A True Tale on a Bit of Redemption During 13-Months in a Wilderness of Physical, Emotional & Spiritual Carnage
& Becoming Michael Joseph Butler
“I wanted to read it at a time that I could really sit and be in the moment. As I went through my day it seemed like the right day, not only did I have the time, but it is Christmas Eve. Thank you for sharing your story with me. I really think it is a story you should share with others. It’s genuine, moving, and inspiring,” Nika Eshetu, Patient Empowerment Advocate, Pilates Trainer & Sports Fitness Specialist
“I don’t even know what to say in response to your story. First of all, it is beautifully written. Second, what an inspiration you are. I did not know the extent of everything you have been through because to me—I see a healthy, happy, and super-motivated person. Your journey is incredible and I’m so thankful that you wrote it down and shared it with me,” Jennifer Brown, Equinox Barre Fit Cardio Instructor
“Wow…what an incredible journey and so well told! You are an inspiration of grit and determination…I need to respond to your message with my own commitment to get into better shape—physically, mentally, spiritually. Sometimes God will knock us over the head with a two-by-four and drag us through the ringer, but it’s all about healing our real and eternal self, not the self we think we are,” Father Martin Person, Priest Russian Orthodox Church
“Love it! Thank you so much for sharing…so wonderful…what an inspiration…I hope you feel so very proud of yourself,” Jesse Cannone, Founder Healthy Back Institute & Master Trainer
“WOW, TEARS OF JOY, I have to reread to take it all in. Amazing story…blessings…your heart is open to receiving and ready. You DID IT…and will continue…it’s a life choice…a daily regime…a part of who you are NOW,” Nicole McBride, Tech Specialist, Silicon Valley
The key part of this story begins on the morning of November 4, 2015, when I looked in the mirror and saw the Face of Perdition staring back at me. For years my health had been going downhill from a poor diet, stress, no exercise, consumption of adult beverages and total isolation from others despite living with others. I had allowed others to set the terms of my existence and then it got to a point where it seemed better just to complete the destruction of myself by myself. Events had spiraled away from a variety of factors, most of my own making, and it was time for me to go away forever.
For over a year my liver had been going downhill; the pain so bad at times I couldn’t move for long periods or was frozen in place waiting for the pain to subside. This of course meant that the kidneys were going downhill and the immune system was starting to collapse.
Then on Nov. 4, 2015 I woke up and my entire six-foot, 230-pound bloated, diseased body was covered with psoriasis sores; from head to foot, just about everywhere. The immune system was giving up as psoriasis is an auto-immune disease that, once it gets hold, is difficult to shake. In that moment of fear and disgust the decision was made to change everything, my end was not going to come the next day, but it was going to be ignominious and painful. By now I was alone as the wife and kids were gone so I began drinking, guzzling really, Dandelion Root Tea, a super liver cleanser, taking saunas and running a bit. Things stabilized to a certain degree and I moved up near the children right before Christmas, so I could work and be near them, however, this proved a good and bad solution as I just worked and was not really doing them or me any good, plus nothing was being done to improve my health.
These young kids were seeing me as this horrid thing and that couldn’t stand anymore. Undoubtedly my major organs were severely damaged, but after a couple of months the psoriasis sores had mostly cleared except on my bloated face. Still over 225-pounds, I was in danger and not improving, just lumping about.
I left and moved to a beach community in April 2016; in May I joined a gym that had a nice outdoor pool and I worked and rested to regain some semblance of my health. Working and resting, resting and working helped; then in June I began to swim a bit here and there and so it became a daily routine of resting, working and swimming in bits and pieces, my swim technique was highly sub-optimal so that didn’t help. Slowly, during the summer, things began to get a bit better.
By the end of the summer, I began to feel the swimming take hold a little more and my body responded; if a muscle got pulled or tweaked it healed rapidly and small injuries began to clear up. By September 2016, I had determined to not see the children till I was totally healed, changed the name of my company, decided that everything from before Nov. 4, 2015 was dead to me and I cut ties with everyone, purposely hurting some, that were part of the “painful past.” I would do this alone; I hadn’t consulted any doctors because I didn’t need to be told what was wrong; no doctors, no meds, no friends, no family, just me alone; soon I would not be alone? But I had broken my body and lost my soul, what hope could I have in anything?
I didn’t blame anyone; this was my fault because I let others determine the nature of my existence with my mistakes and advice from well-meaning people, which my gut told was wrong but which I took, compounding issues across the board. Part of the solution was keep my own counsel, that way if I made a decision and it turned out bad, so be it; no more taking advice from others when my gut told me otherwise; no more getting pushed around; no more complacency; no more kissing ass; no more patience; no more small talk…come what may, for the time being a coarser and harder soul emerged as a shell because, as I turned 59, my string looked like it had been played out and I had no time for anything but focusing ahead…and, by not blaming others, everything that happened henceforth was mine and mine alone, no one else’s. During this time, I decided I would declare a new birthday for myself and considered a name change, the former was done but the latter seemed like a stupid idea, little did I know how that would turn out?
