Thanksgiving Gratitude

Thanksgiving is a weird fabricated holiday that has its origins in genocide. However, giving thanks – or said another way – expressing gratitude, is wildly beneficial for the brain. There have been a variety of studies exhibiting this, including on participants seeking mental health treatment.

In one study, the group that wrote a letter of gratitude to someone each week for three weeks had significant better mental health at four and twelve weeks compared to the control group and a group who wrote about their deepest thoughts and feelings about negative experiences. In other words, doing just several sessions of gratitude had a persistent emotional improvement for months after doing it.

Gratitude inherently has more positive words and feelings associated with it. Specifically, the association with using fewer negative words seemed to contribute to the results above. As someone who can spiral with negativity very easily (pain, loss, sadness, anxiety, etc.), this is very interesting.

Expressing gratitude with Sturgill on stage

Oh, and the participants still felt the benefits of gratitude when they didn’t even send the letter they wrote to the intended recipient. However, my personal experience with expressing gratitude to someone I care about is scary, yet it is the very definition of ordinary courage that Brene Brown talks about in “The Gifts of Imperfection”. Doing so strengthens the connection and bond with that person.

Expressing gratitude promotes more positive thinking and less negative thinking. It’s difficult to do in the throes of suffering, which is why I recommend dedicating time to express gratitude. Today is a perfect opportunity to start, but it shouldn’t happen once a year. Regularly contemplate what you’re grateful for and explore why. I find journaling to be a great time to do this because it allows a better organization of thoughts and is a deliberate practice. Set time aside for gratitude as it will have monumental effects.

While there are immediate effects of doing this – such as improving acute emotions – the full benefit takes time to develop. Behavioral and thought habits rarely change instantaneously; to make something a habit you have to make it a habit. Also, brain adaptations don’t spontaneously occur. You must expose your physiology to the new stimulus and function for it to adapt. There are literal structural neural adaptations occurring in the brain resulting from expressing gratitude.

fMRI supports this. Gratitude activates regions of the brain associated with learning, rational thinking, and decision making. There are regions of the brain that interact with each other for given tasks. Negative emotions yield a particular circuitry connection while positive emotions like gratitude and compassion result in a different kind of network connection. Coupled with a difference in neurotransmitters (brain chemicals), there are no-shit changes to how the brain functions as well adaptations that result from this improved networking. This isn’t just a matter of feelings; you can literally change and improve the form and function of the brain. All from simple tasks like gratitude journaling.

If we can do things in our day that improve our brain physiology resulting in hundreds of improvements to include disease prevention, then why wouldn’t we regularly do those tasks in the same way we exercise for our hearts, blood vessels, and muscles?

Pretty fucking good question, huh?

Memorial Day 2019

Take a deep, luxurious breath. How’s it feel? It probably feels like the millions of breaths before it. It’s hard to even notice that it’s a free breath because it’s so common. You’re an American breathing freely while pursuing your life’s happiness. Historically speaking, there are thousands of men and women who sacrificed in order to maintain the freeness of these breaths, this freedom, that we take for granted.

We created a holiday, Memorial Day, that is supposed to honor the service members who committed the ultimate sacrifice – losing their life in the service of their country. Yet it has turned into a weekend of debauchery and gluttony.

Regardless of your political view on war, the recent wars, or the military itself, this is a day to acknowledge both the sacrifice and the reason for it. Most of the time when a young adult swears to defend the Constitution of the United States of America via military service, they are doing so because they believe they are serving the country. Our “country” includes all of the people in it, regardless of race, gender, or any other discriminatory identifier. And the service member knowingly makes a decision that reduces their freedom in hopes that it benefits both the country and everyone that exists in it.

USSF Soldiers conduct a patient movement during medical training.

While it’s true a service member has chosen their path of their own volition, it doesn’t mean the sacrifices are not multiple and varied. For years, I’ve written essays about this. Service members are told how to look, what to where, where to live, and what to do every day. They are often sent on training trips away from their family. And the silly bastards who choose to fight or support the combat arms are subjected to a litany of annoying discomfort, pain, and environmental duress. Deployments take service members overseas into war zones and third world countries. And if this wasn’t enough – being away from family and sacrificing freedom – people die. Friends die. Brothers and sisters die. And for the survivors, their reward is living with the physical and emotional effects of it all, including chemicals in the air, burn pits, horrible food, TBIs, and being worn down from wearing 50 to 100 pounds of additional gear on a regular basis. Children miss their parents, relationships end, hearts break, and suicide rates remain high.

I know all of this because I’ve fucking done it. I’ve trained for war at the expense of attending weddings, destroying relationships, and degrading my body. I’ve served in war and have almost been hit by RPGs, mortars, and machine gun fire. And now, after heart break and rebirth, I barely escaped death one more time after I stepped on an IED. The blast took its toll; I’m a double below the knee amputee. My testicles were blown off and I don’t know if the frozen samples taken from my body will allow me to father children. I’m just one person, just a regular dude who loves combat. But I’m not the only one.

We still regularly lose good men, good friends like Will Lindsay. I know there’s a lot of us, including his family, that would give anything to have him alive, even if he were a double amputee.

