This is the story of my attempted murder, and why I sought it out. It’s long, but it needed to be written. I’ve broken it down into three parts, which you can easily access here:
Part 1 – The Dark Cave of Chaos
Part 2 – The Furnace of Fear
Part 3 – The Forging of Mettle
Part 1 – The Dark Cave of Chaos
– Joseph Campbell
Fear and panic. The dark, wisping tendrils of terror that claw at the corners of your mind.
Most people don’t like to talk about their Fear. Or how much it plays a major role in their life. And it’s easy to understand why when you consider the effect it has on our psyche.
The natural human response to a threat we face, fear is the only emotion that causes us to freeze, or flee. Either in hopes of letting the threat pass by or in hopes of escaping to live another day.
Our fragile egos like it when we think of ourselves as smart, powerful, rational individuals, who have our shit together. We all have a plan for how things are “supposed” to go, and an understanding of how the world is ordered around us.
This combination provides the powerful illusion of control and safety, in which we make our best efforts at flourishing.
Maintaining this illusion is why your ego hates your Fear.
Acknowledging your Fear means the illusion evaporates. And the beast we turn into when THAT happens isn’t a beast your ego wants to be associated with.
Your ego doesn’t like the idea that it’s NOT in control
Which is unfortunate, because – far more than we’d like to admit – we are slaves to our lizard brain. We have practically no control over when our most primitive emotions kick in.
So, it’s probably wise to acquaint ourselves with our Fear and the effect it has on us, right?
Instead, most of us (including myself for the longest time) fear our Fear, and constantly flee from it because of how it makes us feel.
This is a huge mistake.
More than any other emotion, Fear has the potential to silently derail our lives to a truly horrible place.
Master Yoda revealed this to us perfectly with his infamous words…
I never fully captured the wisdom of Yoda’s words until recently.
I had always thought Yoda meant you shouldn’t FEEL fear, which seemed beyond me.
Because surely even Jedi (i.e. people made powerful by living up to their ideals) were still mortal. They weren’t impervious to fear, right?
But what Yoda was getting at wasn’t the ability to shut off your Fear. He was wise enough to realize that’s impossible.
What he was stressing was the importance of not succumbing to your Fear by letting it control you, lest you fall victim to the dark road that takes you down.
And this is more of a real danger to you than you may realize.
You see, whenever we openly talk about our Fear, it’s usually the kind of Fear that’s socially acceptable to be afraid of and talk about: a real, physical threat to your person.
Like that moment when you were in a car crash.
Or when you smelled smoke in your building and the fire alarm went off.
Or that moment when you were walking home late at night and some menacing thug held you up at knifepoint, demanding your cash and smartphone.
These are the situations that people DO talk about because it’s understandable that anyone would feel afraid in those moments. So, admitting to feeling your Fear isn’t seen as a sign of weakness.
The Hidden Force That Shapes Your Destiny
But there’s another kind of Fear, one that people don’t talk about because it’s less socially acceptable to discuss.
It’s a sneakier and more toxic beast. And – sadly – it’s also the one we face on a daily basis.
This is the quiet, screaming resistance we feel to doing the things we KNOW we should do, but which we’re afraid to follow through on.
This is the moment when you decide not to pursue music as a career, because you’re afraid you won’t make it or be seen as “good enough”.
Or the moment when you avoid the difficult conversation you KNOW you should be having with a close friend who clearly needs help with a drinking problem.
Or not telling your partner how you really feel about how your relationship has been going lately.
These are the “small” moments where the real battle with Fear is fought.
There’s no dramatic, impending threat to your life. It’s just you and your excuses, trapped in a private, indistinguishable moment, where you feel the urge to act.
But we don’t act. Instead, we freeze or flee, because we know that action in that moment would bring us face to face with what we’re afraid of most: The Unknown
The potential consequences could fling us into the Realm of Chaos, outside the comfortable order we’ve worked to establish for ourselves.
Meanwhile, our egos quietly re-assure us that it’s safer to live within our well-established order—even if it’s become a cage—rather than risk exploring the Realm of Chaos beyond the walls we’ve built.
The danger, our ego tells us, is that we might be eaten by the snakes and dragons of this world, which the walls were built to keep out.
But, in an effort to protect ourselves from The Unknown, the danger we face is that our life starts to deviate away from our Potential.
This is the ideal you KNOW you could achieve if you were your Best Self.
This is the person you’d be if YOU did all the things we tell children are important: be yourself; tell the truth; stand up for yourself; be the change; don’t cheat; exercise control; do the right thing; don’t try to earn anyone’s approval etc…
Basically, it’s you, if YOU were actually the hero in your own life story. But, it’s so easy for us to shy away from the role of the hero. Being a hero who fulfills his Potential is hard work, even if your destiny actually beckons you forward.
You see, your Potential is constantly trying to reveal itself to you, but with each passing moment where you succumb to your Fear, your Best Self realizes you’re actively moving avoiding your Potential.
This is what causes a low, brooding level of anger to start taking shape. Many of us choose to ignore it, but it’s there, bubbling beneath the surface.
The further we slip from our Potential, the stronger it grows.
I can’t think of any more accurate depiction of this sequence of events than Breaking Bad, the tragedy of Walter White.
A brilliant man who shirked his Potential and bowed to his Fear, until it brought about a level of anger and hate so immense, eternal suffering eventually fell to everyone he ever cared about.
