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001. Hard vs. Strong

Updated: Jun 22, 2021

What do durability, resilience, and metallurgy have to do with breast cancer & relationships?


Episode Summary:

In this episode of the Your Killer Life podcast, my husband Griff joins me as we talk about the difference between being hard and being strong. Using personal examples, psychology and metabolic science we traverse the impact of trauma and the socially accepted thought processes behind recovery. We observe where the strengths and weaknesses lie in accepted practices and address personal fallout from ignoring physiological imperatives during trauma and post-traumatic events. Finally, we outline tools that have been helpful to us and goals to navigate and triumph over life-altering loss and pain.

“If we focus on that hardness, being out of that pain, that crucible immediately after, whether that's through work, sex, alcohol, drugs, that that may steel us to the, the cutting through life. But we will be subject to additional impacts.” -Griff Woodford Click to tweet

Topics in this Episode:

  • A metallurgist’s guide to trauma

  • You can transcend fear

  • The right choice is usually the hardest choice

  • Dark times and the sympathetic nervous system

  • Service related trauma/traumatic environment

  • Right place, right time

  • Know there can be something better for you

  • Giving yourself grace is critical to gaining strength

  • Proving the model

  • The first of many tools

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  • This podcast is professionally edited by Roth Media


Tammey: Hello and welcome to the Your Killer Life podcast. I am your host, Tammey Grable-Woodford, and I am very excited today because I have my cohost with me, Griff Woodford, and he's going to be joining me at least on one podcast each month, and we really wanted to, at least, I wanted to, we'll talk about what I was hoping from this then, and then I'm going to toss it over and we're going to talk with him about how I roped him into it, but really wanted to make sure that we didn't just talk about things from the cancer perspective, but that we also talked about things from the caregiver perspective. So today we're going to be talking about durability and resilience. And Griff, you want to tell us a little bit before we get started on that, about why you're here and what your, your hopes and goals are for being here.

Griff: Well, certainly. So, as I'm sure you guys have figured out by the last name, we are in fact married. So our, um our relationship in our marriage over the past five years has offered us, quite a few opportunities to improve in our durability and resilience, not just cancer alone, obviously everything that goes along with that.

So being the cohesive unit that we've been able to form, it's a, it's important to offer additional outlooks and additional path to what has led us to be successful. So why I'm here is again, how to be successful and not so much in the monetary or the social aspect, but in the aspect that none of us get to get out of… that would be trauma.

Every person. Faces some sort of trauma, life altering trauma throughout their existence. Whether that's, you know, watching your cat run over when you're six years old to ongoing sexual abuse by a parent, obviously there's large degrees of variance between trauma, but everyone does experience it.

So why I am here is to offer one of my aspects and outlooks on how to not just be successful during the, during that period of trauma, but the, the aftermath of that trauma and in my experience, and the observed experience of others, is that it’s often the aftermath of that trauma. Once the, the pain and the, the immediate pressure is off, then now what? You know, now how do we recover from that and how do we go on to live a better life after that as opposed to being mired in it?

Tammey: I so appreciate that. I, you know, as you talk about trauma, I can, I can actually feel my body tensing up. And, and I guess that's one of the gifts I think coming out of this is I'm so much more aware of my own response to stress, but it's interesting to me that still just words have that much impact in power.

A metallurgist guide to trauma

So, you talk about hard versus strong and. Where does that idea come from and how is it a applicable to being successful in sort of, you know, during trauma and then of course, after trauma?

Griff: Well, the, the concept of, of hard verse drawing is certainly not a new one. The, the, the difficulty that many of us face, and I would say in particular, it's, there's more of a lean to it based on, men. You know, from very young, young age, we're conditioned both socially and biologically to, to be hard as it were, to to not show emotion, to get up, dust yourself off and move on like nothing's happened. So, where the differentiation comes in from, from me and the, the point of the podcast in the first place is actually from two different, different aspects.

Metallurgy and recovering from breast cancer

First, my personal aspect and also from, from military, my time in the military, and then also, the correlating careers afterwards. So where, where to best describe the difference between being hard and being strong, as you obviously know, honey, I, I like knives in particular. I like metallurgy behind the knives.

