If you’re unclear on how to find inspiration and meaning turn to service. In my experience, you can find purpose, meaning, and fulfillment by serving something greater than yourself.
I recently gave a TEDx talk where I spoke about a time that my father unwittingly gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever received at one of the lowest points of my life. He said, “Son, I can’t understand everything you’ve been through and I know you’re hurting, but if you could find a way to make your new mission about helping someone else, to attempt to put value in someone else, then I think you’ll find that will help you.”
I’ve found that the reason for living is giving. It’s really that simple. If you’re hurting and not sure what to do or where to turn, start thinking about what you can do for somebody else. From there a life filled with purpose and fulfillment is yours for the making.
It starts by deciding to pursue a life worth living and then figuring out the why behind it. Nietzsche said, “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” In short when you have something to live for it gives your life meaning, and that makes the sacrifices and vulnerabilities of being human worth it. I’ve found in my life that the how can always be determined if you have a big enough why.
Challenging the status quo can be a daunting task, even more so when you’re navigating through uncharted territory. My why revolved around returning to the man of my pre-injury status. To come off the dozen plus medications I was on to be the husband and father my family needed me to be. After that it was to help others receive the same healing I received through Dr. Mark L Gordon. In Tales From the Blast Factory, we identify the steps to plan, prepare, and perform in the face of a desired outcome and then show how to measure the effectiveness of that plan against a desired outcome.
My suffering as it turns out was in large part self-chosen. When confronted with life altering information and circumstances it’s easy to get wrapped up in yourself. For me it was, “I’ve lost my purpose in life and I’ll never be a Special Forces Operator again, my health is failing, I’m being mistreated, and no-one understands me.” If you don’t know what a victim sounds like the previous sentence provides a good example.
I finally realized it was nobody’s job to take responsibility for my life, that was on me and me alone. I decided to take ownership of my life again. It occurred to me that absolutely everything that had ever occurred in my life was a result of my own doing, and if there was something going on in my life that I didn’t like it would be up to me to fix it.
If you want it you have to earn it, plain and simple. That realization is the birthplace of our personal responsibility and there is real liberation to be found in that. The freedom found in taking full ownership of your life is a decision. Life is really about decisions, every decision we make is an opportunity to learn, to grow, to serve, and to love or to do the opposite. If our decisions are not producing the outcomes we desire then it’s time to analyze what we’re doing and why. My transformation and healing sprung out of the decision to commit to live a life worth living again.
In 2014 I successfully gave up tobacco, alcohol, and the 13 different medications I was on, FOR GOOD. I was at a functional neurology brain treatment center in Dallas, TX where I was being treated for traumatic brain injuries incurred in combat. I was called out by their medical director at the time and my life has been forever positively altered. The following excerpt is taken from our upcoming book Tales From the Blast Factory.
“The doctor said, “You’re still on the battlefield and there are forces attempting to kill you. The next time you feel like you need a drink, ask yourself, Is this more important than my wife and children? Make up your mind right now. What’s more important: your family or having another drink? If it’s your family, then put the drinking behind you. At your current rate of consumption, it will kill you sooner than anything else. Choose to win the fight today and everyday hereafter.” Right then and there, I made the decision I would not consume another drink. That was in October 2014, and I’ve honored it. I was, and continue to be, grateful for the reckoning.”
I came to realize that the reasons that I had experienced any success in my life came from ability to create goals that were in alignment with my highest ideals. In my experience, a goal became real after a mental price tag was put on it. For me, the price tag always came down to a situation of life or death. Fulfill said task and live or come up short and die.
My job entailed one life or death decision after another. That’s how I handled everything as a Special Forces Operator. We can choose to pay the price and live or accept the fact that we’ve chosen the alternative. I’ve found when it’s life or death there is no alternative. Identify what’s important and then execute.
