No Excuses, Only Choices: This is Bill's Story
Bill is a graduate of our 2017 program, and here is his story - what brought him to the Heroes and Horses program, what kept him going, and why "No Excuses, Only Choices" is his favorite bumper sticker.
This is NOT about my past; this is about NOW.
Before Heroes and Horses I was lost, and not wanting to be found. I found a place and way to hide from my past failures and actions; or failures to act. This place, and way, was through medications (both prescribed and self-administered), and a lifestyle choice that allowed me to live on my terms; or so I thought. Notice earlier how I said “past failures.” This is a critical point I needed to see in order to understand the “why” in my actions and choices I was making. Because that’s really the only true control we have in our lives. Our choices dictate what direction, how far & hard we ride in that direction, what we do while we’re riding in that direction, and what we do after we get there. The part I wasn’t understanding was my ability, or rather inability, to select the opportunities presented to me in life. I used to think that I could control A LOT! That’s laughable, I know, but it’s what I thought. Then after a series of unfortunate events due to LIFE happening, combined with a follow-up of bad decisions, I came to the conclusion that we, as human beings, control absolutely NOTHING! So here I was sliding from the opposite end of the spectrum with regard to my beliefs about control. What happened was that this mindset ended up giving me the excuse (remember this term) I needed to quit life. What good was living if this was true? That was my outlook, and I wasn’t listening to anyone else who was peddling something different for sale, because they couldn’t possibly know what I knew.
So, let’s get back to choices and the decisions we make. I wasn’t making ANY choices after I decided that I had zero control over my life; I mean, beyond whether I decided to piss myself or get up and go to the bathroom, I really wasn’t making any positive or life-changing decisions. Believe me, pissing myself seemed like the easiest and best decision on many days. And why should I? I had decided that I had no control over anything, and dying was certainly a much better-looking option on any given day. Laying in my piss, or not taking the opportunity to make a choice that positively impacted me (or anybody else), was easy and required no “vain” effort on my part. And it certainly was in vain since we controlled nothing and, in my mind, held no sway over the "Masters of the Universe" in their decision making process. I was going to piss myself anyway if that was meant to be, and there was nothing I could do about it. I had completely given up on my ability to impact or effect anything. More than that, I was acting on this belief and intentionally NOT making choices or decisions. Keep in mind that this process I’m speaking of here was continually being reinforced by my counselors "petting" me and telling me that we can’t control our emotions ( which is true), and that "it’s normal to feel this way". Normal? I’ll reserve my sarcasm for another time. The medications I was taking essentially turned me into a zombie. I’ve never seen a zombie, and I don’t even watch zombie apocalypse shows or believe in them, although I’ve been told it’s a possible outcome of our society. But, the term seems to accurately describe how I felt and acted most days while on these anti-depressants and mood stabilizers. I didn’t give a shit. Perfect! Thank you sir, may I have another? See the pattern of reinforcement happening here? Good, because I didn’t.
Choices. Yes, my favorite bumper sticker I ever saw said this: "No Excuses, Only Choices". It is my favorite bumper sticker now, but during my tenure as a zombie, I didn’t believe it anymore.
After nearly 10 years of buying into this belief that I had no control over my life, and building it up in my mind as gospel, I was starting to see some cracks in my theory. I was also tired. Tired of taking pills everyday. Tired of life, but knowing I wasn’t going to end it. Tired of avoiding or faking it in front of my kids (which I know they weren’t buying it, and I really wasn’t even faking it anymore). Tired of making excuses for myself, and this belief system I had built up. I was tired of all this and more, and I knew I wanted something new...something better. At this point in my life, after many trials and tribulations I won’t recount here, I just wanted a change. So, I did something different - I made a choice. I chose to look for something that would bring about any amount of change, big or small. Mind you, I had NO faith anything would actually stick, but I was willing to hear somebody out just for the sake of a change. Truth is, I was bored - and maybe, just maybe, I actually cared. This is when I found an organization called Heroes and Horses. I must’ve read the website 25 times all the way through before CHOOSING to apply. Something kept drawing me back to the website and what it said; #NOTAVACATION. Perhaps it was appealing to the "old me" that I had hidden away through years of inaction and anger. Now, I know this to be the case, but at the time I just thought I’d give anything a shot for the sake of getting me the hell out of the house and shaking things up. Hell, I didn’t even tell my wife about it until a couple of weeks after applying AND speaking with a Heroes and Horses employee. That was not surprising at the time, but looking back, I don’t know why my wife is still with me.
