This episode originally appeared on the "Uncomfortable is OK" podcast with Chris Desmond, UIOK#74.
Chris Desmond: Welcome or welcome back to the Uncomfortable is Okay podcast. I’m your host, Chris Desmond and this is a show where I chat with fascinating people who have faced down the uncomfortable. We hear their stories and jump into the strategies they’ve used for getting uncomfortable on the regular. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve appeared as a guest on a couple of other podcasts, the Wellosophy Podcast with Will Fleman and It’s No Secret with Dr. T with the host Tyson Franklin. It’s been bit of an interesting and uncomfortable experience being on the other side of the microphone and having questions asked of me. Thankfully, after having over 70 conversations with people on this podcast, I’ve probably got enough to say to fill up half and hour or so. I’ll pop some links in the notes for the show, so you guys can check those episodes out if you’d like as well. Being a guest on someone else’s podcast to talk about getting uncomfortable has given me a greater appreciation of story telling. Being able to impart your viewpoint and experience through story is such an important skill, but also a really difficult one to master which makes me appreciate today’s guest, Eric Hodgdon’s even more. A few years ago, Eric went through the trauma of his daughter Zoi’s suicide. Thankfully, I’ve never been placed in a situation like that and I struggle to comprehend what it must have been like for Eric. It’s a tough topic that not many people seem willing to speak about, so I’m grateful that Eric is opening up about his experiences. After going through the grieving process, Eric realized that he needed to find his way back to better days and to help those around him to do the same. That’s what this conversation is mainly focused on, Eric’s grieving, his pathway back to better days and living a life where he’s thriving again, and how he is helping others to do the same. Suicide is a tough topic, especially here in New Zealand, and if you’re thinking about it or it’s anywhere on your radar then even though it may not seem like it at the moment, know that things are going to get better. Reach out and talk to someone you trust. I’ve put a list of numbers you can call in New Zealand in the notes for the show, and a quick Google search brings up a raft of contacts in other countries, too. And please get in touch with Eric or myself as well if you need to talk. For those of you that have been impacted by suicide, that’s also going to get better. Listen to Eric’s story as he tells us how his life did. In this conversation Eric and I kick it off by talking about some concepts about getting uncomfortable. We were just checking the sound levels, and then the conversation just seemed to evolve from there, so I’ve decided to leave that in, but just be aware that it may not flow exactly like some of the other episodes. I want to say a quick thank you to Trevor Barn for introducing me to Eric, so thanks very much for that, Trevor. It’s much appreciated. So guys, please share this episode out with people that you think may get value from it, and thank you for getting uncomfortable with Eric and me today.
Eric Hodgdon: They had to survive and survival meant that they had to go out and get food and they had to hunt and they had to live in conditions that they didn’t have houses and heating systems or air conditioning and common luxuries. They had to go out and actually survive as is, so it’s very interesting how we’re just making more convenience around our day to day lives and yet if that is threatened, we are the uncomfortable.
Chris Desmond: And does more convenience mean that we end up living more fulfilled lives? I think you could probably argue that it doesn’t particularly. It makes us more efficient, but I don’t know if it’s always a good thing.
Eric Hodgdon: No, I agree with you. I think we have to … Growing up now as well, you have the millennials, that generation with all the phones. Everything’s right there at their fingertips. When I was a kid, I had my parents. I had my teachers. I had my friends and I had a set of encyclopedias in terms of getting my information, and maybe 12, 15 channels on the TV. But now, everything is so readily available that there’s, it’s instant gratification and it’s, I’m not uncomfortable with getting that information because I know it’s right at my fingertips.
Chris Desmond: Yeah. Yeah. How old are you, Eric?
Eric Hodgdon: I turn 47 tomorrow.
Chris Desmond: Okay. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, well happy birthday for tomorrow.
Eric Hodgdon: Thank you.
Chris Desmond: Yeah. I’m 34 next month.
Eric Hodgdon: Excellent.
Chris Desmond: I’ve kind of definitely didn’t experience sort of the pre-internet age quite as much as you did, but I think we didn’t get the internet until I was about 15 and then it was dial-up. So, you’d turn it on for half and hour and you’d be able to look up one thing, but yeah. Same kind of thing is that I have that knowledge of that sort of pre-internet and pre- kind of everything available really quickly for you and seeing that change and looking at people that have that, have grown up with everything so accessible, you kind of think hey, these guys store and process information differently, and kind of expect that in every area of their life as well which is, yeah. It’s pretty interesting concept to think about and to talk about.
Eric Hodgdon: It is.
Chris Desmond: In New Zealand we only had two channels when I was young on the TV, so …
Eric Hodgdon: Lots of variety there, right?
Chris Desmond: Heaps of variety. Yeah. Yeah. I think you could watch Country Calendar where they go out and talk to farmers in New Zealand or you could watch the news and that was about it.
