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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?

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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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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.