I haven’t posted to my blog in over a year. Truth is, I couldn’t. Now, a year later, in the early days of 2013, I’m finally able to tell you all why.
Before 2012 even started, the end of 2011 brought forth a wave of unfortunate, devastatingly personal events that completely wrecked my heart, my guts and everything I thought I was.
I’m going to post my struggle, and please note that it was MY struggle. Many people have had it far, far worse than what I had to deal with, and my rock-bottom may be others ‘summit,’ so take it as it is. As with all my posts, I hope this story will help just one person going through their own personal hell. If so, my struggle story was totally worth it… and even if it doesn’t really help you, let me remind you of my new favorite line, “Sometimes the most bad ass thing you can do is get back up.”
The Dream of 2011
I was absolutely in love with the path I had begun building in 2011. I loved where it was going, who I was sharing it with and I was seeing this path extend out for years upon years. It felt great. Whether it was new skills, or new sincere feelings / emotions, I was working hard to forge their rewards and loved every inch of sweat I was pouring into them. Personally, professionally and volunteer-wise I was getting everything I wanted out of life. I fantasized about where it was going, who I was going to continue to share it with, and the activities / events that I was going to experience. I felt lucky and blessed. 2012 was going to be great! This is what life was about! This is what ‘happiness’ was going to be! By God Dana, you did it, you figured it all out! You’re 31 and 30 years from now you’ll be able to look a back on 2011 as the year you completely settled and figured out exactly who you were.
With all that ‘rah-rah,’ I’m ashamed to admit it only took two events to completely destroy me, and it all started Mid-November 2011.
“A series of unfortunate events…”
With the first event, the only thing I really remember was calling my parents after it happened. A year of non-stop dedication, pride, sweat, training and passing all competency tests with a 92% or higher, I was ultimately told by an organization I lived for that they no longer wanted me as a volunteer. It was a shock and I was completely numb. I would have been absolutely fine if I hadn’t heard my mom cry over the phone. It wasn’t that she was crying, it was HOW she was crying. I can’t explain it. Hearing her cry like that still haunts me to this day, I never want to hear it again.
The other event happened on the last day of November 2011. Someone I had given my heart to decided they no longer wanted it.
Without going into too much detail, that was it. Two events, two weeks and the dream life I had begun to build, whose foundation seemed so solid and true, completely crumbled … and I went down very hard along with it.
The Dust Settles
By December 2011, I was saturating myself with alcohol. Unable to eat, scared, confused, a foolishly bought engagement ring hanging from my necklace and sleeping only with the assistance of medication… I wallowed in self-pity and doubt. I was missing work, and after not sleeping for 36 hours ended up in Wisconsin for a couple days. I was continuously lying to my family and friends, telling them I was ‘okay,’ and ‘doing fine.’ I wasn’t. Not quite the life I so eagerly anticipated and dreamed of.
Why Even Try?
December 2011, I finished EMT school for no apparent reason. At the time, there was absolutely no point. I wasn’t going to have the opportunity to even use what I had just worked so hard to acquire. The day of the practical test, I was completely indifferent, not even sure why I showed up that morning. I really didn’t even want to be there. I kept telling myself I only showed because I wasn’t a quitter. For the entire 6 month course, I prided myself on having the highest grade in the class, a 103.5%, and the day of the finals, I didn’t even really care about graduating. I pushed through the day, applying all the skills and practical knowledge I had worked so hard for. I had one minor meltdown where my ‘ego’ got the best of me, but ultimately I passed.
That afternoon, as everyone left the EMS training center, I sat alone in my car, unable to move. Hands on the steering wheel, engine running, staring into my lap. I could feel it starting to build, and it was coming straight at me. My thoughts, doubts, feelings, anger and emotion were gearing up for a major, major assault that in 31 years I had never felt before.
My body started to shake and the tears started pouring as they’d never had before, and never have since.
“What good is passing EMT school if you’re never going to be able to use it? The volunteer team you were required to EMT certify tossed you a week before you graduated! You spent close to $1,600 on this, and countless hours devoted to acquiring it. What a waste you f*ckin joker! You should have known better. You can’t even find solace and support from the person closest to you anymore! They ‘tossed’ you too! You basically wasted the entire last year of your life both with that organization and with that person! You got played by both. You’re an idiot Dana, the harder you tried, the stupider you looked. You’re a corporate dbag yuppie, not a ‘Hero’ or anyone of value. Just a delusional hypocrite! You have no business being out there, or ever doing any of this stuff. You don’t have the talent, period. Nobody needs or wants you doing this and further nobody even wants to be with you!”