SFC Will Lindsay and EOD SGT Joseph Collette were killed in combat operations on 22 March 2019.

Americans celebrate Memorial Day by partying, drinking, and feasting throughout a long weekend. But I humbly ask you to do two things. First, please take a moment to memorialize the fallen brothers and sisters. Consider their families and what happens in the aftermath of their deaths. And also remember those who live on with significant deficits. Second, after you’re done barbequing, the best way you can thank the fallen is by living as honorable a life as you can. Memorialize them by working hard for success and showing compassion to your fellow Americans and humans of the world. It’s the best celebration of freedom I can think of.

The life of a service member is not all shit and death. The point is that the people who do it believe they are doing it for you. For everyone. And themselves. And that they would die for you to maintain the right to criticize them is proof enough that it’s an amazing sacrifice. And they do die. And you don’t know their names. And that’s okay, because most of us don’t want a pat on the back. Instead, remember the fallen and live as honorably as you can on this Memorial Day and beyond. Lest we forget.

Checking In

This is a piece I wrote for the curious users on StartingStrength.com. You can view it HERE.


Taken in Afghanistan, 2018

A handful of years ago content on 70’s Big was hard to come by. You fine folk have been asking where I’ve gone ever since, and now I finally choose to let you know in the face of extraordinary circumstances. I am a United States Army Special Forces soldier, also known as a Green Beret. Ever since I put on the hat, I poured myself into this job in order to prepare for and participate in war. I wanted to kill people that deserve to be killed, save people that deserved to be saved (medically), and free people that deserve to be freed. And I did all of those things on my first deployment along with all kinds of combat and near-death experiences. I don’t think I’m cool; it’s more that I’m lucky to have been in a handful of fire fights and done things in order to live through them.  I assure you, there are much finer men than me who have been in much more combat and done much better things than I have.

While there were exciting times, there were others full of terrible loss. There are much finer men than me who have been in much more combat and done much better things than I have. I don’t think I’m cool; it’s more that I’m lucky to have been in a handful of fire fights and done things in order to live through them.

While there were exciting times on the first deployment, there were others full of terrible loss. We lost a US Army Infantry soldier and I lost a long-term relationship. Because of those hardships, I spent 2018 preparing for a second combat deployment and, just as importantly, bettering myself as a healthy individual.

About one month into the next deployment we were on a combat operation in a very mountainous area. My element conducted a short hault and I discussed how we would clear a set of compounds that were tactically in a disadvantageous area. The area I stood had been cleared by EOD personnel and had foot traffic around the area. I shifted my weight under my ruck, took a step, and was blown up. As my best friends and teammates treated me, I gave them medical instructions to help their care. My teammates were heroes that day. Despite the initiation of a “troops in contact”, I didn’t die in the dirt in a far away land. Instead, they put me on a helicopter and countless other fine individuals did and continue to do their jobs of caring for me.

I am a double below the knee (BTK) amputee. The fact that my right leg is a BTK is amazing and a testament to the fantastic surgeons at Walter Reed. My testicles were also blown off, so I require testosterone replacement therapy for the rest of my life and whether or not I can have children is an unknown. I work hard every day to improve and will continue doing so. There’s no definitive date because there are too many variables, but I’ll leave the hospital some time later this year.

Lastly, the next question I’m asked is whether or not you can do anything for me. Your support is invaluable and all I could ever ask for. There are currently more of us wounded and killed, my friends included. If you should feel inclined to donate money, the Special Forces Foundation is an amazing organization. All of the money goes to us “wounded warriors” and the Gold Star families (the wives and families of personnel killed in action). I know the gentleman who runs it personally, and he’s both honorable and kind.

As for me, I’m good. My big medical issues are progressing as planned. Physical training and rehab are a part of my daily future, but I also rest and taking care of myself via meditation and journaling. I’ll take some time to let this situation percolate, but I’ll be back. There’ll be more writing, podcasts, and other ways to facilitate teaching, learning, and sharing. I’m especially interested in stories of extreme human experience and the lessons learned from them. Strength and conditioning will always be here, but my scope of practice has grown. It’ll be just like old times, but I’ll dive into any topic that is interesting and helpful.

When I was MEDEVAC’d, I went to the Role II and received 68 units of blood. Which is a lot. Above all else, I’m grateful to be alive. I’m honored you still think of me and even more honored when you want to donate. You can do so through the Special Forces Foundation (SFF). There’s also a fundraiser being conducted on my behalf called Climbing for Casualties. My friend Matt Randle will conduct an asinine climb in Nepal and donations go to the SFF. Look for @climbingforcasualties on Instagram. Again, thank you for your interest and I look forward to getting my legs jacked, pressing over body weight, entertaining you, and learning along the way. Stronger every day.


Justin, Rip, and AC pose by the Bill Starr Memorial in WFAC around 2009.

Memorial Day 2018

We’re at the end of a long weekend where most people party, drink, and generally enjoy having Monday off. In the past, I routinely made the point that the way to memorialize service members who have died is to live as honorable a life as possible. But this year I’d like to add to that, because I’m not quite sure having parties is how everyone would celebrate the death of their own family members.