Eric Hodgdon: Wow. Yeah. It’s interesting that this past few months, I went on a military style immersion with a former special forces officer here in the states, and I did this down in Florida. This was in January and the goal of this was to put us in an uncomfortable spot so that we get back to ourselves, our nature and we were out in nature. We were on a 400 acre farm, and this property is owned by a gentleman named Gary and Gary is, 400 acres, he’s self-sustaining. He’s got cows. He’s got dairy. He’s got water. He has access. He’s still connected to the outside world, but he can sustain himself if need be, but we were out there for 36 hours, and when you are in a position of having to build your own bed using just a tarp and parachute string, when you have to make your own fire, when you have to stay warm overnight because it’s in January and fortunately it wasn’t raining but you find that it doesn’t take long for you to return to how you were initially wired. We’re all wired to be connected to nature, and as soon as we pulled on the property, this gentleman’s name is Lt. Col. Scott Mann, Scott said turn off your phones. And that was fine. I didn’t have a problem with that, but turn off your phones, the next 36 hours is going to be about you connecting back to nature, and I tell you, probably about an hour into it, I wasn’t missing the phone. I didn’t want to check my email. I didn’t want to check any texts. I didn’t want to check social media. I just wanted to focus on what I was starting to take in again after so many years of not taking it in. And you hear things differently. You see things differently. You smell things differently because we are, we’re animals. Human beings are a type of animal, but just getting reconnected to our nature was just an amazing experience and when it really hit me was staying out overnight and with the tarp, I didn’t have the tarp over me, I had the tarp just laying on the ground so it covered the ground, waking up every hour, looking up through the tree limbs and seeing the moon at various stages as it was crossing the night sky, but hearing all the various noises and sounds of the animals, and then waking up at first light with the rest of the world. And hearing things differently than I did the morning beforehand when I woke up in a hotel room and air conditioning and a TV. And it just, I felt so reconnected at that moment and it just made me realize that at any given point you can come back to mother nature. It will always welcome you back in if you let it. It was just an amazing experience, but we were super uncomfortable, and the gentleman I was with, John, John had never stayed outside. In fact, he was terrified about staying outside. He didn’t sleep a wink that night, but when he, the next morning when he woke up, he was so happy that he got through the night without freaking out, without, he was super, super uncomfortable. Every time I woke up he was kind of dancing around his fire. I don’t know what he was doing, doing some rituals. I don’t know what he was doing over there, but he, now what John does is he lives in Dallas. John took off and did a cross country trip in his truck and just camped outside for the entire, every night when he stopped. He didn’t go to any hotels. He stayed, it was a beautiful thing, and now John has now reopened up his own life and his heart because he got reconnected to his nature, too. Very, very powerful experience for both of us.
Chris Desmond: Yeah. That’s really cool actually, and I think yeah, I’ve been talking to a couple of people about similar topics lately and it’s fascinating that we, especially in New Zealand, we’re so close to nature, like I can walk for ten minutes. I can be in the bush. I can be in the hills from my house in Wellington which I mean, globally it’s not a massive study, but it’s a few, for like three or four hundred thousand people live here. So it’s not a small place, and I can just, I can go ten minutes and I can be in the bush but it’s often quite an effort that we have to do to kind of make ourselves go and do that. There’s a whole lot of noise of society that kind of just keeps us sort of insulated. I was talking to a guy a couple of weeks ago who likened us to battery hens, that we’re kind of just put in this cage and often it’s kind of a cage that is sort of mentally constructed around ourselves that hey, this is what we need to do, this is, we go and do this every day and we’re kind of stuck to this routine and we don’t get out and go and explore and go and do things. And that kind of, yeah, that really got me thinking actually about what decisions am I making about getting out and going, doing things differently, getting back to nature and kind of going and yeah, doing things that kind of I wouldn’t usually do or people in society now would kind of look at you and go, that’s a bit weird, whereas 20 years ago, it was absolutely fine. It was quite normal to do.
Eric Hodgdon: Right. Right. Wow, that’s true. That’s true, and I think for people to put themselves in situations where they are uncomfortable, you were saying this earlier, it eventually it starts to not be so uncomfortable but if it becomes comfortable again, then that means you need to push a little further I believe.
Chris Desmond: Yeah. Yeah.
Eric Hodgdon: We’re not going to grow inside of our comfort zone in any way, shape or form and sometimes these experiences come at us without us saying okay, it’s okay. You might be forced in a situation where you’re uncomfortable for a period of time or for whatever reason and I think we’re also wired to be able to persevere and push through and some can’t. Some can’t. Some get stuck. Some stay stuck. They want to stay in survival mode, but I think when you build resilience in your life and when you build strength, you have to work through your struggles not go around them or avoid them.
Chris Desmond: Definitely. And I think with that as well, it’s a getting uncomfortable and building resilience and building basically they’re skills that you can work on and they’re skills that you can train, but we’ve kind of come to the point where we don’t actually work on them on a regular basis and then all of a sudden something massive happens, something like catastrophic, and we haven’t sort of built up our own capability to handle that stuff, and that’s where we run into problems is because we haven’t had those kind of small kind of training opportunities to build that skill. It’s like you wouldn’t go out and run a marathon if you’d only run five K beforehand or five mile for you guys. I kind of liken that to a similar concept that hey, we can work on this discomfort and we can work on kind of getting slightly uncomfortable and pushing our comfort zone and as we do that, that comfort zone is going to expand slightly, and as you say, what was once uncomfortable for you is then going to be comfortable after you’ve done it 10 or 15 times.
Eric Hodgdon: Right.
Chris Desmond: And then you kind of need to go and take the next step and sort of push things a little bit further or push in a slightly different direction to kind of continue working on that and continue expanding your comfort zone and your capabilities.
Eric Hodgdon: Absolutely. You mentioned something a couple minutes ago and I thought it was interesting because I think this is part of the human dynamic. A paradigm of when people are hit with something in their life, whether it’s health related issues, whether it’s losing someone from their life like I did a few years ago to getting into a car accident or losing a job, a lot of people aren’t prepared to stand back up, and if they can just get back to their comfort zone, find some comfort, then they will find a way to survive right there, and there’s nothing that pushes them further than that, and actually being to thrive in life based on that experience, so it’s always very interesting because it just crosses so many areas of our lives that people need to become resilient in their life, and they need to do it while the sun is shining because look, inevitably the storm clouds are going to come, but if you can build resilience while the sun is still shining, while you’re not in a situation like that, then when something happens to you, you don’t get knocked over. You get bumped. But you keep going, and you realize that yeah, it stinks and it sucks and I have to deal with it, but you’re not burying it to try to get around it or avoid it.
