Overcoming Disabilities & Addictions; Finding Your Inner Warrior Hero

Overcoming Disabilities & Addictions; Finding Your Inner Warrior Hero

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Marines Putting up the American Flag

How do you overcome disabilities and addictions? How do you recover from a serious, life altering injury? How do you find your warrior hero inside? That’s what I wanted to find out on my radio show, “Triumphs of the Human Spirit,” a motivating talk show I created and hosted where I interviewed people who had overcome unbelievable adversities.

My father, a former Marine who fought the Japanese on the islands, didn’t like my radio show. The first time I turned on my show while I was in their home, he walked out of the room saying he wasn’t feeling well. After the second and third time that happened, I finally asked my mother why he didn’t like the show, and she just acknowledged that he didn’t like ‘those things.’ By that, I guessed she meant anything that was positive. Yup, my father really didn’t like positive things. Guess it goes without saying that he was also an atheist.

Despite our rocky relationship and the horrors of the past, I was still determined to gain my father’s acceptance, or love, because of whatever insanity it is that causes children to try to win their parent’s love no matter what. And so, when I read a story in People Magazine about the son of a famous Marine who had just won a Pulitzer Prize for his new book, A Fortunate Son, I excitedly called the publisher to see if I could interview him.

The author was Lewis Burwell Puller Jr, the son of the greatest US Marine legend and the most highly decorated Marine ever in the history of the Corps; Lt. General “Chesty” Puller Jr. I remember hearing about Chesty Puller from my father when I was growing up. Chesty was such a famous military man that Marines would travel from all over the country to stop by and visit his family’s home. A common ritual in the Marine Corps boot camp is to end one’s day with, “Goodnight Chesty, wherever you are!” The other Marine boot camp chant is, “It was good enough for Chesty Puller/and it’s good enough for me!” There were Marines, there were decorated Marines and then there was the one and only most famous Marine … Chesty Puller Jr.

A Marine’s Marine, “Chesty,” who was nicknamed after his bull chest (from emphysema), was the only Marine to receive five Navy Crosses, the United States Navy’s second highest decoration after the Medal of Honor. He also received the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit (twice), the Bronze Star, the Air Medal (three times) and the Purple Heart.

Known for his absolute fearlessness, devotion to duty and his “belligerent jaw,” during one of the most horrific battles in the Marine Corps history, he stood there surveying the field when a Jap mortar opened up and all his men around him flattened out. Chesty did not change his position. Calmly removing the worn out cigar from his mouth, he stuck out his chest and spat: “The Bastards!” 

Chesty’s bulldog tenacity and “gruff, give ‘em hell” attitude was combined with his quick-witted encouragement. One of his most famous lines was, “We’re surrounded … that simplifies our problem.”  He was also quoted as saying, “Take me to the brig! I want to see the real Marines!” And my personal favorite was this line: “They’re on our left, they’re on our right, they’re in front of us, and they’re behind us … they can’t get away this time!” 

His military strategies, his extremely disciplined training methods and his ability to inspire awe in both his own men and that of the enemy are still being taught in military schools today. “Don’t forget that you’re the First Marines!” Chesty would say to his men to inspire confidence and pride. “Not all the Communists in hell can overrun you!” 

Failure, or defeat, was not an option with Chesty. When an Army Captain asked him for the direction of the line of retreat during a battle where his small battalion of men was outnumbered, Chesty called his Tank Commander, gave them the Army position, and ordered, “If they start to pull back from that front line, even one foot, I want you to open fire on them.” Then, turning to the Captain, he replied, “Does that answer your question? We’re here to fight!” Chesty was a bulldog’s bulldog and a model of the professional fighting man. (Sources for Chesty Puller: USMC website and Wikipedia.) (Quotes

In my eyes as a child, my father was just that commanding, just that tough and strict, and just that scary! Putting aside the rage and some other serious issues that my father had, other than that, he seemed to be a man’s Marine. That’s all I heard when I was growing up: discipline, be tough, do as I say!

