Interviewed by Veronica Farmer, photography by www.michelepocknee,com
The theme of my life has been to uncover what it means to be a man in this world. To look at all the ways we are taught how to be and to finally ask – what is actually true for me, and for other men I see struggling out there. I’m only part way through this life experience but as I look back I can see that each of the life scars I have walked through have taught me a great deal.
I grew up in a Pentecostal Christian house with real fear of hell and damnation. When I was born, I had a seven-year old brother. Something about my arrival I think made him feel replaced and I spent most of my early life with my fists up in battles with him. Because of the work I have done recently to understand emotions, I have been able to sit with him and tell him that I now understand how he must have felt as a kid, and tell him that I love him as my big brother.
Growing up, school was not my skill, but sport was. I got a lot of affirmation and confidence in that area and had a dream of becoming a professional goalkeeper. I was good at it and played representative football and travelled overseas. One day a hit to the head landed me an appointment with the Optometrist who told me that if I had any more knocks I could lose my sight in that eye. Apparently my cornea had been so damaged it would be too risky to keep playing.
I gave up what I loved which broke my heart and this happened at the same time as I broke up with my first important girlfriend. I was a good Christian boy and she wanted to explore some parts of life I just couldn’t deal with. Ironic really looking back as after my soccer dreams were taken away, to handle the loss I started to lose myself in the same worlds of partying, drinking and total escapism. I was addicted to ecstasy and cocaine for about a year straight. I didn’t want to live anymore with my entire identity as a semi professional athlete collapsed before my eyes.
I would go out and just get hammered on anything I could. One night I was out with a friend and we were at a hotel bar. There was a much older woman staring at me from the end of the room. I looked over at her and she said “What’s your problem? Think you are too good for me?” She seemed angry so I just turned my eyes back to my friend. Pretty soon, she had come over and put a drink in front of me. Within minutes of drinking it, I was outside vomiting. I had some experience of drugs by then and I knew that what was happening was not alcohol but I was so completely out of it, I did not have the capacity to speak or do anything about it. My friend around that point decided to head home.
The woman took my wallet out of my pocket, I was barely lucid and she used my credit cards and found my address to get us a taxi back to my parent’s place where I was living. There is no way I would have ever taken anyone back there to my church going parent’s home where sex before marriage was an absolute No Go area. But, there I was with this woman, on my bed going in and out of consciousness, blacking out. I felt her on top of me and the rest is a blur before I heard her yelling her way out of the house early the next morning with my Mother like a lioness roaring behind her.
Men don’t talk about being drug date raped, especially strong guys. The woman had given me an STD. At the doctor’s, after he had treated me and asked why I hadn’t used a condom with a random stranger, I tried to tell him what had happened, that I had not chosen to have sex with the woman. He just laughed. I got the same response when I tried to talk to my friends about what had happened. They found it funny or at worst embarrassing. It’s not good that men or women have to ever go through that experience and not be able to talk about it. It something too many people have to deal with in silence.
One night, my older brother did something incredible. Out the front of his place he asked me “Do you still take drugs and if so, what type?” As soon as I said the word ‘cocaine’, he grabbed me around the collar and yelled his truths at me, out of love and frustration of what I was becoming. Looking back it was a turning point for me and I went cold turkey off those drugs soon after.
I was looking for somewhere else to put my huge energy. I wanted to find respect, a way to find and create strength in myself.
Watching action heros like Arnold Swarzenegger or Bruce Willis inspired me, so for five years, body-building became my obsession. I had a girlfriend but lived totally focused on that body dominated world – what I ate, what I lifted, which part of my body was being worked on next and how big I could get was all that I cared about. Obsessive determination and steroids became my life. I was training with huge guys who were freaks. One day, a power lift changed all that when a familiar pain in the difficult eye sent me back to the eye doctor. My body was saying for the second time “Hey Alex! This isn’t IT either!”
Here I was in front of another eye doctor being told that I needed to stop what I was doing physically or I could lose my eye. He explained that power lifting could take my sight in that eye for good and I needed immediate corneal surgery. I had to have two weeks of rest with my eyes closed. If I opened my other eye and used it, the healing eye felt like I had a cactus growing under my eyelid. I thought I would go crazy in the dark for all that time on my own, but it was a time that I needed to think about what I really wanted out of life. I realized that the way I was living had to change.
After giving up bodybuilding, I felt rudderless. My entire identity had been wrapped up in that world, and here I was again, not knowing what to do next. I had stopped going to the gym and was eating, laying on the couch and drinking too much. One day, driving over the busy Story Bridge after a run in with a micro-managing boss, I felt a rage grow in me to the extent that I felt this all enveloping urge to drive the car off the bridge. I thought that even if I took everyone with me, I would go out with a bang. That’s when the voice of reason took over and I heard inside my head Enough Alex! Enough! That’s not good. Time to get some help. I went and saw a therapist and it felt incredible to talk about how I was feeling without being afraid of being judged.
At the same time my idol Dorian Yates 6x Mr. Olympia released a documentary and after watching that and recognizing how unhealthy it was to follow all the photo-shopped, genetically gifted, performance enhancing, drug taking bodybuilders on social media, I got out of that world completely. I noticed a huge change, I was happier in my own skin and I went back to the gym with a more balanced training regime.