You know, w w why is it that a knife that looks, looks the same, made of the same steel and even has same geometry? Why is one so much more capable than the other? Well, it comes down to effectively heat and pressure. So making a hard knife where, where hardness is categorized in, in metallurgy is its ability to resist abrasion where a strong knife is measured in ductility or its ability to absorb sudden and massive impact.

How, how, how does that, how does that knife become hard? How does that knife become strong? Again, it comes down to heat and pressure. So we can associate that with a crucible, is actually what it's, what the term is, is called, it's this large oven that applies heat and pressure to raw steel.

So, to create a hard knife goes in the crucible, then it is immediately quenched. Once it's out, once it's reached at that critical temperature, it is taken out and plunged into a quenching agent. A strong knife undergoes the exact same heat, the exact same pressure, but as left to sit, it is left to cool. It is left to stay in that heat until it is ready to be molded into something different.

So, the same applicability comes to us. Um, I'm not gonna necessarily difference between American, European. what have you. It's part of every culture. Uh, not just men, but women as well, is as soon as we are out of that, that crucible that we immediately move on to something else. Get rid of that pain, get rid of that, that associated horror and terror of the crucible that we were just in. Trauma, right?

You can transcend fear

Your Killer Life transcending fear

It is bordering on unacceptable to just sit in it. To allow it to do what it is there to do. What trauma, what loss, what grief is there to actually do. That is to transcend fear. That is to strengthen us.

So, in practical application, what's the difference between a hard knife and a strong knife? Well, hard knife, you can cut through a lot of things. Without having to reshape, without having to do anything to that, to that blade, that edge, that geometry, you can cut and cut and cut and cut and cut.

A strong knife is meant to absorb impacts.

If a hard knife is subjected to the same, same force that a highly ductile knife is, it shatters. It becomes unusable. It cannot be remade. Whereas a strong knife can be subjected to immense impact, and sudden impact, repeated impact and all it's necessary is to bend the blade back into shape and rehone it. Then it is the exact same knife when it started.

So, I think we can kind of get the idea where I'm going with this. Why hard is not applicable. There is so much less… use. Right? And then that's what we all look for as people. We want to be useful. Useful to ourselves, useful to our spouse, our friends… the people that are, that matter to us, society. If we focus on that hardness, being out of that pain, that crucible immediately after, whether that's through work, sex, alcohol, drugs, that that may steel us to the, the cutting through life. But we will be subject to additional impacts. There's no way to get out of that. So, when that does happen, now we become un-mendable as opposed to that strong knife who, who that strong person - who going through the same trauma… the same crucible… sit allows it to do its work. When that's done, when that temperature reduces, when that pressure reduces, naturally, we become so much more useful than a hard knife.

The uh, the reason why we don't do that, right? I mean, it sounds like, well, this is the obvious answer. The reason that we don't is because it is unequivocally the worst pain a human being can feel. There was no comparison. You know, honey, you know, the, the career choices that I, that I had for my entire adult life subjected me to significant physical injury, repeatedly.

The right choice is usually the hardest choice

I can tell you that I would gladly and gleefully accept every single one of those physical injuries at the same time, than what it felt like to lose Titus, my dog, for everyone who's

Griff Woodford and his doberman Titus

watching. That's why we don't do it very often, and the thing of it is too, is it's not something you can necessarily do alone either.

So that's another, another aspect to be aware of, and I would say actually really critical aspect to be aware of is the person going through that, that natural cooling process after this is, and I can speak from personal experience, the observed experience of others in this, is we don't want to be a burden to those around us.

Tammey: Right.

Griff: We don't want to subject people that we love, we care for, that we're responsible for, to us not being able to function for a, you know, a specific period of time, whether it's a day or in one of my cases, nearly four months. You know, that's another very large factor to this. So I'm referring to my notes, so I don't go over, this is a topic that could be spoken on for hours and still not be really covered, but…

Dark times and the sympathetic nervous system

Tammey: You know, it's interesting thinking about the framing of hard versus strong and, and durability and resilience and thinking through, because breast cancer, any, any cancer, I'm sure, but I can only speak about breast cancer because that's, that's my experience and what I know.

