some old writing

Just stum­bled on this, wish I’d kept writ­ing more.  Some fun­ny stuff, all of it still pret­ty much true.  Like you guys, I’m a lit­tle old­er and wis­er now. Enjoy.
NFH

There are three things that let you know you are tru­ly alive.  The open­ing shock of a para­chute, the sound of a six­ty fir­ing, and that pri­mal thrill of cold water immer­sion.  Those are short, sharp expe­ri­ences.  It is known only to you whether you enjoy each, or any, of those.  For those of us that have, this book was written.

I left those expe­ri­ences on Sep­tem­ber 13th of 2000.  On that day I walked off the SEAL Team 5 quar­ter­deck and into the unknown of the civil­ian world.  I had served as a peace­time SEAL, aping the behav­ior of more expe­ri­enced frog­men; fight­ing in bars, pulling the dumb stunts, rip­ping dares out of mouths and shred­ding them with the laugh­ter that comes from igno­rant cock­i­ness.  When I walked off that quar­ter­deck there was no doubt in my mind that I would be a suc­cess at any­thing and every­thing I tried.  Ten years lat­er, I have learned new mean­ings of suc­cess, I have plumbed depths of despair I did­n’t know exist­ed, and real­ized that there is no lim­it to the things that let you know you are tru­ly alive.

Indi­anapo­lis, Octo­ber 2001.
I stared down the bar­rel of my .45.  Safe­ty off.  Fin­ger on the trig­ger.  I had hit my low point, and it had only tak­en four­teen months.  I did­n’t know what I want­ed to do.  I thought I had hit the high point of life as a 23 year old SEAL.  I had tak­en the tough­est the U.S. mil­i­tary could dish out, and I had laughed.  I had out run, out swam, out shot, and out thought almost every per­son I had come up against.  I had com­pet­ed on a world stage and roared in exhil­a­ra­tion while pass­ing com­peti­tors.  I had thought that the hard­est bound­aries where those of the phys­i­cal world, and I had con­quered them.  I had so much to learn.

I start­ed out like most ex-mil­i­tary and took a vaca­tion; Aus­tralia for two months.  Liv­ing in hos­tels, spend­ing my sav­ings, as care­free and unat­tached as it is pos­si­ble to get.  Mov­ing from place to place, shak­ing off a sched­ule that had been with me for 5 years.  Dra­mat­ic changes were seen in those first few months, break­ing old rules that no longer applied, flaunt­ing the free­dom that civil­ian soci­ety takes for grant­ed, answer­ing to no pay grade above my own.  10 years lat­er I’m still an ear­ly ris­er, still work­ing out every day, still scan­ning the streets, still check­ing rear secu­ri­ty.  10 years lat­er I am more deeply changed than I or any of my clos­est friends would have thought possible.

I returned from Aus­tralia ready for the next great adven­ture.  For me, it was a sail­ing trip.  Five and a half months, a 22 foot boat, 6,000 miles of open ocean.  I sailed naked, rev­el­ing in my free­dom.  I sat with port cap­tains, ate fish with locals, drank in for­eign bars, surfed emp­ty spots, and swam with dol­phins.  I thought I was as far away from the Navy as I could be, and I was, for that time.  I still woke up ear­ly, still stood watch­es, still adven­tured in the phys­i­cal realm.  I felt alive dur­ing the knock­downs, when the spread­ers kissed the wave tops and we scram­bled to the high side to right the boat.  When the cold water blast­ed across my face on the night watch with the wind up and the spin­naker bil­low­ing in front, drag­ging us to the out­side edge of con­trol over the crest of a wave and into the next trough, I remem­bered the three things that let you know you’re tru­ly alive, and I laughed to be living.