“Why do I have to do as you say?” I fearlessly challenged when I became a rebellious teenager. The answer? “Here’s why you have to do what I tell you to do, exactly when, and exactly how, I tell you to do it. When I was fighting the Japs on an island, I got separated from my platoon. It was night time. I was all alone and there weren’t any Japs around. Now, I was exhausted and it was a nice night out, so I just wanted to lay down anywhere on a comfortable spot and go to sleep. But I had been trained that no matter what, you hide before you go to sleep. So, not questioning that, and doing exactly what I was told to do, I climbed up a tree and went to sleep.

“I was awakened in the morning by the sound of a lot of voices and I looked down to see Japs below me, all over the place! Had I not done what I was told, EXACTLY the way I was told to do it, I would have been dead.”

Ok,” I’m thinking to myself, “so if I’m alone on an island surrounded by Japs, I’ll sleep in a tree. I get your point. What does that have to do with now and today?” If my father had had his way, he would have enlisted me into the Marines! (Any bets on how long this stubborn rebel would have lasted in boot camp?)

I remember when I was a very young child, I asked my father how to count seconds. This was his (sic) answer: “One dead Jap, two dead Japs …” Yup, sad, but true. And even worse, I still automatically start that when counting seconds until I catch myself and change it. But I have a psychologist friend who works for the VA who told me, “Those guys who fought the Japanese on those islands in WWII had it worse than any other veterans.”

I will say this. The one good thing about growing up the child of a Marine is that I was brainwashed with that slogan: “the few and the proud Marines,” and that sense of being special and unique. The pride and self-confidence associated with being strong and tough and raising your standards to be one of “the few, the best of the best” were passed down to me.

This is how I got my warrior ethos. This is the mindset that showed me how to fight all my battles. This is the identity that I kept going and that kept me alive. And this is the mindset I pass on to others and the reason my mindset coaching program is called a bootcamp. You have to get in touch with your inner warrior archetype to overcome adversity. You have to change your identity from being a victim to being a victor. You have to know with absolute certainty that you will fight and win your battles, no matter how hard it gets. Failure is not an option!

The Interview.

Well, I figured if I could get an interview with Chesty’s son, then for sure I could get my father to listen to my radio show. And not only that, I was curious as hell to read his book. I had always struggled with the expectations that I felt my parents had put on me.

Following in his father’s footsteps and shadow, Lewis became an Officer in the Marines and went off to fight in the Vietnam War at age 22. Before he really had the chance to prove himself, he stepped on a land mine and half his body, along with half of his fingers, were blown away. He was shipped home without any legs hanging from his hips. He was shipped home, in his mind, in disgrace … at least compared to all the medals his father had won for courageously fighting all those wars.

In his book, Lewis recalled that when his father first came to see him in the hospital, it was the first time he ever saw his famous, tough father cry. (Lewis scribbled by hand his 440 page Pulitzer Prize autobiography many years after his accident, despite the fact that many of his fingers were missing.)

Lewis Puller’s life was then a long battle with physical pain, alcoholism and an addiction to painkillers. He and his wife, who was by his side from the moment he came back to be hospitalized, went on to have two children, and eventually, Lewis became a lawyer for our government in Washington D.C.

“I literally had lightning and thunder at my fingertips,” was Lewis’ starting line in his interview with me. “I mean, I could call in artillery missions and bring lightning bolts, literally, out of the sky. I was responsible for people’s lives. I was making decisions on a daily basis, determining the course of people’s lives. And I went from there, and all that awesomeness, to being totally helpless; to being unable to feed myself, to being unable to turn over in bed, just absolutely helpless in just a matter of days.”

“Wow, talk about feeling trapped. I understand the doctors told you that they weren’t sure if they had done you a favor by saving you. How did you deal with that feeling of being so helpless and so trapped?” I asked.

“I just gave up. I surrendered,” he answered.

“You surrendered? That doesn’t sound like a word a Marine would use,” I said.

“Yeah, you know, it’s funny,” he continued. “I came home, with a destroyed body and a broken spirit, to a pregnant wife. I can remember being in the hospital and being literally unable to turn over. They had a machine that turned me over every three hours to keep me from getting bed sores. I laid there in that hospital for two years.