Tammey Grable-Woodford recovering at home from bilateral mastectomies

But you know, we've talked about the five stages of grief, and loss and how, you know, you go through that, that initial loss of just hearing the news and then you go through the loss with the mastectomies, and it's, it's almost like you're constantly, or you're like a ping pong ball in a high velocity, in a very small space with grief bouncing back and forth between where it is you're supposed to be, because it's like every three months or every doctor appointment, you're getting a different type of news, a different type of loss, something new to be angry about or in denial about or, or just feeling like it's unjust, it's just maniacal in how it feels. And so, would you describe sort of that process as part of the, I dunno, that interim cooling of…

Griff: Exactly, that's exactly what the five stages of grief are, and in fact, it's, it's interesting. And I did not include in my notes the actual name of this chemical, but, and you and I have talked about this before, is, actually allowing and not just allowing, but seeking out the stages of grief there.

There is a, there is a difference to that.

Allowing is a sense of just kind of laying back and whatever happens, happens. As opposed to being proactive in this process. So, with that, the stages of grief are effectively designed around your psychological, emotional, and physiological response to trauma and to grief, and how those need to work together in order to actually be successful at not just, I won't say in particular, during trauma. That's when that sympathetic nervous system stuff's going on, that fight or flight mechanism. So you really don't have access to those things. But afterwards, that cooling down period as it were, you know.

There, there's a chemical, it's secreted in one place, only one place in the entire anatomy and physiology of the human being that is directly correlated to the, well we'll just say getting through grief and loss. Part of the acceptance period, or excuse me, the acceptance process and also being able to process tremendous grief, loss, trauma, and is only secreted in tears. Meaning that, that is a critical part of it. And again, we have that conditioning of being hard.. “doesn’t bother me, I'm fine. Get back to work.”

Allowing yourself to, to, to cry. Right? And not just the, you know, the brief, maybe on your way to work then get yourself together. But to the degree that your, your body requires, and the cool thing is about that is your, your anatomy, physiology and your psychology all communicate. You'll know. You'll know when you're ready. You'll know when you're done. Um, trying to to hinder that process, that's, that's not how we do this. But you know, again, going back to the, that original statement of not wanting to burden others. And, you know, we all have responsibilities, whether it's work, family, school, we all have those responsibilities. And the reality is that grief often gets in the way of that. And you and I both know that. But, you know, here's the thing is you can deal with it now, or you can, not deal with it, and then it never leaves you. It always stays with you.

Service related trauma and a traumatic environment

And this is, where I think of the military a lot is there is a, a centralized focus, particularly in the unit that I was in. The requirements that were put on us physically, and psychologically and emotionally is you are going to be hard. You know, strength, the, the, the term strong was measured only in, in physicality. Hardness, that was the psychological, the emotional aspect, of you are unflinching no matter what happened.

And the, the 22 suicides a day says that's not correct.

Tammey: Right, service suicide?

Griff: Exactly. Yeah. Exactly. Service members leaving that environment, which that is the, the standard. That is the gold standard of hardness. You are not to do this, you are to complete your tasks, complete your mission, take care of those below you and above you.

And that's why we have what we have, that's where the 22 a day, part of where the 22 a day comes from, is not allowing what is physiologically necessary to occur.

Tammey: I remember it took a long time for me to, to cry and to feel, I suppose, safe enough to cry. There was so much chaos, so much confusion, so much shock. You know, there was just so much.

And, do you remember what you said to me, when I did finally allow that breakdown?

Griff: What… the, the part that sounded like a wounded animal?

Tammey: Yeah, I didn’t mean to pop quiz you… Yeah, that it was that raw, that, that raw, that powerful, that painful, that overdue.

Griff: Yes. I think overdue is probably the most accurate word of all of that.