Once this anger starts to take hold of you, it’s impossible to ignore.
You mightn’t FEEL angry in the same sense as you do when you’re taken by a moment of rage.
But you know it’s there when you start to notice that your conscience is torturing you.
Because you’re NOT doing what you KNOW you SHOULD BE, for no other reason than because you’re afraid of what the Unknown might bring.
Left unchecked, suffering is not so much a possibility, but an inevitability.
The scariest thing to consider about this process is that it’s often invisible to us. There’s no roaring event that seizes your attention. There’s no defining moment in which you consciously make a choice to move in one direction or the other.
No, it’s far sneakier than that.
It slides into your world, gradually, over time, without you even realizing.
That is… until it’s too late.
I know this all too well because I speak from experience.
It was a Fear of the Unknown that kept me in a job I hated… for years longer than I should have.
It was Fear of the Unknown that kept me in a relationship that I knew was never going to fulfill me the way I wanted it to.
And in both of these situations, it was my terrified ego that was only ALL too happy to LIE to me that things were OK, even though—deep down—I knew they weren’t.
The truth was that I was terrified of what The Unknown would bring if either of these chapters of my life came to an end.
Which eventually, they did.
But not by my choice.
Twice, Chaos and the Unknown came flooding into my life. And twice, I was forced to forge a new life into order.
That’s the thing about Chaos: it’s always there, lurking beneath the surface, waiting to shatter your illusion of control.
We can blissfully ignore it. But we’d be foolish to deny it.
I’ve come to realize that fearing the unexpected things The Unknown will bring is the most pointless waste of your mental energy you can imagine.
Another thing I’ve come to realize is that both chapters of Chaos resulted in two of the largest periods of personal growth I’ve ever experienced.
Far from leading me to a place to be legitimately feared, they’ve led me to a place where I ultimately feel more satisfied and fulfilled than ever before.
So, upon reflection, I started to ask myself:
“What was I so afraid of? Why didn’t I act sooner?”
This line of thinking has led me down a path where I’ve actively been trying to face my fears: personal, and professional.
First, to see how I behave when I’m forced to confront them.
But, also, because I realize now that behind each fear is something worth facing.
This quest of facing my fears would eventually lead me to Philadelphia, where I would seek out the most terrifying experience of my life:
Being on the receiving end of an attempted murder.
Shaking Hands With Terror
The story of my attempted murder begins back in February of 2017.
While going through the motions of my regular, everyday life, a post appeared in my Facebook feed.
Its author, Dave, was a friend of mine. He’d shared the details of an experience he had just been through. An experience called The Simulator.
You could wrap it up in two words: ‘harrowing’, and ‘profound’.
What caught my eye was this:
I knew Dave as a fairly level-headed guy. I’d met him through my “Internet Weirdo” ways and we’d connected over the fact that we were both Irish Weirdos, with an interest in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and UFC.
He struck me as the kind of guy who didn’t have a melodramatic bone in his body, so for him to describe the experience as “life-changing” left me genuinely curious about why it was so terrifying, and why he would put himself through such a thing.
I reached out, and after a short exchange, we arranged to meet in Dublin while he happened to be in town.
I’d met Dave in person before, but this time something seemed different. He was steadier. Calmer.
Not that he was a loose bag of screws to begin with, but there was a subtle shift.
My curiosity with The Simulator led to a series of probing questions.
For most of them, all I got was a shake of the head and a, “Sorry… can’t tell you.”
He explained that he was under NDA with TORIS, the company behind The Simulator. He wasn’t allowed to share any details about what they taught him, or what went on “behind the curtain”.
All he could tell me was that the objective of the workshop was to induce in each attendee a state of wide-eyed panic and fear, before dropping them right into the worst scenario possible: a fight for your life.
He especially wasn’t allowed to share how they made him so terrified. This was driving me nuts because that was EXACTLY what I wanted to know about.
As crazy as it all seemed, I had to admit… it sounded intriguing.
What stayed with me though was how he described the event.
The most terrifying, stressful, and transformative experience of his entire life.
Oh, and the workshop had a 0% student injury rate.
“How could they simulate a violent assault, but no one gets hurt?” I needed to know.
“Can’t tell you.”
From our past discussions, I knew that Dave was a legit purple belt out of a very strong Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) school. I wanted to know how his martial arts training held up.
“Let’s put it this way—at some point during The Simulator, someone who is FAR more capable than me at Jiu-Jitsu had to be reminded that they know Jiu-Jitsu.“
This was pretty distressing to hear.
I’d been training BJJ for about a year and a half at that point. I was still a white belt, but I’d gotten to the level where I could hold my own against some of the higher belts and could easily pound on the untrained newbies that were coming in the front door at my gym.
I’d started to become curious about how my skills would hold up in a street fight.
The classic masculine fantasy of taking control of a violent, chaotic situation had started to tickle my ego.
So, to hear that Dave, someone who was far more capable and experienced than I was, had fallen to shit under pressure when his life was on the line—when it mattered most—was… disturbing.
Dave gave the entire workshop his resounding recommendation. He even shared that he was going through a period of unforeseen growth after his struggle in The Simulator.
As someone who is heavily into personal development, I couldn’t help but lean in.
“Post-traumatic Growth,” he called it. I’d heard of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but never post-traumatic growth.