Not real­iz­ing yet that there are no goals that give ever-last­ing sat­is­fac­tion, and trained to believe that there were, I raced from one goal to the next.  From port to port, from record day dis­tance to record time away from land, I pushed myself towards goals, each one a paint­ing of life.  I thought I could live in those paint­ings.  I thought at that point that I knew what I was doing, that I knew where I was going, that I had it planned out.  I was going to Stan­ford, I was going to swim on their team, then on to the Olympics.  I would find a wife, find enough mon­ey to pay for every­thing and any­thing I want­ed, start a fam­i­ly, and trav­el around the world.  I would look like a vagabond and be rich as a king.  I would trav­el rough for months, then lounge in lux­u­ry recu­per­at­ing.  I would work for the CIA on the side, and tell no one.  Then I would go back to my wife and fam­i­ly and per­fect house and per­fect life and no one would know what I had done but me, and it would be enough.  But it nev­er happened.

I sold the boat in Jamaica, and after 10 days of par­tak­ing of all the plea­sures that coun­try offers, I was back to the U.S. to meet my future wife.  I still had the SEAL per­sona, it was still how I defined myself.  I real­ize now, at almost 30, that being a SEAL will always have a place in my def­i­n­i­tion of self that is out of pro­por­tion to the amount of time I spent doing it.  Per­haps that is because I was impres­sion­able.  Per­haps it was because the expe­ri­ences were so intense.  Maybe it is because I haven’t found a core def­i­n­i­tion I like more.  It was late sum­mer 2001, and when I moved into a house my father owned in Indi­anapo­lis, I had my life plot­ted out.  Almost com­plete­ly wrong, but that’s what life, and explo­ration, and new expe­ri­ences are all about.

I start­ed with a map in my head of where I want­ed to go and what I want­ed to do.  By the time I stopped to check where I was 5 min­utes down the trail, I was irrev­o­ca­bly off course.  It hap­pened in both lit­tle and big steps.  The first few are lit­tle; I got out and smoked a joint; hey, look at me, I’m not in the Navy any­more, I can do any­thing.  Being high was fun, there’s a rea­son so many peo­ple like it.  But I could­n’t keep it up.  Every time I got high I’d get about an hour into it and start think­ing about all the pro­duc­tive things I should have been doing.  So I ping-ponged to the ultra-healthy side, and tried a raw food diet because, hell, it’s some­thing that most peo­ple can’t do, and I knew I could do any­thing.  I was still defin­ing who I was by what I could do that oth­ers could­n’t, a clas­sic SEAL trait.  After a week of raw food, car­rot and gar­lic juice, and shots of wheat­grass I real­ized that liv­ing on raw food is unusu­al for a rea­son, but I can do it if I have to.  Still, there was some­thing to it, so I kept explor­ing.  By now I was so far off my orig­i­nal map that I could­n’t even begin to get a bear­ing on where I had been, so I start­ed draw­ing a new map for myself.

I did­n’t know it, but draw­ing and redraw­ing your own maps is a dis­ori­ent­ing process.  After I let go of the old one, I thought it would be easy and fun to write a new one.  Bits of it are, but there are some parts that give you real insight on just how easy the “hard” train­ing was.  I had so many more choic­es the sec­ond time that they occa­sion­al­ly over­whelmed me.  I looked for new friends and they con­stant­ly let me down as I held them to a stan­dard they could­n’t, would­n’t, and did­n’t want to under­stand.  I reached out to old friends, and they helped, but I was explor­ing ter­ri­to­ry that was years ahead of them, and I could­n’t make them under­stand what the hell I was going through.  What I was doing was what we’d all talked about doing, and how could it be any­thing but fun?  This isn’t to say that my bud­dies from the Teams weren’t help­ful, they saved my life.  Of course, they did­n’t know they’d done it, and they did­n’t know how, and they prob­a­bly did­n’t mean to.

Search­ing for a new iden­ti­ty was not only not on their map, it was­n’t on their radar.  Once a SEAL always a SEAL.  Except when I was work­ing for min­i­mum wage teach­ing lit­tle kids how to swim.  Then you’re just that weird guy with a bunch of tat­toos and more foul lan­guage than most moth­ers want to hear.  Let me give you a hot tip; no moth­er likes to hear their kid being told to “put the fuck out” as

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