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  • Writer's picturedennisharris04

REINVENT THE CHALLENGE - Dealing With Trauma and Adversity

When you experience trauma, abuse, and extreme adversity in any way during your life, it sticks with you, both physically and mentally. I have spent a lifetime trying to find positive ways to channel the negative energy that has come from it and find constructive ways to deal with the effects mentally. It will always stay with you when it comes to the memories, but how we deal with the after effects can be crucial for our health physically as well. The mental aspect is probably evident to most when it comes to dealing with trauma, but when it’s not dealt with constructively, your body stores that negative energy. What I have learned has come from studies that I’ve read and counselors I have spoken to, and I definitely recommend talking to your own doctor or counselor and also researching for yourself, but I can help with some ideas on how I managed to find ways of constructively dealing with it all.

What do we know about where to start? Well, if you are reading this and have been through some trauma, you are a survivor and already have some tools, whether you realize it or not. If you have never been through any trauma, you likely know someone who has, so these are some good tips for you as well. First, keep believing in yourself and your strength, and the goals you want to achieve. When I was going through dark times growing up, I always held the belief that I was meant and deserved something better. The second thing is to learn how to visualize to help make your dreams come true. During abuse, I fought hard and after I always dreamed of a better life, then I visualized what that would be like. I know that every time I survived and carried on it gave me one more tool to use in life towards thriving, not just surviving.

Fast forward to years later when I was struggling financially, had been kicked out of my home, and was living by the kindness of friends in an affordable basement suite. I got the opportunity to start working on a Garbage Truck picking up trash by hand, which was about 25-30 tonnes a day and required very early morning starts. It was extremely hard physically and challenging mentally because I was physically drained past the point that my body wanted to go or could go. This is the place where your mind takes over and pulls you through or permits you to quit. I had to have a mental talk with myself a lot on the first day of picking up trash and reminded myself of where I came from. I couldn’t just quit and go home to my parents, or rely on the kindness of others, but most importantly there is nothing physically harder than what I experienced at home. That was the point I remember starting to train my mind to utilize my tools in the most extreme of situations.

I started to visualize myself just picking up the next can and emptying it, then the next one until I was done the day. Just one more. At night I would visualize getting through the next day and becoming stronger and faster. The more I used all the negative years, the anger and hurt that came with it, the more I replaced that energy with positive feelings of accomplishment. My body would go where my mind had been. Visualization driven by negative angst turned into accomplishing goals. It was all done out of necessity. Once I was conditioned to the job, I didn’t want to lose the ability to visualize and use my survival instincts, so I started to reinvent the challenge by choosing things that would test me mentally and physically at the same time. People have asked why I took up things like Kickboxing, Obstacle races, and other things like that over the years. The simple answer was that I chose it for the challenge, so essentially, I reinvented what life had thrown at me, by picking a positive path of adversity to stay sharp. Push myself harder than the test itself, training that would be harder than the match or race. I knew that if I pushed myself mentally that I would be prepared.

I remember how bad my body wanted to quit, my hands cramping from picking things up and I remember the exhilarating feeling I had mentally when I finished my first-day picking trash. It did drive the mental importance of facing any adversity. I have spent years taking part in things to challenge myself. The preparation of taking on those challenges drives and gets me excited about digging deep down to achieve high levels of training. The best times are when you prepare extremely hard and something you didn’t count on surprises you. It forces you to take the mental toughness to the next level. A few years back I was training hard with a relentless passion for a Spartan Race that had got me excited about the new kind of challenge it presented. I pushed myself in the weight room and started running in a nearby forest that had some grueling trails that in some areas were overgrown. Miles of very tough terrain that was perfect for extra training for an Obstacle Race. I remember running in heavy rain, being launched by unexposed routes, getting up, and continuing the training no matter how banged up I was. When the race came, I flew down to California to participate with friends. I was very excited! I got very little sleep the night before the race on top of it all, because my friend snored like a hibernating Grizzly…

The training paid off and the race and the trip became a fantastic memory with good friends. I caught the Spartan Race bug after that and decided to look at doing more races and kept my training going at a high level. It turned out that Spartan had a great challenge for race participants, which included completing three different races in one year; The Sprint, The Super, and the Beast. Each race was a different length with a variety of obstacles that involved strength, balance, and of course a dose of mental toughness. I had already done the Super in California and only needed the other two to get what Spartan Race called it’s Trifecta medal. I figured it would be a great endeavor to test myself, all I needed to figure out was if I could continue to fit intense training into my schedule, race location, accommodations etc. As luck would have it, about three and a half hours drive from where I lived was a ski resort that was hosting both the Beast and Sprint in the same weekend. I signed up for both. One weekend close to home and I would complete my goal and I was confident my training would get me through.