But then again, for the exact same reasons that we're talking about it, like I said, it's, it's not. It's not necessarily gender specific. I mean, you are, you're my example of that. You know, based on your lifestyle, your career choice, you're, you're, you're rearing. You know, it's the same exact thing of not allowing that, utterly necessary tool to be used.

Tammey: I had no idea. I really, I really didn't. And you know, it's one of those things I think back to when I was first diagnosed, and I literally left the doctor's office after being told you have cancer and a lot of it, I went to red lobster and I had a glass of wine and poked at a cheddar biscuits, and then I went to, I went to work. And I didn't call my sister or my mother or my brother because I knew that making that phone call, I would be crying.

But those tears actually would not have been for me. Those tears would have been for them receiving that news and their fear and their concern and their sadness and trauma and shock. And you know, I knew what I was going through and I could only amplify that from my mother. And, because nobody wants to hear, hear that about their child. So yeah, it was definitely long overdue.

Griff: You know, it's interesting that the timeline as you, as you, spoke, well just now of in fact and referenced earlier is, you know, the, there is, there is a difference with that, you know, and the, that's part of the, actually the first stage of grief is shock or denial, right?

And that references the sympathetic nervous system, that represents the fight or flight mechanism. You know, when one is active, the other can't be right?

So it's, no surprise, and I would say probably correct, as correct as it can be anyway, that you know, you can't access something like that. Like hearing that news, losing that, that family member, losing that pet, the, the, you know, finally, or even just finally getting out of that traumatic situation, whatever that is, you know, that that fight or flight response, that adrenaline response, that sympathetic nervous system response is still so active. You know, don't expect that, you're going to be able to access these things immediately because you've been physiologic… physiologically can't. You know?

And, and for you in particular, it was months.

Tammey: Yeah, it was.

Griff: Literally, it was two or three months afterwards. And just because there was no slowing down, it wasn't necessarily even that either of us was for trying to ignore this, you know, “Oh Holy crap, this is bad. You know, this is life altering.” It's just, there was, there was no break. So, I suppose, you know, for our listeners and for us in the future and, and you know, cause again, something like that is going to happen again. Not cancer, but…

Tammey: But trauma… loss

Griff: Right. We don't get to get out of that. You know, recognizing and being emotionally astute enough to understand that there's probably going to be a period of time where I just simply can't, but when it is ready is not ignoring it. Not denying it, I think is probably the better word. You know, allow it to occur.

Griff Woodford and perfect timing - Your Killer Life

Right place, right time.

But just as you said, that's kind of the trick... is it does require a safety because without safety, that sympathetic nervous system response is still active. It's still going to keep going. You know, that's where the aftermath process is, that's really where it begins. Once you are in a place, both physical or, and or, psychological and emotional of, I can, I can access, access these, these critical elements of survival of processing, of getting out from the, the hold of that trauma, you know…

Tammey: Not staying stuck in that fear and, and locking it, locking it all away, imprisoning it and yourself with it.

Griff: Absolutely right. Absolutely. It took me two decades to get to that place. Literally 20 years, because of that, I mean, there was no place of safety. You know, based on what I was doing, not just as a career though that had a large part of it, but also who I chose to associate with, who I chose to spend my time with and who I chose to be as vulnerable as I felt I could be, I suppose, around these people who were not my people. So, 20 years, you know, 20 years that I'm not going to get back. 20 years could have made a considerable difference, you know?

And think about that as far as listeners, right? How much, how much time have you spent with the people who won't allow this, who won't allow you to get through what you need to get through to get out from under that trauma? You know? It was, that's where I was. I was stuck for two decades and the first drama, let alone the, the, the suitcase full of traumas within that 20 years.

Tammey: It's… amazingly powerful and liberating when you can make your way through it and it's such a dark place when you're stuck in the middle of it.

Griff: Yes, it is. Yes, it is both. Yes. 20 years of being in that, that dark place, not being able to trust myself, not, not having faith in myself that I could even make good decisions based on that.

And then coming out of that and realizing I'm an entirely different person. I'm a trustworthy guy. I am, I'm okay. Right? I'm, I'm a pretty cool guy to be around.

