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On Pain

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When I was in the military going through basic training, about two weeks prior to ‘graduation’ – I broke my ankle on the obstacle course.

Now if you’ve never been in the US military and don’t know what basic training is like – let me paint you a picture:

For 9+ weeks, generally speaking depending on the service, I am yelled at and commanded to do things while receiving training in everything firearms all with little sleep.

Now you might think this doesn’t sound so bad, and I would agree with you, until it comes to the ridiculousness of what’s commanded.

For instance.

One drill sergeant gets a wild hair up his ass and decides that all meals he commands over must be eaten in 60 seconds.

Another drill sergeant decides he’s going to take some recently acquired saw dust, spread it over a football field, and then make everyone in the platoon do head rolls for two hours in it.

Another drill sergeant decides showers are only going to be 30 seconds and only one towel is allowed per 10 men and the entire platoon has 15 minutes to take the shower. This lead to a line of naked guys over two floors with a couple of guys holding the towel as people run into the shower.

And ANOTHER drill sergeant decides 3am is a GREAT time to have everyone standing out in ‘the yard’ with their arms extended in front of them holding their weapons until everyone the whole platoon does it for 15 minutes straight.

Cleaning occurred at all hours of the night with loud floor buffers that had been in use since World War 2. Ear plugs weren’t allowed. And everyone slept on steel bunks which it would be guaranteed the floor buffer would hit it.

So for this time, 2 hours of sleep a night was ONLY if we were lucky.

AND then.

There’s the standard ‘Enter a gas chamber and remove your mask’ that everyone in boot camp has to endure and be exposed to tear gas.

For some reason. I get this creeping feeling of being in a gas chamber in World War 2 whenever I think of that moment.

Now if it wasn’t for the ridiculousness of what was asked, it wouldn’t have been as trying an experience as it was. I’d grown up with a father who enjoyed yelling so I wasn’t exactly fragile psychologically, and physically, I’d broken and sprained more bones than I can count growing up and despite not being in football, I’d been pretty physical so what was asked of me here wasn’t that difficult.

But when a sadistic drill sergeant decides a fun way to freak out his platoon is force them to hide off in pitch blackness off to the side of the road to ‘surprise’ another platoon and then he releases snakes he’s snuck in his backpack that he winds up placing all around us..

It had my ‘battle buddy’ (a partner who I had his back) who hated snakes freaked the fuck out when a snake was crawling over me as I whispered to him ‘Don’t freak out, but there’s a snake coming your way’…

He was crying. Seriously. Big grown up black man was crying as the snake crawled over him and almost into his shirt.

So going back to the ankle break.

About 2 weeks prior to ‘graduation’, My platoon was being commanded to run up a ravine in our boots.

Now mind you.

These Army boots are flat soled. Uncomfortable as all hell. And barely made for marching, let alone running, and as fake leather with no ankle support – AT all – my foot rolled, hard, as I and three others around me heard the snap of my ankle and I rolled down the ravine in intense pain.

The drill sergeant, nonplussed, asked if I could walk, and I couldn’t.

Within minutes the side of my ankle had swollen to the size of a soft ball, so I was carted to the on-base hospital.

An X-Ray was done. And sure enough, it was a clean break.

The First Sergeant came down, and looked me in the eye….

“Well. this means you’re gonna be a holdover.” he smiled.

What that meant was I’d be repeating basic training. From start to finish.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

I looked at him and said “That’s bullshit. You mean I have to repeat training because I broke my ankle?”

“I’m afraid so,” he said.

The Doctor came in, and handed me a piece of paper “Doctor’s orders, you’re decommissioned for 6 weeks until that heals”.

I looked at my first sergeant, and then the Doctor and then said

“It feels fine now. I don’t believe I need those orders,” I said as I painfully hopped off the gurney.

I clearly wasn’t fine. But given my options. I had had breaks and sprains before, and while they’re certainly painful, having to endure another 15 weeks of the psychological crap I was confronted with at Basic, I knew what I had to do.

The Doctor, concerned, looked at the First Sergeant and then me.

“But the X-Rays..”

I took the X-Rays, and said “Please pretend I was never here,” and I left.

Over the next two weeks, I hiked about 50 kilometers on that broken ankle. I passed my final fitness test run with a 15 minute two mile run on that broken ankle. I learned how to mentally block the pain out of simple survival.

And when I arrived at Fort Meade, Maryland for AI Training, on feigned a fall on the first run and had Doctor’s orders to not run for 4 weeks…

By then, the ankle had already began healing, and the break now looked like a fracture with the X-Rays…

And my first four weeks in Maryland was a nice respite after going through what felt like hell at Fort Knox, Kentucky for my Basic Training.

What I learned was.

The mind, when engaged, can eliminate pain at it’s root.

I used to have headaches.

I took that skill learned while in the military blocking out the pain of that broken ankle and no longer needed to take analgesics, and after time quit having headaches altogether.

Right now I have a pain in my chest.

Then something reminded me of this experience at Basic.

And I realized – I’ve been fighting and feeding the pain. Enabling it. Drinking cold water and liquids and laying down.

I gotta use my mind to overcome the pain.

To eliminate it.

Sometimes pain IS a valuable mechanism to warn me not to do things – such as putting my hand on a hot stove.

But when it only seems to serve itself and refuses to stop.

Sometimes it becomes necessary to employ mind over matter techniques to eradicate that pain.

At it’s root.



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