When it comes to things like hurricanes, boredom can be seen as a blessing. First, my little home in Georgia lost power, and my wife and I resigned ourselves to board games by candlelight. Then, as she went to sleep early (as pregnant ladies often do), I found myself alone in the dark, left to my own devices, both figuratively and literally.
Then the worst happened… the cell towers in my area went down too, rendering my trusty iPhone practically useless. No more Twitter, no more Facebook, no wife to carry on conversation… just me and a long night of watching the trees surrounding my house bend and crack under the pressure of the gusting wind I could hear clearly even through the walls of my silent home. Eventually, the darkness became so absolute that I couldn’t even see the trees anymore, and I was left to try to triangulate the locations of the loudly cracking branches by sound alone.
This is the part of tough situations people usually don’t write about. When telling stories about deployments, people want to hear about rounds flying down range, explosions, air support… so people often gloss over the long stretches of boredom that come between those dramatic events. Boredom, as we’ve already discussed, is indeed a blessing – it means there’s no looming peril to avoid… but despite its inherent safety, boredom comes with a price.
I am a relentlessly busy guy. I’m constantly writing, researching, planning another project. My work hours and the hours I’m conscious usually run in parallel, barring a few hours each evening after my wife gets home. Part of that is just the nature of this line of work – if there isn’t writing to do for SOFREP, there’s social media stuff to manage, and an ever growing pile of personal projects to work on, but as I sat on my couch alone in the silence, I came to realize my hectic schedule is as much for my mental and emotional benefit as it is a product of my career. I’m just not any good at sitting on my hands.
Boredom’s dangerous shadow, of course, is complacency. Spend enough time daydreaming, and you’re bound to stop focusing on the things you know you should. For me, the power outrage meant most of my recently installed security precautions were also offline, and after the year I’ve had, I was immediately concerned about the possibility of whoever tried to do me harm before returning after the storm broke and I was fast asleep. Paranoid? Absolutely. Paranoia, I could argue, is one of the reasons I’m still here.
So I started by cleaning a few guns by candlelight. It’s a pleasant chore, and under the right circumstances it’s downright cathartic, though low light makes you a bit more nervous about misplacing anything. Soon, I was assembling my inbound daughter’s crib, then hanging shelves for her toys, and before you knew it, I was out of work to do inside the shelter of my thinly walled home, and I was again left with only the howling wind outside to keep me company.
I spent the next few hours reading, dozing off, and then waking up in a panic as one of our pets bumped into something in the darkness. It was a good lesson – since someone lit a fire on my porch a few months ago, I’ve grown increasingly reliant on my security system to notify me when things happened around my house, and without that digital security blanket to shroud myself in, I felt exposed and underprepared. What were the chances someone would come to my little house in the woods during a tropical storm? Nearly zero, but then, what were the chances someone would set a gas can against the exterior wall of my house and light it on fire either?
See what I mean about the paranoia?
A lot of times, I write these articles to explain to those of you with similar interests or challenges in your lives how I address them, using a combination of the training I’ve received and a broad set of experiences I can pull from. Sometimes though, I’m given a cold reminder that just because I’ve been around the block a few times doesn’t make me infallible, and certainly doesn’t make me invincible. Soon, the combination of down time, concern, and stress started leading to thoughts about other things I actively avoid addressing in a classically Irish sense. Two days ago, I got a call at 4AM from a friend that’s still amidst recovery from a suicide attempt. He’s still struggling, and we talked for a long time about the day’s I struggled too, to show him that he’s not alone in this fight. That conversation crept back into my subconscious, and then clawed its way to the forefront of my mind: before I knew it, I was no longer alone in the dark, I was surrounded by the very worst parts of me.
So, in another classically Irish decision, I got drunk about it.
When my wife woke me up on the couch this morning, there wasn’t any vodka left, and I’d even done the unthinkable and turned to tequila. She laughed and asked if I had a party she didn’t know about. I laughed too, but didn’t explain.
The thing about survival is, whether you’re in a combat zone or just waiting out a hurricane, being able to do what you need to do when you need to do it is paramount, but that’s only part of the fight. Down time is a huge part of surviving, and if you don’t know how to handle it, you’re in for a bad time. Luckily for me, that bad time came in the form of tequila heartburn and a mild headache, but in a more dangerous setting, it could cost you your life.
So, while I’m often relaying to you the things I’d suggest you work on, procure, or prepare – today is different. The residents of Florida that got the worst of Irma now face a grueling rebuilding process, and in a way, I realize I’m still amidst my own. I recognize now that I’ve spent so much of my life focusing on being ready for a fight, that I’ve neglected to prepare myself to just BE. It’s something I have to work on, and in the true nature of life’s more difficult challenges, the solution is neither clear nor simple. It’s a muddy process, and one I’ve ignored for too long.
So, when power is restored to my house, after I’m through cleaning up the yard and putting my home back in order, I have a new challenge to tackle. I’ve got to get right with me.
For many of you, this might not be a concern, but for those of you that read this article and found yourself nodding your head, rest assured that, while your demons may be a formidable opponent at times – they are yours. You might not be able to put them to pasture, but I’m certain you can put them to work.
And that’s exactly what I intend to do.
Image courtesy of the author