However, having that said that, there is the issue of a Reckoning made for one’s sins; I had betrayed those closest to me and could I ever hope for any type of Redemption? Was my betrayal to the family, past and present, so unpardonable that I was slated to get the Fredo Corleone treatment and find myself rowed out the middle to the middle of a lake for payment in full? I didn’t know and still don’t know? I could only take care of the pebble in the shoe at each moment in time and Pray for guidance towards some measure of forgiveness.
When the Miracles Started
On October 12, 2016, at approximately 6:00 am while sleeping, I had a dream that would change everything. In the dream a beautiful Guardian Angel came to me with a message in the form of a cryptic question. We were walking together across a busy boulevard when she said to me, “How did it feel when you got It?” The implication in the question was that I knew what she was talking about, but of course I didn’t, and I responded in a puzzled manner, “Got what?” Again, she answered like I already knew and said matter-of-factly, “The Youth!” In moments I woke up and the exchange was burned in my brain and soul, but what it was or meant was impossible to know?
As was my custom, I would take walks late at night to clear my head and get some body movement going. Well, this exchange kept tugging at my mind and rolling around in my head like a hamster on a wheel, was it just a meaningless nothing? It was so vivid in my mind and the only part remembered out of so many dreams, and it kept banging away on my forehead like an incessant hammer.
Then, on the second night of walking the words came out of my mouth as if shoved out thru the back of my brain, for they were completely out of character and something I wouldn’t conceive of, but nonetheless they did and once they exited my mouth I felt compelled to keep repeating them for clarity: “You will burn yourself to the ground or I will crush you!, You will burn yourself to the ground or I will crush you!” I was stunned at such a prospect, so all I could say was, “Yes, Lord.” It was clear, a Gift was being proffered but it had a price and a dire threat; you will do this thing or be swept from the board. I came to the conclusion, seeing as my gut instinct was in charge, that it was the Good Lord telling me in no uncertain terms, “WIN or DIE, your choice dumbass?”
What to do?
On October 17, 2016, five days after The Dream and three days after The Terms, I went to the beach and began to “burn myself down.” I parked 1.3 miles from the beach, walked 30-minutes to the beach, and proceeded to run two-miles barefoot in the soft sand. It was the most elemental form of burndown, I couldn’t run on cement because of knee and ankle pain from years of basketball and running in the soft sand forced everything to work harder. The gym was out of the question and swimming wouldn’t do it, so I turned to that most basic of exercises; the solitary warrior fighting for his life in a battle against his Fallen Nature and the Sand, Wind, Rain & Sun.
For the first 10 days it was two and then two-and-a-half miles, then on the 11th day I went five-miles and it took over 90-minutes and the whole process was brutal and taking a toll; my low back was numb at the end of every run, every part of my body hurt and ached for relief. At the end of the first five-mile run, after limping back to the car, I could hardly think or even converse; it was like my brain had been sucked out of my skull. I went to the gym and immediately collapsed by the pool for two hours.
I didn’t realize I had gone five miles that October 27th day, really a watershed day for this tale. Under the impression it was about three miles, based on an assessment from a lifeguard, I kept at it every day thereafter…walk briskly 1.3-miles to the beach, run five-miles, limp slowly back 1.3-miles, collapse for two hours, then walk or limp at night for maybe a mile or so. By the 14th day the whole thing was getting rather scary, but I was under pain of death and dare not stop; every night I hurt so badly, my feet were shredded with painful blood blisters, torn skin and broken toenails that would soon disappear; my whole body hurt, as if I had been shoved in to a clothes dryer and bounced around for a while. The right knee was especially painful from an old injury, but none of that mattered anymore…
…and every night I would say “Dear Lord, I can’t go tomorrow,” and every morning I would wake up and be healed enough to go and went, and this painful process continued for 40-Days and Nights…After about the 16th day I figured out it was five-miles and was relieved and proud, because now I knew why I had to collapse afterwards and couldn’t believe I was running five-miles in the soft sand. The memory and feeling of hitting the 100-mile mark on November 13, 2016, Day 28 with 2 days of rest, is still vivid in my mind as I couldn’t believe the process was still moving forward.