Dave, picking up on my interest, chipped in, “Check out their testimonials… that’ll give you a good idea of what you’re in for.”
Starting My Slow Dance With Death
I didn’t waste any time.
I ventured to the TORIS website wondering what I might find.
“The Simulator is the closest thing to combat, besides actual combat.”
“The 30 minutes I spent in The Simulator were the closest I’ve been to visiting my proverbial breaking point.”
“Oof. That sounds terrible.”
The intrigue began to grow.
Diving into their testimonials, it was obvious the footage was captured right after each participant had come out of The Simulator.
Fresh from their experience, I quickly started to notice a common theme.
These guys had obviously seen some shit.
But listening to their words, it was also clear they’d found something on their journey into The Dark Cave of Chaos.
To a person, they all said they were better for it.
Particularly haunting was the testimonial from “Red”, a guy who had been in the US Army for twelve years.
This is a guy who was a Special Operations assaulter, and also a sniper. He’d been through just about every bad ass military training you can think of.
Here’s what he said about his time in The Simulator:
“I’ve been through just about every physically and mentally demanding course the Army has to offer. Nothing compares to what I went through today.
It was its own animal. I have no way to compare it. Terrible.
It was an attack on all my senses, all my emotions. My decision-making process was flawed. It was physically and mentally draining.
There were points where I seriously felt like quitting and leaving. I was drowning inside my own body. There was absolute fear, and panic, and terror… and I truly believed it.”
(Emphasis my own)
So, there I was, staring at a video on my laptop of an elite soldier, who had been to war 7 times.
I could see that he was struggling to process an event that his military training didn’t prepare him for. Something more terrifying than anything he’d experienced in his 7 tours of active duty with US Special Operations.
And all I could wonder was:
“What would that FEEL like?”
How would I measure up? Would I measure up? What if I didn’t measure up? What would that say about me?
What if…? What if…?
An endless string of ruminating questions rang through in my head. I quickly collected a significant list of questions and doubts, all pointing me towards why this was a terrible idea.
And yet, through all the mental noise, The Simulator called to me.
I made the decision there and then to attend…
…and then promptly didn’t do anything about it for 3 months.
“You can get back to this later…” my ego whispered, as it silently won the battle to persuade me that it was in control.
Enter “Dr. Crane,” stage right.
Enter The Master Of Fear
As I watched all of the videos, there was a single voice that linked them all together.
The man behind the camera: Torin.
Jokingly referred to as Dr. Crane—the alias of The Scarecrow from Batman—he’s the evil mastermind behind The Simulator.
Torin is the guy that Law Enforcement Special Operations and Navy SEALs seek out for their personal training, to go beyond what they get from the average guy.
Imagine him as “the guy you’ve never heard of, who helps design training programs for the people you have.”
When it comes to understanding violence, fear and what it takes to survive a fight for your life, Torin is your guy.
We’d connected on Facebook and had a number of meaningful discussions about The Simulator. I explained that I was considering attending. During our back and forths, I got the sense that he was measuring me up, to see if I was the type of person that SHOULD go through The Simulator.
With no pressure involved, he assured me I was.
After making excuse after excuse for not applying, one day, in a moment of madness, I said “Screw it” and sent in my application.
“What did you just do?!”, my ego screamed.
The question hung in the air as my personal details trickled down the digital pipeline with a click of my mouse.
I needed backup. A close friend of mine, Ian, immediately came to mind. We had talked a lot about Fear in the past, particularly about the role it had played in shaping both our lives. He was also big into violence training.
He didn’t take much convincing.
As the event drew closer, a slow-burning anxiety crept into the basement of my mind. I continuously put it to rest, until I could ignore it no more.
The weekend of the workshop had arrived.
Part 2 – The Furnace of Fear
– Marilyn Manson
Touching down in Philadelphia, I receive instructions from Torin to meet him and a handful of others for dinner the evening before the workshop.
“Ask the hostess for ‘The Diaper Party.'”
A sick twisted joke?
Or a sign of what I’d be reduced to in a couple of days?
I couldn’t tell, but I knew I was already anxious.
Ian and I arrive at the restaurant and Torin greets us with a broad grin and warm welcome.
The dinner starts out as a light affair, with Ian asking Torin to explain his background and the history of the program.
Torin explains that he was asked by the training director of a federal law enforcement agency to design a training program, and their hope was that could figure out a way to “teach experience” to trainees before they were introduced to the field.
Turns out that the best officers in the field are the ones who have been through some shit. They’re better at recognizing real danger, and didn’t overreact to minor challenges. When you’re armed with the experience of what it takes to grind through the toughest moments, you’re a better person for it.
Developing this program set him down a long, dark path of exploring what it was like to experience a violent encounter.
So, working with special operations (military and law enforcement), he set out to understand and accurately recreate the sheer panic, stress, and fear of what it feels like to fight for your life. Minus the mortal risk.
This involved interviews with over 200 survivors of violent attacks/ambushes and years reading hundreds of research papers across fields such as neuroscience, psychology, education, and more.
The result of all that work is what’s now known as The Simulator.
As the discussion evolves, a group of previous TORIS attendees filters over to our corner.
We shimmy some tables together, making space. The bond amongst them is immediately obvious.
They half-jokingly refer to themselves as T██ ████████i
Torin asks them to share a small fraction of their time in The Simulator. In every case, a distant glaze slowly descends over their eyes. I can see them access the memory and then drift off to another world.
