By Travis Mills
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“This book is a master class in recovery, renewal, and recalibration. Travis does not make excuses. Travis does not complain. Travis is not held back by challenges he faces—he is propelled forward by them. Let’s be more like Travis.”
—From the Foreword by Jocko Willink
We all have those moments, the ones where we are set adrift by a life-changing event. Yet we often lack the ability to parse these moments, understand how to respond, and move beyond them. Travis Mills, a veteran and a quadruple amputee, was confronted with this in the wake of the incident that claimed his limbs and changed the trajectory of his life forever. In Bounce Back, Travis reveals the path that helped him through tough times—and allowed him to continue to be a dedicated family man, husband, and father to two amazing children. Along the way to his physical and emotional recovery, Travis developed the tools to keep moving forward, and he has outlined them in twelve principles, including:
• That Dog Don’t Hunt—Stop Torturing Yourself and Stop Asking Why
• Snap Your Fingers, Wiggle Your Toes, and Get the F*** Out of Bed—Create Small, Achievable Goals for Moving Forward
• Stay Within the Guard Rails—Manage Your Emotions and Control Your Attitude
• Get a Battle Buddy—Never Underestimate the Power of a Support System
• Serve—Find Your Voice, Build on Your Strengths, and Live Meaningfully
Travis’s message—that we cannot control what happens to us, and we can only focus on how we react and move forward—will inspire survivors from all walks of life.
We all face challenges. We all have setbacks. We all suffer.
When these difficulties hit, some people break. They surrender. They let circumstances, fate, and events that unfold control their attitude, dictate their emotional state, and determine their destiny.
They adopt a defeatist attitude of negativity. They accept failure.
They curl up in a ball and wait for the clock to run out.
But there are other people who are diametrically opposed to that attitude—people who, in spite of incredible challenges, adapt and overcome.
Of every person I have ever met in my life, Travis Mills has faced the most traumatic, intense, and brutal challenges a human being could face—and he faces these severe challenges continuously, every day, over and over again.
And yet, he has the best attitude of anyone I know or have ever known. His emotional state is always positive. His humor is always on point. His mentality is pure strength of will.
Despite suffering the most horrific wounds imaginable, he chooses his own destiny and is unstoppable in his drive and commitment to live life.
Travis Mills is one of my friends, one of my heroes, and the most inspiring human being I have ever met.
Travis received injuries beyond all comprehension. While serving in the US Army in Afghanistan, an improvised explosive device big enough to destroy a vehicle ripped off his arms and legs, leaving him a quadruple amputee. In that moment of shock and despair, when most people would be focused on themselves, Travis’s first response was to direct the medics tending to him to care for his fellow soldiers instead. He thought he was going to die. Against the odds—and thanks to the skill and determination of those medics—he lived.
But his battle was far from over. In fact, it was just the beginning. Upon returning to America, he started on an almost unbearable journey of recovery and recalibration. Countless surgeries. Excruciating pain. Hallucinations. Fighting to stay alive.
Then, he had to learn how to live again. He had to learn to utilize prosthetic limbs. He had to learn how to walk, eat, and accomplish seemingly ordinary tasks like getting dressed and brushing his teeth. He also had to recreate his identity now that he could no longer serve in his beloved Army. And, most important, he had to recalculate and reimagine how he could be the husband and father he knew his family deserved.
This was not an easy path. I cannot think of anything in life more difficult to overcome.
Yet, Travis has achieved exactly that. He has excelled in every aspect of life. He is an author, a business owner, the founder of a powerful charity organization, a speaker, and a devoted family man. He is a recognized source of laughter and light to all who encounter him.
Without question, Travis Mills has turned tragedy into triumph, and victimhood into victory. In the game of life, Travis Mills is the undisputed champion.
Thankfully, Travis is also generous—he wants to share the experiences he has had, the lessons he learned, and the protocols he utilized to overcome pain and strife and to live a life that is filled with meaningful achievement.
Bounce Back is an instruction manual—an owner’s guide for the challenges of life. With moving stories of struggle coupled with his signature humor, Travis tells us how to face setbacks, how to find a path through traumatic events, and how to conquer the trials we face.
He gives us pragmatic advice on what to think—and how to think—about the misfortunes that ensnarl us. He explains how to communicate about our struggles so they do not control us. He explains the critical difference between blaming ourselves and taking accountability. He teaches us how to control our emotions and our attitude, provides a protocol to overcome fears, and educates us about the habits and benefits of being grateful.
