into those walls and got back up and succeeded. And I mean that. I’ve learned a lot from my challenges and failures, and those subsequent victories. Victory after failure is sweet. I hope that young man on the tennis court experiences that.

Thanks for reading Story of My Life this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave

Other posts you might like:

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/08/20/the-storm/

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/03/12/passing-the-torch/

https://storyofmylife.blog/2013/01/10/what-motivates-you/

 

Don’t Work Too Hard

My brain gets stuck on things sometimes. Some of those things don’t make any sense at all to be obsessing over. But I do it anyway. And in a week where nothing came to me for my blog, I’ll write about what’s been stuck in my brain. I have nothing profound to offer in this, but at the very least, this will be a glimpse into what goes on in my head occasionally. So, if you see me deep in thought and I look like I’m pondering some important life-changing knowledge, I might only be contemplating some trivial nonsense that popped into my thoughts and is driving me nuts. Like this….

I’ve always wondered about the phrase “Don’t work too hard.” What does it mean? Be lazy? Slack off? Don’t give your full effort? I’ve always answered that statement by responding with, “Too late.” In school, our teachers always encouraged us to study hard. In sports, our coaches implored us to play or run hard. When mowing the grass as a teenager, my dad would tell me to do a good job, or I’d have to do it again. So, why then, when we get to adulthood do we tell each other “Don’t work too hard”? Isn’t that a contradiction of everything we were taught growing up?

But I’ve been thinking about this lately because someone at work recently told me “Don’t work too hard” as they were leaving for the day. And it’s been stuck in my head ever since. I know this topic for my blog might be a little different or weird compared to most of my other posts, but that’s how my brain works. Or, in some cases, doesn’t work. It’s just a corny, cliché phrase, something to say that might be funny in an ironic way. But for some reason, my brain is fixated on it.

I have worked hard in my life at every job I’ve ever had, at least in my adult life. I pride myself on being a hard worker. I also pride myself on being a smart worker, efficient and productive. Work smart, not hard, right? Either way, I earn my pay, that’s for sure. But then I think about some of my Army Reserve weekends and wonder if I do always earn my pay. There have been a few times that I was amazed we even got paid for some of the unproductive weekends I’ve been part of at various units. In fairness, some of the boring weekends are a result of budget cuts after the wars “ended” and the Reserves was again put at the end of the money train.

And then I thought, I shouldn’t feel bad about getting paid for not doing much once in a while on my Army Reserve weekends. I’ve been on two deployments, one to Iraq and one to Afghanistan, where I earned my pay ten times over. No overtime, no bonuses. Just work, every day. Long days. Hard days. Every day. I’m not complaining. I did sign up for that, and I wanted to be there. I volunteered for both of my deployments and I would go back right now and do it all again, the same hours for the same pay. This is simply a comment on how things balance out sometimes. And I don’t in the least feel bad about it.

I’ve worked with people that have taken “Don’t work too hard” seriously. It’s bothersome to me. And I’ve seen road crews where one guy is working and four others are standing around not working too hard. I’ve been in the Veterans Affairs system where it seems like only a few of the people I’ve dealt with even work at all, and even fewer work hard. Maybe this is the part where it’s balancing out for them. Maybe they already met their quota for hard work. I guess I can relate to that on some level, considering some of my Army Reserve weekends.

So, if you can get away with it once in a while, “Don’t work too hard.” But I don’t recommend that being your lifestyle or motto to live by. And I’m not sure what I accomplished with hashing this out here as opposed to in my head, aside from trying to stay disciplined to post every week. In any event, thanks for reading. I’ll do better next week. Good day, God bless.

Dave

Mission Accomplished

Last month I wrote about getting back in the saddle with conducting suicide awareness training with the army reserves.  https://storyofmylife.blog/2017/01/14/not-done-yet/     Last Saturday was my first time leading that training since before my failed suicide attempt in August 2015. I think, overall, it went fairly well. I was definitely a little rusty, but I’m probably the only one that noticed. My presentation, to me, was below standard, but when I conduct suicide training, I set a very high standard for myself.

My first line leader at my battalion tasked me with facilitating the mandatory suicide awareness training for one of my unit’s detachments. Friday I drove to the city where the detachment is located, made sure I knew where the building was located, and then checked into a hotel. I then went over the presentation in my mind. Then over it again. And again. Again. I slept horribly Friday night, but woke up an hour before my alarm Saturday morning so I stayed awake. My mind was racing. If you read Not Done Yet from last month, you can see the anxiety I was having leading up to this weekend.

It wasn’t decided until a week before that I would be going to this detachment, as opposed to our other detachment. That really didn’t add very much stress to me, it doesn’t matter to me where I conduct the training. Send me, I’ll go. But right before I left town to make my trip to the detachment, I found out my battalion commander would also be visiting that detachment the same weekend. That, for some reason, added pressure and anxiety to my view of the mission. I was unsure how I would I do my first time back in leading suicide awareness training and I did not want to crash and burn in front of my commander.

I was originally scheduled to give my class in the morning. But because sometimes things run long or events on the training schedule get swapped, I was pushed back to after lunch. That also added to my anxiety, if only because I was prepared to go but got pushed back. I wanted to do it and get over with. The longer I thought about it, the harder it was for me focus. I didn’t even enjoy my lunch because I was completely absorbed with the class I was to present and whether I was going to be able to accomplish it without losing my mind or breaking down emotionally. I know, I was overthinking it.

When I started the class, I was scared to death. Not of speaking in front of a group, I actually enjoy doing that. But I was uneasy with the subject matter and how I was going to respond to talking about suicide intervention and getting a Soldier or someone else help that needs it. I felt confident, but I had no idea if I were really going to be able to get through it. But I did. And I don’t think anyone could tell I was terrified of what was going on in my mind. I think I made some progress with myself.

Saturday evening I went back to my hotel. My mind had yet to slow down. It was like watching a video on an old VCR and hitting fast forward while a movie was playing. The stressful part had passed, I thought, but I was still feeling it. I laid down before 10pm, but it was after 1am before I fell asleep. I could not shut off my brain. I had to relive it all in my mind everything. The time leading up to my suicide attempt, the feelings I experienced at the time, the aftermath, the recovery process, my time in the hospital, a near relapse 11 months after my original attempt, and where I am now. Overwhelming. My little brain was having trouble processing it all. And that affected me physically, by not being able to fall asleep.

I know there will be many times to come that my brain has no idea how to deal with something. I know I will lose sleep from time to time overthinking things. But I am handling the consequences of being overwhelmed much better than I have previously. And knowing how my brain and my body deal with these matters and letting the process run its course will relieve some anxiety, I think. Or I hope. I don’t know. But I think if I know what’s coming it will make it easier.

I still have no idea where I am with my army reserve career. I don’t know if I’m coming or going, staying in or getting out. And to be honest, the uncertainty is annoying. It is very hard to find motivation when I feel like I am trapped in a broken system. I won’t get into the army process and how broken it is when dealing with a Soldier in my predicament. But I will say that sometimes it’s hard to tell which is more frustrating, the VA or the army. I just want to know if I’m going to remain in the reserves or if I’m done. Either way, I’m happy with and proud of my career.

We’ll have to wait and see what the future holds. And despite the present being unclear on the issue of my army reserve career, I’m happy to be in the present. It’s better than where I was 18 months ago. Thanks for reading this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave