The effects of childhood abuse are extremely serious and long-lasting, both on the psychological aspect and the brain development of the child. Author, ultra-adventure athlete, and motivational speaker Damien Rider is a victim of such. In his documentary called Heart of the Sea, he tells his story of childhood abuse and the horrific circumstances he endured in his childhood, including rape and physical abuse. In this episode, he joins Jennifer Whitacre to talk about life after child abuse – how he got through the horrible circumstances in his childhood, found peace, and created the humanitarian effort and all of the impressive feats that he’s doing today.
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Haunted By Childhood: Life After Child Abuse With Damien Rider
Our guest is Damien Rider. Damien is an author, a multiple world record Ultra Adventure athlete, the Creator of One Breath Meditation, Cold Immersion Meditation, and a global motivational speaker. Damien is recognized for his international humanitarian work, his physical feats and his TEDx Talk. He’s also featured in a documentary called Heart of the Sea, that’s available for purchase on iTunes. In his documentary, he tells his story of childhood abuse and the horrific circumstances he endured in his childhood, including rape and physical abuse. Damien, welcome. It’s an honor to have you here. I’m honored and humbled that you’re willing to come on here and share your story and talk about how you got through some of these horrible circumstances in your childhood to create the humanitarian effort in all of the impressive feats that you’re doing.
Thanks for having me. Thanks for allowing me to share my message with your audience as well. It’s such an important message that we should get out there. I’m happy to be here.
If you don’t mind, let’s begin by telling us a little bit about your childhood. What exactly was your childhood like?
It’s a very confusing time, my whole childhood. I grew up with my father, a father figure. I had a father and an alcoholic grandmother that was falling towards my mother in her upbringing. From the age of two, pretty much she would get drunk and violent towards me. That continued on for a little bit. We traveled around a lot, moving places, hitchhiking by truck from state to state in Australia until we settled in South Australia, in Adelaide. Things were okay. It was my mother, my sister and I. We’re in this place in Adelaide. We were there for about a year and then my brother came, which I didn’t even know I had a brother, so that was a bit of a surprise. He was a little out of control and he had some issues that he was dealing with himself. He’d gone through his own child abuse with his biological father and a stepmother as well.
I didn’t realize any of that at the time. I’m a 6, 7-year-old kid trying to understand those things. It was a bit harder. Also as a kid, I thought with love and he was a couple of years older than me, but aggressive towards everyone. He was disruptive at home. I started to understand that there were things going on that I didn’t know about. My mother, she couldn’t deal with anything because she went through her own child abuse as well throughout her life, her and her nine brothers and sisters through her mom, our grandmother. She was emotionally detached from anything to be able to deal with that and even to be able to talk to. She brought a partner into the house and I was waking up one night with police sirens and lights flashing in the front yard. I looked out my bedroom window and this guy’s beating up all the police on the front lawn.
For some reason, I laughed and he came inside and it went on from there. It grew and escalated. It was this crazy rollercoaster ride that went on for the next eighteen months where sometimes he’d be okay and other times, the whole house gets smashed up. There would be blood all over the walls, holes in the walls. I’d be dragged out of my bed, clothes ripped off, forced to watch my mom get raped, get raped myself. My brother would try and help. He would get knocked down as well many times. I’d have to escape the house and run down to the beach, which was about a quarter-mile down the road and hiding in rock caves down there. It was pretty cold, locked down through the winter at the beach and these little rock caves. That was my life. Every day, not knowing whether you’re going to live or not.
I’d have bruises and everything on me. I’d go to school and I’d get put on detention because the principal would think I’m fighting on the way to school because I’ll turn out with all these bruises. I’m trying to tell him that the bruises happened at home and no one would listen to me or believe me or anything as well. It was pretty hard. I went to the place a few times and not much got done. They’ll send you home again. Neighbors would look out the window when things were happening, but want to hide away and didn’t want to know about it. It was a pretty lonely time for me and for everyone in our household. There was no one to turn to for it and get an advice or anything. I’m trying to find my own ways to deal with things and stay out of the house on the weekends and school holidays.
Instead of playing with friends, I’d be down looking for new rock caves that I could sleep in that were bigger. Knowing that I was going to have to go down there or cut out Lantana, which is are these big bushes that live on the beach, cut them out so I had like a place that I could go to for refuge when it was happening again. Looking back, it became normal that that’s what I need to do on my time off. That’s far from normal to have a time out to go and find a place where you knew you had to go and find refuge because you knew it was going to happen again out of survival. This is 6, 7 years old living on the streets by myself, fending for myself for days on end. It was a pretty confusing time.You live every day to its fullest, not live every day like it's your last day. There's a big difference. Click To Tweet
On your website, the page that talks about your documentary, Heart of the Sea, you say that from the age of six, you were seeking refuge in these rock caves. You call them jetties. Are the jetties rock caves? In my mind, I thought that was a manmade structure. I was picturing jetties in Australia like boardwalks here in the States. The rock caves, the jetties, is that what you’re talking about?
They’re two different locations. They’d be like natural rock caves that were formed on the beach and then jetties as well, which I’d have to walk up to, which is the main part of the town. I’d sleep under there as well.
You were doing this from age six. I hope the readers can pause for a moment and take that in. At age six, you were seeking refuge, shelter and safety that you couldn’t find in your home because of the abuse and the turbulence and what was going on. At the same time, you look back and you notice that in your childhood, that wasn’t normal. That was your normal and you were finding ways to find resources for yourself. It sounds like you didn’t have any support or any resources in your life or any people you could turn to, so you found out how to create your own. That’s an amazing thing when it comes to resilience, how we can create our own support and resources.
