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With troubles beginning as early as childhood, the trajectory of Shane Niemeyer's life seemed to have only one direction: down. His struggles with heroin addiction led him to jail, and he eventually hit rock bottom. Soon, his two pack a day cigarette habit was the healthiest thing he did. One dark night in jail, his suicide attempt failed. What happened next transcends the term recovery.
The Hurt Artist is the searing yet luminous travelogue of Shane's powerful journey from suicidal addict to Ironman. He vividly depicts the landscape of pain in which he's lived his life―emotional and physical pain inflicted upon him and that he inflicts upon himself, pain that pulls him down, and, in detailing his training, the pain he harnesses to lift himself up. Ultimately, Shane's story is one of redemption and triumph, a lesson in the value of second chances and a clear reminder that nobody, regardless of how seemingly desperate their circumstances, is beyond the reach of salvation.
From inmate #71768 to Ironman Triathlon World Championship competitor #1419, Shane paints a stirring self-portrait in this hilarious, horrifying, and hopeful account that is sure to hook readers of edgy sports biographies.
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SHANE NIEMEYER developed and executed a plan to turn his life around and become a world class endurance athlete, speaker, and expert in the field of strength and conditioning. He currently resides in Boulder, Colorado where he coaches, trains, competes, and plays.
GARY BROZEK has collaborated on more than twenty books, five of which have gone on to become New York Times bestsellers, including most recently Trident K9 Warriors. He lives in Evergreen, CO.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
I was born in Loveland, Colorado, in November 1975, but in a lot of ways, I could say I was born in the Ada County Jail in Boise on June 23, 2003. When I came to after the extension cord snapped and I survived my suicide attempt, I was in a world of hurt; my neck was stiff and abraded and my head was pounding and I was nauseated from not having done any dope or having a drink of alcohol since my arrest two days before. Worse than that though, my feet were throbbing. I’d fallen a good twelve feet or so and landed shoeless on a hard concrete floor. Birthing pains are tough on everybody.
Opening my eyes for the first time after I’d jumped—my ears ringing, my head pounding, and the anguished tears that I’d been crying moments before as I’d let go of the railing and let go of life still coursing down my cheeks—I was surrounded by a few people, including someone in hospital greens.
For the longest time, I’d assumed that I was going to die well before longevity statistics suggested that I should; either I would be killed by one of the dealers I had robbed, not wake up from an overdose, or perhaps another car wreck would end things. However, having somehow come through that jump, something inside me changed.
As soon as they determined that I hadn’t snapped my spine or sustained any life-threatening injury that necessitated me going to an off-site hospital, they took me to the medical unit. I was stripped down to my skivvies, examined, and then placed in what’s called a “security blanket,” a Kevlar garment that strapped my arms tight to my torso. They were trying to prevent me from doing any more damage to myself.
The thing is I didn’t need that. At some point in those moments shortly after I was reborn (no religious overtones implied or intended), I had a passing thought about being such a failure that I couldn’t even end my life successfully. I’d spent so much of my life thinking that I was a fuckup—and hating myself for that—that I couldn’t be completely free of self-loathing about another monumental and spectacular failure. This time instead of wallowing in that muddy sinkhole of self-incrimination and subterranean self-esteem, I let go after a minute of berating myself. Those negatives were immediately replaced by an overwhelming sense of gratitude that I was getting a second chance. Hell, I don’t know if I can calculate the number of second chances I’d received previously. Though I was very sick, hurting, and in a world of shit, I felt enormously unburdened. It was an intensely freeing experience to have come through that attempt alive. In a strange way, I had passed a test, endured a skewed rite of passage that only someone with my train wreck of a past could have seen as a positive.
That’s not to say that I wasn’t still dejected. The one feeling I wasn’t experiencing was fear. I had been scared shitless standing on that ledge and about to jump. Now, I wasn’t afraid at all. I felt like I no longer had anything to lose, and I didn’t. I had no personal belongings, no girl, no job, and no real future plans. I couldn’t and didn’t really long for the halcyon days of my golden past that I’d let slip through my fingers and could no longer return to. I had a blank slate of a life in front of me. If that metaphorical door had been opened, there was not a single thing I could see on the other side of the threshold.
That was such a liberating place to be. I didn’t hit bottom; I fell through its fucking floor. I got past that critical moment of despair. I had come to see in the hours and days that followed that I had come through so much that should have ended me. Once I lost my will to live I came to look at things completely differently. I had lost my freedom long ago and now I had lost my physical freedom as well. There was nothing left to lose; instead I came to think of things in terms of what I had to gain. It forced me to reframe my perception of things, and immediately changed my perspective. I was down at the bottom looking up at the infinite possibilities. My life could be a blank slate, and this was my point of origin. Freedom was mine. In that goddamn cell I vowed to myself that this was it, it was time to start living and cramming it all in because I had pissed away twenty-eight years of my life to this point, and the clock was ticking.