These types of decisions usually need to be made only once. So, when 5:30 am rolled around I didn’t allow any negative inner dialogue, I got up and went to work. That decision was made way before 5:30 am rolled around. When it came time to train it didn’t matter if I didn’t feel like it, that decision was made long before any feelings of procrastination got in the way. I made the immutable decision to win and to live for something, to contribute and perform to the best of my abilities in the service of others.
That was one of my epiphany moments. Find your why, and then make the pursuit of fulfilling it a life or death scenario. I could continue with tobacco, alcohol, and the meds and leave a legacy of failure and suffering to my children. Instead, I decided to make the changes that I deemed necessary in my life. The flip side of that decision would leave me facing certain death and the destruction of everything I love.
I gave them all up, and as of today I have not allowed those substances any power over me nor will I. It starts with why. You must find and pursue your why as if your life and everything you love depends on it, because it does.
As a Special Forces operator, the duty to my team led to the contemplation of my roles as a husband, father, and leader. I understood there would be times I’d be faced with challenging situations in difficult circumstances. I wrote my Standard of Performance (SOP) to serve as a guide about how to live, love, contribute, and perform to the very best of my abilities—to make and be the difference. My combat experiences mandated that I’d default to my most basic level of training when confronted with issues of life and death. My SOP would serve as a blueprint for the difficult questions.
Below is my Standard of Performance. When I wrote it, I had no idea it would save my life. Do you have a Standard of Performance for your life? Are you living your legacy? If not, take the time to sit down and write out the things that are most important to you. This will give you a blueprint for living your best life. When the difficult questions of life are suddenly thrust upon you simply return to your ready-made answers and execute.
My Standard of Performance
“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same . . .”
—Rudyard Kipling, “If”
The real measure of life is how the race is run. Triumph and disaster are only by- products. To run the best race, one must cultivate a process in which a laser-sharp focus results in the capacity to plan, prepare, and perform to the best of one’s abilities.
British philosopher and author James Allen wrote, “A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts.” Whether you believe that you can or that you can’t, you’re right. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can control what you will feel and do about what happens, and so, in one way or another, you can shape your circumstances.
In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, psychiatrist Viktor E. Frankl said that our primary motivation in this life is our personal search for meaning. His experience as an inmate of a concentration camp was the catalyst for his discovery of meaning in all forms of existence— even the most horrific. History reveals the presence of a relentless search for meaning amidst great tragedy, suffering, genocide, and more. A conscious effort to perform at one’s best in all things at all times in the pursuit of meaning yields unlimited opportunity and fulfillment.
Furthermore, I believe purpose and fulfillment are ultimately realized through love and how we give to others. In this way, placing others’ needs ahead of our own in consistent acts of selflessness provides for the kind of meaning and success we can only begin to imagine. When things become hopeless, and even when they are not, find a way to make what you do about somebody else.
My wife, Becky, was six months pregnant with our first son (fourth child) when I left my last combat deployment. The plan was to come home for the birth and then go back to work, but sometimes plans change. Days before I was to return home for the birth of my son, my Special Forces (SF) team faced a major setback when one of our vehicles hit an improvised explosive device (IED) returning to our base after an intense mission and fire fight. Everyone in the vehicle survived, but the injuries sustained by our men would not allow them to operate for the remainder of that deployment. The team went from 11 SF Operators down to 8 in the blink of an eye.
After seeing our vehicle blown up and assessing the damage to my teammates at the blast site, I made an instant decision to forgo returning home for the birth of my son who was due in a few weeks, the lives of my teammates depended on it. Becky and my children were safe. They were cared and provided for. They had shelter. They had running water. Air-conditioning. Indoor plumbing. Refrigeration. Hospitals nearby. No threat of imminent danger. In our position, we had none of the above. I knew my soon-to-be-born son would appreciate that decision once he was old enough to comprehend it.
Life constantly presents us with choices. It’s the space between circumstance and response where our battles are won and lost. Understanding the things in our lives that are worth sacrificing for provides a sense of purpose, meaning, and responsibility. Discovering our purpose allows us to better measure our focus and actions in pursuit of our goals.
