It's 3:30 a.m., and my new friend Damien is 30 minutes behind me. My even newer friend, Darren, is within eyesight up ahead of me, but is choosing to be alone, and I totally get it.
Three dudes, suffering through tremendous sunburn shivers, blistered feet, and banged-up bodies, running 130KM around the entire Island province of Phuket, Thailand. Past the elephant babies, tourist beaches, and 10,000 massage parlors. Climbing straight-up mean mountain roads, and pounding down muscle-cramping descents, heat and smog so brutal and stifling there were times I wanted to throw in the towel, only finding hope in the upcoming cooler night temperatures.
Why were we doing this? I dunno. I guess because we could. Because we each had our own individual demons we wanted to challenge.
Doing extreme challenges is nothing new to me, but this was different...
Meet Damien & Darren
I met Australian, Damien Rider, at Survival Run Australia in October 2015. When this beast of man moved past me in the race, both of us struggling with 50+ LB rocks, carrying them uphill for 7 KM, I never knew that we'd soon be connected at the hip. Instant homies for life - despite the fact that he lived halfway across the world from me. Damien is a survivor of tremendous, and I mean TREMENDOUS child abuse; however, wanting to break the cycle of the effects of the growing demons inside, he set out to change. I won't tell Damien's full story, you can see his amazing story in the National Geographic documentary, Heart of the Sea.
When I met Damien in Australia, we connected in this weird sorta way where I knew I had to be part of what this man was doing. He runs an organization called PACA - Paddle Against Child Abuse - and is turning traditional ways of dealing with life PTSD on its ear.
Darren Sherbain was Damien's friend. A hilarious, well-liked, and well-respected personal trainer on the Island of Phuket. I liked him instantly. I think it was the compression socks :) Darren's struggle was substance abuse. I don't know as much about Darren's deeper struggles, but it's sure to come out when we all tell our stories to the world in the second Documentary, RISE ABOVE, launching this year.
Stop the taboo. Start talking!
On my flight home from Survival Run Australia, I texted Damien. I sometimes wish I still had the text. Maybe he does, but I just opened up like a faucet. I admitted years and years of sexual abuse in my teens. Sexual abuse that has haunted me for 30 years. HAUNTED. Effects of which playing out in every relationship in my life. Only a very small handful of people knew about this, and even they only found out when it was exposed a bit during my divorce. It was like once I started telling him, though, I couldn't stop. Details. Graphic details. It all flowed with a total lack of fear of outcome, as if it was just hovering there, expanding, forcing itself out and then just exploding.
I felt free. I didn't quite know how all this would manifest itself, but I knew I was moving in a direction of freeing myself from these lifelong shackles of shame, embarrassment, self-blame, low self-esteem, and really just feeling like a sexual freak.
The Challenge that changed my life
It came as a calling. A simple statement from Damien, "Hey bro, why don't you come and run 130 KM around Phuket, Thailand with me?" and that's all it took. Decided in minutes. It wasn't even a question.
The days previous to me hopping a plane to Thailand were pure Hell - I was running from a relationship that was growing toxic for me, and crushing my family. In parallel, I was losing the greatest friendship I ever had in this world in my ex-wife, and lastly, had been scammed by a fake Spanish school, with my next few days including two robberies, one non-violent, and one where a gun was held to my head and the weapon fired at me.
Shockingly (and luckily), he missed. But, barely, 'cuz I felt the dirt kick up where the bullet hit the ground.
I went straight to the airport right then, bought a full-fare, last-minute plane ticket for $1000.50, and flew home, landing in Atlanta, shaken, rattling, and crying in the bedroom of my ex-wife.
"Holy shit, man - I got f*cking shot at! I should be dead."
The universe sent me home with my tail between my legs. Was #LIVEFORALIVING going to be too much for me? Did I bite off more than I could chew? Was I crazy to think this could all work the way I envisioned?
But Damian's challenge saved me.
After so much discussion and sharing and brotherhood, I realized that Damien was me, and I was him; but even more than that came the powerful self-realization that WE WERE NOT ALONE. The way we found each other was expanding - so many admissions being thrown at us from all around our individuals circles. People were hurting. Struggling with deep wounds, and they wanted freedom.
So, back to 3:30 a.m., limping towards the end of the beginning
...so as I watched Darren way up ahead on the dark street, fighting off the many dogs that would try to attack our beaten bodies, a huge smile spread across my face.
I wanted to live for a living, right? Well, when you find yourself halfway around the world, rolling deep in self-administered suffering through the streets of Thailand, in the middle of the pitch-black night, pondering ways to join others in the personal fight for freedom from demons so taboo no one wants to touch them, and you are doing so through extreme physical events designed to get people to pay attention - you are definitely living for a living.
So what's next? Where do we go from here?
That's easy. More exposure. More challenges. More attention to the cause, and most importantly, working on ways to implement real-life programs allowing others to experience alternative ways of exercising their demons in a positive way.
Not therapy. Not just awareness. Instead, we want to teach people to attack the demons. Face them, admit them, then put on the gloves and prepare to go to battle with them. During our next challenge, to be announced very soon, we are opening it up to all-comers. Anyone who wants to fight their demons, or support those who do, is welcome.
It really does take a village
As a worldwide culture, we have to stop making child abuse a taboo subject. It happens everywhere, comes in many flavors, and no one is immune. Past or present, whether you see visions of an angry parent with raised hands, or feel the chills of someone you trust exercising creepy sexual gratification against you, or you're wallowing in a seemingly, never-ending pool of shitty self-esteem because you are told you aren't good enough, pretty enough, or smart enough, fight back. Tell someone.
Your past does not need to define your future
Choose to free yourself from this crap.
Until you do, you will never escape it, and it will be with you, and play out in your relationships for as long as you let it.
My name is Christian Griffith and I was sexually abused by a number of individuals, in a number of disgusting ways, throughout my teens; but I choose to not let these experiences define who I am today, nor into the future.
How about you? Ready to be free?