Let me begin with the bottom line up front: if you are looking for answers, looking for purpose, or looking for support, the best thing you can do for yourself is share. Share your journey. Share your situation. Share!
In my previous blog in this series, “My Journey with TBI: Invisible Injury and Shame”, I discussed the series of events that led to my shame about my head injuries as a SEAL and the conviction that I would never speak of the injuries again.
By and large, I held true to that pledge for the better part of 20 years. I would periodically get pressed by friends and colleagues on occasion about what happened to me and why I left the teams, so I would sparingly share the stories of my injuries (which I will share in detail in upcoming posts). But I never discussed the effects the injuries had on me. Especially the head injuries.
I recall a couple of instances explaining to people that I probably could have stayed in the Navy and waited out my arm injury to see if I would get full use of my hand back. I don’t know this to be true, but I said it anyway. I always followed up with, “But the headaches…they just come on so fast. My fear is that I would be in the field operating and a headache would come on and I would compromise the operation because, well, they are debilitating…” and I would trail off.
I know I only shared those thoughts a handful of times because I remember the blank stares of the people I shared this with. In hindsight I’m sure they were looking at me like that because they simply didn’t know what to say or how to respond. But at the time, it was not how I interpreted it. I felt judged.
These memories are so vivid to me. Every time I shared my feelings around my fear of operating because of the headaches, I immediately flashed to a former teammate at SEAL Team Four. This teammate fought in the invasion of Panama in 1989 (Operation Just Cause) and was wounded. Half of his calf was shot off but he remained operational years after his injury.
Each time I shared my fear, I would immediately flash to my former teammate’s mangled calf and tell myself, “He stayed. I left. What a pussy I am.”
Again, a vow to myself: never express my true feelings around my head injuries.
Fast forward to 2020
By this time, I started my leadership consulting firm Leader193, wrote and published my first book, and appeared on many podcasts to promote my book and company. One of the podcasts I appeared on was Mark Divine’s “Unbeatable Mind”.
I remember feeling a great deal of trepidation around this podcast appearance because I could count on one hand the number of Navy SEALS I have spoken to in the 20+ years since I left the Navy. I considered cancelling the appearance, but thankfully did not.
There is a reason Mark Divine is so successful and has such a loyal following. It is because he is an awesome human being. I’m not sure where I would be had I chickened out and not appeared on his podcast, because he may very well have changed the trajectory of my life.
About halfway through recording with Mark, I was telling the stories that led to my injuries. At one point he interjected and commented that perhaps my series of bad decisions and downward spiral at the time I left the SEAL Teams was a result of my head injuries. Mark mentioned TBI and the effects it has both short term and long term on those afflicted with it.
I awkwardly thanked him for that acknowledgement and moved on with my story. After the podcast was over, I told my wife about the interview, expressed how happy I was to have been a guest of Mark, what a good guy he was, and so on.
And then, “But you know, Mark said something really interesting. He said my string of bad decisions toward the end of my SEAL career was probably a result of the head injuries and that I should cut myself some slack. He mentioned TBI.”
My wife’s response was simple, and dripping with a loving sarcasm, “Ya’ think!?!?”
During the podcast I acted like I knew what Mark was talking about. But in all honesty, I had barely any knowledge of TBI, let alone what it can do to you. This was the first time someone indicated that perhaps there were circumstances beyond my control that led me to spiral out of control; to act irrationally on my emotions.
I didn’t know what to do with this information, so I tucked it away for reflection.
Less than a year after recording the episode with Mark, I met Dr. John Hughes who started me on his TBI protocol, to literally heal my brain.
Share to Find Answers
Had I not begun sharing the ugly side of my life, Mark Divine never would have told me that perhaps I was being a little hard on myself because of my head injuries.
Had Mark never made that observation, I would not have had the depth of conversation with Dr. Hughes about the effects of my injuries, or at least some of the things that I was struggling with, for the last 20+ years around my emotions and trying to get control of them.
Because of that conversation, Dr. Hughes brought me in for a brain scan and confirmed that, in fact, I was suffering from TBI. And, if not for the work I had done on myself from a meditative and inner awareness perspective over the years, I may very well have been one of the many veterans who suffered with an invisible injury so severe, and taken my own life.
My sense of purpose has never been so clear.
What a gift!
I know that I, along with Dr. Hughes, can help people suffering from an invisible injury like TBI.
We can save lives!
Think about how many people struggle with their sense of purpose. How do we gain a sense of purpose?
I shared. I shared to find answers, and, through a series of seemingly unrelated events, re-established my sense of purpose.
It’s something to consider…
To be continued…
Errol Doebler is the founder of Leader 193, a leadership consulting firm. After successful careers as a Navy SEAL Platoon Commander and FBI Special Agent, Errol founded Leader 193 to realize his passion of empowering great leaders and better human beings. Errol provides executive coaching, keynote speaking, and corporate retreats to individuals and teams across the world.
Errol is hosting a FREE Leadership Workshop on Tuesday September 21st at 3pm EST. The workshop is designed for all levels of leader in every field of endeavor who want to level up and become the best version of themselves. Secure your spot here.