The question we must ask ourselves is, “are the things we’re placing our focus on getting us closer to fulfilling our purpose or taking us further away?” If our thoughts, feelings, actions, and relationships are not in alignment with our purpose it’s time to pause and reflect. Defining the principles, ideals, and values that are most important to us gives us ready-made answers to the many question’s life presents us with. We’re either getting closer or further away from fulfilling our purpose, there is no middle ground. The choice is ours and ours alone, it is the birthplace of personal responsibility.
The things in life that are worth sacrificing for are never easy, if they were everybody would do it. The right sacrifices can provide us a meaning that allows us to become greater than our individual circumstance. What in your life is worth sacrificing for? If you can’t answer that question, I challenge you to use the principles presented and commit to discovering the answer. A life of purpose and meaning is yours for the making.
The average blast wave travels at 163 mph, faster than the speed of sound and can pierce through your armor, skull, and brain tissue without drawing a drop of blood. Completely invisible damage. Causing further insult to injury, a blast wave can also send a grown man flying through the air, putting them at jeopardy for further head trauma.
As a special forces operator deployed multiple times in Afghanistan, I’ve experienced and survived hundreds of blast waves, and you always hear one before you feel it. The best way I can describe it is what I would imagine being struck by lightning would feel like; by the time you hear the thunderous clap, you feel the slap of over-pressure reverberate throughout your entire body.
I never thought in a million years that surviving these explosions seemingly unscathed would ever impact my life the way it has and strip me of the identity I had up until that point in my life, a Green Beret.
WHY I’M SHARING MY TBI STORY
I’m sharing my story as a commitment to help others suffering from Traumatic Brain Injuries heal and return to a state of normalcy, as I have. I serve those suffering from Traumatic Brain Injuries by giving them access to education and a scientifically-proven protocol to heal, formulated by Dr. Mark Gordon, the physician that helped me return to my pre-injury status in ninety days.
The Warrior Angels Foundation, in conjunction with revolutionary protocols designed by Dr. Mark Gordon, has duplicated the protocol used to help me return to my pre-injury status on over 300 service members and Veterans, and over 2,500 Traumatic Brain Injury case in total.
If you or a loved one suffer from a TBI or are interested in being a supporter of this revolutionary mission, click here or visit us at www.waftbi.org.
The “Invisible” Effects of a Traumatic Brain Injury
Although I didn’t know it then, I returned home in late 2013 from my last deployment as a special forces operator with a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), a type of brain damage sustained by an estimated 2.5 million people annually per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Per research, TBI’s are commonly suffered by Veterans, athletes, former fighters and car accident survivors to name a few.
THE ONSET OF PILING SYMPTOMS
My return home seemed typical for a short while, but the consequences of the damage suffered during my last deployment began to surface six-months in. The first of the series of symptoms was a complete loss of libido, not normal for me as an extremely healthy thirty-two-year-old male standing 6’2” and weighing 225 pounds, who is very attracted to Becky (my wife). At first, I tried not to think much of the irregularity, although admittedly my wife was less than pleased and rather confused.
But as I stated, that was just the first of a series of symptoms additional symptoms that developed over the next four months which included being tormented by chronic fatigue, to the point where some days I didn’t even have the energy to get out of bed even after a long night of sleep. One after the other, symptoms such as recurring migraine headaches, micro-seizures, insomnia, and panic attacks began to take hold. The panic attacks got so bad and humiliating that I would have them in public in the weight room, or at home right in front of my young children.
In a mere handful of months, my wife and children witnessed the epitome of a man dismantle and disrupt, which was very confusing for us all because physically we saw no signs of harm. I looked the same, but I was no longer myself.
THE DECISION TO ASK FOR HELP
By April 2014, I was waking up in such a severe state of depression, that I would compare it to the state of depression that I would imagine would consume me had I woken up to my whole family having been murdered.