Fear holds us back from attempting so many things. I’d attempted what I think most people are extremely afraid to do. I’d done it, and regardless of the results, I could look at that suicide attempt and say one thing: I’d gone through with it; I’d pushed past the fear.
If I was experiencing some dread, it was rooted in something more immediate. I’d been dope-sick for a few days a couple of times during my various rehab stints or when I tried on my own to quit using or when my pipeline had somehow temporarily run dry. Detoxing and withdrawal were like having the absolute worst and most unrelenting flu symptoms you’ve ever had for hours and hours on end. I wasn’t looking forward to enduring those days. But even in those first moments when I woke up the next morning alone in that tiny cell, still in my less than comfortable restraints, with the red light of the surveillance camera and the bare cot and a black-bound Bible the only things breaking the monochromatic haze of white I was fogged into, I knew immediately that I was done with doing drugs.
I had to be.
For a long time I thought I had two options—quit drugs or die. I had tried to quit many times over the years. I’d just tried to die, so that left me with one choice. No choice really. I had to do this thing. I’d actively struggled for years to control my drinking and usage to no avail. Suicide was a way of both taking control and surrendering it. Now, I figured it might be time to do the same thing about my addictions, to just release them, stop being so attached to whatever pains and pleasures they brought me.
Also, I no longer wanted to kill myself. I knew all the things people said about a “cry for help,” but that wasn’t what I had been up to that previous afternoon. Without a doubt, I did want to end my life that day. The thought of death gave me so much comfort in those hours after my arrest. Life had become unbearable and I had completely lost hope. The moment I hit the ground after the extension cord snapped, I no longer wanted to end my life. In trying and failing to end my life, I’d given myself hope.
I’d spent years doing the worst possible things to myself, and then I’d attempted the ultimate act of self-destruction and I’d come out on the other side of it alive. That jump had shaken something loose inside of me, something that I had tried to kill with chemicals, and it had proven stronger than them. It was as if I’d done everything destructive I could possibly think of, and somehow the life force inside me hadn’t been defeated. I’d tried to kill myself, and the self-loathing, pissed-off-at-the-world part of me had survived, barely. I realized that now it was up to me to consciously take the steps to finish the job, to really lay that old self to rest.
I wanted the pain of my new injuries to end, that’s for sure. But I even took some comfort from them. They were visceral signs that I was alive, active reminders that I was still kicking, in a better place than I had been before the jump.
In that medical unit, I literally and figuratively came to my senses that next morning. I don’t know about divine intervention, God’s plan for us all, or anything like that. Maybe those things serve as an explanation or as a comfort. I do believe that all along in my life—through all the addiction issues I had, all the crimes I committed, all the general mayhem I manufactured for myself, my friends, my family, and society at large, even when things were the bleakest—there was still a tiny part of me that wanted me to pull it together and do something productive with my life. Eventually, I’d come to accept that there was more of a connectivity and confluence to our life circumstances and our choices than I had before when randomness ruled. That was going to take some time and a lot of work to get there. For once in my life, I wasn’t going to ask myself why it was that something had happened to me. I don’t know if I could say that I’d cheated death; all I knew was that my heart was pumping, my kidneys were producing piss, and my neurons were still sparking.
There was something to be said for just accepting that, establishing some kind of homeostatic balance for the moment and just respiring for a few moments, taking it all in.
I still had a lot of anger in me; some I directed toward myself for the horrendous choices I’d made, some at other people and circumstances that I thought had led me to the point I was at. As long as I was alive, it was okay to be angry. I’d figure out some way to deal with that. I had so much to sort out, and I was grateful that I was looking at doing a stretch in prison down the line. That would give me some time and space to figure out what it was I was going to do with the rest of my life, how I was going to manage to not waste another of the many opportunities I’d been given.
My time in the medical unit was the same as it would have been if I’d been put in solitary. Twenty-three hours out of the day I was alone in that closet of a room, constantly under video surveillance. If I knew one thing about myself it was that even though my body was so sore and damaged I could barely make the walk to the shower I was allowed during my sixty minutes outside the confines of my cell, my mind was going to be on a feverish walkabout. I needed something to keep myself from going crazy. My request for something to read was ignored. Of course, the medical staff had done their part to help, putting me on a low-dos...
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