25th of April 2013, Anzac Day dawn service on the Kokoda trail is a moment in time that I’ll never forget. The entire 9-day journey up into the mountains of Papua New Guinea was a struggle, but in that one moment, coming down from Brigade Hill, I knew who I needed to be, where I needed to go and what was required from me to get there...
My brother and I had chosen to travel this journey together and walk in the footsteps of the men from Australia and Japan who fought each other in epic battles during WW2. These battles had pushed the men of both armies beyond endurance. I couldn’t walk that trek and come back the same man without purpose or direction. I knew that to live a more powerful life would mean that everything had to change.
The direction and path of my new life leaving the mountain was simple. I wanted to get healthy, lose the fat that was weighing down my body, heal from old injuries and join the armed services. I needed a purpose.
I began walking as a 106 kg overweight and unfit man and this is me now.
I’ve had to work hard mentally, physically and emotionally to get to this new me, and make some big sacrifices along the way.
Growing up in a broken family with lots of fighting in a small town in Northern Queensland made me not so different from a lot of other people out there. Subconsciously I have blocked out a lot from those years. Dad left when I was about 13 years old. I loved golf as a kid and was pretty good at it. One morning he dropped me off at golf, turned to me and said “Son, I’m off.” He pushed a bit of money in my hand and drove off and that was it.
I know that soon will be the right time to have a conversation with Dad about that day and why he left. I need to say some words that will help clear up the sense of separation I had when he wasn’t there for us at that pivotal time of being a teenager.
Not having a Dad growing up was tough, but today when I think about it, my Dad is one of the only people who has noticed and said to me how much I have changed in the last three years. He’s seen the difference in me.
My mum is a strong women, she raised us as a single mother on a pension, three kids going through high school was extremely tough on her, but she did the best she could with what she had. I guess I was rebellious as a teenager and gave her hell, but I still tried to do the right thing by her.
Around 17 years old, I had to choose between pursuing golf or getting work. I chose to ease the burden on Mum and help her out. So I got some work in hospitality for a while, trying to secure a Chef apprenticeship, but couldn’t crack it. It was then that I decided to enlist into the army.
Heading out to basic training was the first time I had been on a plane, first time I had left the State and the first time I had left home. It was a big eye-opener for me and I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I came down with shin splints and that made me a burden for everyone there. So, I made the decision to leave the army and went to live with my Dad for a bit, working as a kitchen hand for a few months, then headed into mining for roughly 6 years.
Working in that environment wasn’t healthy. I wasn’t active and had a crappy diet, and that combination made me lethargic and lacking in energy.
At that time a life scar hit hard. A totally random event walking home after being out one night with 2 mates, one I had known for nearly 15yrs at the time and a mutual friend. We were set on by a group of guys coming from the other direction. I had two guys surrounding me and both of my mates had one each on them. I wasn’t sure who to help first and as I looked around to see what to do, then everything went black. I was king-hit from behind and the attackers stomped on my head while I was laying out cold on the ground.
I woke up hearing one of my mates really upset and crying and then moments of being in and out of consciousness in the ambulance. I don’t hold any resentment over what happened. The guys were caught. It was just the local gang trying to make a name for themselves, a meaningless event to them, but I ended up with a broken nose, fractured cheekbones and a broken eye socket that required full facial reconstruction surgery.
The only scar I have on my body from that night is inside the crease of my eye, so there is nothing visible on my face from the attack. I was lucky enough to have one of Australia’s best plastic surgeons helping me out that day and you would never know what I had been through by looking at me.
I got through that event by getting myself back into life and into society one day at a time. It took me a while to get out of the house, but food drew me out. So off I went in search of supplies wearing a nose brace and an eye patch, looking pretty messed up but I knew I had to get back out in the world as soon as possible and move on from what had happened. I wasn’t supposed to be driving, but I headed to the shops and something really humbling happened to me. I was in the queue waiting to pay for my groceries when a stranger came up and tapped me on the shoulder and said “Mate, I hope they get them”. Those simple words meant a hell of a lot to me.
