Some things are wonderfully serendipitous.
I had gone to Denver to work on a documentary with Dylan Baker, but due to poor weather conditions (nobody is doing a 5-story descent in the snow) and a small amount of my own incompetence and under-preparedness, I found myself housebound with nothing to do, and a few days to kill before my return flight. And while playing Mario Kart with a parkour legend is fun (one night Dylan and I played a grand-grand-prix, where you race all 48 courses in all the grand-prix back to back without rest), it’s not what I was in Colorado to do. I had taken time off work, rented equipment and invested my energy into telling a story, and going home without it finished was going to be a bit of a blow.
And then two days before I left, Erick Jensen, Dylan’s seriously dope roommate, called me up with a proposal. Christopher Hollingsworth had confided in him, on their morning commute, that he planned to make a tell-all video in the next couple of days. He wanted to reveal his struggle with marijuana addiction to his followers and friends, and how it had played into the way he dealt with the loss of his father and best friend. His plan was to film his honest and heart-wrenching story with just his phone, and against a blank wall. Needless to say, that information hurt my filmmaker-soul, and I knew that this was a story I had to help tell.
We met that evening and I heard everything. He was honest and refreshingly self-aware despite his incredible intensity. I shared my own story with him and felt a strong sense of alignment in our visions of the world. The next day we shot the entire film in one 8 hour stretch.
This piece was slated for release on Saturday the 14th, and to anyone who’s been waiting I apologize, but I couldn’t publish this without knowing it was as perfect as it could be. I owed that to Chris, and to Ray, whom I’d never met, but grew to care for deeply as I poured over this project. To hear Chris speak of how beautiful and brilliant his best friend was moved me, and I knew that the world had lost a great soul of endless potential. I hope this film serves as a reminder to love yourself fully and to love those around you just as deeply.
I never meant to make this film or meet Chris or know Ray, but I’m glad I did, and I am without a doubt better for it.
Some things are wonderfully serendipitous.
3 years ago my girlfriend at the time broke up with me. We’d been together for the better part of four years, and while it wasn’t the perfect relationship, I did love her.
I was devastated. Beyond devastated. In fact, I was so hurt that I decided I would never allow myself to feel pain like that again.
I died that day. Literally, who I was ceased to be. Not because of this girl, but because I didn’t believe at the time that I was capable of handling the loss I’d experienced. So I created a new persona to take the place of who I was. A character so strong and fearless that he was invulnerable to all damage: Physical and emotional.
I had never smoked weed or drank coffee before this, but once I created this new persona I started smoking with my friends and taking stimulants like caffeine to push myself in my training. I found that it was much easier to fit into this new persona with drug use.
I would deaden my emotions with weed, get rid of my physical pain with painkillers, and amp up my body with coffee to push my training.
Within 3 days of the breakup, I’d sold the engagement ring I had and bought a plane ticket to San Diego. I’d been offered a job as a parkour coach, and the fearless, strong, new me got on that plane with only $70 in my pocket; I had no place to stay, no plan and I only knew a couple of people.
Luckily the people I did know were awesome, and I was able to couch surf for a while. Eventually, a friend of mine, Alex Martos, and his family took me in for several months while I earned enough money to find a room on Craigslist.
I finally found a house I could afford in a rough neighborhood in southern California: A three-hour bus ride to and from work. But strong, fearless me could handle it.
I got to the house and was crammed into a room with four strangers, all heavy drug users. I came home within the first few days to find that all of my possessions had been stolen. I watched from my bunk as they would shoot up heroin and smoke crack. But strong, fearless me could handle it.
On several occasions I witnessed an overdose and would hold them as they shook and convulsed, telling the same people that stole from me that they were safe in my arms, waiting for the ambulance to arrive. But strong, fearless me could handle it.
And that was my life for an entire year. I would wake up and smoke, take a three-hour bus ride to work, drink a bunch of coffee and take painkillers, train super hard, and then bus three-hours back to my house where I would smoke myself to sleep.
I was scared and I was lonely, but I couldn’t admit that to myself. I kept smoking, and I kept taking painkillers.
That’s where my friend Ray comes in. I had known Ray Brightstar Bilker since the first grade. We had gone through middle school, high school and college together. He was my closest friend. I called him and told him that we could have our own room together in California if we split rent, and the next thing I knew he was down there with me.
I wasn’t as alone and I wasn’t as scared, but I was still smoking, and still drinking coffee. At this point, those things were essential to the character I had created.
About a year into working my job, the program director broke his neck, and the other coach quit. I was the only coach for the whole parkour program, but strong, fearless me could handle it.
So I started doing all 12 classes a week by myself. I went to the San Diego public library and checked out every book I could find on coaching and gymnastics psychology. I built the program up to the point that I had between 20 and 30 students per class, 12 classes a week, and it became the biggest program in the gym with over 200 students.
On top of that I was also coaching between 15 and 25 private lessons, charging anywhere between $60-$250 an hour for my expertise, which made it amazingly easy to afford all the weed I was smoking to cope with the all stress I was under.
One day, right before class, I got a phone call from my aunt. She told me that my father had died from an overdose, and I immediately thought back to the times I had witnessed my roommates overdose. I thought about what he went through when he died, but strong, fearless me didn’t feel anything at that point. I was so numb to my emotions that I didn’t shed a single tear. I walked back into work and taught for the next six hours.