Nothing made sense, nothing seemed fair, but nothing really mattered anymore. I didn’t know who I was, what I was doing with my life. I was so confused. Why the f*ck was I even wasting my god damn time with anything?! Who cared? I should just go back to being a selfish narcissist. I mean why even try anymore? It was apparent that giving my heart to anything, whether it was a person or an organization was the recipe for total disaster. All that effort, all those new feelings and all that pride in who I was becoming and in under two weeks, it was all gone. I cried the whole way home. (I apologize to anyone on the 95fwy that saw the weeping pussy in the BMW that day.)
“F U 2012…”
As 2011 came to an end, 2012 looked like it was going to be a sh*tty year, and I was definitely acting in accordance with that belief. I hated that a year was going to take 12 months, and I hated that I was going to have to live through it. It was just going to be a year of suffering and self doubt. I was miserable. It was the first week in January and I had already completely given up on 2012. It was going to be terrible and re-emphasize what a waste my 2011 was. My only glimmer of hope was that if I drank and partied, maybe I could get it to go by quicker. I wondered how much Makers Mark I needed to get me through 2013…
Then, it happened, and it all came into perspective. Everything had happened for a reason.
On January 16th, 2012, a tragic event befell a family and a person I never met. On that day, the world lost a very impressive man, a brother and from what I hear an amazing Hasher. I’d never get the chance to meet this stranger; however that tragic event, and his death, saved my life.
Ron Kirk went missing in Red Rock in January of 2012. I had heard the call on Facebook, Meetup.com and the news, as did my friend Erin. They were saying they needed trained searchers, people with outdoors experience, volunteers that could handle treacherous terrain and rock. The agencies had gone home and Erin knew I was capable of the request. (Even though at that point amongst the sleep deprivation, booze and starvation, I had lost over 30lbs and by no means had any energy / strength for it.) The next day Erin dragged my skeletal, booze soaked pathetic carcass to the signup booth and together we met Commander Dave, a person whom no doubt I was destined to meet. Dave and I instantly clicked, and as we spoke I listened to him passionately talk about a dream he had, a dream to start a completely volunteer SAR team. Initially, I thought he was nuts. (Mainly because I still retained so much pride in my former team.) But looking back, Dave didn’t just have a dream – he had a premonition. And he was absolutely right. Thanks to Erin, Ron Kirk and that ‘bearded guy in an orange jacket,’ a new path in my life began taking shape – a better path than what I previously had. A path that over 300 people have joined me on. A path that won’t quit, a path that keeps getting better, and a path that is overrun with passion, love and some of the most awe-inspiring, amazing people I’ve ever met. That day, Dave not only gave me a SAR mission and a leadership role, but a powerful new purpose along with it.
The Night Before…
That night, something happened. Something I’ve never shared with anyone. That night, after meeting Dave, before the first Ron Kirk search, before Red Rock SaR, before all the meetings and before being tapped to lead… Before all the TV and Media spots, before the SpyOnVegas Best Man ‘Pretty parties,’ before the Bachelorette TV audition, before all the awards, accolades and certifications, before my new friends and family and everything else that happened in 2012… That night in early January I sat at an overpriced steak house, by myself. I was in tattered jeans, a t-shirt and my trusty Marmot jacket. By my looks, I was completely out of place. It was a ‘fancy’ place, and I was sitting alongside overly decorated women in heels and gaudy handbags prowling for sugar daddies… Creepy bosses ‘showboating’ and flashing money for their young female hires… First-daters trying to impress / trick each other into a ‘bedroom deal’ – and then there was me, this broken, pale, skeletal, unshaven child feeling sorry for himself. 2012 was going to be a terrible year and I didn’t really care what these people thought of me. I was going to do this mission the next morning cause a stranger needed me to. Who knows, maybe I’d get a chance to use that skillset one last time. But there was something else happening in that steak joint, and it had nothing to do with my hobo appearance. As I sat there, hating / judging everyone around me and eating an overpriced steak accompanied by an overpriced Scotch, I had this feeling that I couldn’t shake. It wouldn’t get out of my head. A message being cosmically ‘yelled’ into my brain over and over. It felt like something was shaking my shoulders, trying to get a message to me. And that message was only two words long – ‘Last meal.’