A realization of just how far my body had fallen away from any semblance of good health or physical condition drove me to keep grinding away to some unknown goal in some unknown future? In retrospect, I had entered a form of physical and spiritual boot camp, however, a move towards “dropping on request” was, in my present state, akin walking off a pier with cement shoes. Abusing my body, mind and soul to the edge of destruction was obviously going to make this prescription for Healing Written from the Beyond a tough one to fill.
I covered 145-miles by running 35 out of 40 days and the pattern just described took place every night, proclaiming tomorrow was impossible and being able to go again and again and again. I would wake up, test my legs and say, “Ok Lord, time to go again.” I had gotten thin rubber Sand Sox but it only helped slightly as my feet were fit to be declared an official “federal disaster area.” I popped the blisters with paper clips, slathered the open wounds with antibiotic cream and bandaged them up for the next go around, but by the end of the run the dirty sand was embedded inside the raw skin and needed a soaking for cleaning and tending to again. After walking at night, the socks were generally blood stained from leaking blood blisters…
…It was “My 40-Days in a Wilderness of Pain and Uncertainty” and the mandate to “Burn Yourself to the Ground” had started; the trainers at the gym told me I was psychotic and would break, the fitness geeks who heard what I was doing, as I soaked my wounds in the jacuzzi, said I was nuts and would break, but I knew better and would not listen to the naysayers, would not take advice that went against my gut instinct and belief that the Good Lord Had Given Me a Gift and that nothing less than creating physical, emotional and spiritual carnage would satisfy Him enough for me to continue forward and, hopefully, survive to live again!
I don’t how I knew this, I just knew it without really having to think about it; I just saw it without having to look for it. Walking at night, or limping at night, I would often say again and again, “Yes, Lord, I will do what is required of me,” or Pray for Him to Give me the Strength and Fortitude to Continue.
On the 41st day, November 26, 2016, I could go no more; the body was spent, and the energy meter was blinking red. However, a passage thru a veil towards the next level was breached, a foundation in mind and body set in a manner which revealed an ability to absorb continual blows of painful torment which may get worse as the stakes increased towards Final Jeopardy? A small, yet significant change made as the Rubicon had been crossed to signal there was no turning back. I kept thinking about The Dream: “How Did You Feel When You Got It?, Got What?, The Youth.” And The Terms, “You Will Burn Yourself to the Ground or I Will Crush You.” It was only a beginning.
About soft sand running: The beach in question had little foot traffic and lifeguard, municipal trucks and sifters were always running around to create flat, deepened tracks or wide swaths of smooth surfaces for running. This is vital because ankles and knees are less likely to turn and twist and thus tweak muscles, ligaments or cartilage. The search for fresh truck tracks or other paths of flat surface was never ending. Not only are calves, thighs, hips, low-back and feet getting challenged, but the upper back and shoulders are involved as the motion of swinging the arms for momentum is in the picture. Essentially each run day was 90-minutes of five 18-minute miles that continually forced everything involved to break down and rebuild.
In early December 2016 the rains came to Southern California like they hadn’t for ten years; the result no running because the beaches were destroyed from high-surf and the sand was too hard, but the Heavens Opening Up offered an opportunity. It was cold and rainy for over two-months and the pool at the gym was empty most of the time. I picked up some lessons from local swim jocks and proceeded to swim, swim, swim and swim more, even in the pouring rain, even when the pool was a temporary bone chilling 68-degrees, even when sick with a nasty flu virus that lasted five weeks. If I wasn’t meant to break from the 40-Days in the Wilderness of Pain and Uncertainty, then I was determined to risk it all knowing I would not break from anything else, WIN or DIE, your choice dumbass!
The freestyle swim technique is the easiest to learn but the hardest to master, so during that time I concentrated on mastering it and by mid-February 2017, four-months into the process, my mind and body had evolved as the back and shoulder muscles got stronger from swimming over 1,000 laps in those ten weeks. However, I was what trainers call “skinny fat.” Having shed 12-pounds or so I had added a bit of decent muscle foundation, but running and swimming won’t burn lots of fat and no strength or intense cardio training meant no muscle toning to burn more fat; fit muscle burns fat just staying still. I started at minus-500 and was doing what was at my disposal, and it was working Praise the Lord. The mindset of determination became ingrained and a belief this was a Gift from God grew daily.
On February 23, the running five-miles in the soft sand began again; but this time it would be four days on, three days off to heal up and swim. And this time swimming, anywhere from 15 to 40 minutes, was an everyday part of the scheme while still walking at night and saying, “Yes Lord, please help me Lord” or “I’ve been to The Promised Land Reverend, and I’ve seen the Light of God in my eyes, and they’re both beautiful, testify.”