Definitely out of survival, that’s what you’ve got to do. It’s not until when I did this big paddle that I understood the resilience that was getting built up by these challenges throughout my life. I was happy to get through. Like most people, we’re happy to get through situations in our life and continue on our daily work and glad that’s over with. All those things built up. Otherwise, you knew I had something more in me and something more to give. There was something different about me and a reason to keep on going. It’s built the person of who I am now. I’m able to share this story with other people, a voice that gives them a little bit more hope to be able to keep going and knowing that they too can get through it. There’s always someone who’s had a tougher life than us. People go through their tough times and it’s all relative to who they are and where they are at this point in their life. That was the cards that were dealt for me and it built me who I am now.
I know that you mentioned that whenever you tried to turn to the police, the police and the neighborhood didn’t offer any assistance. Did that happen throughout your childhood? Was this the circumstances from age six until you were an adult?
Yeah, definitely. I lost full respect for authorities because I’m like, “You’re allowing this to happen. You’re darned chicken. Stop this. Shoot that dude.” Honestly, they can’t do that but as a kid, you’re thinking, “Why can’t you?” I lost a lot of respect for authority and the law itself. I pretty much live my life like I use the law now and rules as a guideline. As long as my intentions are right and morally sound in what I’m doing, then I’ll coast along my way. I don’t stick by strict rules and strict laws. I go along and make sure I do the right thing by other people, what I feel is right. Not that I don’t like the police or anything at all. They do a great job in what they do. It’s tough what they do. It’s one of those circumstances that wasn’t there for me.
That’s a problem here in the United States as well. With not having the backing of the police, the criminal justice system, the legal system whenever there are cases of child abuse or domestic violence and things like that, especially with domestic violence in this country. It is hard for women who are abused to find any support in the criminal justice or legal system to help get out of it. They’re left on their own in most circumstances to figure it out. Oftentimes, the children and the women are not believed in this country, “What are you whining about? Are you saying this because you didn’t get your way at home?” Things like that. The problem is minimized and people are left on their own. It sounds like it’s similar in Australia. Has that changed since you were a child or is it similar? If there are children who are right now living through what you did when you were a child, has that changed in Australia with the police or legal system or do you even know?
I think they want to make a change. They know they need to, but it’s a very slow process of what’s going on. I’m very good friends with some police officers who work in child abuse units, like on the Gold Coast. They do incredible work. It’s mind-blowing of what they do with every day that the general public isn’t even aware of how rough it is and what actually happens on a day-to-day basis in different families. Whether it’s normal domestic or foster care or whatever it is, it happens a lot and it’s not just low economic situation as well. There’s the neglected side of things from wealthy families, putting other things first and not giving love, just giving a car instead of love. It’s across the board. It’s quite big.
It is getting a little bit better in Australia and it’s becoming more aware. This is why I do these talks and share this story as well to open it up, to have people listen. I was a keynote speaker for the Australian Rural Commission on Institutionalized Sexual Child Abuse. That was a historical moment for the globe. I spoke that even though that mine wasn’t institutionalized, but I’m still able to get that message out there of what happens afterwards. The bruises might go away, but the pain remains for a long time, unless you can try and work out how to fix it. That’s bringing light to the Catholic churches, the schools, this and that and sporting groups that better affecting these children along the way. They’re finally bringing them to justice as well and getting people to stand up and take note of what’s going on.
There’s another organization that I work with called Project Karma. They work a lot with sex trafficking in Southeast Asia. They also changed the law, so no pedophiles are allowed to leave Australia. They can’t go to Southeast Asia where it’s pretty rough there. Another organization I work with is called ChildSafe in Australia. They implement all the guidelines for any organization that works with children of what they should do, shouldn’t do, all the regulations and everything, keeping them up to date as well. These are proactive people. They’re not just raising awareness. They’re doing something about it. If we had more charities or more organizations that were doing something about it rather than just raising awareness, I think we’d see a lot more change going on.
Could you help clarify for the readers, because I see that as a problem too, what’s the biggest difference between raising awareness and doing something about it? Can you give some concrete examples here? It’s our thoughts and prayers on Facebook.
The little guys seemed to raise more awareness and do more than the actual guys who get the hundreds of millions of dollars of funding every year because they’re too busy about raising awareness for their brand than the word of the cause. They put the marketing money into that so they can get more government funding for the next year. That’s what raising awareness is. I think raising awareness should be education. It should educate people on what it is, who’s affected by it, what’s the statistics on it, then give the tools that of been able to overcome it as well. You don’t put the fear-mongering people seeking grab a couple of bucks often. This is how we make changes. At the moment, it’s a lot of people get these organizations, it seems like they’re so stuck on raising awareness.
I know more raising awareness and putting scare tactics into people make them more money. They force that issue even more instead of trying to fix it with the money that they’ve got, which is so disappointing. I’ve been doing this for a while now and I’ve dealt with so many organizations. They have asked me to be an ambassador for them. I start looking at it and go, “You get $900 million a year. What are you doing? You’re not doing anything to make changes.” The organizations that I’m aligned with like Project Karma and ChildSafe, they’re proactive about doing things. They get out there to help change the laws, change the rules. They’re doing things because they know that something needs to be changed.
If one of our readers is sitting in their house or office or car, what are a couple of tips that you can give them on something they could do rather than raise awareness?
One big thing for me is when I do my endurance events, people ask me as soon as I finished, they’d say, “How much money did you raise?” I don’t raise any money for it because I feel it takes away from the message because people ask that question. If I say are raise $10,000, they might say, “You did your best.” The focus is on that money side of things. In return, I say to them, “Shouldn’t you be asking how many people did I save?” Because that’s what it’s all about. It’s not about handing over some money and thinking that you did something good. You’re better off going to actually do something, go and help somewhere. There are a lot of orphanages out there that need supplies. There are a lot of kids that need help.
There are homeless kids. There are so many things you can do. You can go and help with cookouts. Be proactive to go out and take time out of your life to do it. Not just click a button to send, donate and, “Here’s $10. I’m doing everything. I’m changing the world because I’ve donated $10.” Usually, that $10 will end up about $0.60 because once it’s all filtered out with admin, marketing, branding and everything like that. You’re better off going there to do it. If you’re going to donate money to a local cause, take that money and say, “What do you need?” Go and get supplies or go and help the kids. Give them English lessons. Upskill these kids, so they’ve got a future moving forward. It’s a much better way.