“And then I just couldn’t take it anymore. I remember lying there and thinking, this is it. I can’t do anything for myself. I just didn’t want to go on. It got so bad that I decided that I was just going to give up. And I gave up. And I got the first decent night’s sleep I had gotten since I had been in the hospital. After that, I started getting better physically and got out of the hospital. But I forgot that lesson about surrendering. I had to learn it again when alcohol started taking over my life.”

“You mean surrendering to the lack of control when you were in the hospital worked, but then you forgot to surrender control when you were trying to stop drinking?” I offered, for clarification for my non-alcoholic radio listeners.

“Yeah, and the way to deal with drug addictions is, again, to ultimately surrender to it and say this is something that I can’t handle. I’ve got to look somewhere else for help. It is just something that, again, it is just difficult for men to do, and God knows, it is difficult for Marines to do.”

“So, acceptance of what is, what you can and cannot control. And then surrender to the fact that you need help and support from others … and then that particular struggle becomes a great deal easier?” I asked.

“Yes, as soon as you let go,” he agreed.

“But the first thing you have to do is you have to learn to get it all out. You have to learn to share,” Lewis continued. “You have to let people know where you are coming from. And then you have to learn how to take strength from other people. You can’t do it all on your own. At least this individual, Lewis Puller, was not able to do it all on his own.”

“In looking back over your life; surviving the horrific injuries from Vietnam and surviving the disease of alcoholism and the depression, which many people do not, was there a purpose for all the things that happened to you, Lewis?” I asked like I had asked all my guests on my show.

 “Well, I think the book is part of it, Nancy. I can tell by talking to you that I’ve touched you by my having written it. So far, the letters I have gotten have been absolutely phenomenal and I know that I am just touching the surface. So I think that, even in a larger context than just the Vietnam War, this is the kind of book that would help anyone that has had to deal with disruptions or tragedies in their life.

“It will show people that they can go in, and they can indeed come out the other end, richer and better off for their experiences, no matter how bad. And that’s what I have tried to do in the book. I’ve tried to make it a sort of an upbeat book that accurately and honestly describes what one Marine went through {from his disabling injuries} in Vietnam and how he put life together with a lot of love and a lot of help.”

Of all of these suggestions, which one is the most important? I would say focus. With focus, we can maintain a positive mindset and stay on purpose. If we stay vigilant with our focus, then we will keep plugging into our support system and using our tools. While it may take a while to climb up into a mindset of hope and success, we can also easily fall back into despair if we allow our focus to take us there. It may be insidiously slow, or it could be sudden. And sometimes, just the addition of more stress in our lives, like the break-up of a relationship, can send us into a tailspin. 

This is the lesson I learned from Lewis Puller, because in the end, Lewis Puller’s life took a downward spiral from a relapse with alcoholism and an addiction to painkillers. He took his own life. I will never forget the day my husband called me to tell me that news. I owe Lewis so much gratitude for keeping that lesson front and center for me on a daily basis. One minute our consistent focus has taken us to the top of our game and then as soon as we change our focus, our life can end up going down the wrong path. Losing our focus and going in the wrong direction can happen to any of us if we allow it. We must stay vigilant. We must constantly feed our mindset, stay focused in the right direction and keep close to our support system. 

Don’t go it alone. Don’t isolate. Keep your faith and your forward focus.

https://www.christopherreeve.org/living-with-paralysis/newly-paralyzed

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Nancy Dye is a breakthrough mindset coach and resilience trainer helping people to transform the quality of their lifestyles. Nancy was trained in strategic intervention with Robbins-Madanes Training (Tony Robbins and Cloe Madanes) and has over 30 years as a weight loss, peak performance, and sober coach. She specializes in “jumping over” adversity, addictions, injuries, emotional strength and fitness, and transitioning through life stages.

With a career in sales and marketing, and having been coached by the top sales trainers in the corporate world, as well as by some of the most elite equestrian trainers, Nancy redesigns the inside lives of executives, entrepreneurs, veterans, and athletes.

Nancy is married to Jack Miles, a former Olympian gymnast who is inducted into four athletic Hall of Fames. For one-on-one coaching or information on her “Mindset to Walk on Fire” workshop, Nancy can be reached at NancyDyeSICoach@gmail.com. www.Elitelifestyletransformation.com

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