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.
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