The Last Meal
It’s no surprise I’m far from an intuitive or even the least bit spiritual, but looking back it’s clear what that message meant. It truly was a ‘last meal.’ It actually was my ‘last meal.’ The old me was dead, there was no going back, no fixing what had happened or what was decided. It was over. That person had served his role, walked his path, learned new skills, grew into a role, fell in love, bled and ultimately through devastating failure – readied himself for what was ahead. The ‘last meal’ was a ‘tip of the hat’ to everything that he had learned, and everything that came crashing down on top of him. That person was dead, wrecked, gone… And as that person finished eating his ‘last meal,’ it was time that the NEW person got the f*ck up and got to work doing what he had truly fell in love with – helping people. And starting the next morning, sweating Scotch and Steak all over that mountain, Kevin and Nate at my side, that’s exactly what I god damn did.
F U 2012 Redux…
I got in 2012’s face every day and every chance I could. I wasn’t going to let anything slow me down or stop me. I got owned by 2011, and I was never going to let happen again. I was remember who I was and once again believed in myself and my abilities. Wonderful, amazing new things and people came my way because of it. No more self doubt or self pity, there was no time for that. I was the maker of my own destiny. And the days I got caught off guard, knocked down, or hurt, I did the most bad a$$ thing I could. I got right back up in 2012’s face, got back to work and pressed on. Everything repaired itself and got exponentially better and stronger. My heart, my team, my skills, my life. (Hell, even my blood pressure returned to normal!) 20hr days, buried in work, no personal life, hurtful lies, famished or exhausted… Nothing was going to stop me. It was totally on. Just like EMT school, I’m not a quitter. Just like meeting Dave, things happen for a reason, and just like that ‘last meal,’ it was time the new IDFR went to work… And did he ever.
I implore you, if you find yourself going through hell… keep going. “If you’ve hit a wall, don’t stop. Find a way to go through, around or over it.” (Michael Jordan Quote.) Get in whatever’s face is stopping you, and move past it. Carpe the hell out that diem or annum. And always remember, “sometimes the most bad a$$ thing you can do is get back up.”
2012 was nothing shy of one of the best years of my life. And I have glaring, powerful, earth shattering failure to thank for it.
I owe a lot of gratitude to my friends, who loved me through my pain and dealt with seeing their friend a beat down piece of sappy garbage. They kept picking me up, putting me on their shoulders or simply dragging me a long. Erin, Kelly, Broc, Cassy, Nick, Sister Lisa, Cousin Ashley, Sheila, Lauren, John, Andria, Wallace, Busta & Stoli – I can never thank you guys enough for keeping me going. No telling where I’d be without your support. And my RRSAR friends / family – you have no idea what each of you and this team mean, and have done for me. Just as “we never quit,” I will never quit giving everything I have to you and this organization. And finally, for the Hashers / Kirk family who lost their loved one… Thank you, god bless you, and know that I’ll never let Ron’s memory fade with this team. “On, On!”
I’ll end the ‘two years in the making post’ with this. A reminder that those who truly love you will always know you best, and are way smarter than you. Listen to them. Let them pick you up. Trust them, even when it seems they don’t care… they can see who you truly are, even when your insides are screaming that they’re complete liars.
Early on in my ‘personal hell,’ my good friend Stoli listened to my little sob story. As I was pouring out every inch of my guts out to him, I was bothered to see him sitting there, totally unphased. Listening to me, Stoli was completely emotionless and didn’t even seem to care what I was saying or how I was feeling. After I had finished gushing to him, he took a puff of his cigar, looked at me and said “You’ll be fine, dude. Out of everyone I’ve ever known, you’re one of the only people I’ve never had any doubts about. You’re always going to be okay and if anything, do way better than anyone would have guessed.”
I replied, completely unconfident, shaky voice and miserably doubtful, “How so man?”
Looking me dead in the eye Stoli replied, “Simple, ‘Cause you’re Dana F*CKING Richardson.”
He was f*cking right. Bring on 2013. #IDFR2.0