Chris Desmond: Yeah. Yeah. Exactly, and I think the same way with it, and I think, I mean, it’s often kind of when the sun’s shining, it’s easier not to go and do that stuff. You’re like oh, I’ll go and do that next time. I’ll sit on the couch. I’ll watch some Netflix or do something like that. Nothing wrong with watching Netflix judiciously. There’s some great stuff on there. It’s fascinating, but yeah. I think kind of that pushing out into that discomfort when you’re as you say, when you’re doing well and when the sun is shining, so much better to prepare you for those stormy times. Yeah, which is something that, as we talked about before, something that I struggled with. Thankfully, I never had sort of any really massive stormy times with it, but hopefully if that does happen in the future, the stuff that I’m doing at the moment is kind of preparing myself for being able to sort of be more resilient and deal with those, deal with those times a little bit better.
Eric Hodgdon: Absolutely. Right.
Chris Desmond: I’ve actually been kind of, I hit record on this just to kind of test what the audio levels were, but actually let the last ten minutes of the conversation has been fascinating. I think it will be quite cool for people to listen to if you were happy for me to include that.
Eric Hodgdon: Absolutely.
Chris Desmond: Eric, can you tell me and the listeners a little bit of background about yourself, so where you grew up, where you’re from, were there any kind of formative experiences in your younger years that have shaped you as a person now?
Eric Hodgdon: Yeah, I grew up on the coast of Maine here in the states, and my father was a navy pilot and my mom more of a homemaker at the time, and I had the capacity to explore the woods that surrounded my neighborhood, and I used to go out into the woods and get lost often, but on purpose, so that I could find my way through, and it wasn’t something that I was afraid, I was actually exploring and finding things. There were blueberry bushes out there. There were blackberry and raspberry bushes out there. There were white pine trees everywhere and I would spend just hours exploring but as I started to grow up, I would see that, the developer that owned the land would come in and kind of clear the land out a section at a time, and less and less we had areas to explore in. And by the time I reached 17, 18, most of that woods had been replaced with streets and then by homes, but after high school, I went to school in Northern Maine and got a technical degree in computer science and started working in the area of information and technology. I’ve been in IT now for the last 25 years. I was married back in late 90s and got divorced in 2005, and I had one daughter, Zoi, and two stepchildren Christos and Arminda, and really since the divorce it was more about just making sure that we were okay, that we were getting back to ourselves and living a life past the divorce.
Chris Desmond: I want to come back to the divorce and everything that’s happened from there, Eric, but one thing that struck me as you were chatting is that you, when you went out into the woods, you said you got lost on purpose. Was that something that you kind of did straightaway or did you find yourself lost one day and then just had to kind of deal with it?
Eric Hodgdon: No, that’s a great question. I feel like I would get lost on purpose knowing that within a matter of five to ten minutes I could find one of the pathways that was there. So it was more about kind of getting off the beaten path and just doing some exploration outside of the, just taking the path from start to finish. I just found that it was more exhilarating to see things from a different angle than it would be to just stay on the path.
Chris Desmond: And what sort of age were you when you remembered doing that?
Eric Hodgdon: Eight, nine, ten in those years. Sometimes it was with friends. Sometimes it was just by myself. I enjoyed it. I didn’t feel uncomfortable necessarily inside of those woods, but it helped me to develop some independence I believe and knowing that look, if I went off the beaten path nothing was going to happen to me from a safety perspective as long as I didn’t do something stupid.
Chris Desmond: Yeah. Yeah.
Eric Hodgdon: So, but it was a very, they were just always unique experiences, seeing something new for the first time, even though I had walked past it on the path many, many times before that.
Chris Desmond: Yeah, and often kind of going off the path you see things from a different angle and you get different perspective on it. Did doing stuff like that, did that shape your kind of some of the decisions and how you approached other things in your life as well?
Eric Hodgdon: I believe so. It became the start of problem solving skills. When you’re presented with something that isn’t the normal that you’re used to, you have to develop ways of finding your way back to the solution or way to the end, and without even knowing I was doing that, whenever problems came at me, I would approach them with the same mindset that okay, I’m not on the normal path here. Something has gone wrong. I need to find a way from where I am to the end, to the end result, and I think that that helped me tremendously as I was growing up.
Chris Desmond: Yeah. I mean, it’s interesting one part of your wording there is I’m not on the normal path. Something has gone wrong. Has it gone wrong? Or has it actually gone right that you’ve gone, deviated away from that normal path?
Eric Hodgdon: Right. No, that’s a great point. I think the universe kind of leads us in our direction whether we want to go in that direction or not, and I think it can be scary sometimes to not be on the path. Something may happen. Something may be blocking the path. Then what do you do? Do you just turn around and go back or do you actually find a way to overcome that obstacle? And even though I’m talking about this metaphorically, some of those times those things happened in reality, so I think being able to figure out solutions to the problems that block your path is pretty important.
Chris Desmond: It is. It is. Eric, why don’t we jump forward again to your divorce and the things that subsequently happened from there and then we can talk more around kind of finding your pathway after that as well. So, obviously going through the divorce was, it’s a pretty challenging time and it’s a pretty tough time for yourself, but also for the kids as well.
Eric Hodgdon: Right. Right.
Chris Desmond: I was hoping that you could kind of talk about how you dealt with it, but also then talk about your daughter Zoi and what happened there.
Eric Hodgdon: Sure.
Chris Desmond: In a way that kind of makes sense for you.
