While all the holiday cheeriness ensues, I wanted to take time to acknowledge and be sensitive to those who have a really hard time through the holiday season.
If that is you, you'll want to read this.
This is the most personal story I have ever shared on RealFit.tv.
So, although it's fairly long - take the 15 or so minutes to read this - because I promise you, it's empowering. And it will give you hope. And if nothing else, it will give you insight into how I tick.
Especially if you were a member of Evolution Health & Fitness that I opened in 2008, or if you've been following me since the beginning of my YouTube channel in 2012.
It starts with tragedy, loss & heartache and circles around to one of the most amazing, life-changing, connect-the-dot moments I could EVER share with you. As they say, hind-sight is 20/20. But, only if you have the courage to look.
This is such a BIG piece of who I am & how you know me and yet, I have never told the REAL story publicly.
& the catalyst begins with last Wednesday night.
Steve & I found out that friend of ours took his own life.
This news is heart-wrenching, jaw dropping and incredibly tragic. If you have been touched by suicide, or sudden death for that matter, you know the feelings that words cannot describe.
And because it was suicide, I immediately feel the pain go straight to my heart for his wife.
I sent prayers and love immediately to her and their children from afar. In fact, I will continue to send them... my work there is never done. <3
Her husband was a fellow volunteer fireman on the local department when Steve & I first met. He moved down to Virginia several years ago, so Steve & a team of firefighters took a 10 hour drive round-trip for the day to pay our respects and console his family in the best way they knew how.
The services were Saturday.
I too, lost someone whom I loved dearly to suicide. A boyfriend of mine. His name was Brent.
I was with him on & off (more on that in a moment) from my 21st birthday until his death on December 5, 2003. I was 26 by then.
Saturday was the services for our friend, and also happened to be the anniversary of Brent's death. He was 27 years old at the time with a super successful trucking business that he built from nothing at the age of 18. He was a brilliant entrepreneur.
It was ultimately drug addiction that drove him to make this final decision - either go back to using heroin (he was clean for 6 solid months) or take his own life.
He chose the latter.
I remember the day I got the call at work. This is when I was in corporate. At my 9-5 graphic design gig (I would teach fitness classes at night & on weekends - this was in the heat of my over-exercising days. I used exercise to escape my life.)
The snow was starting to fall that particular Friday & they were predicting a nor'easter. 2-3 solid days of snowfall for the entire tri-state area.
At the time, Brent & I were just starting to see each other again. He was clean, home from rehab for a few months & taking good care of himself. (This was the longest sober stint he had since his addiction started 2 years after we first me)
And because I loved him so deeply, I would rather be without him so he had a shot of staying clean, then be with him where he felt content and would go back to using again.
I seemed to be the catalyst for his desire to sober up because I fought him on this tooth & nail and would leave him when I found out he was using again.
Although, he referred to me as his angel for this exact reason.
Well, most of the time I would fight him. sometimes I would leave him. Not always.
It was too painful at times & I would turn the other cheek - pretend that I didn't know he as using again - I was too exhausted & scared to move out, yet again. I mean, "Who would look after him & make sure he was alright? To make sure he stayed alive?"
...back to the snowfall on Friday, December 5, 2003...
As I mentioned, Brent owned a trucking business. A fleet of 12 dump trucks & trailers.
He had a plowing contract for sections of route 23 & route 80. These are major highways so that meant his drivers (himself included - I would often ride with him overnight to help keep him awake) would be lined up ready to work. After all, pay from the state was GOOD money. Really good money.
I knew he was getting his team ready to plow. Later I found out that he only recently signed to renew the contract for that year. He flipped a coin with his buddy Tommy (who was against it for obvious reasons) to determine whether or not they'd plow that year.
My cellphone rang & it was Brent's brother - we called him Bones - on the other line.
Bones would NEVER call me. I had issues with him because I didn't feel like he had my back in trying to get Brent clean. I felt isolated from both his brother & his Mom for this reason.
Side note: His Dad passed away when he was a teenager. Hence the drive to build a business. He had to step into his Dad's shoes & take care of the mortgage where his Mom was just not capable of being a Mom & his brother had his own difficulties coping with life.
I was usually cordial to Bones, so when he called I was pleasant....
And then just seconds later with the tone of his voice, my heart started racing because I knew whatever his reason for calling, was not going to be good.
I wasn't living with Brent at the time of his death, but his friend we called Big Steven was.
Big Steve was really there to "babysit" Brent. Look after him & help him do the basics of staying on track through his drug use and through his sobriety when I just couldn't take it anymore.
Big Steve took care of our pitbull, Dozer, too. I felt Brent needed Dozer's love & companionship more than I did, and I knew Big Steve would look after him. Big Steve looked after the both of them at times I was just beat down & driven away.
He was the one who found Brent dead in his bedroom that morning. He overdosed on sleeping meds. Took a whole bottle, swallowed it down with some beers. And left us a note.
He wrote to me - "Dana, you will be the only one who understands. You did the best you could. I love you. Now, go live your life."
And it was true. I was the only one who understood.
Yet, in the grieving process, I did not go out of my way to help others understand. I kept the information to myself. That was just too much for me to continue to fight. I didn't have it in me.
I did however, feel immediate relief from the burden of Brent's pain knowing he was no longer alive. And, part of me felt guilty about that for a very long time.
But, what he was going through in his life - the reasons that drove the drug addiction - had my compassion, my love, my heart & my soul. I just couldn't bare to see him suffer & fight so fucking hard anymore. He didn't deserve that kind of torture.