It’s more rewarding because you see these children that are appreciative of it that you’ve taken time out of your own life to give back to someone else. It’s so rewarding for you. In the US, I work with this organization called Samaritan’s Feet. They’re incredible. I’ve joined them for homeless people and in schools to go and wash kids’ feet and give them shoes. When I was in Charlotte handing out shoes and washing feet for the kids there, they were coming in and didn’t even know what size shoe they were. They’ll say on the size thirteen, like a little shoe. You’d get a thirteen, you go, “That’s not it.” It ended up they’d be a size three shoe.There are different lessons that you learn in life and what you can take out of it in such a positive way, no matter what you're doing. Click To Tweet
Their toes are crinkled up. You’re seeing once I get the feet in, their toes are flat out, but it’s like they’re walking on clouds. They dance around instantly because it’s like, “Is this what shoes are meant to be like?” It’s those little things like that. When I was skateboarding across America, those kids that are dealt with, one of them had odd shoes on. One of his shoes was cut open. His toes were hanging out. I said, “What’s going on with your shoes?” He goes, “It’s the only way it could fit.” I said, “You’ve got odd shoes on.” He’s like, “They’re the only shoes that I could find.” I’m like, “Do you know what size you are?” He goes, “I’ve never had new shoes. I don’t know.” It was roughly my size, he’s about sixteen, this kid. I stood next to him. It looks about my size. I gave him this new pair of Vans skate shoes. He put these shoes on and he couldn’t stop thanking me.
Something so simple as giving these pair of shoes to this kid who never had it in his life. I told him, “For your information, you’re a size 11.5 shoe.” He was so excited to know he was a size 11.5 and he would tell them, “I’m 11.5.” Something so simple but to give in that way and I give you a time and give selflessly to someone else. It’s so important to them and it’s so important to us as well. As a community collective, that’s what we should be doing looking out for each other. Not just think we’re going to chuck a couple of boxes and everything’s going to be okay. We’ve done our part. Anyone can give money for things. Money is needed a lot of the times, but to go and do something, then it’s so much more rewarding for the people you’re trying to help.
You get to connect with another soul in the process. I love that answer. Volunteer your time or do something more than click the button and donate money. Damien, I’d like to circle back to your personal story a little bit here. I know again on the Heart of the Sea website, you mentioned that years into adulthood, you were still suffering in your life as a result of what happened to you. Can you share a little bit about how your childhood affected your adulthood?
Thirty-four years of my life, it was controlled. I had good moments in my life and everything as well. All throughout my life, I was so confused and I didn’t know who I was, what I was supposed to do. I was listening to others. I was trying to get influenced by everyone else. I was constantly sitting there looking around, seeing why other people were happy and I was unhappy. Were they truly happy? Was I happy or was I smiling and dark on the inside? I’d get triggered off from smells, sounds, visuals. I was constantly triggered for what happened in my past. I’m emotionally connected throughout most of my life to my past and the trauma that was happening.
It affected everything in my life from relationships to my self-worth, but also stuck on that routine of living each day as my last day. I went through drug, alcohol and sex abuse. I traveled the world and everything. I was trying to find this happiness. I had successful businesses, but it was all for the wrong reason. I was making money, but it was so I could buy like a new car and go, “This is what’s going to make you happy.” It did for a day or two and then that’s it. You’re like, “That didn’t do it. Now what?” There are all these dead-end projects. I’d do them, succeed, get to it and go and stop and now what? I’ll probably spiral all the way back down, get on drugs, alcohol and spiral out of control. I don’t have any self-worth at all. I’ll pick myself up again and start again and go, “I’m going to try this way and I’ll go and do this.” It was this endless cycle that was going on up and down.
It was so mentally, physically and emotionally draining. It wasn’t a good way to live and I was hurting myself. I was hurting other people around me. I had no trust with anyone, especially towards females because my mother had allowed this to happen as well and she wouldn’t speak out about it. When I was 22, she sent me a letter saying, “Your dad’s not this guy, it’s this other guy.” My whole life had pretty much been a lie and I spoke to my brother and sister. His dad was my dad, but ended up it wasn’t. It was some other dude that my mom had cheated on with her husband. It was all this crazy stuff. I put all that blame onto me that because I was born and because this happened, that this is what happened to my mother, my brother and sister as well. I carried that a long time as well.
I had a mild heart attack when I was 22, just overloaded on everything. I was spiraling out of control. I had four suicide attempts. I got married and then it was tough. I was trying to speak out for the first time and she wasn’t there for me as I thought she would have been. That was hard, but she was dealing with her own things as well. Her talking about her childhood situation would trigger off me. I didn’t want to reverse it back and start talking in-depth about mine and trigger off hers also. That was pretty tough time. My real dad died at that time. I was like, “All these answers have died with him. He was the only one who can answer all these things.” That was pretty tough for me as well. I went through a divorce because of it. I tried to commit suicide again and that was the last time. Luckily, I was found seconds before it was all over. I decided to make a real change in my life after that.
You said that you were stuck on living as if every day was the last day. What exactly do you mean by stuck in that? There are a lot of coaches and gurus who encourage people to live every day as if it’s your last day and you’re saying you’re stuck in it. I want to pick that apart a little bit because what gurus tell us isn’t always the best advice.
It’s a forward thing that I live every day towards. It’s a difference. You live every day to its fullest, not live every day like it’s your last day. There’s a big difference. I would destroy myself or be crazy reckless thinking, “I’m not going to wake up tomorrow anyway.” You have such low self-esteem, self-worth that if you were to die, who cares? It’s that thing. I always hear this from gurus and stuff. That’s not the way to live. After I did my paddle, in my head I’m like, “I’m going to live for another 100 years.” I’m like, “I’m never going to go.” If what I’ve been through and what I put myself through hasn’t got rid of me and I’m still here, I must still be here for a reason. If I’m going to live for 100 years, there’s stuff I’ve got to do. At the same time, I’ll live each life to the fullest like I’m happy every day. It’s not every day but pretty much have a happiness and live how I want and where I want. I’ll travel and I’ll share the message how I want and impact other people, massive sacrifices on my own life or other people, but this is my choice to do this as well. That’s why I don’t ask for donations from people. I understand that this is my cause and this is my journey as well.