Each running day was nearly 10-miles of locomotion; 1.3-miles walking to and from beach, five-miles running and a mile or more walking at night. My feet got torn to shreds again and the ripping toenails got worse while those awful blood blisters came back with a vengeance; again, my body hurt all over and the painful right knee had to be protected along with many pangs of doubt which had to be overridden by Faith and Belief in The Mission as Transmitted.
This time I did 140-miles running 28 out of 47 days and it was all pain on top of pain on top of pain; more like emotional and physical carnage interlaced with spiritual healing. Was this payment for sins against My Family and God in form of pain and suffering? Confession wasn’t going to cut the mustard this time; it appeared the Reckoning, as it unfolded and continued, meant my sins were being Burnt and Purged Away in comprehensive corporeal torment to dress down and rebuild a Fallen Soul who must pay dearly for hurting those closest.
How often the images of my children flashed thru my mind during those lonely hours pumping through the burning sand, how often I felt sick in my heart at hurting them, but I couldn’t return until the time was right, and I was given Permission to Return. Or maybe I would never be given Permission from Him to see them again?
For over two years I had kept my head mostly shaved or close to it; I decided it was time to grow my hair back and it came in really soft, like when I was a teenager, totally opposite of the broom like hair which had existed on my head for decades. And another weird and rather scary development took place around this time; all my body hair vanished, everywhere; arms, legs, chest, etc. I was freaked out, what was going on? Was it part of an illness? I resembled one of those bizarre hairless cats and it disturbed me to no end. However, I couldn’t dwell on it too much at the time.
And the psoriasis sores and red blotches on my face persisted, they wouldn’t clear up and this worried me. Then I remembered a story I read by the great Second World War GI correspondent Ernie Pyle about a British reporter he knew who, after recovering in hospital from malaria, ended up with the Allied troops in North Africa prepping for the invasion of Sicily in 1943. When this man showed up he was a skeletal wreck, so he laid down in the hot African sands, baking in the sun for weeks on end just resting and letting the sun heal his body. And it worked. I sun baked my face till it got burned rather nicely, then I peeled off multiple layers of skin, like a movie mask, and with it the psoriasis sores and blotches came off and didn’t return. Thanks Ernie, I remember reading in his column that the British reporter met his end during the invasion of Normandy in 1944, as did Ernie Pyle on an island just off Okinawa in 1945.
On April 10th I pulled a right calf-muscle, it hurt bad and it took me over an hour to slowly limp back. This ended the second block of running and the totals were as follows; from October 17th to April 10th it was 315-miles running in the soft sand; two intense 140 and 145-mile boot camp style blocks with five-mile days spread out in between. A wall was broken thru at about the 280-mile mark; rather than running slump shouldered with head looking down, which had been the case from day one, I started running with head up, shoulders square and back straight while moving powerfully through the soft sand; not running faster just stronger and more efficiently. Swimming had added strength to the back and shoulders and this was helping, plus I wasn’t collapsing after running anymore and that was a relief.
Becoming Michael Joseph Butler
From the beginning of running in October, a young girl at the club kept me supplied in band aids and antibiotic cream from the club’s first aid kit; when she saw me limping by the front desk she knew what was required and was sweet about it. Carina Gill is her name and she knew my birth name because I paid her club dues on a few occasions and for months the first aid parade went on and on. Well, on March 7, 2017 at 9:30 pm, as I was sitting near the front desk resting and putting on my shoes, Carina got this interesting smile on her face and asked, “Are you Michael?” I replied, like a mumbling Jimmy Stewart, “no, no, no, my name is Brad,” and didn’t think much of the exchange.
Walking later that night, it was like getting hit in the forehead with a baseball bat, “Oh My, Yes, I am Michael, that is the Baptism name given to me by God!” I stopped in my tracks and declared, “Lord Have Mercy, how could this be?” From that moment on I reversed my previous decision regarding the name change and decided my new name was Michael, well I hadn’t decided the matter and that knowing yet not knowing smile of Carina’s on that night is burned in my brain and soul.
Carina knew me, and she didn’t ask are you Bill, Jimmy or Fred? Carina Gill picked, or had it placed in her mind, the one name that would make total sense and matter the most, the one given to me when I was Baptized in the Russian Orthodox Church. Was this validation for months of grinding? Was this a message from God that He was Pleased? Well, you tell me!
I told a good friend that my new name was Michael, he advised me against doing such a thing and then I knew it was absolutely the right thing to do. I would not listen to him but do what gut instinct was signaling from such a curious occurrence at this most opportune time.