Travis’s skill as a leader also shines through in this book. He knows we need specific instructions. That’s why each section has actionable tactics we can use to move forward. He tells us exactly what to do when we find ourselves playing the blame game. He gives us step-by-step instructions to follow to keep moving toward our goals. He communicates distinct options we have when we need support. He even coaches us in methodologies to help practice being more positive. This book is a road map to emulate Travis’s journey past trauma and torment, onward to peace and gratification.
The book also includes experiences beyond Travis’s. He shares the stories of other people who have met with catastrophe and persevered. He explores what they learned and how their knowledge can be captured and passed on to others. We read about Liz, whose husband, a B-1 pilot, was killed by a drunk driver. Suddenly a young widow, Liz had to raise two children on her own. We are introduced to Ray, a veteran struggling with survivor’s guilt and a loss of identity. And we are introduced to Anna, trying to muddle through a difficult divorce. How did these people face these challenges? That is the question that Travis answers in this book.
Bounce Back is also a reminder that our human experience is not unique. We all struggle. We all feel alone. Yet, most of us think that no one could understand or relate to the discord and darkness in our lives. That is wrong. Suffering is universal. Struggle is inescapable. If anyone in the world understands struggle and suffering, it is Travis Mills.
But, luckily for us, Travis also knows there is a path through that darkness. He knows what to do and how to do it—and he shares that with us.
This book is a masterclass in recovery, renewal, and recalibration. Travis does not make excuses. Travis does not complain. Travis is not held back by challenges he faces—he is propelled forward by them. Let’s be more like Travis.
Travis Mills is the best example of the human spirit I have ever known.
Thank you, Travis, for sharing your lessons with us.
Thank you for showing us how to live.
Thank you for being my hero.
That Dog Don’t Hunt
Stop Torturing Yourself and Stop Asking “Why”
In the late summer of 2020, I visited my buddy David Vobora to get a personal training session at his Adaptive Training Foundation (ATF) in Dallas, Texas. I had met David, a former NFL linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks, at a birthday party in Dallas in early 2014 when, over some whiskey, he charmed me into becoming a guinea pig for him and created a unique workout to align with my injuries. We developed a friendship, and more important, he enjoyed helping me so much that he eventually started a foundation that adapted workouts to the challenges posed by injured vets and athletes.
One of the last nights I was there, I crashed a barbecue for the twenty or so men who were attending a weeklong workshop. As the sun went down, the guys started to gather around a bonfire, enjoying burgers and beers. Someone suggested that they assess the week. One thing led to another, and the conversation got a bit heavy. Now, anyone who knows me knows I shy away from that sort of touchy-feely stuff. Not that I don’t believe in it—talking about feelings in front of a bunch of strangers is just not my cup of tea. So, I made my way to the back of the group, expecting to sit out on the kumbaya moment, when one guy named Bruce, who had been injured in a car accident and paralyzed from the waist down, spoke up.
“I just have to keep going. Because if I slow down, I’ll just end up crying. The worst part of it all is that I don’t understand why. Why it happened, why it happened to me.…”
Joe, the head counselor, replied, “Let’s dig into that.…”
Oh no, we won’t, I thought.
“No. No, you don’t,” I said, this time aloud, my outburst surprising the group. I surprised myself too. I meant to be lying back, just enjoying the bonfire.
The counselor shot me a look and asked, “What are you talking about?”
“There is no digging into why because you’re never gonna get the answer you want.”
“What do you mean?”
“I get it—Bruce wants to understand why this was meant for him. At first, I did too. But the truth is ‘that dog don’t hunt.’ What I mean by that is, you’re never going to get that answer. So, why harp on it? You are only slowing yourself down from accepting something you can’t change and moving on. As I live and breathe, I will never know the answer to why I stood in the exact spot where there was an IED buried into the ground, waiting for me. It’s a fight you are not going to win. Ever. So, why not make peace with it?”
There was a long silence, except for some loud cicadas beckoning from the woods behind us. I worried I spoke too much, too harshly. Some people aren’t ready for the hard truth. But after a minute or so, I saw many heads nodding in quiet agreement.
