I loved traveling and competing. I absolutely loved it. I loved training. I was a complete savage when it came to both and living that fast-paced life, training the way that I did. I was starting to burn the candle at both ends, and I just crashed at one point, I just broke apart at the seams.
For a couple of years, I was on painkillers and it started out with a doctor saying, “Well, you need these because you’re in pain and you could get better sleep, and you could train harder and blah, blah, blah.” and I knew in the back of my mind that that was not the case and I knew maybe, yes, I could get better sleep, but I knew it was not a good idea.
In fact, I think the second or third time in my life, this little guy back here threw up a red flag and said, “Now, this is a bad idea.” and I ignored it. Every time I’ve ignored that voice, [laughs] it has been disastrous for me because I ended up taking the painkillers and got addicted very quickly. I had no idea how that was going to be and that was a monster, man.
I hated that. I hated that because when you’re addicted to painkillers, when you are stuck on them, they don’t just numb the physical pain, they numb you mentally and emotionally, so my relationship started to suffer.
I had married a woman from England. We had a child in 2009 named after my friend Mikhail Koklyaev. We just started to grow apart. Basically, anything that could go wrong for me, started to go wrong in 2012. We had separated.
The actual worst day of my life was November 25th, 2012. My then-wife and I had decided we were going to move to England, where she was from. She was getting on a plane and taking my son to go to England and get set up over there, and I was going to sell the house.
I just knew that was another time that little guy back here was screaming at me and I didn’t listen. I just ignored. I said, “No, this is for the best. It’s what needs to be done.” I remember dropping them off at the airport.
My son with his, it was like a mater from cars, baseball, hat, and his little car’s backpack. He was so excited because he was going on an adventure, and I’m sitting here hugging him. I know that it’s going to be a long time before I get to hug him again. Everything’s screaming at me, man.
I watched him walk through the doors at the airport and that shattered my heart. It was the most painful thing I’d ever felt by far. I’ve competed on a broken ankle. I’ve been through some shit, but they pale in comparison to that. There is nothing like it.
In fact, it was so bad that I had to stop a couple of times on the way home. I didn’t know how to get out of this pain. I was hurting so much. I went home, and I couldn’t find a way out of it. I broke down and called an old friend who I’d known, had got into some harder shit. She ended up giving me some crystal meth. That was like pouring gas on the fire, man.
I was going to have a week. I said, “Travis, you got a week to do whatever you need to do, and then we need to straighten up and get your shit together and get over there.” That week turned into four years.
Not the way you want to go, ducking out is not the answer. One of the reasons that happened was after a few days, I realized I didn’t need to take the painkillers anymore when I was on the meth. I thought, “Well, hey, this is great. I can finally get off of these fucking things because I tried several times and that was miserable. That was awful.”
Here I found a way to get off, and I’m like, “I quit this. This is no big deal.” Except that the worst deal is a far, far worse deal. I had that monkey on my back for the next few years. If my life was going down slowly once the meth came in, it was like falling off a cliff.
It went from a steady decline to a vertical drop, and a perfect storm of everything that could go wrong did. My friends started to ignore me, my family stopped talking to me. I was trying everything I could, talk to my son every day, and my ex-wife was being very difficult with that.
I lost my passion. I had already lost my passion for training, and that’s where the last year leading up to this mess had gone. I was a mess because I wasn’t training. I was just miserable all the time. The reason I stopped training was because I was hurting so much.
I had broken my ankle in 2010 at the finals of World’s Strongest Man. I did it halfway through and I finished. Took fifth place, but then I started training for the Arnold just a couple months or eight weeks later, seven weeks later. It was horrible.
That’s the one that I ended up taking fourth place at, was the 2011 Arnold Classic but with an ankle that was still busted and it just me off and I wanted to take some time off, but my wife kept telling me I need to compete because we need the money, and so I kept competing. The more I did it, the more I hated it.
By 2012, I can’t stand this anymore. I don’t want to do it. I don’t even want to walk into a gym. I want nothing to do with this. That was that real beginning of the downward spiral. Then fast-forward beginning of 2012 to November of 2012 and my wife leaving and that’s when things just fell uncontrollably.
I was losing my career. I was losing my personal training job that I had as well. Then I lost my house. I played the game and I did a bankruptcy and I could keep it a little bit longer. I played this game several times, so I ended up staying in there for another two years without paying a thing. [laughs]
The whole time it’s stressful. You’re freaking out because you like, “I’m going to lose my house at any minute.” I’m living with that stress bearing down on me. I’m living with not getting to talk to my son hardly ever. I’m living with nobody talking to me. My family leaving me and this loneliness and this pain that you just keep trying to hide from.
