Starting From Scratch: Stripped Down


L.D.  Lew Downs
In ancient Spartan culture, men would be taken from their families at a young age and be put through “agoge”, a training regiment consisting of mental, physical and emotional education.

Because of their people’s’ discipline, strength and cohesion, Sparta was the only Greek city-state that did not have a fortified defensive perimeter constructed around its borders… for the men who passed the agoge were considered the “Walls of Sparta”.

The thought process behind the agoge system was simple… strip down the individual, instill the proper mindset and then churn out a badass motherfucker who was willing to die at a moment’s notice for Sparta, her citizens and what its culture stood for. Because of the standard to which the city upheld its people and the fact that the agoge trainees were taken at such a young age, the influence society had already had on the youngsters was positive and had them on the right track to success before they had even begun the endeavor. A modern-day agoge, however… that takes a little more deconstructing then that of the old Spartan days.

I remember laying in bed hungover one morning while I was still living in Iowa wondering what the hell I was doing with my life.

I was a college dropout, I was working a dead-end job, I didn’t care about my health and was making just enough money to pay the bills and still party hard every night. Stumbling to the bathroom to look at myself in the mirror, I started to cry because of how disgusted I was at the image I saw. It wasn’t a physical judgement that was happening, although I was not happy that I had let my body go as I had… it was the interior analysis that was twisting my heart strings.

I had, to put it simple, lost motivation to be anything worthwhile.

If life was a poker tournament, I had gone all in with shitty hands time after time again… and I kept on losing. Why me? If God actually existed, couldn’t he give me a fucking break for once? How come everyone I looked at seemed to be better off than I was? Why do I never have money, why is my car breaking down, why is my apartment so shitty? How come all the other guys have women flocking to them? Why does it seem like I’m always faking my happiness just so people will accept me? Why, even then, do I often times feel like I don’t ever fit in? I wasn’t myself… but I had been living such a sad, fake life for so long, I wasn’t even sure who I actually was anymore.

I realized I had to make a drastic change before something really bad happened, whether it was to me or because of my own doing. So I said my goodbyes, I packed my bags and I drove somewhere to start over.

I sat down and drew out a game plan. My overhaul would have four main focal points: mental, emotional, physical and intestinal. I realized that my health, happiness and well-being depended on much more than the surface things that most people saw. This was going to take time, it wasn’t going to be fun and it was going to take a lot of self-analyzing and fault admitting. But if I wanted to be an individual of worth and a man of principle, I was going to have to break myself down before I could build myself back up.

I quit drinking… and that was probably the hardest step out of them all. By the time I had left college, I was pretty much a closet alcoholic. I would literally wake up EVERY SINGLE DAY and starting pouring myself a few drinks, go to work (or call in sick so I could keep drinking), get some food, text my buddies to see if they wanted to start partying and then rage into the wee hours of the morning. Cold turkey hurt like a motherfucker, but it was a punch I needed to take. I never realized how many “friendships” I had were solely due to alcohol, or how many people refuse to grow up and stop acting like a sorority girl who just turned 21. Giving up booze made me go from “popular” to a social recluse in the blink of an eye but it didn’t take long for me to realize just how happy I had become because of it.

I finally got back in the gym. The lifestyle I had been living had done havoc on my body. Not only had a gained a ton of weight and body fat, but I felt like the slug I looked like. I was always tired and I was always feeling sick. When I wasn’t sick from the hangovers, I was literally feeling sick and always struggling with some sort of cold. I stopped eating shit food, I started chugging water instead of beer. I started running again, I got back into CrossFit, and even though I broke up with my yoga instructor girlfriend, I didn’t let that fuck up my chi… I just started going to a different studio.

I realized that while starting to get my body back in order, I had in turn refocused my mind on the goals at hand. I was waking up early every morning with purpose, not just the regret of the alarm clock.

Because I left Iowa, I pretty much had left everyone I knew. As hard as that was, it gave me a relative fresh start on life.

I solidified the good relationships I had and cut off the emotional leeches that had been sucking the life out of me. I sought to strengthen the bond between the family members I had that never lost hope in me and stopped trying all together with the ones that had put no effort in their relationship with me. I no longer cared about getting laid all the time or needing to have a girl in my life. I had finally prioritized my own happiness and well-being and in doing so realized that I could only truly appreciate a woman in my life if I could step back and appreciate the man I had become.

Getting my head out of my ass and pursuing a career instead of a job forced me to re-evaluate the values in which I considered cornerstones to being a man… the fire service quite possibly saved my life. I realized just how precious life is and how it can be gone in a flash. I realized that I was willing to die for the man next to me and for strangers I didn’t even know. Words like honor and integrity finally took precedence in my vocabulary.

Doing the right thing, treating others with respect, not judging a book by its cover, not forgetting the morals I was raised on… those were my new priorities in life.

27 years and a hell of a lot of heartache later, I realized I’m a damn good poker player. The hands that we’re dealt aren’t always ideal… sometimes, they’re pretty shitty compared to the other people sitting across from you. But in the game of life, your hand is what you make of it. Sometimes you have to know when to fold and go back to the drawing board and sometimes you have to know when to take a chance and go all in.

In an age where most people simply throw things away when they stop working, I challenge you to not be afraid to tear things apart and figure out how to put them back together.

You may not be able to fix everything and have it just the way you want it, but it’s the attempt that counts. And when you’re willing to fix your faults, the time and energy you spend doing so brings a smile to your face… because it was completely worth it.


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