Tammey: I think so.

Griff: Right? Yeah. You know, and that's the thing, before I switched that focus from being hard to being strong, I wasn't. And nobody can be, that’s the thing.

Know there can be something better for you

And I'm not saying that anyone, that everyone or really anyone, that you know, does just kind of straight and narrow this, just keep cutting type thing, you are obviously not bad people. I… maybe you are, (jokingly)

Tammey: (laughing) No… no…

Griff: I dunno, if you're listening to this you are probably not.

But there is so much more that is available to you. And it just is. I mean, the ability to transcend fear, despair, to not have to be afraid of the next trauma, to have that complete and utter confidence in yourself that it doesn't matter what happens, I know I can manage this.

And imparting that to the people that matter to you, you know? That's, that's the payoff here. That's to me in particular, being that source of, of strength. To you, to the family, to, to people who rely on me, to people who I'm responsible for, the, the few people that I do let in. To be that person to them, because now I can.

That's, that's the point. That's, well, that's why it is worth it. That's why it's necessary.

Giving yourself grace is critical to finding your strength

Tammey: You and I have talked a lot, and we'll probably cover this in another podcast, either a solo, or… or together, but that power of vulnerability. And when framed in this way, when you're thinking of, of hard versus strength and how, I know for me, and I can only speak for myself, that when you have so much fear and you are protecting yourself through the hardness. There's so much fragility there…

Griff: Yep

Tammey: …that it's easy to kind of shatter, with words that someone says to you with, you know, you make a mistake that you don't normally make because there is so much stress and pressure and new… and cancer is like a second job, if not like a second job and a half.

Tammey Grable-Woodford receiving a saline fill in post mastectomy expander as part of breast reconstruction

And giving yourself grace and allowing yourself through that, is so critical, and finding strength and finding strength in vulnerability.

Griff: Correct. And the, exactly what you said is that those seemingly inconsequential interactions or reactions, leaving you shattered. And again, that result of hardness, not accessing, not allowing access, not, not seeking out these processes that are critical. They're mandatory.

You know, the um, you know glass is a good example. Glass is extremely hard. Try to cut glass. There's one, one thing that can cut glass diamonds, right?

Tammey: Yeah

Griff: Tap on it and it'll shatter.

Tammey: I can think back to many examples in the last five years for me, where I had bolstered up my, my strength thinking that I'm bolstering strength and, not necessarily recognizing that it was just that, that hard facade that was so fragile.

Griff: Right. Right.

Proving the model

Tammey: And it, it's, you know, I, to your point, you don't want to be, we're not passing judgment on anyone, and it's w… we're five years into this and still figuring it out. So it's not, it's not like there's a get, you know, get it figured out fast track.

But speaking of that. What is your, your proof that it worked? And do you have any, tips or tools that you would want to share with folks to help them start to find that path to strength if they are maybe self-recognizing that they're in the space of, of hard?

Griff: Sure. Well the immediate proof is you and me. You know, what we, what we've gone through, what we've endured in the past five years, destroys not just relationships, but people. Destroys people. To the point of not being recoverable.

You know, so going down the chemical addiction, the psychological addiction, and not being able to get out of it.

Griff Woodford and Tammey Grable-Woodford mountain biking while healing from breast cancer

Well, that would be an example of trying to be hard, right? That immediate quench of the crucible. You know, now just five years into it, just five years, you know, knowing and having complete faith in our strength as a unit. Because of our strength individually. There, there's, there's no question to me and I don't think there's really much question for you either that it doesn't matter what is going to occur, we know that together we are strong enough to handle this.

You know, I could give you a, certainly other personal examples from earlier in life and the impacts that those, those things have made. The seem… (laughing), the seeming inability to make good choices. You know, again, was a result of fragility, of trying to quench.

Tammey: And it's amazing how in the middle of it, it actually feels safe. It feels strong.

Griff: Right!

Tammey: It feels like the right answer. And even though, and possibly because, it's numbing, right? It's control. It's all of those things that, that, we are kind of raised with as our norms and our bellwethers of success.