I took the middle name of Joseph because, while documenting a True Life in God Holy Land Pilgrimage with 700 Christians in September 2013, I had gotten a private tour with TLIG Founder Vassula Ryden, whose book Heaven is Real, But So Is Hell I helped promote, of St. Joseph’s Tomb in Nazareth. Four-stories below a French Convent School and one block from the Cathedral of the Annunciation, this Tomb was only discovered about 150 years ago, hidden for nearly 2,000 years, and after my visit a British archaeologist determined this place is probably where The Lord Jesus Christ was raised as a child because it was Joseph’s home and workshop.
I became Michael Joseph Butler on March 7, 2017, five months after The Dream and The Terms and in the midst of the pain of being born Anew.
More Running & Re-Discovery of My Real Birthday
During the month of healing the right calf muscle, during which time I worked out on the Elliptical machines and swam, I managed a few run days and hit the 350-mile mark on May 26th, a nice milestone but with a sore hamstring I needed to heal up before continuous running might commence.
On June 20th the five-miles running in the soft sand began again and this time I did 130-miles running 26 out of 48 days and it ended on August 6th, when my right knee became severely inflamed from an IT Band strain after I tried to play Walter Payton in real deep sand. I didn’t know it at the time, but this ligament runs from the hip to the outside of the knee and it became inflamed at the knee, which swelled up like grapefruit. This is key to a later part of the story. I was just short of 500-miles but decided to round up because running in the soft sand on the beaches involves zigging and zagging and not running in a straight line, so I am sure the 500-mile mark was met and surpassed. At the time I didn’t know the days of soft sand running, for the time being, were at an end.
Again, it was the pattern of running four straight days on and then three days off to heal. Swimming, sometimes twice a day, was in the mix and providing a terrific aspect to the whole picture. By now my freestyle technique had become refined and I moved smoothly and powerfully thru the water, and with the proper form the lateral back and shoulder muscles got fully engaged. This was a terrific feeling and some members inquired where by expertise derived from, that felt good and got a Tiger Woods’ fist pump.
This final boot camp block of running really showed how strong I had become; it was a whole new world of strength and movement, I had truly burned myself to the ground and was emerging physically, emotionally, spiritually as a different individual. I began to say and do things I would never have considered previously, to my benefit and detriment. All of it came from a conviction to be strong and not get pushed around that was being inculcated as part of my personality, put there through the welter of pain and sacrifice and borne from Faith that my Lord and Savior hadn’t saved me from Perdition to take crap from anyone. I would say, “I didn’t come back from the dead to take your garbage, goodbye.”
A note about running gait analysis: When the running first started the Sand Sox, which generally lasted about 60-miles or so, would split along the bottom right or left edges. However, as time went on and the muscles changed they began to split in the middle, a rather interesting development which indicated alterations in body structure and thus the running style.
Another change had taken place, I was now telling people my story; though I would only tell trusted people the story behind the story. When I first joined the gym in May 2016, I was a closed shop; no social interaction, not wanting to deal with anyone, and one Egyptian fellow, a Coptic Christian, became a good friend and he told me how my body language when I first joined screamed loudly, “stay away from me.” He believed in My Story and encouraged me forward and his continued friendship is important because he noticed and saw the changes as they unfolded before his eyes.
I had previously decided I would have a new birthday. I took nine months from the day I looked in the mirror and said, “that is it,” and that new birthday was August 4th. However, The Good Lord was going to school me again. I had kept records of everything in Google Calendar from the time of The Dream; miles run, injuries, time swimming, rest days, and then I consulted the calendar and created a time-line journal. This process helped put in perspective the road traveled and kept the ruts in progress from turning into deep holes with thoughts of giving up.
During the course of writing and drawing a timeline a startling discovery was made; my real birthday is July 12, and The Dream happened on October 12th. Well, nine-months to the day from October 12 is July 12…WOW, what the heck. In the nine months from The Dream, Michael Joseph Butler was conceived from a Gift and a Threat and born in 40-Days of pain; formed in doubt and darkness being guided by surety and light, named in the middle of the process and there in full bloom on his Real First Birthday of July 12th. Like the name change, how does this happen? Only one answer will suffice.
The Gains in Muscle & Determination Put to Action
In the second week of August I nursed my swollen right knee and realized I had hit a wall. Much progress had been made but something was missing from the workout regime and that was intense strength and cardio training. Despite all the hard work and tremendous progress in creating a good foundation, I couldn’t get below 215-pounds, was still carrying belly fat and the gym surroundings, pool and people were irritating me to the point of distraction. Instinct told me a change was needed and events would provide exactly what was required, or should I say His Guiding Hand kept me on the proper path.
During the final block of running I would often repeatedly say out loud, “Dear Lord, I am becoming your servant Michael Joseph.” My mind was full of doubt, but my heart was full of hope, and I wasn’t scared or afraid; I was becoming Michael Joseph and was not alone; come what may I would keep grinding forward and keep burning myself to the ground till the Good Lord gave me permission for the next phase in this new life.