At one point, it got so bad that I was finished, man. I was ready to be done. I was sitting in my bathroom and I tried to call my son and I got the voicemail again. Every time that voice would come up, it was like another knife to the heart trying to talk to my boy. I was ready to fucking end it, man. I was sitting there with a gun in my mouth.
The only thing that stopped me initially was I started to think about the aftermath and I thought, “That poor bastard that’s got to clean my brains off the ceiling, I don’t want to do that to somebody.” I thought about trying to find a different way that was a little cleaner.
That’s when I kind of nervous laugh, a broken man laugh, like “Why am I even thinking about this at this time?” I thought, “Well, it’s because I’m probably truly not ready to give up.” I said, I kind of broke down a little bit, and I was like, “I’ve got to find a way out of this.”
I remember asking myself in that moment, “When is this going to stop? When is this going to be over?” That little voice back here popped up again and said, “You’re going to start over?” I knew what that meant.
I knew that everything that I had gained throughout my life as Strongman was going to have to be torn down and rebuilt. I’d already done a fair amount of tearing down at that point. I was probably 255, 260 pounds.
As I thought about that and then I thought about my life that got me there, I thought, “What is going on? How did I end up in this spot? How did I get here?” I noticed a trend. I noticed that the more negative thoughts that I had, the more negative things seemed to happen to me.
I was going through it for years. I would come home and I’d had this little rhyme in my head, “I hate my life, I hate my wife, I hate myself, I hate everyone else.” I was just so astonished. That’s just depression, misery that hijacked your way of thinking.
I noticed the more that I thought about all the negative things and all the things that I lost, the more things that I’d lose, I said, “Wait a minute, let’s turn that around. Maybe if that’s true going this direction, maybe if I start thinking about something good, I could start going the other direction.”
It just seemed a natural progression for me. I said, “OK, let’s find one thing, one positive thing.” I’m still sitting there, put the gun down. I’m looking around, my bathroom is a mess. My house is a tweaker house.
If you’ve ever been to one, they’re nasty. They’re cluttered and dirty. I had shit everywhere that I was just stockpiling stuff. [laughs] It’s embarrassing to even say, but it was such a mess.
I’m looking around, all I see is this trash or I see memories of my son. I started spiraling down. I started thinking about everything that I lost. Again, I went, “That’s another trigger right there. Every time I see something, I go through this whole list of things that I’ve lost.
“I lost my house, I lost my wife, I lost my son, lost my family. Every time I’m sad, I go through this checklist. So let’s make a checklist of good things now. Find that one freaking good thing.”
I looked around, I couldn’t find anything so I gave up. I put my head in my hands and I looked down, I see my feet. My feet were a little torn up because I had been injecting meth for a couple of years at this point. I don’t know if it settles down in there, but you get this dried-out cracked skin.
I looked at my feet and I said, “You know what? They’re a mess, but they still work. My God, I don’t actually have to sit here and do this right now. I can get up, I can walk out of here.” I got this feeling, this surge of joy that came up in the back of my throat. It was the first time in years I had that feeling. It felt amazing.
I sat with it for a while. I thought about my feet. I thought about how I can get the fuck up and leave. I don’t have to be here and so I went to bed. I got up the next day and I said, “I want that feeling again.” I started looking around for something else. Let’s find something positive.
I said, “OK, Travis, you’re trying too hard. You’re looking for something too big. Go with something simple,” and I said, “I got my hands. I got my feet, and I got my hands. These hands are still strong. I could still go anywhere. I can still do anything.” I got that surge of joy again. That is the key right there.
The third day, I found a third thing. The fourth day, I found a fourth thing. The fifth day, I didn’t find anything new. I went back through my previous four, and that was where it really changed. Now I’ve got my list. Instead of that negative list, I had this positive list.
Every time I started thinking of something negative, I started thinking positive. Go through your list. I got my hands, I got my feet, I got my this, I got my that, that created the fifth day. Every day, I tried to expand upon that, but if I couldn’t. If I was having a bad day, I would go through my list.
I came up with a little trick. I would keep a little rock or a nut, something in my pocket, so that every time I reached in my pocket, that was my gratitude rock. I would take it out, I would go through my list. If I’ve got next to my phone or my keys, if I reach in there, I pull that out. Now I’ve got my gratitude list.
Now, rather than having this negative momentum, I’ve got this positive momentum. I’m coming out of the shit. That was what changed my life. That was the most powerful thing I’ve ever learned. I knew it was shaking things up, because the people that were around me at that time, misery loves company.
Well, they weren’t ready to get out of their shit. They weren’t ready to get out of their hell. Here I was making a move, it was making them uncomfortable. I remember this one girl, this woman said, “What do you have to be so grateful for?”
Well, that’s another one right there, because I’m making waves. [laughs]