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          A Guardian’s Search for Self

*radio squelches*
“6, 1”
“This is Delta 1”
“1,6. are you stuck?”
“6, Delta 1. Uh…yeah.”

I stared over the Hindu Kush wondering why I was so stuck. My base in Afghanistan Regional Command East, Laghman Province was the closest thing I have experienced to being to another planet. Every patrol was like preparing for a launch to the moon. Geared up, we were strapped into huge armored vehicles with turret mounted .50 caliber machine gun weapon systems. The gunner could safely train his turret on an enemy a mile away and, with a flip of the wrist and a trigger pull, turn them into nothing but what used to be a human being. We were completely isolated from the outside world and unable to connect with the local population. I can only imagine how we looked stepping off these Decepticon looking monsters. The doors were air assisted and cracking them sounded like opening the ship to the moon. One small step for this scout, one giant leap away from self.

We all go through baptisms in our life. Personally, my favorites are baptisms by fire and that’s exactly what my 18 year old self got when I signed the dotted line. My name is Preston Knowles and I WAS a Cavalry Scout in the 1st Cavalry Division stationed at Ft. Hood, Texas. (Yes, the hell hole you heard about on the news during Covid lockdowns is a real place and its tag, ironically, is “The Great Place”). Now my story is not about the military; it’s about a young man’s search for self. A version of myself that needed to seek out challenges in every form that attracted me. Something inside me was searching and looking everywhere but inside for the answers. Searching for validation and trying to fix a void that left me feeling unworthy for as long as I can remember. The chip on my shoulder that set me apart from the pack was my best friend and ultimately my worst enemy.

The proverb goes, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend”. Our greatest strength can always become our greatest weakness. In Afghanistan, the enemy of my enemy was my darkness, my friend. I’m a very visual person so as part of my process I have named my inner demon, Venum. When the bullets were flying and the rockets whistled overhead, Venum was best friend. He is my deep masculine guardian who takes over to handle business that my inner child is not equipped for. The hard armored warrior persona served me immensely. All the attributes that made me calm in the storm, the reliable warrior. That was Venum at his absolute peak. Used for his purpose in the chaos. The problem was I was never equipped with the tools to stand Venum down. Remove him from control and put him back in the cage so Preston could come home. I could not process what I had experienced and seared into my brain. Like the sight of lasagna reminding me of screaming men, burned alive from their own stupidity. Nope. I fell right into the culture of override and adapt. Stay in your 3 foot world. Frontsight focused on the next task. The next beer, shot, bottle…pills. Get to the next deployment so I could get more of the pure ecstasy combat and adrenaline provided. The clarity of this moment potentially being your last. The clarity of “F*** it”.

Now, if the rest of my story didn’t start compounding exponentially in obstacles maybe I would be the lucky one who returned with just a new appreciation for life. No, that was never my path. The events all happened for a reason and I can see the threads of positivity that was gained along the way. Hindsight being 20/20, but holy crap did I stand face to face with the pitch black void. My path includes, like many veterans, first responders, and society as a whole now, the deep struggles of mental health and suicide. For the first time, I’ll put this in writing to share the true depth of my story. There was a day when I sat in bed staring at my gun safe. The plan working through my head. The do’s and don’ts so I could try to spare the additional trauma of the sight of it from anyone. The question in the recess of my mind. What would the end of the Glock actually taste like or feel like against my temple? The rationalizing of my kids being better off without me than with the version of me I see in the mirror and can’t recognize. The utter chaos and despair of Venum running completely rampant in my mind while I was handcuffed and gagged in the corner.

“NO!” I gave all my breath through the gags of opiates. Burrowed under piles of negative emotions never processed. Life events I just pushed through and never acknowledged how close to death I was. How terrified. How sad. How mad. Every feeling ever left unfelt was stuck shutting me off completely from myself. My inner child. My Me. I listened closely and I began to type like I am right now. The words poured out and some relief followed. It was only a journal entry and no goodbye to be found. Never F***ing Quit. The darkest moment is right before the dawn.

 

To catch you up on what occurred between July 31, 2013 (my return home from Afghanistan) and this Darkest Hour in Spring of 2019, The Body Keeps the Score and all those emotions manifested into an unexplainable anal fistula that would torment me with chronic pain, every opiate under the sun, and almost my life on several occasions. My darkest hours were the death of pieces of me. My mind could not handle how far off from myself I was and it was self correcting with Post Traumatic Stress symptoms, migraines, auto immune issues, and random food sensitivities. Every symptom and issue a clue to fix myself. The depression was telling me to stop and look inward. The fistula asking for deep therapy work into my chronic feelings of unworthiness. The migraines begging me to pay attention to my intuition.

If you don’t voluntarily stop and process, eventually it will catch up with you. And it did every time. It has taken me from 2019-present to finally radically explore my inner consciousness. The tools slowly given to me in perfect timing as I followed my intuition. Sometimes forced by life and sometimes willfully. The willfully slowly became more and more as the layers of emotions started to peel away from hour long cry sessions in breath works. Neurological Feedback to regain my neuro-plasticity, and ultimately the aid of plant medicine within ceremony to place Venum back within his limits. To truly appreciate the light of day you must find comfort in the dead of night.

With the teaching of Dr. Joe Dispenza in his book, Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself, I was able to tap into the Quantum me. Find my inner child, love on him, and manifest my own healing. What baffled over a dozen surgeons and doctors for a decade, I healed in roughly a month. It was through these rock bottoms or having no option but up that I was able to step into my power within my life. The power God/Universe/Source intends for us to have. The type of things only possible in dreams are now coming true in my life. I am devout to intention and my intuition. I have taken my physical body down to the studs to remodel by losing almost 50 lbs and with that cleansing myself of everything physically and emotionally that no longer serves me in the life I choose. I became a disciple of The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael A. Singer. A student of Aubrey Marcus’s life philosophy written in his book, Own The Day, Own Your Life and a Jiu Jitsu player on the path looking up to men like Jocko Willink and Joe Rogan. Bringing the fire to every day like Cameron Hanes and David Goggins. The blueprint for day to day life set out by Matt Vincent and drive to take Extreme Ownership of every facet of my life.

Venture back to the top for a moment. I was stuck in the mud in my “spaceship”, crash landed. I was stranded and no one is coming to rescue me. I had to find a will to believe in myself more than anything else in this universe. Learn to love exactly the man God intended me to be. So I can be an example of the possibility of possibilities.

Are you stuck in the toxic cycles of life that you aren’t sure how you got trapped in? It’s likely you can’t even recall what is keeping you from yourself until you choose to search for it. Are you seeking to break your personal glass ceiling and create generational wealth? Or are you just trying to be the best version of yourself and find fulfillment in this life? All the things I have studied and applied to my life can apply to you too in your own special way. Get into action and pull the railroad spike of life out of your foot.

I want you to walk away with this. Align your thoughts and actions. Ask yourself why more often and be quiet for the answer. Lean into the loving little being you once were and still have deep inside you. The rest will unfold in perfect timing and seek pride in yourself for every baby step in the name of progress. You’re perfectly and wonderfully made. Learn to believe it.

-Papaprest

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