For some reason, I’ve been very much absorbed in reading and learning about survival lately. Netflix has brought along several tv series that have been absolutely enthralling. “Survivorman” and “Out of the Wild” have gripped me, and it seems that I have a hard time paying attention to any other detail in life when they’re on. I’ve found myself glued to the computer while Youtube videos have taught me various fire starting techniques, snare setting how-to’s, how to make char cloth, and the benefits of 550 paracord woven into stylish and functional accessories. I’ve even set a goal to craft my own bow…”just because.” I was enthralled with the first book of The Hunger Games because of the emphasis on wilderness survival.
The other day, I remarked at this focus that has crept into my life and I started wondering, “Why?” Why is wilderness survival drawing so much of my interest? Why am I thirsting for this kind of knowledge?
It took me about an eighth of the way through “Deep Survival” by Laurence Gonzales to figure out why.
The book talks of survival situations, but not just in the wilderness. He talks about F-18 pilots landing on an aircraft carrier in the black of night, and movingly helps the reader understand that the act of landing a fighter craft on a carrier is a classic act of survival. So much can go wrong, so much, indeed, already has, as many pilots and crew members have met their demise in this way. If the emotions and mind are not in-check, chances are, the pilot won’t ever fly again.
Gonzales speaks eloquently about the way the mind and emotions work in concert to allow the human being the best chance of survival. He claims that in the worst situations, only about 10% of people will be able to emerge with the most favorable outcomes. What separates the survivors from the rest of the crop?
Gonzales states that it is a balance between ability to control the mind and remain calm, but at the same time, succumb when an emotional reaction wants you to drop everything and flee at a milliseconds’ notice. Emotions are nature’s in-grained, naturally-selected way of keeping the individual alive long enough to pass along their genes. Now, of course, in our day and age, this explanation seems cold and callous. One can suggest that technology and social advances trump our genes, and these life-preserving impulses are nowhere near as necessary as they once were to our survival, especially in the relative safety of our towns, cities, and homes.
The mind is the rational sense of being that can help keep the emotions in check and avoid states of panic. The mind can help quell the emotions through methods such as rational thought process, practice, and humor.
While fascinating, these facts don’t explain why I am fascinated with the subject, and I never really was aware of my fascination until I came to a significant bit of insight. It dawned on me while reading Gonzales. I am a survivor. Of course, that’s why it rings true to me!
The last 3 years brought me closer to death than I would ever have wanted to be. I know what people say when they talk about staring death in the face. I know that I had complete and total control of only one piece of my life during the worst times, and that was whether or not my life continued on.
I’ll share the details of my own story, my own Phoenix story, in the future, but I’m not ready to share it all with the masses quite yet. Long story short, everything I had was stripped away thanks to the cruelty of someone who decided they needed to take power over my life. I spent years building up a career and a base of friends, and it was all taken from me. I made a simple mistake that someone blew out of proportion, and that was it. I had no chance to talk to anyone about my error, indeed, nobody gave any consideration to my own flawed humanity tempered with a kind heart, good nature, a vast skill set, and born-in talent and will to do a hell of a lot of good in this world. Nobody cared to get to know me as a person before they cast my life aside.
When I lost it all and could find not even a shred of passion in my life, I realized that the only power I had over my own life was the power to end it. I had a plan, a means, and a date. Counselors trained in suicide prevention will readily share that those facts meant I was at a very high risk. I didn’t tell anyone either, never reached out for help during the darkest times, and planned on quietly leaving the state and never coming back. That’s another high risk factor: not reaching out for help. It meant that I wanted to die. It could very well have been the perfect storm.
Thoughts of my bright-faced nieces, a timely hug from a friend, and my brother-in-law saying the right thing at the right time stayed my hand, and somehow I looked to a possibility of a better future. No matter how slim, this was a motivator to stick it out just a little longer. The thought of my nieces losing a close family member was horrifying.
I was grasping at straws and luckily I found a few. And here I am. I survived.
This is going to sound rather dark, but there is something pleasant about knowing you have the power to take your life when you’re in the midst of personal loss and tragedy. I never thought I’d consider the option so thoroughly until just about everything I loved was forcefully stripped away. I was a shell of who I used to be, so why would it matter anyway?
My own suicidal ideation allowed me to feel in control in some morbid way. And looking back, that’s the shred of control that I needed to take the next step or two. And day after day, I was able to do a reasonable interpretation of functioning as I moved through those few months. Eventually, I started my business, found photography, and consulted with some very special people and The Phoenix Project was born.
Survival to me, at first, was an interesting hobby that brought together several things I love including camping, the backcountry, new knowledge to be learned, self-sufficiency, and impressing pretty girls by building a camp fire with a block of magnesium, a survival knife, and some damp kindling. While learning, my heart sang, and thanks to a fantastic book recommendation from my friends Curtis and Melissa, my mind was brought into the mix. I realized that a survivor has a deep interest in surviving, and if I’m any indication, wants to stack the deck in their favor for whatever the future may bring.
Life is all about surviving. Eating, drinking, breathing, breeding, routine, the home, and family and friends all have their challenges, but for the most part, are pretty darn easy relative to the grand scheme of things. When something comes along to rock your boat, be it death and loss, financial upset, disease, natural disaster, etc., things get tricky, and that is when your ability to survive is tested. And while it is awful to go through these things, these experiences truly offer the survivor an opportunity to see life for what it is. You can see the beauty around you, and appreciate with gratitude all you have and those people who stick with you.
Phoenixes have been through the tragedies of life, and have survived to tell their stories. They are the survivors who rise from the ashes and recreate their lives in new and powerful ways. I believe it is the way of the Phoenix to see the bright side and see survival as a way to connect with the excitement and constant gifts of living life.
The next time I’m met with a major life stress, I’m going to do my best to view it as a survival situation. I’ll do my best to keep my mind calm and my emotions in check but keenly attuned to their constant input. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll grin a bit defiantly as I look deep within that hardship and figure out a way to reconnect with life’s blessings as I survive, and maybe even thrive a little. Despite the tragedy, I’ll be looking forward to the opportunity.