They start to describe what happened to them “in there”.
Eye contact is avoided, replaced with a 1,000-yard stare. They’re reliving it, right here, in the restaurant.
It’s nerve-wracking, but engrossing.
Every one of them described themselves as “changed”, armed with a new perspective on life.
A common theme was a reduced tolerance for bullshit—from others and from themselves—and an increased ability to handle stress in their everyday lives.
It’s clear the experience has meant a lot to them all, as they confidently state that it’s changed them for the better.
Eventually, the focus shifts to me, “So, why did you sign up?”
“For an experience…” I start.
“If you wanted an experience, you should have gone to Disneyland, bud,” one of the past attendees chirps in, setting off a series of grins around the table.
I explain, “Well, I don’t think I’ve ever really felt true fear. Sure, I’ve been scared, but how scared was I, really? How can I really know what fear is until I know I’ve properly felt it?”
“Hear, hear,” says Torin, as he raises a glass.
The conversation rolls back on around the table. One of the past attendees connects me with a training partner of his, who’s set to go through The Simulator the same time I am.
After getting the details sorted, Ian and I excuse ourselves and make our way back to the hotel.
Tucking myself in, I lay back, staring at the ceiling for an hour. My mind races through all the unknown terrors that I’d face in two days time.
“Have I made a terrible mistake?”
I’d soon find out.
Arriving At The Scene Of The Crime
** BEEP **
** BEEP **
** BEEP **
Rubbing the sleep out of our eyes, we grab our equipment and hurry out the door.
The day doesn’t start well after I realize our ride is at the wrong hotel because of a miscommunication.
Twenty minutes later he arrives. Watching him get out of the car, he towers over me at around 6’4″, built broad and strong.
He introduces himself as Dan. All I know is that he’s a serious BJJ competitor and a black belt who has trained for over 17 years.
I conclude that he would have no problem killing me if he wanted to. But he seems friendly, so I don’t think too much about it.
We grab some coffee and hit the road. On the way, the discussion drifts towards what’s ahead of us and why we’re all attending.
Ian explains that he’s always felt a weird ability for things to go calm when Chaos descends, and he’s looking to test his personal theory to the max.
Dan, who works at the hospital and also happens to be a serious competitor, explains that he likes to challenge himself. Getting through Murder Camp is what he’s set his eyes on as the next mountain to climb.
He goes on to share a bit of his history with violence, including a sketchy incident where he was slashed with a Stanley knife at a house party.
He shows us the 6-inch scar across his forearm.
At the same time, I can’t help but notice his other scar, which wraps deeply, right around his neck, from ear to ear.
It’s clear that Dan’s seen some shit.
At this point, I’ve given up on wondering whether I’m out of my depth. All I can think of now is how far down the water beneath me goes. And what monsters lay lurking for me in the Abyss.
We arrive at the workshop venue, a university campus about 45 minutes outside of Philly. This has been selected as the venue because TORIS is running a study with a psychologist Torin’s been working with. We’re all to be the subjects of some research on stress, cortisol, performance, and panic responses.
As I enter the large hall, I meet the other lab rats for the first time. Everyone’s friendly, though we’re all clearly on edge.
Torin walks everyone through the mandatory signing of an NDA, explaining that if we reveal any of the confidential materials of the workshop, we’re in a lot of shit. Considering what he’s capable of, I take him seriously.
After walking us through some basic safety procedures, Torin explains that what we’re about to learn isn’t about any particular style of fighting or any specific martial art.
Instead, what we’re going to learn about is what it takes to survive a violent assault and fight for your life.
“You will not give up. You will do whatever it takes to survive.”
Technically, we’re taught a carefully selected set of tools—ranging from medical fundamentals to dirty fighting hacks—that all work under stress, in the moment where it’s US or THEM.
Some of the more memorable techniques were what Torin referred to as T██ █████ ███████b and T██ ███████ ███e, which uses basic movement to help you respond to being stabbed, to keep the knife out of your gut.
As the day drags out, the techniques begin to blend into one another. I start to wonder how much I’m going to retain when the fight is thrust upon me.
Just as my brain begins to say “enough”, we wrap day one.
Our final piece of advice: “Get some rest, you’re going to need it”
Driving back to the city, the discussion turns to our impending Doom.
Everyone is trying to reassure themselves, “I think it’s going to be fine. I mean… that other guy did it like 3 times, so how hard can it be?”
“But that special forces guy did quit… I mean if THAT guy quit, it’s gotta be tough…”
“I wish no one had mentioned that failing would be an option… I thought everyone passed. Fuck, I don’t want to think about quitting.”
These thoughts echo through my mind as I lay down to rest for the night.
After another sleepless night, we arrive back at the scene of the crime, laden with caffeine and ready for whatever may come.
I notice that the crowd at the venue has grown, with some previous attendees showing up to assist Torin.
They’re all a selection of BJJ black belts, one of them a police officer who had been through The Simulator 4 times already.
They’re all wearing shit-eating grins, clearly reveling in the fact that The Simulator is about to claim another harvest of souls.
The energy in the room shifts as test time approaches.
Torin brings his presentation to an end with a slide that simply reads THE SIMULATOR, shifting gears to explain the details of what we can expect.
Each of us would complete five “turns” in The Simulator, with each turn representing a life or death struggle.