Believe me, it took me a while to get to that understanding. When I first got hurt, I had a nasty case of the “whys” while lying in that hospital bed, not knowing what my future looked like. My wife can tell you, I tried to give her many opportunities to walk away—why would she want to hang around someone who couldn’t wrap his arms around her? Hold his baby daughter? If you believe in the man upstairs, why was he playing such a bad joke on me? I felt like Lieutenant Dan, who lamented to Forrest Gump in the famous movie: “I should have died out there with my men. But now, I’m nothing but a goddamn cripple, a legless freak! Look. Look at me. Do you know what it’s like not being able to use your legs?… This wasn’t supposed to happen. Not to me.” But nobody had that answer—not the doctors, not my family, not my buddies. None of us will get the answer to why bad things happen to us, until we enter those pearly white gates.
After a few months of the inner demons hashing it out in my head, I came to a new understanding of the old southern saying “that dog don’t hunt,” meaning an idea or thought that doesn’t work, much like a dog that isn’t very good at hunting. All the what-ifs and “Why did this happen?” only delay the ability to accept things that have happened. I decided that I had to be okay with not getting an answer. I was alive, after all—a lot of my buddies on the front lines didn’t have that luxury.
This nagging feeling can drag on for many who have loss in their lives. Take Mitch, a buddy of mine whom I met through T.A.P.S., the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, an organization that supports the families of fallen soldiers who died serving our country. He lost his father at a very young age, a twin sister at the age of twenty-nine, and then six months later, his nine-year-old child was diagnosed with terminal cancer. It took him a while to circle around the abyss, but he came out the other side about a year after his son’s death, and now he often speaks to people around the country about grief. He uses another metaphor that works just as well: He compares asking “why?” to trying to get mercury off a table. Not only is it dangerous, but it is also so slippery that you can’t possibly contain it. It is a great image that speaks to the futility of trying.
DON’T RELIVE THE PAIN
I always start my speaking engagements with a joke. It is just my nature to go for humor to break the ice. After all, there is always a bit of unease when I first come out onstage, walking on two metal legs and waving an artificial arm. There is usually a pause in the room, a collective break in the breath that always seems to take a minute to return. (I always put them at ease with a line like, “I hope this one goes well, I really bombed at my last event.…” Corny right? But it works in lifting the mood.)
My body is something that people always struggle with at first meeting me, because it’s a physical manifestation that says I went through something. I had something bad happen to me.
But that is it. Something bad happened to me.
I moved on.
It is that simple. One night in 2014, after my documentary premiered in Colorado, a vet came up to me, and I could tell from his eyes that he was still hurting inside. He asked me, “Tell me something… do you keep asking why this happened to you? You must think about it all the time.”
I responded, “No, I really don’t. I’ve accepted what happened and had to move on. It was hard, but I am very happy with my life and my family—life goes on.”
“You’re lying to me. There is no way.”
“Really, no, I am not lying. I had to make a choice to move on or stay stuck. If I kept thinking of that day, I’d be reliving the trauma over and over again. I’d be retraumatizing myself. There is no way you will be able to move on if you keep reliving such trauma. I had to think of my wife and my kids, and I made that choice to move forward. It took discipline not to go there, but I knew I had to do it for myself and my family. I chose not to stay wounded.”
He told me I was a liar a second time, then a third. He insisted that I was putting up a facade. I didn’t like being called a liar, but I felt bad for him—his pain felt so raw. Knowing he was a vet—he may have been struggling with PTSD—I couldn’t get him to believe me. Unfortunately, I have crossed paths with other people who concluded the same thing. How could I be so well adapted? I may be a bit too sunny and high-energy, but I am also proud of what I went through to get where I am today. So, it hurt to be called a liar. I hope that, in time, he found a good way to heal and come to terms with his past.
BE OKAY WITH UNCERTAINTY
Your struggle may not stem from a physical injury or illness—it could be a relationship that has ended, a death of a beloved parent, or getting let go from a job you loved. Whatever the hardship is, part of it is a loss of control over your life. It is a loss of a routine, of a life you knew and loved. You may get sad, anxious, and even angry, and it is only human to ask why, as it is in our nature to seek understanding, certainty, and closure. The human brain is not designed to handle a lot of psychological uncertainty. It can cause a lot of anxiety because, to the brain, uncertainty means danger.1 So, it is only natural to want to have an answer. Without knowing why something happened, it may feel like a vast wasteland of unknowns stretches before you.
STOP ALL THE RUMINATION
Harping on the whys and looking for certainty is where you get into a cycle of overthinking. Without stopping that loop of questions cold in its tracks, you will remain stuck, and you will stay mad or sad—why would you want to live like that?