Eric Hodgdon: Oh, thank you. Yeah, the divorce was pretty difficult because it was something that I had not been exposed to before. This was uncharted territory but from an emotional perspective. I didn’t have many coping skills. I didn’t understand what was going on. I didn’t understand why the marriage was breaking down. At the time, I didn’t understand it. And yet, I still felt a sense of connection to the family unit. So, I think with a few years of great therapy and working through these things on my own, which is what a great therapist does. They don’t do the work for you. They give you these nuggets for you to process and you figure it out as you go. Things start to emerge in your life. You start to build up that resilience in our life that helps you realize that okay, look, this really bad thing happened, but it’s not the end of your life. It could potentially be the beginning of something even better. And, so that built up inside of me after a few years of, and some people heal quicker from a divorce. Some people may not. They may harbor some bad feelings about the marriage that didn’t last or the relationship that didn’t last, but a few years ago I was stuck in a custody battle for Zoi. She was 15 at the time and she was having a really difficult time with this, being a 14 year old, 15 year old, it’s already difficult anyway, but add family stress and some other internal struggles, she was really having a hard time. So much so that she was living in a halfway house and she could come home and see us on weekends, and this one particular weekend, I picked up Zoi, brought her back to the house. She was upstairs in her room listening to some music, playing her ukulele, burning some jasmine incense and applying this really cool henna tattoo with a sun design on her hand. I went up and I asked Zoi if she wanted to make some kale chips, and she said sure. Afterwards we were cleaning up and she said she was tired. I said I love you, pumpkins. She said I love you, too, Dad. And she gave me a big hug and went upstairs and I went back to my computer to do some work and a little while later I went upstairs to say goodnight, and when I opened her bedroom door, I could hear Jonathon Frescente’s guitar playing on the stereo, a string of Christmas lights was lit around the perimeter of her room but she wasn’t in her bed. And in the dim light I could see that she was standing in her closet, and I thought she was going to jump out and scare me, and I said Zoi, what are you doing? And she didn’t answer me because she wasn’t standing in her closet. I called 911. About five days later over 900 people came to Zoi’s wake. Nine hundred. Her friend Kelly came up to me and she was just sobbing, and all I could do was put my arm around her and say it’s going to be okay, sweetie because Zoi would want you to remember all of those good times that you had together, right? And another friend Sarah came up to me and she said I am so sorry, Mr. Hodgdon. Zoi was so nice to me and she was always smiling. I don’t get it. And I said, I know, sweetie. I don’t get it either, but it’s going to be okay because Zoi would want you to remember all of those good times that you had together, right? And as more and more people came up to share stories of Zoi with me and to tell me how much that she inspired, impacted and gave them hope and to tell me that they were sorry for my loss, I was sorry for their loss because I knew what we were all going to be missing, her smile, her energy, her mad ukulele skills, her beautiful voice, and honestly her philosophy of life to just be, but it took me many months before I felt somewhat normal. I wasn’t sleeping. I wasn’t eating. I wasn’t exercising and I just wasn’t myself. And it took a really long time for it to sink in that Zoi would be so pissed off with me if she knew that I was letting all those good memories from her life stop me from living mine.
Chris Desmond: Yeah. Eric, thank you so much for sharing that. I mean, that’s for myself and for I’m sure a lot of other people that are listening. It’s really hard to fathom that, but it’s a reality in the world that we live in. I mean, New Zealand is, it’s a place where there is a lot of youth suicide, a lot of youth suicide overall as well, so I’m sure there are a lot of people out there that have been in this situation that you found yourself unfortunately in at the time with Zoi. Following that, where was your head at for the next couple of months? How did you respond?
Eric Hodgdon: I had the questions started. The questions are typically the first thing because about two weeks after we laid Zoi to rest, the house empties out, and now you’re left to thinking about what’s next. I thought my purpose was to raise Zoi. Now what’s next? Did I do enough for her? Is she okay? How do I move on from this? How do I go back to work? All these questions started to come up, and it took some processing in terms of, and not, they all didn’t come up at once, but when they did come up I wanted to really think about what it was that I had to do to step back into who Eric is, and forgive myself and forgive Zoi and forgive other things in my life so that now gratitude could step in and dissolve some of the grief away. And so I think the very first few months was really about just answering some of the questions and going through the grieving process.
Chris Desmond: How did you go about answering them? Was it just yourself or were you talking to other people around this or what approach did you take?
Eric Hodgdon: I think that, well, when the questions came up I would be processing it in a way that made sense to where I was in my grieving process. Like for example, I think one of the first questions that came up was like what’s next? What do I do now? Because I thought my purpose was to raise Zoi, and I think it became pretty clear that it was my job to fight for myself and my family and all of Zoi’s friends to find their pathway back to better days. And that’s what I started to focus on. It wasn’t about me. It was about others because when you help other people it actually comes back to you and you feel better about that, and that, there was nothing I could do about Zoi even though I was missing her so very much, and I was dealing with my own emotions with that, but her friends, especially, what is this? What happened? I would just meet them where they are. I get it. I know this sucks, but we’re in this together, but we’re going to get through it together. So I think going through those processes and they had some of the same questions I had. But differently. For them it wasn’t how am I going to get back to work. It’s like how am I going to get back to school? And what if somebody tells me that I should be over this by now? Those are some of the questions that they were fielding, and we would talk often, and we would usually end up the conversation was look, we’re in this together but we’re going to get through it together because there are better days ahead for us. I can guarantee you that.
Chris Desmond: And did you find that was helpful for you to work through things by helping Zoi’s friends to work through theirs as well?