Other people don’t have to fund how I choose to live my life and the impact that I choose to make on other people. If they do want to support, amazing. Usually, I’ll get asked a lot for people if they can donate $1,000 because I helped their wife because she went through all these traumas as well. I tell them to go and get something like paddleboards for themselves to go out paddling because if they give me the money, that’s what I would do back for someone else. That’s my gift giving back to them, to keep impacting the world in a better way. I healed and saved myself not through money, but through paddling in the ocean. All the money in the world didn’t do it and I had everything. I had my hands on to everything to be whatever, but it wasn’t making me happy. That’s what I try and share that message with other people. You don’t need all this money. People always say to me like, “If I had the money and help all these people, I will.” I didn’t have any money and I still helped all these millions of people. You don’t need the money. You need to be true to yourself. Do you want to make money or do you want to help people? It’s simple for me.
You’ve said that paddleboarding has helped save you. Going back to your website, I know that you talked about paddleboarding for seventeen days from Coolangatta to Bondi Beach in Sydney. It sounds like that was a big turning point for you in your life. Can you talk a little bit about that and a little bit about your mindset and what was going on? What encouraged you from inside yourself to get on that paddleboard for seventeen days?
After the last suicide attempt, I knew I need to make some changes. I started to think about where I was the happiest in my life, the freest and also vulnerable as well. That was back in the ocean surfing. I left the city that I was in and went back to the ocean and started paddling and surfing again. I knew the ocean had something special in it, so I wanted to engulf myself in it. I grabbed a paddleboard from the local surf club and paddled about a mile out to sea straight out by myself. I was feeling vulnerable out there. I loved to surf most of my life and not paddle-boarded. It’s different muscles you use. I was in a little bit of pain. The physical and emotional pain were coming through and there are no walls put up. There are no bars out there. I could grab it and go or something. I headed south facing it. I came in and I knew there was something special there. I wanted to explore that a lot more. I’ve lived my life even though I’d done things that sent me my way.
I had many influences from other people and being told and therapists telling me how I should do things and how I should live. I’m going to live with this emotion and the trauma for the rest of my life. I wanted to make a full change. I decided I’d break myself all the way back down to my rural foundations and put everyone aside for a moment and rebuild myself from the ground up again how I knew I should. If I made mistakes, they’re my mistakes that I would learn from. They weren’t words or thoughts from someone else who hasn’t even been through the trauma that I’ve been through like most therapists. I was like, “This is what I’m going to do.” I trained as hard as I could. I wanted to build the strongest version of myself that I could inside and out. I trained for eight months and going in my car. If I need to get anywhere, I’d run and try harder than I ever had. I limited myself to contact with other people. When I came back out, I was the strongest version I could be.
I walk down to my local beach and started this paddle. It was to raise awareness of child abuse and to tell people, “Go jump in the ocean. It’s has these amazing healing qualities. It’s helped me find my peace with it, strengthened me, all that stuff.” Before I started to paddle, I was at a pretty good pace and place in my life to what had happened. I’d built myself up pretty strong and I was like, “I want to take this on.” What I faced along the way and then what happened to me when I reached my final destination in Bondi, it completely changed my life forever. I was at a place that I didn’t even know existed and I was proud of myself beyond what I thought I ever could be. I’d never been proud of myself. Even though I’d achieved a lot, it’s pretty tough to be proud of yourself when you’re always hard on yourself as well.
In the middle of all of that, everything that you said and explained, and I want to point this out for the readers was the shift. There was an internal shift in your mindset from, “This is where I am in life because of all the stuff that happened to me,” to “I’m better than this.” The shift from being the victim of your circumstances to taking responsibility for your life and taking charge of it and choosing, “What happened to me is not going to define me.” You went through explaining that, and I want to point it out to the readers because the first part being the victim of your circumstances is that external locus of control. There’s something outside of me that’s controlling what’s happening to my life, “I’m helpless, and I’m hopeless. I can’t do anything about it.”
That internal shift that happens to, “I do have the power to do something about it. I can hold myself accountable from forward.” It’s not necessarily saying that you’re accountable for what happened to you as a child. A six-year-old child does not invite those circumstances into his life ever. At the same time, when you go through into adulthood and you get out of childhood, you had that realization that’s not going to define your life. You took personal responsibility and accountability for yourself to move forward. That’s the missing piece for a lot of people. It’s a personal shift. It’s a different experience for everyone. I like to point it out to help people realize that there are these moments in life that sometimes we miss them and they’re so important. If we hold onto them, it can be life-changing.
I had a few changes and growth spurts through the whole process since that first one. Taking ownership of my life, not having it in the hands of other people. When we go through trauma, it’s quick to look outwards to therapists, self-help books or positive affirmations on social media. What we don’t understand is these are connections of a breath of someone else. They’re not ours, but it’s only short-lived. It’s like buying a car. You’re happy for a bit, but then it wears off. It’s because we don’t have that connection. I built that strong connection with myself to be able to get through and I’ll push myself hard during this training that I was doing and always getting through it.When we're born, we don't know any different. We do things intuitively, and that's the right way we should be doing. Click To Tweet
Going back to the guru saying you got to live each day like it’s last day and all that. When I first started the paddle, there was a very higher chance that I wasn’t going to make this paddle alive. I’m paddling on shark breeding ground, being alone in the ocean, the storms, everything else is going to face along the way. When I first started off, in my mindset, I was willing to die for what I believed in. I was willing to do this and if I die doing this, I die. It got to about the fifth day and I had a completely different mindset of it. I wasn’t willing to die. I was now living for what I believed in. Each day was made living to continue on.
