Last night I was stressed beyond all belief. I stared at the ceiling with a heavy feeling in my chest as if the world were taking its hands and pushing them right down on top of me. (Read more below).
I tossed and turned and did everything I could do to get the negative thoughts out of my head.
"You're going to fail."
"You have no business running this company."
"You were a shitty Marine and now you're an even shittier civilian."
Then I tried thinking about all the things I had to be grateful for:
- the fact that I used to be homeless and now I live in a house.
- the fact that I have an amazing girlfriend who loves me and has so much faith in me.
But then it started again:
"You'll be back in the car before you know it."
"She won't love you when she finds out who you really are."
"Remember Captain Letendre and Corporal Pierson? How they died while you were working on your shitty college degree? You don't deserve shit. You better start planning for a long hot summer because your bed is gonna be in the back of that Honda Civic if you're lucky enough to afford the payments."
There is no enemy in the world greater than ourselves . . .
You see, the thing is, I know that this is me just screwing with myself. I know that the Marines I served with, both living and dead, would want me to live the best civilian life I can live.
But that doesn't stop the negative thoughts from coming in. That doesn't stop that demon in my head from ripping my intestines out and holding them in front of my face. That doesn't stop me from seeing nothing but my greatest enemy when I stare in the mirror at myself.
And the truth is that things have actually been really good in my life. Warrior Soul is growing as a brand and we are about to expand from just selling clothing to another education company that teaches veterans and others about how to start online businesses. I know we are going to help a lot of people.
My relationship with my girlfriend is absolutely amazing, and she's truly my best friend. The love I feel from her fuels me through my day, and whenever I see her my heart skips a beat in a way that I hadn't felt since I was a kid . . . and this is after being together for three years.
Fitness wise, I'm in as good of shape as I was when I was a 19 year old Marine, but almost better in that I'm not smoking a half a pack of cigarettes and dipping a can and a half of Copenhagen a day.
So what's the problem?
Everything I just said is the problem. Life is good and I don't feel like I deserve an ounce of it.
That demon in my head that tortures me each night is the part of me that doesn't want to change. It's scared of the work I need to do in order to rise to my new mission in life. I've backed it into a corner, and it is fighting back with everything it has.
And here is the hardest part about it - I can't kill it. It's not that I don't want to. I can't kill it because it's a part of me. It will always be there, in the background, waiting for it's moment to pounce and take over. It will try to convince me that its gone so that I leave it alone and it can secretly grow stronger by feeding off of the insecurities that I try to push out of my mind. It will only reveal itself to me again when I allow self-doubt to creep into my mind again.
Then it will be standing there, over my bed while I try to sleep or in the mirror while I'm shaving, sharpening it's claws and showing its fangs, and that's when I know that it's time to do battle with this demon once again.
The Journey to the Battle
The truth is that even though I give advice to veterans and many other people daily on how to fight their own battles, I am currently still very much in this fight myself.
And from time to time, I need to follow my own advice. So while I am writing this for you, I am also writing it for myself.
The hardest part about this fight is that the demon is a master of guerrilla warfare. It attacks when you are least ready, and when you retaliate, it disappears into the dark corners of your mind leaving you wrestling with yourself in a tangled mess on the floor.
In order to fight it, you have to venture into the darkness and seek out its lair.
This is the scary part because it forces you to see where the demon actually comes from - inside your own brain.
And so, every morning when I wake up, before I start my work, I make it a practice to meditate. This isn't some spiritual practice. There will be no incense burning while sitting in a lotus position. There will only be me working to clear my own mind of everything else so that the demon can reveal itself.
Much like a combat patrol, I need to move stealthily within my conscious. Any outside thought can push the demon further into hiding or cause it to send a negative thought into my head that will completely ruin the practice.
To steady my concentration, I use a binaural beats application on my phone. This plays a gentle tone into my hear through my headphones, blocking outside noise and stimulating brain waves that will help to clear my thoughts.
Additionally, I wear a black mask over my eyes to block any visual stimulation and dull my senses.
I lie back in a comfortable and supported position so that no stress on my body will interrupt my focus, and I sit there for twenty minutes until a timer goes off. Then I take the mask off to reacquaint myself with my surroundings for five minutes and I pull out my journal to write with a clear mind.
It is in my writing that I see the demon for what it is: my own fear. It is that part of me that does not want to change. It's the part of me that's scared of the work I need to do to move my life forward. It's the part of me that's comfortable in mediocrity, and its negativity is just a tool it uses to pull me back to my baseline.
How Do We Fight It?
There is only one way to fight negativity in our lives and that is to realize where it comes from.
It's enormously tempting to think that it comes from the world around us because this takes it out from under our own control and alleviates us from our responsibility in fighting it. It wants you to blame everyone else but yourself because that's where it hides.
The stoic philosopher Epictitus said, "it is not what happens to you but how you react to it that matters."
Essentially, if you can control your reactions and tame your thoughts, you can turn any situation to your advantage.
But first you have to admit to yourself that you're having these thoughts. You have to realize that something in you is creating the negativity because, otherwise, it will create the illusion that it is some other force beyond your control.
You Are Not The Enemy
Part of admitting to you being the source of your own negativity is in admitting to yourself that it's ok that you're having these thoughts. They are part of you and your personality.
This doesn't mean that you are weak, it means that you're a human being and you are having thoughts that are common to many other people.
You are no less deserving of success because you have a negative thought in your brain. You just have to realize that it is there and that it's holding you back.
You also have to realize, as I have, that you can't kill it and that it is not going to disappear. The darkness is part of you and all you can do is become more aware of it and realize how its affecting you for good and for bad.
Understand that the darkness does have its place. It is there as a reminder to you that above anyone else on this planet, you need to know and understand yourself if you are going to succeed. It is what will get you to meditate in the morning, what will get you to work out to become stronger, and when you think you are pushing yourself to your limit, it will remind you to push harder or it will catch you.
The problem comes when we lie to ourselves and try to deny the demon's existence. This normally happens when we make an attempt to improve our lives or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, try to numb our senses with drugs and alcohol. When we aren't looking it creeps out of the back corners of our minds and begins to take over.
To fight it, you have to know that it's there, and you have to be ok with it being there. When you feel it, you have to face it, and when you face it and realize it's a part of you, you'll understand that you can control it and tame it for your purposes.
My main message in this blog is this: know yourself above all else. Put the work in to face your negative thoughts and reveal them for what they truly are: products of your own mind. That doesn't mean you're crazy. It means, like most people, you are your own worse enemy.
And commit yourself to putting the work in. Like anything else, beating your negative thoughts will take effort. I meditate, and I think its useful. Your meditation might be something different: a long run, writing, or a combination of things.
So I am making a commitment here and now. I am going to meditate every day for the next 30 days, and I'm going to follow that up with journaling. Each day, I'm going to talk about what I wrote in my journal on Snapchat (WarriorSoulGear). If you want to listen, you can go there. If you want to send me your own journal reviews, you can snap me yours if you want to talk about them, and if not, you can keep them to yourselves.
Whatever you do, keep fighting!