Yet, I had it all. I had the career of my dreams as a special forces operator, a beautiful wife, and the family that she and I always wanted.
After months of feeling the burden of advancing symptoms, especially panic attacks, and the calamity of a downward spiral which admittedly had begun to take a disastrous toll on my marriage and family, I came to the very harsh conclusion that I could no longer “ride this out” and that there was something serious transpiring even though we could not see the cause of it with our eyes.
One thing was clear: I had to let my Green Beret brothers know that I had become a liability to them.
TBI Diagnosis and Medication Cocktail
Upon receiving the message, my command was simultaneously very supportive and shocked. Fortunately, because of my career track concerning numerous combat engagements, when I spoke up, people listened. Looking back, my military colleagues listened because they thought:
“If this can happen to Andrew Marr, then it can happen to anyone.”
The custom was to link me with every medical specialist in the power of my command to a) diagnosis the cause of the symptoms and b) create a treatment protocol to help me get better.
Upon visiting several medical specialists, I was informed that I had suffered head trauma which caused a Traumatic Brain Injury due to my job requirements as a Special Forces Green Beret; I could not afford another blow to the head. I was diagnosed with a Traumatic Brain Injury, as well as a mood disorder with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome and insomnia; and that was only the tip of the iceberg.
Complying to the protocol of these medical specialists landed me with 13 different medications, all of which were dispensed to manage specific symptoms but did not treat any underlying cause of the symptoms; my symptoms only got worse.
MEDICAL RETIREMENT FROM THE U.S. ARMY
When my command witnessed that I got worse rather than improved, I felt I had become a burden to them. In 1 year I was medically retired, which by Military standards is an incredible fast-track. According to the Veterans Affairs, I was 100% disabled due to 33 separate disabilities.
In what seemed like a blink of an eye I went from cutting edge elite high performer, to out on the street, my identity shattered.
To be given no choice but to withstand these symptoms and to have my identity as a Green Beret ripped from my grip was just too much for me to bear. To cope with the disastrous impact and the disappointing inefficacy of my medical treatment, I turned to whiskey.
The ER Visit That Changed My Life
Fast forward to September 2014, my wife Becky was nine months pregnant with our fifth child, and my excessive drinking had become so common that she had to ask me, “Can you keep your drinking down today so that I don’t have to drive myself to the hospital?”
It wasn’t enough to stop me. My leg had been killing me for three days and I needed to numb the pain.That same day we had to rush my 13-month-old son Jace to the Emergency Room. He suffered from a genetic lymphatic malformation in his neck, which blew up to the size of a softball and caused him to have trouble breathing.
As Jace was rushed into emergency surgery on the fifth floor of the hospital, my wife went into active labor with our youngest on the second floor. The pain in my leg at this point was so severe that I began to drag it as I walked between the second and fifth floor of the hospital. Fortunately, Jace was able to make it to emergency recovery in time for me to make it to the second floor to witness the birth of our youngest son, JoJo.
The physicians who kept eyeing me drag my leg as I walked through the hospital rushed me for images; a blood clot in my leg had broken off into both lungs and I had a bilateral pulmonary embolism. The doctor looked at me and said, “We have a very small window, this is a very high mortality rate.”
Drunk, I began to laugh and told the doctor and his team, “If you think this is going to kill me, get in line.”
THE PROMISE TO MY SON
At the bedside of my son Jace, looking at him sleep in emergency recovery, I popped my last pain pill and took a swig of my airplane bottle of whiskey (which at that point was how I operated 24/7 to cope).
At his bedside I had an epiphany that changed the course of my life: If I continued on the track I was going, if I continue to wholesale buy everything that the medical system was telling me, it was going to kill me and it was going to ruin everything and everyone that I love.