I remember the moment I made the choice. It occurred when speaking with Mike Reilly on the phone about my tentative acceptance into the program. I remember him asking me if I would be committed for the entire duration because there were only 16 slots. I knew what he was implying; if I took a slot away from a veteran who would stick it out because I quit, I was a shitbag. "No problem", I told him, "if I commit to something, I see it through". What the #$@!? Did I just commit to something? Did I just make a decision to move my life in a forward, and hopefully positive, direction? All of a sudden I got a funny feeling I hadn’t felt in years. I can compare this to the scene in the movie "Major Payne", where he’s feeling sentimental and doesn’t understand what’s happening. That was "me" then. and today I am experiencing many old feelings in a new way all over again.
That one decision impacted my life in a way I didn’t understand then. It led to a series of decisions I made before the program started, during the program, and now continuing every day after finishing the Heroes and Horses program. The program put me in situations that forced my hand. I HAD to make another decision each day I got closer to attending, and then there were constant choices that needed to be made while in attendance. Each day I progressed (unknowingly much of the time) towards a better me, while learning new and interesting skills. I had other veterans beside me, counting on me. I felt wanted and needed. But none of this was easy and NONE of it was given to me. You can’t get anything good for free. ALL good things come at a cost, or they’re not worth having. A lesson I re-learned while in the program.
Now, to the moments of control in our lives; there are many times, every day as a matter of fact, that we can control what direction we head, how far, and how hard we ride. These moments are short and require us to act upon them without hesitation, in many instances. But, we control this small amount of time - this space. As one of my favorite bands, Rush, so accurately put it in their song, Freewill, “...if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” So, here I was making choices; and the excuses were disappearing. Fewer each day as I made strides to be a better man than I was the day prior. The mountains, horses, cadre, fellow veterans, hard times - they ALL provided the medium to find this motivation and reasons for bettering myself. The reasons were initially NOT for me. They were for everybody else. "How selfless of you", you say! No, how ignorant of me. Each day I moved towards doing more things for me. But, for the right reason. After all, as I was starting to believe, this new belief system looked like it might stick. So, with each passing day, I bought more stock in the program and as I came to see, in myself. By the end of the program, I was worth something, and I believed in the control again. Only this time it was healthy AND realistic.
A horse helped me get here. Today, as I do most days now, I had a revelation - or an "epiphany", I guess you could call it. Call it what you will, I realized something that has been sitting right in front of me for many years. After having a conversation with a fellow horse-lover about an individual who he had witnessed demanding attention from a horse, I observed myself as I spent time with my own horse. I wasn’t asking anything of him, just feeding him some hay and standing and talking with him while he ate it. Occasionally, he would move his head close to mine and just look at me while I stood there not asking anything from him. I didn’t want him to provide me with anything. I was providing him company, if he wanted it, and, hopefully, comfort. I was “listening” to him by watching his body language. Even the most subtle movement can alert you to what a horse is trying to say. If he had asked, I would’ve left him to eat alone, but he didn’t. This was my reward. He allowed me, a predator, into his life for a brief moment of time. That was more than I asked for or expected. It was...enough. Often times with horses, not unlike our human relationships, we demand something in the guise of "good will" or a "gift". With a horse, there is no lying. He already, at best, has reservations about trusting you. So, trying to lie and say "I want to pet you for your comfort" isn’t going to be bought. If you are doing anything for selfish reasons, the horse knows; oftentimes before the human does, because the human has been lying for so long, he even believes it. A human petting a horse because he wants to feel the horse’s mane or because he thinks that’s what that horse is for, is a selfish reason. What are you bringing the horse? My point is this; you can try to force the horse to be still and allow you to pet him, but neither you nor the horse will benefit from it. If that horse (or person) doesn’t want anything to do with you, ask what you could do differently. Reflecting inward allows you to effect change somewhere where you have power and influence. Looking for fault in others is most often a waste of energy, and certainly doesn’t allow you to effect change to any worthwhile degree. This carries over in every aspect of the relationship. When the horse does it willingly and without force; that is beauty. It is an acknowledgment of your own legitimacy, and in turn benefits you AND the horse. Lastly, nobody ever gets along with everyone; walk away from unhealthy relationships.
Thankful. I am most thankful to those who provided me this opportunity to allow me to be a better man. As I was told many times during the program, this isn’t about making me a cowboy, outfitter, or anything else that may seem the "obvious" answer. It’s about allowing me to choose; to effect change and influence the world around me where I’m best able to, and, most importantly, find self-worth in doing these things. Finding my purpose, not in a cheesy meaning-of-life/fate kind of way, but through meaningful everyday actions and choices. When that opportunity comes along tomorrow, I know I’ll make the best choice I’m able and I’ll live with the outcome, for better or worse; no excuses, only choices.