Eric Hodgdon: Yes. Absolutely. I felt like a dad again in a lot of ways. And collectively all of her friends reminded me of Zoi. It’s like she’s left a little piece of her inside of them, and that just fills my heart when I can talk to one of Zoi’s friends and they trust me with something that they’re struggling with. And I’m still very much connected to these kids three and a half years later, and some of them are still struggling now, but I’m real with them, and I ask them what would Zoi say to you right now if you were doing this? And they would laugh and they’d say she’d be telling me to cut that crap out. I’m like yes. So stop, but I think for that, that’s where the gratitude started to come in, too. Chris, in terms of, I became grateful for what is in my life and that allowed me to then share that with other people, and the gratitude was that look, her friends were still around and so it really made a huge difference in my life and hopefully theirs as well, and I believe that it did make an impact with them.
Chris Desmond: That’s pretty powerful as well. Eric, I mean, we talked a little bit before about finding our pathway back and you, I mean, you kind of touched on the start of it is working with Zoi’s friends and kind of coming to the realization of hey, what would Zoi say to me now if she saw me like this. From that beginning where did that pathway take you? How did you kind of work into that?
Eric Hodgdon: That’s a great question. I thought I was doing pretty well, my healing process, but I was kind of stuck in some areas. I think around some of it was more forgiveness of myself a year later after Zoi had died and it manifested itself in my daily drive home from the train station. It’s a two mile drive from the train station to my house and I would get in my car and I would drive about one mile down the road and I would get really upset and start crying. And I would cry until I got back to the house here, and then that was going on for a while. I was kind of stuck in this routine and I was always asking Zoi, I was telling her, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I wish I could have done more, and then one day when I got into my car at the train station, I just lost it. I just lost it, and now I had a two mile drive feeling like this, and then it felt like as if Zoi was sitting in the chair next to me in the car. I heard her voice say Dad, will you cut it out? I’m okay. Jeez. And it kind of snapped me out of that mindset that I needed to forgive myself and so as you’re working through these difficult times, you have to give yourself a break. We do the best we can with what we have, but I think as long as we’re finding, or at least knowing that there is going to be better days ahead, that there are times in our life when it’s going to be super uncomfortable dealing with some of this, the heartache and the challenges that come our way. Like you and I were talking about earlier, the storm clouds. They’re coming, but are you going to be prepared to work through those times or at least accept that they’re here and work through them.
Chris Desmond: Yeah. How easy was it for you to kind of understand and contemplate that there were going to be better days ahead of you at that point in time?
Eric Hodgdon: I think that it wasn’t easy, although I just … the analogy that I gave my therapist very soon after Zoi died was, we were talking about the divorce and how I felt so down after the divorce and if this was going to be a repeat after losing Zoi and I thought about it for a split second and I said to her, you know what? I felt like that pit, that pit of despair was the size of an ant hole and I can’t fit down in it, so I’m not going down in there. And I let that kind of be my guide light of looking at it from a mental visual perspective in my head to say yeah, okay, I’m not going to go down there because I can’t fit in there, so I have to keep pressing forward.
Chris Desmond: Yeah, I completely see that analogy. I think it’s an interesting and it’s a cool mental picture to think about actually. Eric, we talked a little bit before about kind of going into survival mode after something like this happening, and you need that space to kind of decompress and process and spend the time grieving as well once something like this has happened, and I think you’ve touched on kind of the sort of the process of hey, this is, I know that this is kind of when in that survival mode needs to finish up and I need to start getting back and re-engaging and working on myself for myself in this process and finding my pathway back with things, and I’m sure that’s even three and a half years later, I’m sure that’s still kind of a pathway that you’re still on. It’s probably going to be a pathway that just continues for the rest of your life as well. At the moment now you’re working on helping others to find their pathway back from something like a traumatic experience happening for them. When did you kind of shift from thinking that hey, I’m helping myself. I’m helping Zoi’s friends with this process to I can help a lot more people with this.
Eric Hodgdon: About two years ago I was introduced to a gentleman name Bo Eason and Beau lives in LA. Bo is a former NFL professional football player who then wrote and performed his one man personal story in a Broadway show that went 1,200 runs in 50 states over about a ten year period of time, and Bo then transitioned from that stage work to teaching people how to tell their story, and I was at an event where Bo was speaking and what struck me was that when he told us one story of when he was 9 years old and wanting to become a professional football player and the struggles that he had, you’re just dialed right in to the story. You’re connected to it. You’re placing yourself inside of the story in certain areas based on what he’s telling you and showing you through the story work, and then he made an offer for us to come work with him further and learn how to tell our story, and I tell you, when a light went on that this would be an epic way for me to share Zoi with other people and a way of healing, I jumped at the offer. I ran, I was just running back to the back of the theater. How do I sign up? What do I do? And from that moment on, a few months later I actually went to Bo’s event and learned how to write and tell my story. The one I shared with you a few minutes ago was the work that I initially did with Bo, and it was very well received not from a place of oh, poor Eric, but I’m going to tell people that it’s okay to stand back up again. After I have that moment where Zoi would be pissed off if I wasn’t living my life, I started to see kind of Zoi all around me in terms of maybe it was her color hair that she had, maybe it was a pair of Converse truck tees that I would see or even a song that she would sing on the radio. In Greek, the name Zoi means life, and I believe that the greatest gift that Zoi ever gave me was that we have to kind of raise our frequency to see the beauty in life, but when it knocks us down we get back up every time. And so that is where I feel as though when I started to get my hands around how to share Zoi with people in a way of healing, that’s when I wanted to be about others.
Chris Desmond: And how has sharing that story helped you on your journey?
Eric Hodgdon: When you tell stories it actually heals the brain. You’re bringing both sides of your brain together. They’re getting stronger. You’re resolving through verbalizing your story, and I know that I’ve said that story hundreds of times already but it’s, I know that it’s healing my brain in telling other people because I believe that when their eyes light up with like well, if Eric’s feeling better maybe I can feel better. So I think by sharing that with them, that’s my goal is to help people find their pathway back to better days by sharing as much of Zoi as I can.