At this point I had been taking anti-anxiety meds for 10 years, unable to hold eye contact and carrying overwhelming feelings of something being very wrong. Opening up about my feelings was not something an Australian bloke like me could do. I was also taking ADHD medication. This gave me a fake spark in my brain so that my energy could be harnessed in a socially acceptable way, a way that would not disrupt others. I began to see that it was important for me to see what this big energy was and how I could channel it into a life’s work, something I still had not found.
Staying on these drugs was only turning the indicator light off, rather than doing anything about fixing the problem, so I decided it was time to look further afield for answers. I found myself at a clinic with an intuitive Healer, Veronica Farmer. She took me through a guided meditation and helped me feel heard and not crazy. I could feel more of this huge energy I had and how it just needed to find a purpose. It was the lack of purpose and authentic living that was causing a lot of my pain, along with holding onto old stories about people who had hurt me in my life. She also suggested a men’s retreat to explore some of the held emotions within and connect with my male power.
At the ManKind men’s retreat, I found an environment where I was safe to ask questions, build confidence and open up in front of other guys. Our Aboriginal leader told us it was important to get all that pent up emotion out because that’s how men can explode. He gave me a baseball bat and told me to smack it into some pillows they had there. I went for it for about 3 minutes and collapsed crying. This was the first time I had cried for more than a decade. He leaned down and told me “There’s more in there Brother” and I went at it again. I was exhausted, but felt free, it was incredible getting all that old grief, anger and pain out of my body, emptying the tank and seeing the other men there change so dramatically.
Coming back and catching up with my friends, I could see that many of my mates were also struggling with life. The weight of expectation, of working hard, providing for their partners, being a staunch guy without showing too much emotion was overwhelming and the only outlet they had was with escapism through booze or drugs. I didn’t want that world anymore and I knew that I wanted to help other guys out of it too.
I started exploring and attending more courses and workshops around inner learning and growth, along with other modalities for healing, from Chinese Medicine to acupuncture. I was hungry to learn and the more work I did I found that I was ready to say goodbye to the medications I was on for good. I felt clear and confident. What was interesting was being free of those medications and doing the work in the men’s retreats meant that I was able to claim back my self-power and found I could have eye contact with others and it made communication incredible. I was no longer afraid to listen and be listened to.
I came across a book called “No more Mr. Nice Guy” and it taught me that in a relationship you have to be able to grow together otherwise it can be healthier to break up. Some guys are controlling, while others roll-over in relationships and never speak their truth, but I realized that I needed to drop both of those models in my relationship at the time and speak up with kindness, to talk about what was honestly good for me.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson who is a great role model for strength and vulnerability as well as just being funny said in an interview recently “I want to be a man who is truthful and who won’t let pride get in the way of my ripping myself open to my partner and saying “Here I am. This is Me. This is all of me.” I feel there is something powerful when a man reaches a point in his life when he can be completely truthful, because often we let pride and ego get in the way, especially with a woman as you want her to see you in a certain way.”
Working on getting this honest in my own relationship meant the end of what we had and that was tough as we were engaged, but the work I had done meant that I had become an entirely different person from the man she had loved and we just were on different planets.
These days I have authentic relationships with people who have similar interests, people who can meet me with as much fierce determination to grow and do the inner work as I do. It is much healthier for me to live this way. Sexual understanding is important and I am learning more about how to live as a sexually evolved man with a higher connection to this great energy we all carry. I think most of us have no idea how to use this energy in an empowered and more loving way without the old stories of guilt or discomfort about this powerful and natural human force.
I have a deep desire to help other men struggling with trapped emotions that are causing them to be sick in mind, heart and body. Men need other men to talk to and if you can do this away from binge drinking and in a more natural environment, fishing, out in nature, building fires, something happens. Men need to connect and feel safe to let their guards down and talk about what is troubling them. I am called to do more work in this space and help groups of men heal using the tools I now have. It brings me a lot of happiness to see other men find their powerful selves trapped under layers of years of concrete. I now have more tools to assist me with connecting, communicating and creating new possibilities with all the people in my life and I won’t stop growing and learning. Watch this space!
Life is full of scars and for most of us, that can’t be changed, but what we can do is change the way we manage our feelings and allow ourselves to feel them. It’s okay for even strong men to feel.
Story by Alex Kenny, interviewed by Veronica Farmer, Author and Storycollector for Made Beautiful by Scars. Images by www.michelepocknee.com
Made Beautiful by Scars is a human global story series created by Author and Therapist Veronica Farmer, capturing real stories from men and women who have refused to let life scars hold them back from creating an extraordinary life.
Made Beautiful by Scars is a powerful movement for change around how we see our life scars. Instead of hiding our wounds, we share them and the lessons richly learned.
Our storytellers are everyday people alongside those in the public eye - internationally recognised artists, authors, actors, world record athletes, scientists and eco-warriors. These stories are raw, real and unputdownable! In our wired in world, these short stories offer a peak into the rich workings of a vulnerable scarred heart and heal our own.
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