I was still going on the same journey to the same destination. It was that little mindset twist. That changed absolutely everything again. From that day, I didn’t think each day was going to be my last day. I was looking 50 and 100 years ahead going, “This is what I’m going to do here. I’ll keep ticking on, living life to its fullest, living for life and living for other people, not willing to die for other people.” Not thinking I’m going to die every single day, that’s silly. I still do extreme events, like crazy events, but it’s a difference between launching off a cliff on a snowboard and going, “While I’m doing it, if I die, I’m going to die doing something I love,” to “I’ve got no doubt I’m going to make this.”
I’ve got no doubt in my mind. I’ll go and do it. This is me living. This is how I live and this is what I want to share with other people of what’s possible and what you can do to be able to keep going and take the fullness out of everything in life and not limit yourself to what other people think is impossible or you can or can’t do. Go out and explore it and do it yourself. Strengthen yourself and keep that resilience to yourself knowing what you can do. What everyone can do is a hell of a lot more powerful than they give themselves credit for. I called it these massive endurance events, but everyone’s on a huge endurance event. Everyone in life is.
I was going to say that’s life. It’s an endurance event.
Either 17 or 56-day ones and they’re intense. This is everyone’s life, 30, 40, 50, 60 years. Everyone’s gone through this huge endurance event of these obstacles that they’ve got to overcome and work out how they overcame that obstacle. When they get to the next one, they know they can get through it a little bit easier. Each obstacle becomes easier and easier until they’re like nothing. They got up and over the wall. If we think about how we’ve got ourselves through all these challenges in life and think about the good that we take out of everything, whether it seems good or bad at the time, there are life lessons to be learned out of everything.
These are the tools that we take with us. We’re like a tradesperson that build up all these tools in our shed and we go, “Here’s an obstacle. I need this tool for it.” Have those things internally within yourself to be able to get over things and major issues become nothing. For me, major issues that were like the end of the world before the paddle, if they’re extreme, I’m like, “Here’s a fun learning experience coming on here.” It becomes fun. You sit back and go, “Here we go again. I know I can get through it because I know I’ve been through tougher times.” That’s not going to be hard. Life’s not tough. Life doesn’t wake up and say, “Damien’s having an awesome day. I’m going to make this the worst day of his life.” That’s how we perceive everything and it’s how we react and act to every situation and every person that comes into our life and how we see it negative or how we see a positive and what we take out of everything.
To live life from that more empowered state, knowing that you can get through it, knowing that I’m living my life for this purpose now instead of I’m willing to die for this purpose. There takes a level of self-awareness. Can you talk a little bit about that and how you shifted into that level of self-awareness? I think we need to be aware of ourselves, aware of our motivations and able to observe ourselves, to think about what we think about. That takes a level of observation, to be able to notice our patterns of behavior takes a level of observation and self-awareness. Can you talk about how that happened for you?
It happened on the paddle because I was facing everything and all my demons are coming forward. I had nothing but sharks and dolphins and jellyfish to talk to along the way and look at. I had to face everything as it came to me. Also, obviously I had a lot of time. I had thirteen hours in the water by myself. I had a lot of time to think about everything that had happened in my life and the life lessons. Take time to understand. I didn’t appreciate those lessons. I didn’t appreciate those challenges of how they built my resilience up and have that built it up to be able to do this paddle that everyone said was impossible to do, to be able to get to that point and to let everything come through.
Still in this thing called EMDR therapy, which is Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing. Our eyes are rapidly moving around while the emotions were coming forward and I’m taking new information so it dilutes it out at the same time, I didn’t know it was a thing. I thought, “This is what’s happening.” I’m getting in tune with myself. It’s a huge shift for me to be able to go through that and understand and be proud of what I’d achieved as well. It’s hard to be proud of what you do. We go from one to another and we keep looking for that next thing, which is great but we also got to be proud of what we did and what we got through as well.
Whether it’s good, bad, and ugly, no matter what it is, to be able to get through. That’s when you start bringing back your self-worth as well and you have to move forward. Looking at myself and going through 21 sharks soaked off my board by fifteen-foot-wide point. They circled everything. There was no support boat, no one on land supporting. It was me and the paddleboard and what I had to deal with along the way. I could only move as fast as my hands could take me. My hands are paddling in the water. It wasn’t like I had a paddle or anything. Sharks were around. It was my hands.
I had to keep me moving forward. In my head, I was going, “Am I going to get eaten?” I had to keep on moving. I couldn’t come in. I had to keep moving and I could only go as fast as I could. That’s what happens in life as well. We want to rush through things, but reality is things take time and healing yourself takes time as well. It’s about taking the ownership and the pride within yourself and self-worth, giving that back to yourself. You can take all the support and advice from everyone, but ultimately it’s you who is getting yourself up every single day to be able to get through the next day.
People will come and go out of your life, but you’re with yourself for the rest of your life forever. You are the most powerful vessel that you have to get through everything. No matter what happens and no matter who’s there, you’re going to have no one with you. Whether you could have a million people behind you, ultimately, it’s you who are going into battle every single day to get through it. Everyone’s got their own choice of what they do. Do they keep going or do they stop? A lot of people choose to stop because the pain gets hard. I’ll tell you what, if you keep on going, it’s bloody well-worth it.
You do coaching with people now. Do you coach people into a healthier mindset? Can you talk a little bit about your coaching and what you do in your coaching?
I created this new form of meditation called One Breath Meditation. I’ve written a book on it as well. Meditation has its place. Traditional meditation is fantastic, but never take anything away from it. They should practice it a bit more. It’s also a long time ago it was created. Life’s a little bit more complex now. When you go through trauma, because throughout life, I had my main trauma that happened to me, but that’s not the only thing that’s happened to me like everyone else. I have one thing, so it shouldn’t be one way, one therapy that we try to overcome this situation. You can’t just go see a therapist, you can’t just do meditation. You can’t just do EMDR therapy. You can’t do this or that. That’s complex. We need a complex form of being able to reprocess our brainwaves and to tap in because we take in information differently.