It will take resolve and a bit of will at first, but you need to push beyond the why. And once you do that, you can start to realize the opportunity you have before you—acceptance. That doesn’t have to mean you are over it, but it does mean you can move on from it. I am not sure who said, “Use the past, don’t let the past use you,” but wow, truer words have never been spoken.
It isn’t easy, especially for those with PTSD, which is known to bring on excessive rumination.2 But it is necessary. I can’t make yesterday not happen, just as I can’t make ten years ago not happen, just like you can’t make a divorce or a job loss not happen. That is part of life—but you know what? We can’t always change the situation, but we can change our attitude. It sounds easier than it is, I know. But I look at it this way: No amount of ruminating will magically grow my arms and legs back (although that would be pretty cool, wouldn’t it?). So, I like to say, “Don’t deliberate, recalibrate.” Take, for instance, the term “wounded soldier.” I don’t call myself that. I instead call myself a recalibrated soldier because the word “wounded” feels powerless. Like a victim of a crime or other trauma, you’re a victim one time, but you don’t have to be a victim for life. I was wounded once (badly), but I am not wounded for the rest of my life. So, don’t become a victim of uncertainty. You cannot give it power like that, or it will power over you.
I also don’t like to hand power over to fate, either. Some people have told me, “Maybe this was God’s plan for you the whole time.” They mean well, and if I were a more religious man, maybe I would believe it. Instead, I think, Well, did those plans include my being blown up? Really? Instead, I like to think that what doesn’t kill me has made me stronger. This is a concept of post-traumatic growth we’ll get into later in the book, but it is a powerful belief that everything we live through makes us who we are today. I am different from the day before my accident. I am stronger for it.
When people go to that place of darkness, they don’t see. They can’t see the future. They can’t see that things are going to get better. Don’t get me wrong. It is completely natural to wonder why something happened to you. It is natural to want to have an answer—good or bad, we search for the logical. We need closure; we think it will allow us to move on. We try to think through a problem to better understand it, but sometimes that brain of ours goes into overdrive and becomes an endless loop of doom. And if we have experienced some sort of major trauma, your endless loop of doom may turn into catastrophic thinking. We may feel like that event is proof that anything and everything bad can happen to us, and we develop catastrophizing as a coping mechanism, and feel in a constant state of alert.3
Rumination is like getting your tire stuck in the mud—you are pressing on the gas, but you aren’t moving. You get frustrated and mad, but that mud is back splashing all over the truck. To get out of it, you need to think differently. For me, I figured, well, my limbs are not growing back, so I can mope about it or change my thinking. It was an active choice—and one that I continue to work on to this day—but it was a no-brainer. The alternative would not only keep me stuck, but could also become debilitating in time, causing anxiety, depression, and sleep and eating issues.4 It can also threaten your relationships. In time, no matter how supportive your loved ones have been, they may grow tired of the negative thoughts, and they may start to distance themselves from you.
This kind of thinking can’t be turned on and off like a faucet, though. We need to work at it as we retrain our mind to stop that feedback loop. Here are a few tips that help me when thoughts fill my head:
1. Mark the time you find yourself doing the ruminating. Is it in the morning? At night, when you are trying to go to sleep? Can you spend that time doing something more positive? Can you challenge yourself and ask why you think this way? Are your thoughts rational? Realistic? How is this serving you? Because I can promise you, it is not serving you well.
2. Do you blame yourself? What if you had only done x, y, or z? What-ifs are also nonproductive. Some people like to say that they must have been a bad person or did something wrong in a previous life to have been handed such a bad card. But really, is that rational? Think long and hard about whether these thoughts are productive, and where it gets you. If you can’t help yourself, limit the time you wander. Time yourself and place a limit on how much you will ruminate. Five to ten minutes, tops, a day.
3. Talk to someone. A friend, or if you feel you need more help, find a good therapist who specializes in grief and trauma.
4. Take a good walk. Besides being a good distraction, walking outside or a bout of exercise has shown to be a huge mood elevator and clears your head.
FLIP THE SCRIPT
It is easier to see a path if you see this as a choice. Stay stuck or go forward. When you do that, then you can make a commitment to challenge that part of yourself and be intentional about doing the opposite. Flip the script. You’ll need to accept that there are two things in life that we can truly control—our attitude and our effort; everything else is out of our control. No matter how bad the cards you get dealt, you get to choose how to play them. You choose how you are going to respond and how your experiences are going to shape you.
- On Sale
- Nov 7, 2023
- Page Count
- 224 pages
- Hachette Go