Chris Desmond: Yeah. Yeah. And, I mean, for people that are telling their stories, I mean, from what it sounds like with you, Eric, it’s not just about telling that story once. You’ll get some healing from telling it once, but the more you tell it, the more you heal in different ways I’m sure. Would that be correct?
Eric Hodgdon: Yes. Yes. And what you find is that it’s not just one story that emerges but many. As each story has a conflict or some sort but it has a resolution to it as well, and when you have that resolution, that’s where there’s a little bit of a hero’s journey that emerges in your life that you’ve gone through the belly of the beast and you’ve come out changed for the better, and now you’ve got lessons to teach other people.
Chris Desmond: And when you tell that story, the stories about Zoi, how has it helped other people that you’ve seen so far or that you’ve heard so far?
Eric Hodgdon: I think that it’s helped people to reconnect with their kids. Parents for example to connect with their kids. I think it’s helped kids to realize that in life things may not go the way we want it to go, but regardless of anything that does come your way, you have to fight to keep going, that you can’t give up. And I think those messages are key for younger adults and young kids who are struggling. I think kids that are anywhere from 15 to 25, your brain isn’t fully developed yet and younger kids and teens, they think in the next hour ahead. They don’t think the next day or week or month. It’s what’s going on right now in my life that I’m dealing with, and kind of helping kids to realize that look, what you’re feeling right now is not permanent and it will pass. Just give it some time and talk to people. Connect with people, and I share stories with Zoi’s friends and they love hearing about her and funny ways and other ways that are just, they love that, and it helps them to kind of see where they can place themselves in those stories, too. So it’s helpful for them, too.
Chris Desmond: What I’m getting from that is that is those stories help people through those tough times and allow them to kind of sit in those hard times with optimism that hey, we’ve had these good times. They’re going to come again with it, and I think you mentioned actually when we were kind of talking about what we were going to talk about in this part, an interesting thing about a Facebook group that you’ve joined in around Cheryl Sandburg’s Option B, was it?
Eric Hodgdon: Yes.
Chris Desmond: Can you tell the listeners a little bit about that and kind of what you noticed there with sharing your story, and maybe actually a little bit of background about what it is first?
Eric Hodgdon: Yeah, yeah. So Cheryl Sandburg is the COO of Facebook and about two years ago, she lost her husband Dave while they were on vacation in Cancun, Mexico, and when she collected herself after this tragic loss of her husband whom she was deeply in love with, she started to realize that she was also trying to answer those, some similar questions along her grief process, but she wanted to help other people by providing a platform for them to also get some support and cope with their grief, so she started writing a book with the same title, Option B, that was published in April of this year and subsequently she created several groups on Facebook around facing adversity, and it’ snot just grief and loss. There’s divorce. There’s physical injury. There’s drug abuse. All these groups that were adversity come into your life and I saw that she had created these groups through on an elevator display at work and I decided to join and there were about 200 people at the time when I joined in late April and now there’s over 12,000 people spread out amongst all of the groups, and what I found is that inside the grief and loss group, the coping with grief and loss was that people were struggling with being stuck. Being stuck in their grief. This stinks. This stinks. I miss, my son died or my father died or my mother died and I don’t think I’m ever going to feel better again. Or how can I move on from this? And it was important to me to help introduce what I’m calling positive disruptors into these discussions and these posts that people were making and it could have been just a question about their loved one that they lost. What was one of the best things about that person that you really loved and then oh, well, he used to tell me that I was chicky-poo or whatever nickname that they would give. What was the funniest thing that person ever did for you? And oh, well, they used to make me laugh because he told the same joke over again. It was the worst joke but it used to crack me up and him up. So, right? So these types of mindset shifts in the thinking are ways to kind of get out of that rut, and I believe that once you start to have the mindset shift, now you can start to function within intention in your life, start to go and do the things that make your heart sing. And then, I think after that, once you’re starting to do those things that make your heart sing, you can then move into establishing some core values for energy and direction to kind of help pull you through that, but that’s kind of the work that I’m doing right now inside of Option B is helping people with their mindset shifts, finding things for them to function within intention, and then let’s establish some consistency and some direction here so that you stay on that trajectory of coming out of the grief and not just get stuck in survival mode.
Chris Desmond: With that, obviously consistency is super important with that because I’m assuming that if you stop being consistent with, as you say, those positive disruptors to trigger that mindset shift, that it’s really easy to just kind of revert back into survival mode, and I don’t know if I have a question from that one actually.
Eric Hodgdon: Well, you know what’s interesting from that Chris, is that about two weeks ago I was curious. I ran a poll in that group, in the grief and loss group, and asked five things. I asked one question, knowing that you’re, in your grieving process, where would you say you are right now? And I gave them five options that they’re just entering the grief process, they’re well into their grieving process, they’re stuck in grief, they’re surviving with better days, or they’re thriving in life again. What shocked me was that 63 percent of the people that did take that poll were just surviving. Twenty-four percent of the people were stuck in grief or beginning the grieving process or well into it, and only 13 percent of the people were thriving. And that just showed me that a lot of, it’s so easy to kind of get to a certain point in your healing process, where like this is good enough. I don’t want to do any more because if I think about this it’s going to hurt and I’ve already gone through enough pain and I’m really still upset and sad and angry about all of this, so I’m just going to park it right here. But you’re not truly living at that point. You’re not thriving. You’re just surviving and that’s supposed to be just a temporary spot for you and all of us. We weren’t designed to be surviving in that way. We were designed to live our life and to go and do the things that make us and make our hearts sing because I think at that point we’re also honoring the ones that we’ve lost. Some of the things that I would do would be traveling and when Zoi was younger we used to go to the beach a lot over here on the coast of Massachusetts and inevitably when we came back I’d have a trunk full of rocks that we would collect because there’s just a ton of rocks on this beach, and after Zoi died I went to, I would start to travel for some of this story work that I’ve been doing and it would take me to California, it would take me to Texas, it would take me to Florida, it would take me to Arizona, Arkansas, and what I would do is I would find a rock from that location and I would bring it back with me and I would put it up in her room as just like a say, hey, Zoi, this is, and I’d tell Zoi a story about where I found the rock and where it was from. And I’m running out of room right now because I’ve been able to, and I’ve been grateful that I’ve been able to travel like this because I’m seeing things with my two eyes that I’m going to share with Zoi when we are reconnected, and I just think it’s a wonderful thing, but I think the bigger piece of that is doing some visualized meditation and reconnecting with Zoi that way. And I realize that that’s not for everybody, but the visualized meditations have been so powerful and I’ve just been so grateful to, I feel like create new memories with Zoi again in a different way.