Griff: Right. Absolutely. Absolutely. You know, then back to success, you know, that my, not just my definition of success, but I think relatively widespread when we look at the core of success and that is creating something that can't be taken from you.

Money can be taken from you. And I have stories of that…

Tammey: So do I… (laughing)

Griff: We both do, right? Um… property, belongings, those can all be taken from you, in so many different ways… The strength that I have accrued, the strength that you have accrued and that we have accrued together cannot be. The confidence that that strength breeds into us, cannot be. Not saying that know nothing that can harm us. That's certainly not it. You know what I mean? We're both, it's still alive. There's still going to be pain and trauma and fear and doubt, but knowing that at the root of any one of those issues is the confidence that whether on our own or in particular through each other, there is nothing that we can't see through to the end.

That is success.

That is the ability to look anything in life directly in the eye and say, try. Try me.

Tammey: But don't try us… (laughing)

Griff: ..but don't, go to the other person.

Tammey: We are good… (laughing) We’ve had… I’m good for a few years…

Griff: (laughing) We seem like we're, we've, we've kind of filled our tank on that for a little bit.

Tammey: (laughing) Yeah, we’re good for a few years.

So, before, before I close us out, is there anything else that you want to. You want to add this as our first show and flow together? This is, you know, feeling good.

The first of many tools

Griff: Yeah, it is. It is. you know, I, I dunno, I guess in a, just kind of some closing points is, I would say it's, it's important, if not critical to remember that the reason why this is not the obvious and easy answer is because it is not easy. It is the hardest thing that a human being can be asked to do is, is to sit and accept those terrifying and brutal feelings of sadness, desolation, fear, horror…

Tammey: Injustice

Griff: …injustice, unfairness, cruelty. To sit in those. To not run. But to face them head-on, wash over you, allow them to do that. And allow what is in each and every one of you, physiologically in each and every single person watching this, to do its job. Stop helping, let it do its job.

That, I would say, that's the… that's the beginning.

Yeah. Everything else is, is in many cases, on an individual basis. You know. I, I can tell you my personal… personal tools for that, probably another episode. But, that doesn't mean they're gonna be the same for you or, or even you.

I mean, and in fact, we know that, you know, you and I approach things quite differently in some cases, but ultimately, it's, it's the same, the same beginning of the process is letting those, those feelings, those terrifying emotions, let them speak. That's, that's how you begin.

Tammey: Terrifying and powerful.

Griff: Yes.

Tammey: So, I know you and I, have for an upcoming episode, where we're going to be talking stress management,

Griff: (enthusiastically) Yeah

Tammey: (laughing) …and stress, but that'll be coming up. We had some of that. So proud of those gray hairs I gave you and your goatee. It’s good stuff…

Griff: Yeah. (laughing) Yeah…

Tammey: So, but I want to thank you all so much for listening to episode two and giving us your time and we just appreciate you so much and we hope that in some way this was helpful and we hope that you'll be back and join us for episode three.

Episode three, I am going to be talking about medical advocacy. Which is an ongoing thing. Oh my goodness. From, from the moment you are diagnosed, and even until now, I have sort of hinted at it and not, I've not hinted at it. I have flat out called it out on, on the Facebook page, the your killer life Facebook page, the your killer live Instagram, and also we're going to be talking about it and calling it out here, both on the podcast and on the video podcast on YouTube.

If you haven't subscribed, please give us a subscribe. That way you get the little bell that tells you there's an update on the YouTube. Or we're on your phone, and we're also going to be bringing in some great guests. So future episodes are going to cover some interviews with survivors. I have an amazing person who's coming on, who's a man who, who's had breast cancer.

A lot of people don't know that there is a fair number of men who are diagnosed with breast cancer and that they go through a very similar treatments. And so going to be talking about that. So we've got a lot of good stuff coming up and. Oh, we want to thank you for allowing us to be here, be with you, be vulnerable with you, and thank you for listening.

And I guess until next time, keep building your killer life.

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