That meant that before each turn, Torin would trigger us with absolute fear and panic by d██████ ██ ██████ ██████r. It was in this state of mind that we would be dropped into the fire of a violent assault waiting to happen.
There, in the Furnace of Fear, we would Forge our Mettle.
“Mike, you’re up first…”
All eyes silently dart to the first victim, assessing how he responds to the call, looking for any sign of how the tone of the challenge will be set.
I’d spoken to Mike a fair bit over the previous two days. A soft-spoken and friendly guy, big into his firearms training.
He struck me as a guy who had his shit together and knew what he was doing.
But as I looked at him now, it was a different person looking back at me.
I knew why.
He knew what was coming.
This was Mike’s second time at TORIS, having previously failed to complete his first misadventure into The Simulator. He’d explained to me that he had immediately quit on turn one.
And yet, here he stood. Back after one of the most horrific and terrifying experiences of his life, to face his Fear again and pass the test he’d previously failed.
I couldn’t help but admire him. There was something heroic in choosing to face the Fear that he KNEW had already defeated him… and could easily defeat him again.
Mike gets escorted away to prepare for his first turn.
The electricity in the air starts to rise. Anticipation and anxiety are rife amongst all the attendees, as everyone paces the halls.
No one is saying it. Everyone is feeling it.
“What’s going to happen? How is all of this going to work? When will it be my turn?”
Suddenly, Mike emerges. His turn in The Simulator begins.
The attention of the group laser focuses on his every move.
I notice a gun on his hip, as he prepares to test his firearms skills under the most extreme circumstances.
The threat unfolds as three menacing guys start to advance on him.
Mike starts to backpedal, screaming at the ████ ███████ ████████ ██ ██ ████ █████████. I can hear in his shrill voice that he’s clearly terrified. There’s no play-acting happening here.
Things quickly go to shit for poor Mike. As “the walls close in”, he fumbles for his gun, struggling to get it out of the holster.
He’s tackled to the ground and a mad scramble begins.
Somehow, he manages to put bullets in ████ ███████ ████████ ██ ██ ████ █████████ and then ████ ███████ ████████ ████ ████ ████.
As the threat ends, I take a breath. Nice work, buddy.
And that’s when Mike r███ ███ ███ ██████ ██f and quits, yelling “Fuck this. I can’t do this. FUCK THIS. FUCK THIS!”
He █████ ███ █████ ████ ███ ██████ in front of him.
“Don’t quit on us, Mike. You CAN do this. Keep going. You have to get out of here.”
Mike digs deep. He ████ ███ ████ ████ ███ and calls in for support, finishing his first turn.
He gets a short break before ███ ████ ████ ██████, and his second turn begins.
It’s tough to watch the Fear take him once again.
He gets easily overwhelmed as the ████ ███████████████ ██ █████████ encroach upon him.
With each new turn, Mike looks for a way out, giving up and quitting. “Fuck this shit!! No fucking way.”
I catch a glance at his face each time it happens. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a man this distraught before. It’s something I’ll never forget.
But each time he tries to bail out, Torin coaches him through what has to be done.
To his credit, Mike marshalls his courage and finishes all five of his turns, battling through the Fear that had previously claimed him as a victim.
He disappears for a debrief and decompression after the obviously traumatic incident.
I look around the room. Everyone’s eyebrows are scewed in disbelief.
“What just happened?”
Without missing a beat, Evan, an experienced BJJ practitioner, is lined up for his first turn. When he re-emerges into The Simulator I can see ████ ████ ██ ████ ████ ███. He’s clearly out of sorts. Stumbling and moving erratically.
A ████ ████ ███ ████████ ██ ██████ █████████ ██ ██ ████ ███ him. He flinches, panicked at whatever threat he imagines lies within.
I grimace because I can see he’s completely oblivious to the ████ █████ ███████ ████████ ██ ██ ████ █████████ ████ ███████ ████████ ██ ██ ████ █████████slipping the blade ██ ██ ████ ████
Evan crashes to the floor and a fight ensues, the knife clattering away across the floor with a metallic rattle.
Halfway through the struggle, Evan ████ ███ ███ █████ ███ screams, “I can’t… I can’t… enough, enough.”
“Stick with it Evan, you’ve got this. Don’t quit.”
What IS going ON? Why is everyone giving up? I don’t understand.
Evan sucks it up and battles through his first turn.
As he’s claimed by the Fear again, it’s obvious that he’s a quick learner who’s vowed to take no prisoners.
For the remainder of his turns, he strikes first. The first person that comes near him in every situation is on the receiving end of a panicked fit of violence. His strategy is to take out any potential danger before it has a chance to materialize.
Flipping the bird to his would-be attackers, he ████ ███████ ████████ ██ ██ ████ ███████ ████ █████████. And with that, he’s ushered off for his debrief.
As Evan heads towards the door, Torin scans the crowd for his next victim.
“Don’t pick me. Don’t pick me. Don’t pick me,” my mind screams.
Yet, for some inexplicable reason, I give Torin a thumbs-up as his eyes settle on me.
He gives me a wide, sadistic grin.
The mark of a man who enjoys his work way more than he should.
Taken At The Flood
The first step in preparing for The Simulator is to █████ █ ██████ ██ █████ ██████ ████ ███████ ████████ ██ ██ ████ █████████.
Next, you strap on a heart monitor. I shimmy up my shirt and slap the device around my body, flinching unexpectedly as the cold strap meets my skin.