Bottom line: He didn't see himself the way I saw him.
He was one of the most driven, intelligent, motivated & get-shit-done people I have EVER met.
In my eyes he was beautiful & he was brilliant. He was so fucking funny. He was kind-hearted & incredibly generous. He didn't buy just one quad, he bought 2 - so his friends could ride with him. Same with his snowmobiles & motorcycles.
He took good care of me in the best way he knew how. Showered me with gifts like a convertible BMW & designer clothes. He had my name tattooed on his neck & written all over the passenger side of each dump truck. (It's what you do for your 'ol lady)
Although all I wanted was for him to get clean & stay clean.
I remember taking that call from Bones, then somehow finding the where-with-all to go outside for the breakdown that I felt coming on... & not do it in my office with my co-workers & boss right there.
My buddy Patryk followed me outside & brought me a jacket to shield me from the bitter cold and the snowfall as I had already dropped to me knees in a puddle of tears & sobs trying to get a handle on what I just heard.
..to get a grip on the bitter truth of the reality that Brent is no longer alive. He is no longer with me.
Why now? I expected this a year or 2 ago. Not now. He was clean. What the FUCK? We just had dinner. I know he left me a message on Wednesday night & I didn't call him back, but what the hell?
I left the office early that day. Needless to say, I was NOT going to teach spin class that night.
The rest of the company left early too because the snow was falling heavy & the ride home was going to be treacherous. & of course immediately thought of his trucks getting out there - business as usual- without their fearless leader to guide them. Instead, his best friend Tommy, was at the helm - working his ass off, dealing with the results from that heads-up coin toss while mourning the death of his childhood friend.
My heart broke for Tommy to have to deal with that.
I got in my jeep & I immediately called my Mom.
My Mom called my sister.
Then they both headed over to my apartment -in the crazy snow storm- as soon as we hung up the phone.
Amanda & my mom were each there to witness the entire roller coaster of "what the hell is Dana doing with a drug addict boyfriend?" that consumed the last 4 years of my life.
And THIS is where the story starts getting GOOD. Really GOOD.
It's where the beauty & blessings in my life started opening up for me to see. For all of us to see "what the hell I was doing with a drug addict boyfriend?"
But, for a time, Amanda (or as I call her, Manda) & I had gone our separate ways. Probably for about 10 years actually.
Manda had death touch her early in life. He son's middle name is Vaughn after a friend who she lost in a ATV accident in high school. She knows the impact of death.
I had not. I had lost no one up until that point in my life. So, how to handle it was completely foreign to me. I had no idea how to navigate it or what the hell was going on with my emotions moment to moment. The best word I could use to describe it was surreal.
Manda stayed with me for 2 solid weeks to cook for me. Sleep next to me. Answer my call when I was having a bit of a meltdown. or Just sit by me & hold my hand on the couch while we watched tv.
We became inseparable again after that point.
We talked every day & we became our old peanut butter & jelly selves - actually, 2.0 - we upgraded to natural peanut butter & dark chocolate this time around 😉
How did we get there?
Because of BRENT.
Brent showed me that having a business & making an impact was possible.
That anything I wanted in life was doable. And worth fighting for - even if that meant fight against him.
I learned by watching his dedication to building a business that was sustainable through thick & thin (in his case, in & out of rehab), that I could see the possibilities for myself.
...maybe I could do this build-a-gym thing after all?
I NEVER believed that any of this would have been possible if I didn't have Brent in my life. NO WAY. NO HOW.
His death gave me the gift of understanding what was REALLY important to me. It slammed things into perspective, I guess you could say.
I stopped complaining about what was going wrong in the fitness industry, I grew a set of ovaries, I got out there & did something about it!!
The good stuff didn't start showing up only in my business, but also revealed itself in my personal relationships.
I met my husband Steve 6 short months after Brent passed away.
I was clear about what I wanted in a relationship.
I was clear about what I DIDN'T want in a relationship.
And here we are. Steve & I are celebrating 10 years of a rock-solid marriage in 2016. We have a fucking amazing relationship & I owe it to Brent.
So, no matter what horrific thing you are going through right now, TRUST that there is a bigger plan in action.
While I was in the thick of the 2-day cry-fest after finding out Brent was using yet again (for the umpteenth time)...
While I was getting on with teaching classes as if nothing was wrong in my life (meanwhile I had no idea if he got home safe or was even alive from the partying all night in the city the evening before)...
While I was mourning the loss of the [first] love of my life...
There were the tiniest lessons & purposeful events that at the time, had very little meaning to me. I was angry. I was frustrated. I was scared. I cried & yelled & screamed A LOT.
& here I am. 12 years later, after his death...
This is a defining story of my life. of my character. & the meaning I put behind everything I do for my business. It was the BIRTH of my business.
I didn't think it was important or relevant for you to know up until this point.
We are about to embark on a new year. 2016. And everything I send out is to add value to your life. To make this next year STELLAR. Better than the last.
Now that you know this about me, we can actually get better acquainted & hopefully make the lessons I have to teach even more impactful.
Let's start over.
Hello. My name is Dana Lee Chapman & I am the founder, creator & lead instructor of RealFit.tv. Nice to meet you. [hand shake. eye contact.] Trust me. Whatever it is you are going through, is for an amazing reason in your life and it's yet to be revealed to you in it's entirety. It is one of the greatest blessings unfolding for you right now. Your diet, workout, & weight loss struggle is a part of this amazing story. And on the other side, you will grow to learn from it, the most profound life lessons, because it is for your GREATEST GOOD.