I had become somewhat known in my suburb after news of what had happened hit the media, and my face had appeared front page of the local paper. Total strangers were really good to me after that and I think that helped me move on so much easier and see the good in people.
After the attack I felt less of a man and knew I had to work through those feelings to make sense of what had happened. The fact was in that attack, I didn’t get the opportunity to defend myself, as I was waiting to see which of mates to help first.
My mates didn’t get the injuries I experienced because they had been able to defend themselves, but being king-hit meant that my body experienced the humiliation of being assaulted while out stone-cold on the ground. It took some time to reconcile that and it took me into a depressive place for some time. I know that I considered suicide, but what stopped me was thinking about what other people would think and how it would affect those around me – family and friends. I knew people would miss me, even though at the time I didn’t see that. The depression affected my relationships and how I saw myself. It only really healed properly along the Kokoda Trail in Papua New Guinea.
The big shift for me was that I needed to face the God honest truth and stop playing the victim. I realized on that hill that if I didn’t I would never move forward. It was a kick up the pants for me to see that, it was what I needed. In the last three years I have learned a lot about depression and how to heal myself. Depression is often a chemical imbalance in the brain, so if you feed your body everything that it needs and get into a state of mind that has something to look forward to, that can really help you with healing. That’s been the case for me. Refusing to stay in the past is important, but drawing on those experiences helps you move forward, there’s a silver lining in everything. Just let go of being the victim.
Going on the Kokoda trail was something I had always wanted to experience. April 2013, my brother and I headed off and I took my unfit body and depression with me. It was really hard on my body to trudge through the trek but I kept going through the pain and blisters out of respect for what had happened in that jungle 70 years ago. All those men who had died and fought left something for me to see – that gave me fire inside to live a more powerful life.
When I came back to civilization, I had a lot of close friends help me with my goal to get my life in order. A couple of friends is all it takes to make a huge difference. One, a nutritional scientist, taught me how to effectively drop fat through eating well rather than focusing on weight. Another friend ran a PT business and showed me how to get to a whole new level of fitness.
I realized something about myself in that time which really works when you have something to aim for. I found that to get to my goal I had to tie it to a feeling. I decided that I wanted to feel strong and healthy, to feel good without a shirt on. I didn’t even think about my weight. I focused on how it would feel to be strong and that led me on. When I started I was wearing an XXL tee-shirt, I was weighing in at 106 kilos and had 34% body fat. Working hard and keeping focused took me into a Medium size shirt, I dropped 20 kilos, my body fat fell to 17% and this number is still decreasing.
I realized too that goals are not rigid, they are always changing and you have to stay fluid with that. As you go through life, your circumstances shift so you have to keep your goals fluid and flexible, so you can be ready to explore the new opportunities that come your way rather than being too set on things being only one way. If you don’t have a goal, you can become stale and go backwards.
I started understanding food and the effects it has on your body, so creating a better relationship with food helped me. I am realistic though, I eat really great 80% of the time and 20% I don’t and that’s okay. I know how I need to train my body and take charge of what it is doing. I know that I am a naturally lazy person and I don’t see that as a bad thing as it helps me find a way to do challenges in an easier way. This makes it better for me and ensures I get them done!
It has taken me a while to grow my self-confidence as I still sometimes see myself as that big person, but building a habit of training and eating well has helped my self-confidence grow. The first time I went into the forces as a young man, I wasn’t emotionally, physically or mentally ready for it. Heading into the forces again now as a 34 year old man, after everything I have learned and lived through, I know I am ready to help others and be a Leader, the Leader I now know who is inside, the leader that came out that morning on Brigade Hill.
Life is full of experiences and lessons, whether they are good experiences or bad ones, everything happens for a reason. What it really comes down to is how you view those experiences. What has happened to you right up to this moment has happened for a reason, you were even meant to read my story, I don’t know why but you were. I just hope you take something from this, and that it gives you motivation to keep moving forward one step at a time.
Jonathan's story, an excerpt for "Made by Scars - raw men's stories" due out late 2017
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