Torin waves me over to the preparation room. Walking in, he starts to lay out the details of what’s going to happen.
At the same time I ████ ███████ ████████ ██ ██ ████ █████████ ████ ███████ ██ ██.
Finishing up ████ ███████ ████████ ██ ██ ████ █████████ ████ ███████ ████████ with the details, he glances at the readout from the heartbeat monitor on his watch.
“Your heart rate is about 160 BPM right now. The rough max for a male your age is 180, so we’re going to wait for a few minutes for it to come down, so you have more room to play with when you get in there.”
Room to play with… WHAT THE FUCK DOES THAT MEAN?
“Ok, sounds good,” are the words that come out of my mouth.
No, that doesn’t sound good, you fucking muppet. Do you even realize what you’re saying?
The negative self-talk surfs in on the first waves of anxiety that are sweeping into shore. I’m trying to focus but, for whatever reason, it’s beyond me.
My mind is hijacking itself before things have even started. I wonder if this is from the p█████ ████████r.
“Just breathe, Ross.”
In through the nose, out through the mouth.
But I’m freaking out. I can’t understand why. What is happening?
Wait. If I’m freaking right now, before things even start, what chance do I have when shit gets real?
In. Out. In. Out.
Fuck… Am I going to be the guy that doesn’t make it through? I don’t want to be that guy. I mean if those guys tried to quit, what chance have I got?
Between my slow measured breaths, I look at Torin, “Don’t let me quit.”
He looks me over, “I’ll do my best to coach you through it… but… just don’t be a fucking wuss.”
Great. Thanks for that, Torin. That’s exactly what I am.
Fuck. That’s it. I’m doomed. I might as well give up now. What’s the point?
I’m just going to embarrass myself.
In. Out. In. Out.
Then a deep voice reverberates up from the base of my brain, “Shut up, Wimp. We got this.”
BOOM. BOOM. Bum. BOOM. BOOM. Bum.
BOOM. BOOM. Bum.
Is this working? Is my heart rate coming down?
“Ok, your heart rate isn’t coming down. I guess you’re going in like this…”
“WHAT?! NO! NOT LIKE THIS!!” my mind screams, “I’m not ready!!”
The panic takes a firm foothold.
Torin reaches out to █████ █ ███ ████ ████ ██ ████ and then █████ ████ █████ ████ ██████ █████. I have no idea what’s happening, when suddenly ███████ ███ █████ █████ ██ ██████ ███ ████████ █ █████ ██ ████████.
I flinch. My arms start twitching involuntarily.
Out of nowhere, terror starts to tear at the front of my mind. I feel myself slipping into another world. I’m falling away to a deep, dark place.
MAKE IT STOP! MAKE IT STOP! MAKE IT STOP!
All I want is for it to stop. Please make it stop.
But it’s too late.
The Fear is here.
I look helplessly at Torin, hoping he’ll take pity on me once he sees the terror burning through my eyes.
His face instantly communicates that’s never going to happen.
Every fiber of my being is screaming at me to find some way – ANY WAY – back to reality.
Chaos is pouring in from the edges of the known world, washing away any semblance of hope.
I’ve totally lost control.
“Stay with it, Ross. Focus on something…”
I latch my gaze onto Torin’s left pupil. I try to think of a peaceful scene. The river walk from my hometown flashes through my mind.
For a fleeting second, I catch a moment of tranquility.
But it doesn’t last. Another wave of chaos and terror crash down upon me, washing away all traces of my happy place.
That’s when Torin ███████ ███ ████ and grabs me by the head. He looks me dead in the eyes with a stare of granite and steel.
The world seems to stop. Everything is still.
“Are you ready to fight?”
Wide-eyed and sweating, I try to answer with as much conviction as possible.
All I can manage is a shaky nod of my head and a whimpered, “Yes”, between my panicked breaths.
And with that, Torin grabs me by the shoulders and turns me around.
The doors to The Simulator open.
Stumbling Into The Dark Cave of Chaos
“Ssk. Ssk. Ssk.”
The world has shifted. I’m in another realm, viewing everything through the dusty-tinted tunnel-vision that’s descended upon my perception of reality.
What’s going on? Where am I?
Wait, why is it dark? Weren’t the lights on a second ago?
I don’t recognize this place.
████ ███████ ████████ █████████ stand in front of me. Who are these people? What do they want?
████ ███████ ████████ begin to approach me. My vision scatters between them. They don’t seem friendly.
They’re all talking at the same time. There are so many voices. I can’t pick them apart. I don’t understand what they’re saying.
One is holding ████ ███████ ████████ █████████. Why is he holding a book? Did he just say Bible?
I can’t breathe. Why can’t I breathe?
Why are they still ████ ███████ ████████ ██ ████ ██ █████████ when I told them to stop? Did I say stop?
Yes, I’m screaming it at them right now. I take my first few panicked steps backward.
And then it hits me.
Oh shit. They’re coming for me.
Wait, why is he holding a book, again?
“███████ ██ ███████ ████████.”
“███ ████████ █████. I don’t want any trouble,” I scream, reaching into ████ ██ █████████ ████ ███████ ████████ █████████ at them.
One of them ███████ █ ███████ ███ █ ████████ me, I try to move and resist, but there’s no hope. It’s like I’m moving in slow-motion, and there’s no way to fast forward.