Some are visual, some are sound, some are movement and some are quiet. We need to tap into all that side of things as well. That’s what I’ve created. Having this time to be able to do these long events, that’s what it’s about. I skateboarded Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica. It was 56 days. It was purely about understanding and giving myself that time to understand what happened in the ocean and what’s happened during my life. I’d always been told or asked, “How are you able to keep moving forward when others are stopped?” That’s not in more physical events, that’s any more life events as well that it happened to me. I started thinking about that and dissecting everything that I’d done intuitively throughout my life and also what therapists had said to me as well.
I took the best parts out of it and be able to combine it together to have something that is useful and it’s in your back pocket. A solid tool like a Swiss Army knife, it’s got like all the prongs on it ready to go. You’ve got one tool in your back pocket that does it all. I wanted that to able to keep people going forward. The thing with traditional meditation, and again, not taking anything away from it at all, is people get reliant on grabbing their favorite mat, sitting next to their favorite tree for 25 minutes in the morning. The same music’s going and then it’s all done and then off they go. During the day when you have these triggers of trauma, arguments, heated moments in board meetings or whatever it might be, just go, “I’ll go grab my mat. Give me 25 minutes and I’ll come back.”
For me with events, as an athlete as well, I can’t call time out when I’m bombing down the hill or calm down the wave. I can’t go, “This is way too much for me. My head’s exploding. I’ve got to have time out,” and jumping off. I need something here and now to be able to keep going. That’s how I was created to be able to connect back with your breath and connect back with yourself. It’s simple for me to say breathing into your belly, hold it for two and let it out through your mouth. Everyone can do that. You have that strong connection with it. I’ve built this five-step program that brings in different elements and senses. It takes you away, it brings you back to the breath.Trust yourself and step out of your comfort zone so that you’ll know what you’re made of. Click To Tweet
What it does is it subconsciously simulates what happens in daily life with noises, visuals, everything that’s happening to be disconnect, give back to yourself. Reconnect with what’s going on in a calmer way instead of being reactive to the action. This is how it all started. I’ve been training people like a PT, like a physical coach and an athlete, a boxing trainer, everything for 27 years of my life. It was always going to move into this way. Because I’m so authentic, even before I did the paddle, I knew I wanted to start helping people, but I knew I was still screwed in the head. I need to sort myself out first and understand how I get it before I was able to help someone else.
That’s innate wisdom in and of itself to realize that you’ve got to get your stuff straight before you can help people with theirs. There are a lot of gurus, coaches and mentors that don’t do that. They’re very clearly not walking the walk that they’re talking about. Be wary of them.
I met them all, believe me. I went to this retreat in Australia and had all come in, “I’ve done this. I’ve got this.” Give them all the benefit of the doubt and give them respect and everything. Have a talk and then think, “I can say all the cracks happen in here.” For me, it’s funny because I’ve gone to these extremes for someone else to say, “I did a weekend online course. I understand everything about life.” You’re like, “Come on.” I have interesting conversations with people about that. For me, it was about what am I here to share with other people if I’m not living it myself? It was so important to me and I’m constantly every day improving myself and sharing that with other people as well.
People are so scared to let this message out or charge people ridiculous prices for it and stuff. You’re like, “What are you doing it for? To get rich or to help people?” You’ve got to put a monetary value on things, of course, or else people don’t think you’re worth it as well sometimes, which is strange. For me, it’s about impacting as many people as I can on a physical, mental and emotional sense and simplifying it. Many times, people overcomplicate things or use these ridiculous words that they don’t even understand. For me, some of the therapists I’ve used have overcomplicated things. It’s to try and make themselves sound smart and me sound dumb, so I’ve got to keep coming back to them. Give it to me in simple terms. We need simple things. This is how it is. For me, that’s always been important and how I’ve lived as well.
I’ve always been able to break things down to its simplest form, whether I was boxing training or whatever. It’s to bring out that perfect jab or execute whatever it is or running style, to be most efficient to be able to keep on going. I’ve worked on how everything works and watched how everything works. As a kid, I pulled apart bikes and everything to understand how they work and everything. That’s continued on throughout my life to be able to break things down to simple forms for people. When I do most of these coaching or doing it in a subconscious level, so even though I’m the vessel that’s driving it and it’s all clear in my head of the process that’s going to be going on, I allow the people, my clients, to think that they’re having the growth themselves, so it’s a lot stronger.
That way, when they leave, they don’t need me to hold their hand for the rest of that life. It’s like you’re strong, you’re empowered, and this is who you are. You need to go forth, not need me and keep paying me every week because you need me. If that’s what I’m thinking, I’m not doing my job. Let’s churn all this and have a listen to things, but let’s keep you moving. The whole process of the thing is to be able to keep moving and understand that because you come and see me, it doesn’t mean that life’s going to be like the Dalai Lama every single day. You’re going to be floating around on a carpet or something.
There are still tough times, but they don’t have to be tough times. They’re different lessons that you learn in life and what you can take out of it in such a positive way no matter what you’re doing. Start living life on your terms and understand how strong you are. For me, it’s about that. I’ll train all sorts of people, whether it’s the mental side of things, people have gone through traumas. CEOs, if they’re stuck with their companies, they probably want to get stronger physically as well. Athletes, you want to get faster, fitter, stronger, all those sorts of things. All of it ties into it’s all the mindset. People saying whether you’re stuck in trauma or you’ve hit a plateau in your athletic abilities, it’s that mindset to be able to go, “Okay,” and be able to continue. That’s all I help instill into people.
