"My Why"

Welcome to The Big Dog, it’s great to have you here to read not only what we’re about, but why this all started.

I’m like you (I know you’ve heard this before), but I truly am. Sure, our story isn’t the same, but I know we’ve all made the same type of mistakes, and made the wrong choices when it comes to speaking up and trying to “man up”.

Growing up, I was fortunate enough to have an awesome group of very close mates, a strong friendship that has lasted all the way from Kindergarten, to present day (25 years on…). I had experienced loss before in my life, my Grandma and younger Cousin in a tragic car accident when I was still in my teenage years - something I believe I’m still in a level of denial with to this day. It was in the face of this tragedy that I had begun a consistent journey of bottling up emotion, and playing the “I’m okay” card through any levels of adversity. I had been “taught” throughout a number of familial and societal factors, that speaking about anything from a source of sadness and pain, only made those around us uncomfortable. We were never equipped, or guided, on how to speak our truth - or how to handle the truth of those we love and care about.

I managed to push through the typical adversities you face in high school - assisted by being in one of the only year groups (Boys only school) where everyone got along, everyone was there for the benefit of the person next to them. Whilst this support network of friends allowed me to flourish and try my best to be who I wanted to be - the minute I got home, I had a persistent feeling of not only loneliness, but disappointment. Behind closed doors, no matter how well I was doing at school, university or sport, I was always my harshest critic.

As it all seemed to play out, the quietness I begged for at the end of the day to shut out any outside noise, only led to my own disappointed voices filling that “silent void”.

To escape these voices, I would start to do things I know weren’t healthy, or going to make me feel better after doing them (premature remorse). This ranged from acting out in a relationship, to a silent gambling addiction (something I only admitted to myself 12 months ago), to procrastination and alcohol. On the outside, I was a fully functioning member of society - but on the inside, I had lost all self-love and control. 

The 16th of June, 2017. My very first sleepover friend, my cricket batting partner, my first kindy friend, my gaming buddy, my second family for 80% of my life. This was the day that finally cracked that bottle of pressure, as the bravest man I knew lost his battle with a rare form of Brain Cancer at the age of 20. 

 I still remember everything that happened that day, from my Mum and Sister racing to my apartment to tell me the news in person, getting in the car and driving (with tears streaming down my face), arriving at one of the boys’ houses where we were all gathering to simply be together, the warm embrace of motherly hugs on arrival, to the stop-start crying that persisted the rest of that day. I didn't know how to react, what to think, or what to do.

My instant thoughts range from “why didn’t I visit him more”, “why was I such a shit friend at the end when he needed me most” to “I don’t want to play cricket without him anymore” and mostly just “why”. The thing about losing my best friend that made the entire process the hardest, was not knowing how to even communicate with his family anymore, the same family I had known for the previous 15 years. The same loving connection we shared was now a source of pain and devastation for us all.

It was this devastating loss that brought up everything I had been bottling up for the prior 5+ years of my life, and had taught me to begin not only reaching out, but sharing these thoughts, fears and emotions with one another… Or so I thought. 

3 years went by, we would hold annual celebrations for his birthday where all of us would meet up and celebrate the wonderful life, and human that he was. The stories we shared were always how much he made us laugh, how infectious his smile was, and how much we missed him. However, what we never spoke to each other about was all of the things we feared, or regretted. All the things we had been repeating to ourselves over and over for the past 3 years as if we weren’t worthy of forgiveness.

We all finally spoke up at the dinner this time, and started asking the right kinds of questions - the ones that had been eating at us all for 3 years. All of the questions were around us not knowing how to connect with his family since the passing, how to apologise to them directly for things we were holding guilt for, and how to best cherish his life in supporting his family. Personally, I haven’t been able to visit the family home since it all happened, other than to leave flowers at the front door from time to time - too scared to face his mother, from no fault of her own, from my own irrational fear that “I’m not good enough”, and that they would be ashamed of me. 

It was this ONE conversation with mates that began the process to set us free. Free from imaginative burdens, free from our own anxiety and the freedom of knowing I was no longer alone.

I started “The Big Dog” to, hopefully, inspire this conversation for more blokes, as early as possible in the face of any level of adversity. Typically, “The Big Dog” has always been a slang term used to either describe someone that is physically large, or the clear “alpha” of a group of mates - or alternatively a termed generally used by oneself to describe their own confidence and/or assertiveness around a topic or environment. It is also a ploy on “the black dog”, something that continues to savage it’s way through young men, with 75% of suicide’s in Australia being male.

It IS okay to not be okay, and it is well and truly time to break down this stigma. Whilst my inbox is always open to questions and conversation - “The Big Dog” is here to encourage everyone to be comfortable with speaking about their feelings with anyone, especially those closest to them. The greatest lesson I learned from my dearest friend, was that there was always something to look forward to, and something to smile about. 

If you’re reading this and have that burning feeling in your chest, or in the back of your head that you keep pushing back down - don’t. Take the first step to freedom and pick up the phone, text your group of mates for a catch up, give that bloke a buzz or even call Lifeline directly (13 11 14) if you feel like talking to someone with anonymity that is ready to listen.

Yours Truly,