The surprising face of courage

The surprising face of courage

In this line of work, I’m honoured to hear countless stories of courage in the face of adversity. Recently, as part of our Identity and Transition course, veterans and first responders have been putting pen to paper.  Led by our inspired writer Karalee Ann Clerk, participants who claim they can’t write step forward into the spotlight, bearing their hearts to the group. A sacred circle has formed, woven of trust, strength, compassion and courage.  Each week my heart grows as I view their lives through the lens of their experiences.  I mentioned to the group that if anyone was willing to share their weekly writing with the greater Landing Strong community, I’d be happy to publish it.  One of our Veterans (and also a former Corrections Officer) stepped to the plate. 

Thank you R.B. for trusting us with this piece of your heart:

I remember not seeing my father’s car. It was a fire engine red 1965 Pontiac Parisienne. A boat. A convertible boat. He loved that car, and that car was gone. I was 7 or 8 and had just returned from school. My mom told me matter of factly, “Your fathers gone and he is not coming back.” 

At that young age I knew that despite how bad things had been at home and judging by my family’s current trajectory the dissolution of my parent’s marriage meant things were about to get a whole heck of a lot worse. I was terrified for myself and my siblings. 

It was within this moment that I first learned how to numb fear.

I used to think courage is when you think taking an action may hurt you, but you do it anyways because it is in line with your values. It’s pushing yourself through something despite fear.

When I learned how to turn off fear I lost with it my sense of courage. How could I experience courageousness myself when I wouldn’t allow myself to be afraid? Looking back now I wonder if this is part of the reason I found myself in such a mess to begin with. It makes sense – nothing I did could appropriately scare me.

 I’ve always been a risk taker. I used to think it was just who I was. I needed a little something extra to get a kick out of life. Were all of these risks really just a scared child trying to get back his sense of fear?

Masking emotions allowed me to excel as a grownup. I joined the army and really found my place. Here was a place where my risk taking could be rewarded.

Trauma followed me out of my childhood and into the army. Looking back it was as if we were marching in lockstep together. After several major events I knew my psyche needed out and I released after a short but exciting three years.

The experimenting that began with alcohol in my early teens turned into a full blown addiction by my early twenties with a trip into rehab for a month. Eventually fate would land me in prison – as a correctional officer where I spent nine years of my life deep-diving into the never ending well of despair that is our criminal justice system.

Of everything that happened to me, in my childhood, the army and working at the jail, I never considered anything I did courageous. How could I. I was never afraid.

This scares me though. Writing this down, wondering how all of you are going to react. Will you accept me? Will you shun me? Will I even read it?

I feel courageous when I share with people. It excites me in a good way. Will something I say resonate? Will the words I speak ignite a feeling in you? One you haven’t felt in a while, or haven’t been able to express?

I was only able to go back to the memory of my father through years of introspection and therapy. It was through the act of recovery that I was able to see just how courageous I was. Not in that moment as a child. Not because I survived all of the perils life could throw at me. But because I could take that moment, that moment I turned off that emotion of fear, and I could have it back. 

Sometimes memories can be about something that you didn’t see. Like a red convertible in the driveway. I can go back there now.

I can tell that little boy whose father just left him that everything is going to be alright, and the courageous part about my life is now I’m telling it to you.

  • R.B.


Warm regards,

Belinda Seagram, Ph.D., R. Psych.
Executive Director, Landing Strong

The business of getting better: part 6

The business of getting better: part 6

Intoxicating anger

Anger is intoxicating.  There’s no doubt about it.  It’s powerful, and has the illusion of strength.  People will often respond to us more quickly if we’re angry.

Anger can be a force to be reckoned with.  The military recognizes this, teaching people to harness their anger as vehicles for mobilization during difficult moments.

“Don’t get sad, get mad”

The problem is, power gleaned through anger is power taken, not power earned.

Is it possible, I wonder, to have power without exerting our will over others?

Maybe what we are really talking about is leadership.  

Certainly, there are many different styles of leadership.  We are all familiar with dictatorships, where those in power exert their control over others. Failure to conform is associated with profound negative consequences. We are fearful of their anger.  Think Stalin.

Charismatic leaders, on the other hand, rely on the leader’s charm and attraction to inspire devotion among followers. After meeting with Charismatic leaders, we are inspired to be of service.  We leave feeling they are special. Televangelist Billy Graham is a famous example of this style of leadership.

Transformation leaders, on the other hand, inspire greatness. They instill valuable and positive change with a vision of developing followers into leaders. After meeting with these leaders, we feel special: confident and inspired to be more. Nelson Mandela is an example of such a leader.

I think we have all had times when we realized our anger had power.  It’s a hard habit to break, particularly if we don’t feel safe.

Is this a time when transformational leadership might be an option for you?  Maybe you are already practicing it. What does it look like in your life?

Warm regards,

Belinda Seagram, Ph.D., R. Psych.
Founder, Landing Strong

No Expiry Date

No Expiry Date

This weekend, while at the cottage, my son Kyle came into the kitchen munching a Jos Louis.

“Where did you get that?” I asked, surprised to see it.

“The back of the cupboard,” he grinned.

“Funny, I don’t remember buying them.” Needing to see this for myself, I rummaged through the back of the cupboard. I soon realized why I didn’t remember buying them… the expiry date was September 28, 2016.

“Stop… that’s two years old!” I warned.

“And never tasted better!” he responded laughing.

Funny, not many things in life are like that. Most things decline with age. There are of course exceptions: fine wines, good cheese, and Jos Louis are among them. Bread found in IMP’s (military rations) are perhaps another. I’ll never quite understand how something can be deemed edible but non-degradable.

Doug Allen, former infantry Sergeant, Program Manager and Social Worker with the Landing Strong Team, is definitely someone who holds his own (and in fact keeps getting better) over time.

Doug spent 17 years in the Canadian Forces, stationed with the Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. He has conducted Peace support operations in Bosnia, combat operations in Afghanistan, and various domestic operations here in Canada. Since returning from Afghanistan in 2008, he has been working with ill and injured Canadian Force members helping them to overcome trauma and reclaim their lives.

Doug’s approach to trauma recovery focuses on reducing the ‘charge’ of fight/flight or freeze, and helping to break out of survival mode. He believes that every person has the strength to become well, as long as they are in an environment that inspires and empowers change.

You’ll recognize Doug by the twinkle in his eye, his quick grin, and his cool tattoos. We welcome his leadership and inspired energy. Hmmm, now that I think about it, he doesn’t seem to age… I wonder Doug, do you by any chance eat Jos Louis?