At the same time, everything’s a blur. I can’t tell anything apart.
Who said that?
I don’t know what’s going on.
Next thing I realize, I’m cutting someone’s Achilles tendon with a knife.
While the blade wraps around his ankle, I notice he’s wearing some bright, orange, Nike trainers. Swish!
But where did I get this knife? I don’t remember carrying a knife.
I can’t remember a thing. All I know is that I’ve been swallowed up into the big, dark belly of Fear, and there’s no escape.
Still, there’s a voice floating around me telling me ███████ ████████. Always ██ ████████ ███████ ██. Never ███████.
Then █████ █ ███ ████ ████ ██ ████.
Light returns to the world.
“Relax, Ross. You did great.”
I’m looking at Torin again. Where did he come from? Where did he go? Had I heard his voice?
“Look at that, your heart rate is at 130. Much better.”
Holy fuck. Thank God that’s over. I never want to go back there again. EVER. Fuck that place.
And then it hits me: Four more turns.
I want to quit. There’s no way I can do four more. I will lose my mind. It’s not possible. I can’t do it.
The same deep voice rings through from the basement of my being, “Focus on what you can control.”
In. Out. In. Out.
Broken images of what just happened flicker across my mind. Who had attacked me? Where had they come from?! Where did they go?!!
“Ok, time to go again,” Torin says as he █████ █ ███ ████ ████ ██ ████.
WAIT! NO NO, NOT YET. DEAR GOD… NO!!
But it’s too late. He’s already █████████ ████ ██ ████ █ ███.
The waves of Chaos come crashing in again. Darkness takes me.
The faceless figures return.
They’re back for my soul.
Next thing I realize I’m mounted on an attacker, ████ ████████ ███ ██ ████████ ███████, over, and over.
I hear the spectral sound of Torin’s voice from nowhere, like Ben Kenobi guiding Luke through his darkest moment…
“Ross, all you’re doing is ██ █████ ███████ ████████ ████ ████. You’re not ███████ ████ ████ █████. What should you be doing?”
“I need to end it. I need to ████ ██ ████t.”
Another turn flashes up, and I’m back peddling from ███████ ████████ ███████ ████, shouting ███████ ███ to stay back.
“Ross, you keep repeating yourself. You keep ███ ██████ ███████ ████████ and they keep c███████ ████████ ███████ ████████. It’s not working, what should you be doing?”
“I should be telling ███████ ████████ ██████████ ███ █████ ██████ ██████.”
Did I just say that?
It’s definitely what I’m thinking.
“That dude just ███████ ████ ███████ ████████ ███████ █████ guys!! Call the police!!”
Wait… What? No…
A ███████ ████████ ███████ ████████ with █ █████ ██████ comes at me, “I just want to talk.”
But what’s in his hand? FUCK! HE’S GOT A KNIFE!
He lunges at me, trying to put an end to my existence by driving his blade into my belly.
Not today, motherfucker.
I pull back and ██████ ███████ ██████ ███████ before I █ █████ █████ ██ ██ █████████.
Where the hell did that come from?!!
I’d never even thought about knife fighting until the day before. How the hell did I just pull THAT off?
And then it happens…
Part 3 – The Forging of Mettle
– Carl Jung
The first tattered shreds of my sanity finally being to swoop in, like a murder of crows coming home to roost.
A moment of relief washes over me as I realize I’ve ended the resistance of the final threat on my final turn.
I scan my environment for █████ █████ ███████ ██ ██ ██ ████████ ███ ███████. There is no one else.
I remind myself to focus and control my breathing.
I still have to ████ ███ ███████ ██ ██ █ ██████████ incident. The phone ringing in my ear, my eyes are still fixated on the █████ man, ███████ ████████ ███████ on the ground after I ███████ ████████ ████ █████ trying to stab me in the gut.
The exhilaration comes to a head as █████ █████ ███ █████, ██ ██ ████ ███ ███ ████ ████. My Simulator run officially comes to an end.
Twenty-five minutes have passed. It’s felt like an eternal blink of an eye.
I’m on an immediate high. I’d made it. I hadn’t tried to quit.
Or had I?
I can’t remember. I don’t care. I’m still alive. That’s all that counts.
Torin and the group █████ ███████ █████████ ██ ██████████ ████.
As I bound out the door for my post-Simulator interview, a wide grin spreads across my face.
Then I’m put in front of a camera. For the first time, I’m made to relive my trauma.
There’s no distinct emotion while I’m recalling the events, just a great roaring flame from my inner core. It’s obvious that I’m in a state of shock. I try my best to answer the questions directed at me.
I’m being asked to search for words to describe what the man in the just Simulator went through.
What I just went through.
Are they the same person? It’s not obvious to me right now that they are.
It feels like an impossible task, searching for words to describe what just happened.
All that I can do is open my heart and let the truth flow forward, as best I can.
Passing Through The Dragon’s Gate
Interview done, I slip back through the door into the hall.
I see that others are waiting their turn, chatting as the next sorry son-of-a-bitch gets strapped up for his turn in the tornado.
I’m smiling and happy. I say to myself again “You made it through! Nice work.”
Others start to ask me what it was like. They’re wondering if they’re going to make it too.
That’s when I notice that conversations are kind of hard to hold. Or rather I’m losing track of when it’s my turn to reply. My brain is getting hijacked by flashbacks of 15 minutes ago.