On August 17, I wandered into the Equinox Fitness Club, a high-end fitness club far different than the previous one to which I belonged. I was given a one-week guest pass but needed only a few days to realize I didn’t have to join, I needed to join! The atmosphere of healing was everywhere, and I could feel that this was right. It took a few weeks to get the rhythm of the place, during which time I met with a fitness trainer for my membership included fitness assessment and one training session. She was impressed with my story, but I was “skinny fat” at 216.3 pounds, over 25 pounds above my optimum weight, with a body fat percentage level that was far too high.
She saw the fire in my eyes and felt the determination in my goals, while also correctly diagnosing that my right IT Band had become inflamed at the knee. This is a difficult injury to heal and she warned me to be careful. During those first weeks I was content to heal the knee up, rest a bit, get to know the roving trainers, pick their brains for info and test the workout stations. I didn’t know what form the new phase would take and figured something would present itself? To briefly circle back, in the summer months, as my body rapidly evolved, and much to my relief, the body hair slowly began to reappear while the hair on my head coarsened up as before, Thank God.
On the afternoon of Thursday, September 14, 2017 the door to the new phase in this journey opened-up: I had done a few group fitness Yoga classes at the other gym, but really had little or no experience in this venue of exercise. On that Thursday afternoon I wandered into a mat Pilates group fitness class taught by Dane Sorensen, whose background is in figure skating and dance. I didn’t know much about Pilates, having just done one free membership included session on the Pilates machines, but saw it on the schedule and said what the heck? It was in the Yoga Room and I was the only guy in the class. Pilates on the mats is more challenging than working on the machines, but I was ignorant of that fact also.
As class started, like every teacher, Dane asked if this was anyone’s first mat Pilates class and who had any injuries he should know about? My hand dutifully went up twice as it was the first class and the right knee was really swollen and tight. Despite being unable to put pressure on the knee for certain exercises, or just crapping out others, I got through and it was rough but felt good. Dane watched out for me and, in retrospect, he was a good teacher to have encountered during my initial foray into Pilates.
Pilates is designed to strengthen the core body muscles and, while I had created a strong foundation, this is a whole different world of exercise that would change everything and vault the process forward dramatically. I could hardly have imagined how much and how fast? One aspect of Pilates that struck me is how less-can-be-more, small movements done in the proper fashion can prove highly beneficial to abs, hips, low-back and other core muscle groups.
After class I introduced myself to Dane and gave him a thumbnail of my recent past, he told me if you want a good workout come to my Saturday morning Barre Fit Cardio class, then added “lots of beautiful women.” I froze in terror, I didn’t know a Barre Fit Cardio from a Bass Fiddle and didn’t know what to expect, and all women, oh man, but in a second my instinct took over and I said with determination to Dane, “If you tell me to be there, I will be there!” He nodded yes and two days later I was doing ballet, dance, Pilates, Yoga, and other exercises never tried before with 40 women and making a total ass of myself, but a couple of women complimented me for showing up and Dane was pleased too. I had put my fear aside and that is what I had been doing all along.
I started to do mat Pilates and Barre Fit Cardio three to four times a week, with a swollen knee that had to get iced down twice daily and tender right shoulder nagging at me continually. I didn’t care, my Mandate was clear. I started doing every group fitness class I could find; strength, dance, boxing, yoga, everything, even when in pain. I was doing three classes a day with an inflamed knee and the trainer who I met with first warned me against this action. I listened and stopped for seven days and then realized, even with this injury, I would not stop and go against my gut instinct for I had been given the Gift to Survive and would drive myself into the ground getting what I needed, burning myself down come what may?
Those who warned me against grinding too hard were well-meaning and sincere in their concern, just like those others I had listened to for important advice years before that backfired in my face. Experts in every field are constantly proven wrong, just read history, and these people didn’t know me, couldn’t know what had happened to me and what was boiling inside during a transformation I myself could not fully fathom. Miracles happen every day; miracle medical cures doctors can’t explain; miracles of survival in all kinds of dire situations; miracles of Mother Nature and the Human Mind and Soul which still baffle the so-called experts?
Since I was running my own business, I shifted schedules and began working from 10:00 pm to 5:00 am, slept three hours, went to fitness class, worked for a couple of hours, slept one hour, then went to another fitness class. Not only did I start-again after the recommend seven-day break, I doubled-up everything and set up tests by doing three classes in succession or flagging down a floor trainer for a free-weight chest and back session just after or before a strength class, I needed to know if I could take the punishment and come out the other side intact or stronger, WIN or DIE, your choice dumbass. It was a blizzard of activity, but my mind, body and soul reveled in all of it.