I had two choices: to stay on the route I was going or decide to act and change what I don’t like about my medical treatment and life. Then, I made three promises to my son, which were as follows:
I was going to get off all 13 medications and return to the man of my pre-injury status
I was going to find a way to heal myself
I was going to turn around and do the same thing for somebody else
And I made one more critical decision, to commit to my new identity and responsibility as a husband and a father. To this day, I have kept all of these promises.
The Proactive Search for Healing After leaving the hospital, I became proactive in regard to my healing. I began to research alternative therapies to help heal my Traumatic Brain Injury, the majority of which the government was not willing to pay for. I didn’t care and plowed forward. I started to take an objective approach and ask others with TBI what was working for them.
More than anything, I wanted to understand why some things worked for some people with TBI and not at all for others. I did every single alternative treatment modality that you can think of; some of which were beneficial to me and some of which had reverse effects. It was during this time that my brother Adam and I began the Warrior Angels Foundation, founded and run by veterans.
BEING CONTACTED BY DR. MARK GORDON
Not long into my hunt to heal my TBI, we received some press by being featured in a Forbes article, connected to a neurological facility in Texas. Shortly after the article was published, I received an email from Dr. Mark Gordon who had years of experience treating Traumatic Brain Injuries and is recognized as a top leader worldwide in Interventional Endocrinology.
He and one of his patients had also been featured in Joe Rogan podcast. I listened to the podcast and I basically heard his patient Matt tell my story; what I was feeling was not specific to me, this problem was far bigger than me. What most attracted me to Dr. Mark Gordon while listening to the podcast, was that he spoke about the ability to objectively measure treatment results, which was a non-existent element in my medical treatment at the point.
TREATMENT PROTOCOL WITH DR. MARK GORDON
Dr. Mark’s treatment made sense to me and was easy for me to understand; we would test my hormone levels, receive the results and prepare to follow a two-step protocol: Step 1) Mitigate and modulate inflammation (which is a major factor of the several symptoms associated with TBI) and Step 2) Replace the hormones that my body was no longer making.
Before complying to treatment with Dr. Mark Gordon, I sought the council of my military endocrinologist to see if he would test and replace the hormones that I had low levels of; he denied my request for a Hormone Replacement Treatment Program and instead accused me of abusing anabolic steroids because he had never seen hormone levels so low in a patient who was not an abuser. This response made me irate and propelled me to link up with Dr. Mark Gordon in Southern California.
A GLIMPSE OF HOPE
During our first meeting, Mark ran the labs which we expected to receive in three weeks. He also decided to give me a provocative testosterone injection to see how I would react. Within a couple of hours, I began to feel different. Usually, bumper to bumper traffic would drive me mad and to have a fit, but I felt a semblance of calm even in traffic.
Then, I called my wife and talked to her for an hour, something I hadn’t been able to do in almost a year.
This was the first time throughout a hellish year, where I had put a gun in my mouth several times and thought about ending my life only to end being a burden on my family, that I experienced a glimpse of hope.
HEALING MY TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURY IN 90 DAYS VIA THE GORDON-PROTOCOL
I began treatment for my Traumatic Brain Injury with Dr. Mark Gordon in February 2015, and I was completely symptom-free within 90 days. I could make clear decisions, I felt like I was back on my feet, and I had the energy and clarity to work hard to repair damaged relationships with my family. Upon my recovery, it was time to commit myself to the third part of the promise I made to my son, helping others heal.
We have replicated my treatment results in over 2,500 head injury cases in total to date via specific neutraceuticals that support the body’s natural ability to produce the correct chemistry. Today, anyone with a Traumatic Brain Injury can access our treatment protocol.
Due to increasing demand, Dr. Mark Gordon and we at the Warrior Angels Foundation, have started our own physician network where we educate, train and certify other physicians to implement the Gordon-Protocol. Our goal is to help over 100 sufferers of Traumatic Brain Injuries and their families per year. If you want to learn more about our mission or you want to support Warrior Angels Foundation, visit www.waftbi.org.