Redemption & Ritual

My name is Nate Holley. I am 28 years old from Huntington West Virginia. I am married to the most beautiful woman in the world and we have two incredible children. My life today seems, at least to me, to be picturesque, but it has not always been this way. I have been through hell and back in the time I’ve spent on this earth and frankly I’m surprised I’m alive to write this down. I do not want to gloss over any of what I am about to say because it is very important to me and it has made me into the person I am today, but I will be brief as to not write a lengthy novel. In essence, this is how ritual, in one form or another, took me to hell and brought me back to life…

At 20 years old, I found myself dealing with the horrific reality of being diagnosed with cancer. I had a grapefruit sized tumor in my abdomen and a head full of overwhelming fear and uncertainty. The doctors explained to me that they had to take out a large segment of my colon and a substantial chunk of muscle out of my right abdomen in the process. I was never even going to be able to do sit ups again. They told me before they sent me to surgery that it was very likely I would wake up with a colostomy bag that I would carry with me for the rest of my life. When I awoke from the operation I was in such intense pain that I could not stand to be conscious for more than a few moments before passing out again. The sheer agony I withstood is indescribable to this day. The days following my surgery I lay in a hospital bed in what, at the time, seemed to be the lowest state of mental health anyone could ever reach. The physical suffering allowed me no movement so I could do nothing but lay still and cry. The sedentary position I was stuck in allowed fluid to fill my lungs and if I was unable to get it out, I would die. For days, I would gather literally every ounce of strength I had just to spit out this fluid into a cup. Every second seemed like an eternity until they finally released me.  Feelings of loneliness and despair consumed me in the year that followed as I went through the chemotherapy treatments they had prescribed me. My body was beyond frail – it was only capable of lying on the couch, watching TV, and consuming drugs. My sick body was a vessel for my sick mind and broken spirit as I stumbled through a life I could muster neither pride nor passion for. This whole period in my life allowed the opioid addiction I had spent the previous couple years diving into, to spiral even further out of control.

For the next several years after going into remission I lived only to consume drugs. Every hope and dream I ever had for my life was thrown away to get the next one. I did everything I said I would never do. I robbed people, hurt people, stole, lied and manipulated to get what I needed. My life was absolute chaos in which I sought comfort through the rituals of my drug use. Even though I couldn’t stop using, I had control over the very specific ways in which I would get high. To a person of sane mind, it would sound sick, but after spending all of my energy acquiring the drugs, my intimate rituals of using them became something I depended on almost as heavily as the drugs themselves. The energy I put into a negative, defeatist type of ritual had morphed me into the lowest of the low. I wound up living in a slum with no electricity and no food or running water. Life was meaningless, I had lost all friends and family and I was on the verge of death. I was malnourished and sick physically, mentally and spiritually. Every second of my existence was misery and I was at rock bottom. I had two options: lay down and die or change my life. Laying down in defeat is not my style so I sought help. I found a means for recovery and it is still a crucial part of my life today.

After entering recovery, I was still living with the physical consequences of cancer and drug abuse. I was in almost constant pain in my abdomen because the muscles surrounding my surgical scar had atrophied and I couldn’t raise my hands above my head without being brought to my knees. Upon the suggestion of my doctor I began to exercise. It didn’t take long before the challenge of powerlifting was enticing me. I became obsessed with learning about powerlifting and I scoured the internet to find like-minded individuals around me I could train with and learn from. I found Tim Paynter and he invited me to the gym where he trained. I tested all my maxes that same day and I was hooked. The mental and physical integrity one must possess in order to progress in this sport is something I was immediately drawn to. The intensity that I had used in self destructive ways could be channeled in something more positive. My whole life I had been so passionate about things. I always say that I am passionate about passion. The problem was, I was infatuated with the wrong things, destructive things. Powerlifting gave me the ability to have a fire in my belly for something, without taking away the aggressiveness I always desired. The ritual of this sport has made my mind and body strong. This unwavering strength is something I had been searching for my whole life. Today I find intimacy and comfort in an attempt to grow as a person in all areas of my life and powerlifting facilitates this process for me. I find solace in the fact that as I refine my ritual, my body and mind will only become stronger. This not only benefits me, but my family and the people I choose to surround myself with.

If you find yourself down, remember, you have a choice.