Regardless of your political view on war, the recent wars, or the military itself, this is a day to acknowledge both a sacrifice and the reason for it. Most of the time, when a young person swears to defend the Constitution of the United States of America via military service, they are doing so because they believe they are serving their country. Our “country” includes the people in it. A service member knowingly makes a decision that reduces their freedom in hopes that it benefits the country and the people who exist in it.

While it’s true a service member has chosen their path of their own volition, it doesn’t mean the sacrifices are not multiple and varied. They are told how to look, what to wear, and what to do. They are often sent on training trips away from their family, and the silly bastards in the combat arms are subjected to a litany of annoying discomfort, pain, and environmental duress. Other trips take them overseas, and at times those trips are in third world countries and war zones. And if it wasn’t enough being away from family, freedom, and the United States of America, people die. And if they don’t die, they are exposed to things physically and emotionally that will affect them throughout their lives: chemicals in the air, burn pits, horrible food, TBIs, sleeping on cots, and generally getting worn down from all of it while carrying 50 to 100 pounds of gear on a regular basis.

Children miss their parents, relationships end, and hearts break for one reason or another. And suicide rates remain high.

It’s not all shit and death, but it’s not waving flags and barbecue. Love or hate the military, my point is the people who do it believe they are doing it for you. For everyone. And themselves. And they would die for you to maintain the right to criticize it. And they do. And you don’t know their names. And that’s okay, because nobody wants a pat on the back.

So, if you use Memorial Day for drinks and parties, just take a moment to acknowledge the masochistic decision to serve the country we all enjoy. And then please get back to living honorably.

Smokin with Sousa #3 – Ribs

Is there anything as primal feeling as eating ribs?  I mean, you have to be really going at a carcass to rip apart a rib cage in the pursuit of some good eats.  I am personally incredibly thankful for the carnivorous pioneers who discovered the meat fiesta going on along a pig’s rib cage and for passing that wisdom along for future generations to enjoy.  Humanity at its finest.

 

For this cook I am smoking a couple racks of back ribs, more commonly referred to as baby backs.  If you aren’t familiar with the differences in cuts of pork this is a great article to help get some learnin’.  Around my area the biggest thing to know is the difference between back ribs and spare ribs since it’s what the stores carry.  The main difference is pretty much that back ribs are a bit smaller and more tender than spare ribs.  I’m normally a spare ribs guy, but the market only had backs this time so here we are.

The first thing I do is a bit of trimming.  You can see some fatty stuff, particularly on the bottom right of the rack on the bottom of the pic above, that I’ll trim off.  Also, if there is a skirt of meat on the bone side I like to trim that off.  Also, check along the edges of the racks to see if there are any small bone fragments, and if so clean those off.  The last thing I do for clean up is to pull the membrane off of the bone side of each rack.  The best method I’ve used is to take a butter knife to get under the membrane to start.  I’ll caution you though, there are a couple layers (not sure if the bottom layer is also membrane, I don’t science) and you only want the top layer to come off so you don’t expose all of the bones.  Once you’ve started the separation with the butter knife your best bet is to grip the membrane with a paper towel (it’s slipper otherwise) and hopefully pull it all off in one yank.

Below is a comparison shot between a rack that still has the membrane (top) and the one it’s been pulled from (bottom).

Once you are done trimming and pulling membranes you are ready to rub.  Similar to the pork butt I coat the ribs in a bit of olive oil first so the rub will stick nicely, then I go to town with the dry rub.  Again, pork is not a very flavorful meat on its own, so don’t be shy with the rub here.

For this cook I prepped and rubbed the ribs a few hours before putting them in the barrel with the idea I’d do a bit of a dry brine.  The rub I used has a good amount of salt which after some time brining should increase moisture and tenderness in the finished product.  If you’d like some info on dry brining you can read up on it here.  I just kept them on the tray and wrapped the whole thing.

Once it’s time to cook, and the barrel is going, I hang the racks and sit back for a couple hours.  After about two hours I’ll go and take a look to see how the bark is forming, and also see if the meat has started to pull back a bit to reveal the bones.  This is how I determine how close ribs are to being ready as opposed to monitoring internal temps.  At this point I’m looking for a nice mahogany crust and a bit of bone showing.

This step is optional depending on how you like your ribs, but I pull the ribs at this point for some sauce.  I like to sauce them during the cook so it thickens and caramelizes the sugar a bit, and I don’t add sauce when eating them.  Also, if your sauce has been in the refrigerator let it sit out for a while before this to bring it up to room temp.  No reason to add cold sauce onto hot ribs you have cooking.

After about another 30 minutes the ribs should be ready.  Again, take a look to see if the rib bones are showing – I look for about ¼” of bone showing to consider them ready.  After you pull them let them rest for about 20-30 minutes before cutting them.  I suck at cutting ribs so I usually flip them so the bone side is up, but if you aren’t terrible at life you can cut them like a man (or woman for our lady readers out there).  If all went well you should have some tasty ribs!

Lilly approves!

 

When Paul isn’t busy BBQ’ing, he can be found lifting the train wheels at IronSport with himself, while he & himself also looks on, or helping his wife with her new food blog project.