I love that description because that’s the type of coaching I do and refer my clients to, somebody who takes that approach to coaching. I love that you said that you’re working with the subconscious because if you’re aware that you’re working with the subconscious processes, you can help people heal so much more so. When there is a wound in the subconscious, it’s nonverbal. The conscious mind, it’s our narrator that is verbal and we get into the subconscious and that’s nonverbal. That’s our visionary, our experiencer. There aren’t a lot of words to put to that. If you can willingly and knowingly help people work with their subconscious and learn to work with it so it’s not such a scary thing, because so many people are afraid of their mind.
They’re afraid to go into the depths of their subconscious. It’s these irrational fears that we have about it. People are afraid of their demons, they’re afraid of their baggage and skeletons in the closet. Once you start to dive into the work, it’s not that bad. You get it. I love that you get it because I do try to bring people on who actually get healing and what it means to heal authentically, not to avoid for now until you can find the next treatment that helps you avoid in a different way. Let’s look over here for now and then I’ll go do the next fad treatment or the next fad that goes around. I’ll look that way for a while. A lot of those revolving door treatments like you were talking about, where you have to go forever and ever, they do. It’s a lot of avoidance of the actual issues. If your therapist or practitioner or whoever you’re working with isn’t encouraging you at some point to move on and get your butt out the door and go fly yourself, you might want to question that.
All my life, you’re like this for 10, 20 years, when are you going to get to a point and go, “This isn’t working right?”
How’s that working for you? How’s that turning out?
You’ve got to get on that deeper understanding. I think a lot of therapists and professionals, they might start off and they have all put intentions in that, once it becomes a mandatory thing. The problem is they, because they may not have been through that trauma, they don’t even understand it themselves. They don’t know how to overcome it. I was always told most people with PTSD are told you’ll have to live with this for the rest of your life and all you can do is learn to manage it. That’s not true. It’s BS. The reason why I tried to commit suicide four times is because I didn’t want to live with that for the rest of my life.
I didn’t want to all day have these visual thoughts in my head, these emotional attachments that were destroying my life every single day. Here’s a professional who’s supposed to know, telling me I’m going to live with this for the rest of my life. Of course, you want to end your life. I’m destroying my life and everyone else around me. I can’t keep doing this. My only option is to check out because this is going to continue forever. It’s so wrong. For therapists to say that to people, it’s taking everything. It had taken their empowerment and everything away from these people of who they are and what they can achieve in life.
It’s so wrong, those words. I was watching this film and it was about war vets and they said exactly that. The therapists on there said exactly that and I was trying to find the producer to rip into him. How dare you? Do you know how many veterans out there are going to watch his film and that’s going to be drilled into their head and they going to think that you shouldn’t take that hope away from people at all. What gives anyone the right to take that hope away from other people that they can heal and they can get past this trauma because they don’t understand how to do it because they’ve never done it themselves.
That’s what I was going to say is when a therapist says that to you, that’s indicative. I didn’t see it until I got beyond my complex post-traumatic stress, until I got to the other side like you’re talking about. Once I got to the other side of it and I wasn’t symptomatic anymore, then I could look back at my therapist and say, “I get it now.” My therapist was telling me this was going to be a lifelong struggle because that’s what she learned in a textbook and she’s never experienced it herself. If your therapist or practitioner or whoever it is saying things that don’t sit well with you and if they don’t feel right, explore and get another opinion.
There are people out there who not only have the textbook knowledge and education, but also the experience to go with it. There is no textbook out there anywhere that can substitute for the actual experience of it. I’m not saying put yourself in abusive situations, whatever situation you’ve struggled with, find a way to get through it and get to the other side of it and you can help people who are struggling the way you once did. If you don’t have the experience, then it’s harder to take people through something if you don’t have an experience of it and only textbook knowledge.
Textbooks need to be changed. I did a tour of the US on a motorcycle. The same thing, I went and spoke to Harvard professors and stuff about this and I was like, “You are the smartest dudes in the world and you don’t have a clue what’s going on. Sign up doing exercises that help make them happy. I have done this new research. You have done research on this. You’re about 50 years behind the fitness industry because that’s what we all do all for. Come on. Get with the times.” These people are leading the way. It’s hard. I was like, “Come on.”Challenges can be fun learning experiences. Click To Tweet
It takes science a while to prove common sense sometimes. You have to control all of the variables. That’s challenging.
Life is what it is. It’s pretty simple. We breathe, we connect with our breath, and we keep moving forward. That’s as simple as life is. If we break it back down to that, we’ve got a starting point of a game that when stuff hits the fan, we get back down. We’re breathing so we’re alive. Have a look at the clock, the clock keeps on ticking. Time keeps moving forward. It’s not all going to stop. We’re going to keep going. How am I going to keep going? I’ve got myself to keep going. I’ve got a connection with our breath, connection with myself, connection with time moving forward. I’m good, off I go. Everything starts again.
It’s the same as when we were born. Smack on the bum, get first breath and we’re away. We start exploring everything. As a baby, straight away, we started exploring everything you see and looking around and playing with boxes and cars and things. They explore everything that the reason is we’re told how we should be doing things. The intuition goes and we forget how to rely on other people. We’ve got to start bringing that back to ourselves. When we’re born, we don’t know any different. We do things intuitively and that’s the right way we should be doing.
A return to the intuitive. That’s what healing is. Healing is a return to the authentic self, which is our intuitive guidance from within.
We go on that full circle. I say, “What do you think the meaning of life is?” We’re going full circle. That’s the meaning of life. We go through all this where we start off intuitively, we learn all these rules and laws and this and that and how we should be along our way. The second part of our life, the third part of our life, we learn how to unlearn everything that we’ve been told. Come in the last quarter, we live life in short of leg and like exploring and doing what we want and getting out there. That’s why elderly people buy RVs and go on to travel to the countryside. Pack up everything. They’re off exploring again, doing what they want to do.
That unlearning phase, how painful that is in your life is a choice.