Ray found out what’d happened and took me out to a baracade that night. He was there for me when I didn’t even know I needed someone to be there. I was high the entire time, oblivious and numb to my emotions.
Then I met Cordelia. And she loved me so unconditionally that the emotional walls I had built slowly began to crumble. I stopped taking painkillers. I stopped drinking coffee. I slowly fixed the damage I had done to my body with the nutritional information and strength training Cordelia showed me. But I kept smoking weed. Strong, fearless me couldn’t be strong and fearless without it: At this point, it was the only way I knew how to deal with stress, and I was quickly reaching a breaking point.
Little did I know that this breaking point would reach me before I reached it.
On my way to the 2015 Fools Jam, I was arrested in Idaho for having a gram of weed on me. I spent a week in jail, facing up to two years in prison. I was scared. Terrified. I didn’t eat the entire time I was there. Fortunately, it was my first offense and I was released with only a $2000 fine and 100 hours of community service. I was honestly just grateful that I wasn’t going to prison.
And so I quit weed for the first time, out of fear. I got home and smashed my pieces, called all my friends and told them I needed their support.
That’s when I started experiencing my first withdrawal symptoms.
My hands were sweating, my heart was pounding and pains were shooting through my chest. It was the first time I had ever experienced fear for my life, but it wouldn’t be the last. At the time I thought I’d had a heart attack, but I now know it was a panic attack brought on by post-acute withdrawal symptoms. Symptoms from my body normalizing after I’d spent the last two years pumping it full of THC.
Stress continued to hit me like a ton of bricks, day after day after day, and life didn’t seem worth living. I eventually convinced myself that I could control my weed consumption and started smoking again.
I was so burnt out by this point, so stressed with seemingly no break, and I was still required to work my 12 classes a week. I never told my co-workers about my arrest. Or my father. I was too ashamed.
One day at work, after having just taught a day full of classes, a kid ran up to me and said, “Hey Chris! Can you please come help me with my back tuck?”
“I’m not on the clock, go ask someone else,” I replied.
I’ll never forget how devastated he looked, his hands in his pockets and his head down as he walked away.
I looked at my phone and Saw that I had about 100 Instagram notifications, all from this one kid. He had gone through and liked every single post, leaving comments like, “Woah, awesome! I want to do that!” and, “I’m coming to your gym today! I can’t wait to meet you!” I was so disgusted with myself.
The entire reason I’d got into coaching was to help others find joy in parkour, and there I was telling him to “find someone else” because I wasn’t getting paid right that second. Some role model. I got up, helped him with his back tuck and apologized to him. I put in my two weeks at work that day, and a week after I’d gone enrollment dropped by 70%.
Before leaving San Diego, Ray came up to me and asked, “Hey man, do you want my RV? I’m going back to Colorado too, and I’ll have nowhere to keep it.” I accepted his offer, and we decided that I’d pay $2000 for it in small installments.
I got my license a couple days before leaving California and drove the RV to Colorado in just a couple days with Cordelia. I felt lost still from my experiences in California; still smoking daily, but beginning to resent how it made me feel.
Then I got a phone call.
It was Ray’s brother.
He said, “Are you sitting down?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“Ray killed himself last night,” he said.
Something inside me broke: I felt such an intense pain and loss that strong, fearless me couldn’t exist in the same place as the pain I was feeling.
I died again. The character that I’d created ceased to be the second Ray pulled that trigger.
And then I had my second big panic attack. I was gasping for air and had carpopedal contractions. My face and arms went numb, and I thought I was dying again. I was rushed to the emergency room where they proceeded to tell me that nothing was wrong with my heart, or my body and that I was just stressed.
That’s when I put two and two together and realized that there was a lot more going on internally than I was aware of. I decided I was tired of feeling the way that I was, and I began to explore my emotions, and where they were coming from. I started meditating daily for several hours.
I smoked one more bowl of weed with the intention of genuinely looking at how it made me feel. And I was honest with myself. It made me feel awful. So I quit for the second and last time. The first time was out of fear, but the second was out of love for myself.
And that’s when post-acute withdrawal hit me hard. Within the first two weeks, I’d experienced dozens of panic attacks, but I wasn’t running away anymore. I treated myself like I would a sick child; with love and compassion in every single moment. A moment to moment acceptance of myself and what I was feeling.
In my meditations I allowed my mind to go to the experience of my first break up, and I fully felt that pain. I allowed myself to feel the loss and death of my father. I allowed myself to become present to the loss of my best friend Ray. And I felt it. I fully felt it. I cried more in those two weeks than I had in my entire life combined. But something strange began to happen: I started healing. I experienced the negatives and positives for the first time, and I had gratitude for the experiences: For my father, and my friend.
You see, they’re more than just ashes now. They’re the good memories I have of them. The love, support, and kindness that they showed me.
Life is meant to be experienced moment to moment, taking the good with the bad and fully accepting yourself for who you are in each and every moment. Allowing yourself to feel negative emotions without making yourself wrong for them. Because the bad just adds to the good, in that it helps you appreciate the good that you have. If you run from it, you’re just depriving yourself of fully living. You really only get one life here: Don’t spend it running. Be courageous and face your emotions.
I always thought that strength was in not feeling fear or sadness, but to have felt fear and sadness and accepted those emotions in yourself is to know a strength far greater than having ever been.
Video © Milo Finnegan-Money
Typography by Andrew Obenreder
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