The only time I can focus is when I’m watching the other attendees take their turns.
I empathize as I watch them all make the same simple mistakes I made.
Things that seemed so obvious a few hours ago, but are impossible now because The Simulator has pinched their common sense right out of their skulls.
They’re not ████ ███████ ████████ ██ ████████ when they should be. They’re not responding when someone ███ ██ ███ ██████ █████ ███. They’re staying in ██ ██ ████████ for too long and getting ███ ███ ███████ ████ ██. They don’t realize they’re getting stabbed in the back.
The rest of the day whizzes by in a blur. I pay as much attention as I can, but my mind is no longer my own.
This much is obvious as we’re driving back to Philly with Torin and the crew.
The day done, night has descended and the conversation is flowing around the car. I’m relaxed and smiling.
Out of nowhere some lights flare up and hit me funny.
A wave of anxiety rolls up from my stomach.
I’m mid-conversation with Torin, who’s explaining some of the finer details of the research that went into The Simulator, when orange light from some roadworks bounces off his eyes.
I can see the fires of hell burning straight through from the back of his head.
“Is this how post traumatic stress feels?”, I ask myself.
I can’t tell because I’ve never had it. I start to control my breathing.
In. Out. In. Out.
Things return to normal. I blink and then it’s back to the conversation again.
Ian and I get dropped at the hotel and make our way to bed. My body aches. My mind races.
Sleep eventually crawls into my mind.
Living With The Dull Roar
The next day, it’s back to reality. At least, some semblance of what it used to be.
Somehow things are different.
I realize that my situational awareness has shifted weirdly.
I’m clearly dozy from lack of sleep, missing the smaller details in little things that I’d normally spot, like when I’m in the wrong queue at a coffee shop.
But I’m hyper-aware of potential threats. Everyone’s eyes are scanned for intent.
“Who’s this guy coming at me? How much ███████ ████████ ███████ ██ ██ does he have ███████ ████████ ████ █? What’s he got in his hands? Nothing? Good.”
This is a new part of my brain that wasn’t active before.
Strangely though, there are no sharp pangs of paranoia that usually set off an anxiety.
Instead, there’s a dull roar, just beneath the surface. It’s like I have a new security system installed that’s scanning my environment, reassuring me that I have nothing to be afraid of.
Walking the streets of Philadelphia I feel calm and assured.
I arrive at another coffee shop to do some work.
Sitting down, the dull roar surfaces, “Can I see the door? If something happens, where am I going? What exit am I taking?”
My laptop opens and I start to set about my digital day, but before I know it I’ve slipped back into the fog-obscured, dark hall of terror.
The Simulator surfaces as I calmly process the struggles of what I went through.
What was I doing again?
Shit, ya… I was supposed to be replying to that email.
None of this processing feels scary. In fact, reflecting on the most terror-inducing part, with ██████ ████████ ████████ ██ ██ ███ ███ █████ █████ ██ ███████, I can’t help but laugh.
Funny, at the time, it was the darkest moment of my life. Now, it makes me chuckle over the lid of my laptop.
My mood lifts and I realize that the workshop was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.
“You did good. You can rely on the guy that showed up. He’ll keep you safe.”
The sun is shining and it’s a beautiful day.
Work done, I see it’s time to get to the airport. It’s time to go home.
I call a cab and spend the entire trip replaying the events of my near death experience.
My mind pulls out a moment when I’m backpedaling from ████ ███ ███████ ███████ ████ trying to murder me.
Next moment I’m hip escaping from underneath ██████ ███████ █ ████, trying to █████ ████ ██ ████ █ ████. Then there’s a flash of my boot, up-kicking someone in the nuts and then his face.
A Facebook notification snaps me out of my daze. It’s TORIS’s new promotional graphic.
A dark set of eyes stare at me, with the words “Are you ready to fight?” blazed over them.
I flinch and grin at the same time.
“Yes, I’m ready to fight”.
The New Reality of Fear
Looking back at my time in The Simulator, I’m struck by how much it relates to our World of Heroes.
The heroes in our stories, the people and characters we admire most, are those who willingly stand to face the threats their world present.
They march off to fight the Snakes and Dragons that call to be vanquished because it’s what must be done.
And we admire them because they stand up to face the Unknown when that call comes. Even when the odds seem insurmountable, and present a real risk to life as they know it, they choose to face their Fear and do what needs to be done.
What’s interesting though is how we tend to characterize them. We often think of them as Fearless.
It’s a funny thing we do, stripping our heroes of the ability to feel Fear.
Because not only is it bullshit, it robs them of what makes them heroic. They’re the Hero BECAUSE they chose to act in that moment when they felt the same thing everyone else did.
ALL humans feel fear. Especially the Heroes. And that fact terrifies us.
Maybe we attempt to strip them of their Fear to excuse ourselves from heeding our own calls to action.
“Of course THEY could act. THEY are FEARLESS. But not me. I’m terrified.”
Is this the quiet story we comfort ourselves with, as we bow to our Fear and shirk our Potential?
The reality of our existence is that everyone feels Fear. It’s the natural response to a dangerous and risky situation.
A response over which we have NO control.
In light of understanding that, and by spending some time in the Furnace of Fear, I’ve come to realize that the secret to reaching your Potential isn’t in finding a way to become fearless.
No, the secret is learning how to Face your Fear. And then thrive in the face of the Chaos it represents.