I have come across a lot of people who ask "what do you do?" When I tell them I'm a retired Army Major it usually raises an eyebrow and a "Wow!" Next question is usually "How long were you in the Army?" My response without hesitation, "Twenty years and six days." Each Veterans Day causes me to stop and remember what I did, but more importantly to remember the sacrifices so many others have made in the service of the nation. I'm not writing this to share war stories and photos of me next to Saddam Hussein murals, maybe another time. Today I'm writing to share a bit more of my story.
I joined the Army in 1986 and made the rank of Staff Sergeant (Yes, I got all the Sergeant Sargent jokes you could imagine), before heading off the the University of Tampa on an ROTC scholarship, graduating in 1996 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Exercise Science. I'm proud to have served all that time in the military, but deep down my real passion has always been tied to fitness and exercise. I've played competitive soccer (Football to everyone else in the world but us stubborn Americans.) been on swim teams, high school football, little league baseball, high school track, college cross country running. and I was a competitive runner and triathlete for quite a few years before the injuries and wear and tear started to pile up. I had to find something different. That something eventually found me, it was yoga.
So why the Army? Why did I at the age of 19 head off across the US to boot camp at Fort Jackson, South Carolina in the winter of 1986? Well, things weren't great for me during my teens. From the age of 15 I battled with anorexia and bulimia, and after struggling for 32 years with this illness am amazed it didn't kill me. By the age of 17 I had lost 37 pounds and at 120lb/54kg passed out in front of my mother in the hallway of our house. At the time I was jumping rope for 60 minutes straight everyday. My parents were at their wits end and had me admitted to the eating disorder clinic at Stanford University. At Stanford I received counseling and gradually learned how to eat and be okay with it, sort of. At $1000 a day, medical insurance coverage ran out after three weeks, so I left the hospital quite a while before I actually should have. It wasn't long before I fell into the same destructive patterns. At 18 my parents made me move out of the house because they just couldn't bear to see me do this to myself. That, and my Mom was applying some of that "Tough Love" parenting craze that went on back in the 80's. At this time I was in my second semester at a community college and working a part time job. School, graveyard shifts at work, and a new girlfriend consumed most of my time, leaving me not enough time to study. Not wanting to fail classes, I dropped out of school mid-term, the girlfriend and I broke up, and I was just working at a damn convenience store while most of my friends were off at college and being productive with their lives. It was killing me inside that I was letting my dream of a college education slip away. After high school graduation I was supposed to head off to Brigham Young University, but after the eating disorder became so bad there was no way my parents were sending me off to Utah from California. It was then that I looked towards the Army because they offered the GI Bill that would pay for my college tuition, and I could take classes on base after work. At first I was medically rejected because of my eating disorder by a doctor recruits nicknamed "The Dragon Lady" due of her harsh manner and proclivity to reject wannabe troops. She told me to gain weight and come back in six months, and If I showed progress she would approve my packet, thus allowing me to enter the service. This fired me up, I gained enough weight to satisfy Señora Dragon, and headed off to basic training.
Fast forward many years. It's been just over five years since I retired, and although I can't say I miss the rigors and transient nature of Army life, I do miss the camaraderie of the men and women who wore the uniform with me, as well as those who didn't wear the uniform, but were out there on the front lines supporting the troops. Since I retired in 2009 to just this past July I was a government contractor supporting the military as an Intelligence trainer of both US and allied forces. Again, it was awesome to work with fellow military veterans, and I enjoyed the fact I was helping prepare troops for the challenges they'd be facing during deployments to either Iraq or Afghanistan. Having been to both countries on deployments I was well aware of the dangers and hardships they'd be facing, so anything I could teach them to help make their jobs easier was of great satisfaction to me professionally.
So why the change? Why am I off on hanging out in Costa Rica for the better part of the year on what an ex-girlfriend of mine called my "jungle savasana" Well, for starters I can thank my most recent employer for cutting our contract by 1/3, leaving me without a job in the UAE, thus having to surrender my resident visa and depart the country. Secondly, I can thank the US government and our income tax laws on expat income. Basically I have to stay outside the US for 330 of the 365 days this calendar year in order to not be taxed on the money I earned in the UAE from a non US company.
All those very real reasons why I am here are what gave me the opportunity (kick in the ass) I have needed to follow my real passion and finally become a yoga teacher after all these years not following my heart.
Why am I telling this story? I don't know, it's Veterans Day and I promised myself to start writing more frequently. It's cathartic to my soul to share myself in such a manner. Seems like a good enough reason to me, but let me get to the point.
We don't always understand the reason for things, and quite frankly life would be rather boring if we did. I do understand this, I know that if there is something you have always wanted to do with your life you need to do it. Stop making excuses, stop beating yourself up for not following your dreams in the past. Stop the negative thoughts, behaviors and self doubt. Simplify, get rid of unnecessary baggage, especially debt. Change. Move. Hate your job? Quit. Go for your dreams and the universe will undoubtedly figure out a way to make it happen. I'm on this new journey now and not sure where it's headed. Fact is, we'll all never know exactly where our path is headed, but if we feed the true fire in our hearts good things will eventually happen. This story shared by one of my yoga teachers comes to mind.
An old Cherokee chief was teaching his grandson about life..."A fight is going on inside me," he said to the boy. "It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves."One is evil - he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, self-doubt, and ego."The other is good - he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. "This same fight is going on inside you - and inside every other person, too."The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, "Which wolf will win?"The old chief simply replied, "The one you feed."
So now I'm choosing to feed my decades long passion I've had and help others find a better life both physically, mentally, and emotionally through yoga. I am forever grateful for the experiences I've had with the military, and this all has me thinking maybe my calling is to help other veterans through my teaching. Thank you to all that are serving or who have served. Today, and each Veterans Day I salute you.
For the time being I'll be hanging out in self imposed exile living the beach life in Costa Rica practicing yoga in paradise and making new friends. Poor me, I know. I'll be home for New Years, Norfolk. That said, hang on to those camouflage pants, they make pretty awesome yoga shorts.