Chris Desmond: Yeah. Yeah. Where did you come across the visualized meditation? Was that something that you’d always done? Or is that something that you have picked up recently?
Eric Hodgdon: I did not know how to meditate beforehand. I couldn’t calm my mind. And about four months after Zoi died I was just, I was missing her so much and I just wanted to connect with her. I had just gone back to work full time, and one of those days when I was thinking about her but the stress of the job was just kind of coming in on me, and I left a little bit early. I told my boss I had to go. And I got on the commuter rail train from Boston back to my house which is about a 45 minute ride, and I just wanted to connect with Zoi so bad, so I closed my eyes and just said okay, just find the most relaxing place you can possible think of and let yourself feel that space, and what appeared in my mind’s eye was a high elevation lake, and I allowed myself to look to my left and to my right and up and down and to take in the details. The sky was, it was dusk, and the sky was the deep blue fading into the pink, fading into the yellow the sun which was behind the mountain across the other side of the lake. And the lake is like a sheet of glass, but Zoi always, at least in this case, in this very first meditation, she approached me from the left and she was wearing a dress with the same color scheme as the sky, and I just oh, there you are. And I said, are you okay? That was the first thing I said. She said Dad, I am more than okay. Oh, thank God. I kept on asking more questions and every question just kind of relaxed me even more, even more and then one of the last things she said to me, she said, Dad, you can come here any time because I’m always going to be here, and it doesn’t matter how much time goes by, and I have had probably about 15 to 20 very visual meditations with her, and each time she’s shown me something that was pertinent to my life or a lesson that I needed to learn, and sometimes they weren’t great lessons and they were difficult, definitely uncomfortable trying to figure out what she was trying to show me, more so to try to figure out what to do about it, but it’s been such a powerful experience that I’m just so grateful that I’ve been able to reconnect with her I think in this light.
Chris Desmond: Yeah. That’s very, very powerful, Eric. And it’s great that you have found that and you can do that and kind of have those experiences, and obviously that’s a super important part of your healing process with it as well which is very cool. One other question/comment that I just wanted to have with you, is that the poll that you created. I’m jumping back here a little bit. People that are stuck in grief and I think often we get to the point where we’ve just kind of had enough of dealing with the hurt and we just sort of put it aside and we kind of block it and as you say, we never get back to that point where we’re thriving and where we’re living with intention, and I think part of that is because these topics obviously are hard to talk about on an individual level because they’re painful and because they bring things up for us, but also on a societal level, there’s something that we don’t particularly talk about as a society anymore, and it was something I mean, death is all around us and it’s something that is a natural part of the world and a natural part of kind of the next step from living. And we’ve kind of moved away from talking about that and I think I want to say thank you for sharing your story with me and our listeners today as well for talking about that and your experiences around it, but I was just wondering what your thoughts were around that about the fact that we have moved away from telling these hard stories and kind of how we can do better with making people feel comfortable is probably the wrong word but allowing people the opportunity to tell these stories and gain healing from that.
Eric Hodgdon: Right. That’s so, I think story is a key way, learning how to tell, write and tell your story in the service of others is healing for yourself, but even from an individual perspective, I was doing a little bit of research for a book that I’m finishing up here pretty soon that talks about how tribes, many hundreds of years ago, tribes and other clans, death was just another ritual, another rite of passage in life, but the difference was was that people dealt with it together as a clan as a tribe, so yes, it was difficult for the family that was dealing with this loss but because it was all done together and until the process was fully dealt with they had connection. Today in our society and around the world, it feels as though we’re kind of left to our own devices to try to figure things out, and you’re right. People don’t talk about this because it hurts, but the human condition is that we’re all going to lose somebody in our lifetime, but we’re all wired the same way, too, meaning we all think about how, we all process grief, it’s like a fingerprint. There’s a lot of similarities but not each one is the same. In May of this year on Mother’s Day, the day before Mother’s Day, I posted a quick two and half minute video in Option B about look, tomorrow’s going to be a tough day if you’re a mom or you’re a mother figure or you’re missing a mother figure. Instead of staying in bed with the curtains drawn, get to your feet on the ground. Go out and do something in the honor of the person that you loved, or that you love and create a new memory for that day, so that the next time another holiday comes along, you have that mindset that you can now go do something fun for yourself because it’s okay to smile again, and later that day I got a personal note from Cheryl thanking me for helping her on Mother’s Day, and what really just kind of blew up in my mind was that okay, so Cheryl’s like the sixth most powerful business woman in the world right now. And yet, she is dealing with grief the same way I do, meaning I’m going to go through the same feelings, she has the same feelings. It’s the same as somebody who is an electrician or a librarian or a store clerk. It doesn’t matter. We all, we’re all wired the same way. So that means that collectively we can help each other through this process of grief, and together we can help build resilience, and I think a key way to start doing that is through telling story in the service of others.