Sometimes that means putting people aside who have been there all your life. Even though they’ve had such bad energy on your life, it becomes people’s comfort zone to have these people there and to be in that situation, whether it’s volatile or whatever. That becomes normal to be able to separate and disconnect from these people and you vanish back to yourself. It’s going to what people need to do and trust within themselves. That’s what I teach people to do, to trust within themselves and step out of their comfort zones, so they know what they’re made of without pushing them too far. I can’t get anyone to skateboard across countries or paddle oceans or anything like that. Stepping out of their comfort zone a little bit, whether it’s riding a bike to work instead of driving one day or going for a run or whatever it is. There are so many different ways. Eat the hottest chili in the world. Test yourself every day.
For me, at the moment I’ve got the luxury. In El Salvador, I was at a place called Mizata Point Resort. I built retreat programs and it’s amazing. I love the place. It’s so raw and real. The people are amazing and the ocean’s right there. I get to explore. People who come here or clients who come here, they’re instantly coming to El Salvador. They’re stepping out of the comfort zones. They’re already prepared for it. The soft guidance of stepping out of their comfort zone along the way for the week. It’s the change that you see in people from that first day when they introduce themselves and we talk about why they here to seven days later. On the first day there might be, “I wanted to come to check it out. Someone told me to come.” The last day, there’s that empowerment within themselves. We were talking about on that subconscious level to be out. I’ve trained people all of my life the last and have all these deep experiences myself.
I don’t share anything that I haven’t done myself and explored myself, so it stays authentic. I know without a doubt, 1,000,000%. That’s why I’m able to do things on such a subconscious level because I know and understand it. I can see in their eyes and I can see the changes. I know when they can go a little bit further or not. Sometimes they think they can go more and I’ll pull them back. Other times they’re like, “I can’t do it.” You give them a couple of breathing techniques, facial calming techniques and they go off again further. Also, it’s got the beautiful ocean with waves crashing in every day and people giving the ocean awareness of understanding that waves come hundreds of thousands of miles to come all the way in here and safe. You’re surfing.
I’m worried from watching them. They’d come in, they crash and no one will ever see them again. Those waves come that far for us to surf in that no one else was going to surf and no one will surf again and no one will see again. It came all the way for us, for our enjoyment of that time. I’ll watch the next one, but at the same time, the waves that’s coming in, it’s not stopping. Nothing is going to stop it in this path. It’s on a constant flow. The change as well. It goes. The tidal movements with the moon, with the lunar having the tides go out and tides coming back in and how to fix everything. That’s life giving you that stuff.
It’s a beautiful metaphor for life.
It’s amazing and it’s constantly moving and shifting. The stormier the ocean is, the calmer we are because there’s more activity going on. It’s like when we sit around a campfire, everyone’s quiet because they’re watching that flame constantly moving. The eyes, the flicking around, everyone’s essentially doing EMDR therapy. They don’t know it. That’s about making them a little bit more consciously aware of what they’re doing or people watching the same thing sitting there in front of the cafe in New York or something and watching all these different sorts of people in cars and trucks and everything going on. The whole world is happening in front of them. It’s calming for us. People are relaxed. They have that coffee. They have that book. Look around it, everyone. It’s all those thoughts of why we wanted to go to that cafe in the first place. To get out of our head, it’s just coming out. They start desensitizing and filtering.
Everything you’re talking about is all circles back to awareness. Awareness is hugely important and that’s a theme that comes up a lot. Awareness and the role awareness play in healing and enjoying life and health and happiness. It all seems to circle back to awareness.
Opening up this way.
Take off the blinders. We’re not horses in the city. We’re not going to get spooked. Damien, what is your preferred way for readers to find you or look you up online?
You can look me up on Instagram, @DamienRider, on Facebook, Damien Rider and my website, which is DamienRider.com. They’re the best ways. If you want to book in for retreats and stuff, let us know. If people want to reach out and chat about anything, I’m open to everything. I get hundreds of messages a week and I’ll make sure I reply to every single person. I give everyone that respect and that time to give back to everyone.
Do you have any final tips or bits of wisdom to leave with our readers?
Challenge yourself daily all day. Have fun with it and it builds up your resilience. It could be small. It could be big. It could be whatever it is but test yourself and get comfortable with the uncomfortable. I can say in that way, the comfort zone becomes a little bit wider every day. Challenges become fun learning experiences then.
Damien, thank you so much for being on. It’s been an honor and a pleasure to have you here with us and to share your knowledge and your wisdom and your life experiences. I’m Jennifer Whitacre. I’m an empowerment strategist, a trauma specialist. If you’re interested in finding more information about me, you can find me at JenniferWhitacre.com. I’m on Facebook. My business page is Jennifer Whitacre. I’m on Twitter and LinkedIn under Jennifer Whitacre. In the meantime, please share this with people. I know that internal mindset that Damien talked about, those internal shifts, this man has wisdom. Read this, share this with your friends. Share this with people that you know who are struggling because there is potential for this to help a lot of people.
- Damien Rider
- One Breath Meditation
- Cold Immersion Meditation
- TEDx Talk – Rise Above TEDx Talk
- Heart of the Sea
- Project Karma
- Samaritan’s Feet
- Book – One Breath Meditation: Rise Above Physical, Mental & Emotional Stress To Keep Moving Forward
- @DamienRider – Instagram
- Damien Rider – Facebook
- Facebook – Jennifer Whitacre
- Twitter – Jennifer Whitacre
- Jennifer Whitacre – LinkedIn
About Damien Rider
Damien Rider is an Author, Multiple World Record Ultra Adventure Athlete, Creator of One Breath Meditation – Cold Immersion Meditation and Global Motivational Speaker. Recognised for his International humanitarian work and physical feats as speaker in TED talk Asia and US, plus featured baton barer during the 2018 Commonwealth Games and as a keynote speaker in Australia for the Royal Commission responses into Institutionalised Sexual Child Abuse.
His work and dedication has lead him to become a respected Wellness and Mindset Specialist and Coach globally. Always finding the positive in everything in life, he has an undeniable resilience to keep moving forward. He continues to test and challenge himself to discover what is possible mentally and physically sharing his discoveries with others.