I recently finished a book by Stephen Ambrose that I really enjoyed called Undaunted Courage. It details the famous Lewis and Clark expedition of 1804-1806 into the unknown interior of the continent of what is now the United States. It was a planned and deliberate venture to find a route to the Pacific Ocean. They were the first white men to see and chart much of their route and had first contact with several indigenous nations, without whose support and generosity they would not have survived.

This group of 31 men spent two winters in the wilderness and survived unthinkable hardships, including severe sickness, starvation, terror, extreme physical exertion and brutal weather. For much of the adventure, they had to provide their own food, make their clothes, repair their equipment and even create their watercraft. When they triumphantly completed the journey, they were universally hailed as heroes.

It got me thinking about the heroic journeys I am witnessing and the true heroes I am meeting among the men I coach at CCMF.

My friend Craig (not his real name) is a heroic example. For as long as he can remember, his ambition was to have a family to provide for and be surrounded by familial love and laughter. He wanted to be a great husband and father. His dream was shattered when, out of nowhere, and at the same time, his wife was pregnant, she had him served with an Emergency Protection Order (EPO). He was served at his front door by police. He had never heard of an EPO. He was immediately escorted from his home with only minutes to gather some personal belongings. He was told he could not come back. He had no idea why this was happening or what he had done. He had never been threatening or violent. He was immediately homeless and had no idea where to go or what to do. It was truly a nightmare, and it was all he could do to keep his psychological equilibrium.

Craig’s EPO was summarily dismissed when a judge finally reviewed it a couple of months later. The judge stated it never should have been issued as it met none of the required tests. Even so, what followed for Craig was an extended journey through hell. Periods of living in his car, abandonment by friends, missing the birth of his child, being laid off from his employment, physical health collapse, suicidal thoughts and even lack of support and indifferent treatment from his parents and siblings, indicating that he must be somehow at fault.

How did Craig do it; how did he get through?

Craig survived because of his single-minded focus on being there for his child; being a great father. He sought out and found support and kindness from some understanding and open-hearted human beings. He willed himself to carry on for the sake of his son. Beyond engaging a lawyer, he became his own investigator and advocate and built his knowledge about the legal system. He found some brothers at CCMF. He searched for joy and beauty in the little things in life. He was grateful for the good days and the victories.

Life has stabilized for Craig now, and he has equal parenting to his son, but he is deeply and forever changed by his experience. He is still recovering, and the journey of recovery will naturally take some time. Mostly, he is enjoying a life of positivity and optimism, but he is periodically plagued with bouts of cynicism and despair.

In my mind, if you define a hero as someone who faces adversity with courage and perseverance, Craig is every bit as much of a hero as those early 19th-century adventurers. Perhaps more so. They had the advantage of anticipating at least some of their hardships and planning and preparing for their trip. Craig had no such advantage. The men of Lewis and Clark had each other. Not only was Craig alone, but he also suffered the despair of abandonment by some close friends and family. The adventurer’s journey definitively ended when they arrived back in St. Louis, and they were showered with thanks, rewards, and accolades as heroes. Craig’s journey continues to be challenging. Craig’s life involves the ongoing stress associated with parenting agreements, courts, financial stress and mental and emotional well-being.

There is no doubt in my mind that when Craig’s son is old enough, he will recognize his dad as a hero for what he went through for him.

Craig’s story is not uncommon. If you see yourself in any part of Craig’s story, please acknowledge your incredible courage. Congratulate yourself on your mental strength and perseverance. Celebrate and high-five yourself as the hero that you are. You absolutely are a hero to yourself and your children. It seems to me that your future is bright. Anyone who can emerge from so much adversity can take on pretty much anything else life brings.

No doubt we all know someone who has experienced intimate relationship breakdown. Craig’s story is instructive. To me, it means we must get beyond our cultural narratives and judgements to understand that behind the event is a whole lot of suffering for all parties. We can’t possibly know what the truth is, so our job is to hold our judgment and to provide kindness and support in any way we can.

How can you find more compassion for all parties the next time you encounter intimate partner breakup?

Why is it important for us to withhold our judgements?

How can we tangibly demonstrate our compassion and support consistently and meaningfully for our friends in these situations?

With loving kindness,

Coach Billy