Last week, after a good day of splitting firewood with my family, we gathered around our table to talk. We looked at each other and went to the task of digging into what really happened to all of us in the green and very saturated mountains of Vermont.
All through the process of recording the journey of hope and healing, my family and I have committed to one another that nothing less than total honesty with each other and ourselves is what will guide this journey to the place that we all seek…inner peace.
There were several moments of the typical surface conversation that breaks the ice… and then the real issue at hand jumped right into my face. The truth is that I was ready to quit the trail all together. I hated the mud, I hated the rain, and I hated the incessant black flies. But, much more than those physical difficulties was weighing me down as I traveled to a familiar dark place in my heart and mind.
I have given everything possible to my family for 18 plus years, and I have (at times, and varying degrees) grown tired in the sacrifice of it all (I mean, who likes paying bills???). However, there is immense personal satisfaction in my role as a husband and father, even in the rougher days…and I love my role as a provider, leader, and encouraging friend. I have never felt cheated in giving to any of them (It is who I am at the core level).
But currently, I am in uncharted waters, and I now have a front row seat watching my two older sons ready themselves to go into bright and challenging futures, without my wife and I…and selfishly, I feel profoundly cheated. I don’t feel that I have had proper time to be involved with how they have come to who they are today. My wife has stepped up to the plate in a way that only other single mothers might be able to understand.
These strong and powerful feelings are all new territory for me now that I am not surrounded and inundated with a ravenous and never satisfied military career and lifestyle. The consistent training and mission planning for the never ending pursuit of radical and evil groups in our world was my personal identity for most of the waking hours in my days…and I lost myself in all of it.
Now, the real me and how I actually feel about a myriad of issues are flooding my inner head space. Since my retirement in February the only interaction that I have with the threat of terrorism is how it will effect my mood and thoughts after I read an article or see a news piece that updates me on the latest happenings that an extremist group has acted upon.
It used to be so effortless and easy to push aside the sad realities that have always been right under my nose. Some days ago on the AT in middle Vermont there were a host of thoughts and ideas that started racing into my mind…and I was spiraling out of control mentally and emotionally. I was employing every tactic that I have learned over the last few years in how to ground myself and not loose control, but I failed to do so.
The majority of my personal years of youth and precious time with my own sons was voluntarily sacrificed for the causes and purposes of a nation that my family and I have served. The weight and full realization of this truth hurts (right now) beyond words as I see them get ready to go. When I concentrate on these thoughts and feelings I turn very dark and very selfish. I’m not the only one that has been through this roller coaster of feeling, being so proud, and yet hurting so badly all in the same moment.
As we sat around the table having the talk, one of my young men hit me with a healthy dose of reality about how I typically react when I start to be overwhelmed with this kind of pain and lack of control that is often so very close to me in my heart and soul these days. He looked me dead in the eyes and said “Dad you turn into a total asshole…you have dropped that ball big time, and you have for a very long time”
Those hot words went right to the core of myself…because I know that it’s true. I know that he is right, and his words take me back to many years ago, as I would think and wish about having all the time with my kids that “regular people” take for granted. This is where a part of my angry and bitter self started to develop…and my family are the ones feeling the effects.
Well, here I am in the new reality of finally having time with my family…real amounts of time. The AT is a once in a lifetime chance and experience that is pushing and challenging all of us in so many differing ways. For most of us, the physical nature of the trail isn’t high on the list of challenges. The challenges that we are facing are deeply rooted in our hearts and minds, and when the conditions are right, we display the reality of these challenges on our selves with intense emotions, tones, and body language. We have displayed these things onto and into one another for some time…and this kind of thing has real consequences in a team, in a family.
At the end of our talk the other day, we all decided in unanimous fashion that we are committed to each other more deeply than ever before, and that the trail has been the fashioning tool and catalyst that has been used in the heating, cleansing, shaping, and forming of a people and family that we are needing to be…for other hurting families, for each other, and for a hurting world.
The experiences that the Appalachian Trail provided has proven to me that recovering from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), Post Traumatic Stress (PTS), and Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) is a life long choice. A choice to fight what many have looked at as an impossible task. I had once thought that my heart was empty and damaged for life…and that is simply not true.
I have a full heart, and have been shown that the rest of my days are not going to be defined by a time in my life that was marked with hardships and sorrows. I am going far not fast with the ones that matter…the ones I truly love more than ever before