Three Tethers to Life and Living: A former child of abuse, U.S. Marine, and Police Officer’s Short Story of Living with PTSD. (May is Mental Health Month)
“I don’t know why it is that some of my best days on the river have
begun with waking alone in the darkness, truly alone, with that deep,
empty feeling—that hollow aloneness that you cannot shake free of. It
had been some time since my service in the Marines, but years later, the
ghosts came to call, and I found myself afraid to sleep, knowing they
would come back. A doctor helped me to chase away the ghosts, but
the feeling of emptiness remained. I guess sometimes surviving is your
punishment. So, you stand in the river, facing upstream with the water
rushing down upon you as if it could somehow fill the hollow emptiness—
and somehow, it always does. So, it was one morning. I stood there,
without even casting and with no trout rising, and as the water rushed
past me, I knew it was washing my burdens behind me, swirling them
downstream like the autumn leaves.
There is a great deal about living that trout can teach us. They teach
us how to keep swimming even in a steady current. Trout know that if
they stop swimming, they cease to be trout and begin to become debris,
floating without purpose wherever the current may take them. Trout
know that if they keep swimming, facing into the current, perhaps in
the eddy of a rock, all that they need to truly live will eventually come to
them. I learn a great deal from trout.”
These words can be found in my first book, “Casting Forward: Fishing Tales from the Texas Hill Country, and they begin a story that has not yet come to an end. It is the story of how I have thus far continued to live with a deeply wounded soul and broken heart. It’s not a sad story; it’s a story of resilience and gratitude as it can be found in the presence of loved ones and at the end of a fly rod.
If you knew my whole story, and it will go with me when I cross the river for the last time… you’d wonder how it is that I have managed to keep breathing and remain largely intact as a person of good humor, much gratitude, and gobs of love. Here is my answer, it’s short, yet quite sweet. I am alive today because of four things: Love, Mindfulness, Gratitude, and the act of Fly fishing, which can encompass the previous three. Please allow me to explain:
Love: It’s not what I have received that gave me reason to keep going but rather, the unconditional love I chose to give. When you love someone you chose to stick around – for them. You endure the pain so they won’t have to, and you find solace in the peace and joy you feel as you give love to others.
Mindfulness: By living in the moment, aware and awake, I am reminded that everything is impermanent – both pain and joy. Nothing last for ever so like a fish in a river, I adapt to the moment and take what comes.
Gratitude: I count my blessings, not my burdens.
Fly fishing: Nature Heals. Nature Teaches. Nature doesn’t need us; we need nature. Fly fishing allows me to be in the moment, mindful of the fish, river, currents, wind, trees, birds and the rhythm of my on casting. It allows perspective and reminds me that the only thing I can control is, my reaction to circumstances. Nature teaches us that “fairness” is a human construct. It is an illusion and an unreasonable expectation. And the only control any of us has over the construct of “fairness” or “justice” is in the actions we choose to take toward another human being – or living thing. Fly fishing reminds me to slow down, live now, let go. I cast as I breath. I retrieve line to the rhythm of my heart beating.
“And so, I stand in the river casting back and forth, trying to lose
that feeling of being alone. It is then that the rainbow rises and takes my
offering. I raise my rod, and all at once, I am no longer alone. I am connected
to his powerful runs, facing into the current. Silver line connects
us, both fighting to live—two beating hearts. He comes to my net. I hold
him gently, rocking him back and forth in the cold rushing water. “Gain
your strength, dear warrior,” I say. Am I speaking to him or to myself?
With a kick of his tail, he returns to the river—and I go with him.”
When life feels unbearable I ask you to consider holding on to just a few things: Love, Mindfulness, Gratitude, and your Fly Rod. Let go of everything else.