Chris Desmond: Yeah. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with that. That’s very, very cool. Eric, I have a couple of questions that I like to ask everyone towards the end of the chat, but while we’re kind of just sitting here at the moment, can you tell people who have found this conversation interesting where they can connect with you or for people that are sort of looking for some help with this maybe how they could, you could help them out. Can you let us know about that?
Eric Hodgdon: Sure. So I just launched a new website. It’s erichodgdon.com, and the spelling might be a little funky but I’m sure that we can … Chris Desmond: I’ll put some links to it.
Eric Hodgdon: Make sure it’s good. Thank you so much. And secondarily, and so that website’s going to have some free resources, blog posts and some quick snippets for people to kind of maybe get some idea of how to work through a specific struggle that they’re having. Maybe a specific question that they have, and then secondarily, I’m just finishing up a book that I’m writing aptly titled A Sherpa Named Zoi, and it’s due to be published on November 18th. It’s available right now for pre-order in Amazon, but this has been a labor of love over the last year, and I call it a labor of love because as I’ve been writing more stories have unfolded about my, when I was growing up and things with Zoi that I didn’t know about that I’ve learned through talking with some of her friends, and just how powerful this kid’s soul really is, and I’m grateful that I’m her dad. So, I want to honor her in the best way that I can by helping other people because that’s what she, I’m continuing Zoi’s work. That’s what she used to do. She just did it on a different level. When she was hospitalized she used to play her ukulele for some of the kids that were having, struggling and it calmed them down but even though she wasn’t at 100 percent herself, she knew that this was the right thing to be doing, so I’m still proud of her for that. And I’m proud of her in general because she’s my daughter but yeah.
Chris Desmond: Cool. And I’ll put some links to those. I’m definitely going to go out and pre-order that book after our conversation.
Eric Hodgdon: Thank you.
Chris Desmond: Eric, what was the last uncomfortable thing that you did, and how did you get through it?
Eric Hodgdon: We’ve been talking about the story work that I started doing a couple of years ago. When I was introduced to Bo Eason and some others in the group, this was all so very new and just about two weeks ago, Bo asked me to speak in front of our larger group on his stage, and I was so uncomfortable because I just really wanted to make sure that I was coming in as Zoi’s dad and not some programmatic being trying to remember what I was going to say next, and so the way I got through it was that I had to kind of step back and breathe, and say to myself I have time and realize that these people were there to support me. They weren’t there to judge me, and I think kind of just resetting my own expectations of myself helped tremendously, and it was still uncomfortable talking in front of this group because I wanted to make that impact with them, and the theme was that death may take your loved one’s life, but it doesn’t have to take yours, and that if you’re in survival mode, the best in the world don’t just survive. They thrive.
Chris Desmond: Eric, what’s the next uncomfortable thing that you’re going to do and why is that uncomfortable for you?
Eric Hodgdon: I am leaving corporate America in two weeks. I have decided to end my IT career of 25 years and pursue helping others in this realm, and it’s very uncomfortable because it’s completely stepping off from a consistent comfortable salary that I know I can earn, and doing something that’s completely foreign to me in a lot of ways.
Chris Desmond: Congratulations.
Eric Hodgdon: Thank you.
Chris Desmond: That is absolutely awesome and I’m sure that again, you’re going to thrive in that situation based on the person that you are and the conversation that we’ve had today, but also that the stories and the help that you’ve given to other people as well.
Eric Hodgdon: Thank you.
Chris Desmond: And we’ve talked a lot about this already, Eric, but I’m just wondering do you have any other strategies that you use for approaching uncomfortable situations to help yourself deal with them?
Eric Hodgdon: Yeah, there’s a couple. I think the first one is that we have to embrace the suck for a while. On the other side of our struggles is where the living really happens, and if we try to go around the struggle or avoid it, instead of living through it and working through it, we’re not going to get the same benefit on the other side. So there’s no short cuts. The obstacle is the path, and I think the other thing is that we have to realize that surviving in life is okay, but it’s supposed to be just temporary, but thriving should be the goal.
Chris Desmond: Yeah. I think they’re great strategies. Eric, I’ve got one more question for you but I just want to say thank you so much for sharing your time with me today. It’s been amazing to connect and have a chat with you, but also thank you so much for sharing your story and for sharing your experiences and yes, obviously that the helping you heal as you share them but the helping other people to heal as well and in often kind of kick starting them on that healing process as well which is important and I think, as we talked about before, you’re giving people the opportunity to share their story as well and by having this conversation around such a difficult topic, so thank you so much for that.
Eric Hodgdon: Thank you. Thank you for taking the time today to speak with me as well and to let me share my story with you and your audience and it’s my goal to always make an impact with as many people as I can and help where I can. That’s my purpose now. That’s my purpose now.
Chris Desmond: It’s been an absolute pleasure. My last question for you today, Eric, is do you have a challenge to leave me and the listeners with?
Eric Hodgdon: Yeah. The challenge would be to find one thing today that you’re grateful for. Just one thing. It doesn’t have to be anything major. It could be you’re grateful for taco Tuesday. It could be that you’re grateful for your pets. It could be that you’re grateful for what is in your life, but write down one thing every day, just one thing that you’re grateful for and you will start to see within a short period of time things start to shift in your life.
Chris Desmond: I think that’s a great challenge and I hope everyone picks it up but also everyone kind of lets me and Eric know how they go with it and what they are grateful for. I’d love to hear and I’m sure Eric would as well.
Eric Hodgdon: Yes.
Chris Desmond: But Eric, thank you so much for getting uncomfortable with me today.
Eric Hodgdon: Thank you so much, Chris. I really appreciate it.
Featured Image credit: Christopher Foley