In ten weeks, from September 14 to November 30, I participated in 106 group fitness classes; 21 Pilates, 22 Barre Fit Cardio, 16 multi-station strength Shockwave classes, centered around WaterRowers, and many more of all different kinds, some which were revisited again and again or left as offering high-risk and little reward. Near the end I started adding in free-weight sessions, as mentioned. My injured right knee got stronger and better after thousands of lunges and everything else; my tender right shoulder got stronger and better after thousands of pushups and everything else; and I lost over 25 pounds while the core muscle groups ramped up quickly.
In a crazy, unexpected 13-months I had gone from a diseased six-foot, 230-pounds to a trimmed up and healthy 190, or below, with a percentage of body fat hovering in the mid-teens, a dramatic improvement indeed. However, this was only the physical part of the story. My wardrobe became obsolete, and I think my feet shrank a bit from soft sand running and all those ballet exercises standing heels-up.
Because the exercise routines were varied and involved the whole body, I was hurting everywhere all the time, but dramatic changes were taking place and I could feel and see the physical changes almost on a daily basis. Those ten-weeks were like watching a movie on fast forward. One of the phrases that continued to pop up when assessing the physical changes was, “Hmm, never saw that before.” Everything was so different than it had ever been; quite simply I have never been in this sort of physical condition in my life, period.
All the foundation building for just over nine months, from October 17 to August 6, were now being put to action; 500 miles running in the soft sand and upwards of 3,000 freestyle laps in the pool paying dividends not imagined. The people at the gym were startled at how fast the changes came and how well my body responded; the Pilates instructors loved my progress and Dane Sorensen told other teachers how strong I had gotten in such a short amount of time.
Pilates is the exercise that makes everything else better, that means everything; all your movements change, opening a door, getting up from the ground, etc. I remember swimming and hearing that Pilates voice in my mind, “naval to the spine, naval to the spine.” The Barre Fit Cardio classes, where I was generally the only guy, proved not only challenging but helped with balance, coordination and core strength. Every Barre teacher had a different program and style, and the variations kept my body from getting in a routine of knowing what to expect and it responded accordingly.
In a twist, everyone I met there only knew me as Michael, and that was who I had become all the way; and not only were the classes great but my knowledge of fitness training increased as I soaked up the info and asked for more. Those who heard my story, and saw me grinding and transforming, gave me renewed energy with encouragement and advice. Equinox, which I only I wandered into for a look-see, provided exactly what I needed at exactly the right time, Praise the Lord.
Doubts & Chronic Conditions Healed Naturally & Super-naturally
Through this all there were, and still are, times of doubt when the breaks just are going in the right direction and all the hard work appears to be unraveling? Nothing happens in a straight line, yet such droughts in progress causes one to dwell on mistakes, regrets and lost opportunities. These moods could be summed by paraphrasing a line Clint Eastwood uttered in the classic western movie, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly…“God’s not on my side because he hates idiots.”
Shaking such thoughts is the difficult part, keeping faith that the next day or week will prove better can make the impatient crazy and the hopeful feel hopeless.
The flip-side is the line from the movie 13-Hours when the CIA Special Forces contractors, against orders from their boss, are racing to help the beleaguered ambassador and his protection team and Jack Silva, knowing this ended his work for the CIA says, “You can’t put a price on being able to live with yourself.” This sentiment was also foremost in my mind.
On a different note, I must report on the all the chronic conditions that were eliminated by virtue of this 13-month burst of activity; psoriasis, gone and not returning; sleep apnea, it was bad, gone and not returning; neuropathy in left elbow causing half of left-hand to numb, healed; various skin blotches or spots, gone and overall skin condition improved; low-back issues largely eliminated; liver damage reversed; immune system restored. No doctors, no meds, no friends, no family…only God. The only thing remotely close to a med I took was aspirin.
A Gift of Insight & Angels of Healing Among Us
Something else happened at Equinox; as I encountered these various teachers and trainers I began to have the notion that these people were Healers in their own right. I met one Pilates Trainer, Nika Eshetu, and we shared stories; she had a kidney transplant at age 21, discovered Pilates to rebuild to her body and ten-years later is a Pilates Trainer, Sports Fitness Specialist & Patient Empowerment Advocate in an effort to help others with their own chronic pain, debilitating illnesses, injuries and fitness goals. I wrote a Profile story casting Nika as a True Healer and published it as a news release on the Internet. It was informative but concluded with observations from my heart. Coming from where I had been, I had sensed something special in her prior to learning the full story. The profile was so well received it was sent to multiple clubs and teachers and I got many compliments.