The Beast was on the Saturday. It was about 14 miles, had 30+ obstacles, and was the longest in the Trifecta set. I showed up early for the race and was ready to go with my running shoes, Camelbak, shorts, t-shirt and was positioned at the front of the pack. I was told by one of the event people that it was snowing at the top of the mountain and they wouldn’t let me run in a t-shirt, even though I told them it wasn’t a concern. I ended up having to go back to my car to grab a hoodie, and fell to the back of the pack at the start. I managed to work my way close to the front of the racers, got to the top of the mountain where there was a couple of feet of snow. People were slipping and sliding on the packed down stuff for a couple of feet or more down slight grades, and it was getting really bad on the uphill and downhill areas. It was like watching the news and seeing a bunch of cars slide into each other on a snowy hill. I started running in the deep, untouched snow to try to pass people. I found myself upside down on a rope ladder with my foot caught, recovered safely, and kept moving. Needless to say, the snow made the race even tougher than anyone had anticipated. Also, it was September, and no one expected snow that time of year, even in Canada…

I finished the race with a pretty good placing and was happy with my time, but I was pretty banged up and sore. I got back to the hotel and took a hot bath and realized just how sore I was, including what felt like a sprained ankle. The next morning I woke up early because I had another race to run, The Sprint, and I was in pretty rough shape. I debated not going, but then I started to go through in my head why I was doing it, reminding myself what I had been through, my early life, trash trucks and started ignoring my body. I needed to engage my mind. I slowly made my way to the car reminding myself that I chose my hard, now it was time to own it. My wife drove and we stopped for some morning coffee, which I made myself walk in and get. There was a forty-five minute to one hour drive ahead and I internally fought with myself off and on the whole way. I got to the mountain, and as I started to walk closer there was a feeling of readiness coming over me. I had tears starting to well up as I neared it, not of fear or pain, but tears of anger. I had pushed myself for a reason to be where I was, and the idea that I thought about quitting on that last day made me pissed at myself. I finished that race with a top-five finish for my age, but more importantly one of the best times of the day overall. I would’ve been filled with regret and the people that were horrible to me in my young life would have won again. I knew deep down that all I had to do was get to the race site, look at a big pile of rocks, dirt, mud, and snow standing in my way to bring out my true colors. I would have crawled that race if I had to, all I had to do is visualize the and realize the amount of things that hadn’t finished me physically. My mind was stronger and my body was the obedient protege.

The best part was after, celebrating that with my family, going back to the hotel room, falling exhausted onto the bed, and watching my favorite football team. The medal was cool, but more importantly, my spirit grew a little stronger again that day. It was a fantastic weekend with some adversity that I chose, which is the best kind of hard. I have spent my life trying to find ways of dealing with trauma and if you have gone through your own, I encourage you to use the strengths you have developed. I will remind you, if you are reading this, that one of them is you are a survivor. I still look for different ways of dealing with trauma and extreme adversity and I would encourage anyone who is to ask for help, find a process of channeling negative energy and start training your mind. Visualize and believe in yourself and in your life, and you dictate how to approach the path. I can tell you that when I was on that mountain and the tears started to well up and why I got angry with myself, It was because a moment of physical pain made me forget a lifetime of struggle and perseverance made of harder moments than the one I was currently facing. In that moment the abuse was forgotten, the early days of the trash trucks, hours of hard sparring, competition and so many other things. The point is we need to keep challenging ourselves to remind ourselves of where we came from, what we went through and remember it with a fondness of that fact we are still here.

Questions…”Are you surviving or thriving”? If you have been through it, then that question should be, “how are you going to continue to thrive?’. If you are struggling, go back to forming a belief system like I mentioned in the beginning, start visualizing your best life and do not keep giving powers to the things or people that caused trauma in your life. Breath and realize how important that is. It took a pile of mud and snow to make me forget, we all need to be reminded once in a while what we can achieve, don’t empower people who don’t deserve, and stop worrying about the people who judge you. “The road of life is rocky and you may stumble too, so while you're pointing fingers someone else is judging you”- Bob Marley. One of my favorite quotes, now get after it!

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