As a result, I began to quiz the other teachers whom my heart told me were Healers and wrote six more profiles; some of them had found fitness because of their own health or lifestyle troubles and discovered a new life in the world of helping others towards health and fitness. The stories were a hit and it all came from a new ability to feel and sense the goodness within them and their work; I shined a light on these people I barely knew who had never considered themselves Healers as they lived the hectic life of a fitness teacher/trainer. From my perspective, and from my Insight, they were Healing me and that was a Blessing from God.
An immediate, unexpected benefit from writing and publishing the Equinox Trainer Profiles was that the subjects, being flattered and amazed I took the time and effort to create a story about them, no student had ever done that, began to take a keen interest in my fitness progress, health and well-being. I would get flagged down and quizzed about what was going on; how is your diet, be careful of this, no don’t do that, yes that is good, keep up the work, etc. What an interesting development in this strange journey.
I have puzzled about this new aspect of my personality, and have decided it is another Gift bestowed on me from the Good Lord; I can’t explain it any other way; this becoming Michael Joseph was beginning to have implications beyond the saving?
I had lost everything and gained the world; I had been lost and was found; the final pieces of the puzzle were being put into place and the manifestations were profound, my instinct was telling me this everyday as That Gift continued to pour forth. The Dream, The Terms, The 40-Days, The Pain & Suffering, The Name, The Birthday, The Knowing, The Awakening and the Hoped & Prayed for Redemption…all of it combined to give birth to Michael Joseph Butler.
One More Piece of a Puzzle, the Angel of Mercy & Thanksgiving 2017
Briefly back to The Dream, as this closes many circles; the Angel of Mercy in The Dream is my stepsister, a beautiful woman who does indeed have the Face of an Angel. When it happened 13-months earlier, on October 12, 2016, I did something profoundly stupid and profoundly smart, I sent her an email reporting that she had come to me in a dream with a message from God, no details, just that. What I didn’t know was that she told everyone in the family and it became widely assumed I had gone off the deep-end. There was no reply and I had no contact with anyone, but having written the message it gave a date to others that would, hopefully, be validated by what I hoped would be a good result? As events unfolded, I wondered what I would say to her and what the reaction might be if This Thing worked?
How could I reenter the lives of those from the past as this new person; when I encountered an old friend, by accident, it was truly odd because he was talking to someone who didn’t exist anymore; he didn’t know me, had no idea what or who I had become, and it made me think about how my children might react, my old friends, my extended and immediate family? In addition, when encountering them all the unwanted “pain from my past” is going to come rushing back, the first test was coming.
My two-sisters, one from London, came to town for Thanksgiving and I was determined NOT to see them; then I relented for breakfast, it was awful for me and not because of them. The pain came rushing back through me like a bullet train from Hell! It felt like my guts had been torn out, wrapped around my neck and squeezed ever so gently and ever so tightly. I found out the Angel of Mercy told everyone about the email, Oh NO, and that I was invited to Thanksgiving with a large part of the extended family, OH, NO, NO, NO…I told them it was impossible, it was all pain and more pain and I couldn’t do it!
Then I got my thoughts together, got a nice haircut, and decided to face the pain within myself and go to Thanksgiving dinner, knowing the Angel of Mercy would be present. First, when I walked in the door many were floored at my appearance, they hadn’t ever, I mean ever, seen me like this, but they were looking at Michael and not that other person.
I felt nervous but good. I am eternally grateful to those who invited me, to my sisters for dragging me there and to everyone who made me welcome amongst them again, or really for the first time. Early on I went to the Angel of Mercy and said, “We need to talk,” she readily agreed. As we sat down, I told her an explanation was owed for the cryptic email sent 13-months before and related the specifics of The Dream, The Terms and gave a brief but kind of detailed look at my journey and then asked, “How does it feel to be genuine messenger of God?” She smiled and said, “I’m honored,” I was so relieved, it felt like a huge weight was lifted and a small measure of vindication achieved.
How strange it must feel to know your image and conversation in a dream changed someone’s life so profoundly, thank you My Angel of Mercy. An unexpected bonus was her husband, an Armenian Orthodox Christian, who told me the only thing he recognized when I walked in the door was the smile. At night’s end he told me how strong I was, and he was so glad I deeply desired to see the kids and to call him anytime, that was nice indeed. He must have been puzzled too about the email and his reaction is really appreciated.
Born Again or Born Anew?
13-months later little is left from before aside from the memories. Whomever inhabited this body is gone, another Whomever has been created…for good or ill, that is just the way it is & probably what was intended? From those words, “You will burn yourself to the ground or I will crush you,” something new and different was going to emerge either way.
A Goodbye & A Hello Seem to be in Order…MJB —12/25/17