Today’s author, Sean Buck Rogers, escaped and overcame horrific childhood abuse, eventually becoming a member of the elite US Army special forces unit, the Green Berets. However, following a traumatic event in his marriage, he realized he had not actually overcome his past abuse but had only compensated for it. There began a writing journey to figure out how to transform his trauma and put it to use, rather than be controlled by it.
The result of that journey is his new book. Sean joins us on Author Hour today to discuss the traps of victimization, how to break free from the cycle of trauma, and well, how to train your dragon.
Jane Borden: Hi Author Hour listeners, I’m Jane Borden and I’m here today with Sean Buck Rogers, author of Rising Above: A Green Beret’s Story of Childhood Trauma and Ultimate Healing. Sean, thank you so much for being with us today.
Sean J. Rogers: Thanks for having me, I appreciate it.
Jane Borden: The book is heartbreaking but ultimately hopeful and really empowering. Tell me about the decision to write it?
Sean J. Rogers: It was really not to write a book. I think the journey started as a way to get my thoughts out there, get my issues out on the paper, dig into my past, figure out what was affecting me so much, and really start facing it. It was really started as a journaling process of healing for myself.
Jane Borden: Is that something you thought of, just feeling overwhelmed by your past?
Sean J. Rogers: Yeah, I felt like I kept making a lot of mistakes in life. It was finally to the point where I thought, “I’m done with this. I need to figure out what’s going on.” I felt like it was a two-sided sword, I would accomplish things that I put my mind to and achieve quite a bit when I really dedicated myself, but at the same time, I would always have some kind of self-sabotage and things would eventually take a turn for the worse because of my own actions.
I felt like I really needed to figure out why this was happening, to correct my course, and stay on a path that was consistently good and not just all over the place.
Jane Borden: Can you tell our listeners a little bit about your background and what you were struggling with?
Sean J. Rogers: Yeah, I was born in Phelan, California, it’s a small town out in the desert and my dad left when I was one and then my mom, she got into a car accident when I was young, I was between six and eight and from there, she got addicted to opioids.
That started her down a path of just really horrible decisions and then from there, it seemed like it was boyfriend after boyfriend of trauma and dealing with their issues, and it created this vortex of constantly horrible experiences. Dealing with that was overwhelming as a child, and then I didn’t end up getting away from any of that until I was about 15 when I staged a plan to run away to my dad’s in New York–who I had just met at 15–because I knew that anything had to be better than what I was dealing with at home. I eventually got out of the desert and moved on.
Jane Borden: You worried about the importance of not letting oneself be a victim. I imagine that’s incredibly difficult to do when you were so clearly victimized as a child. First of all, why is it so important not to feel the victim and second, how are you able to overcome victimization?
Sean J. Rogers: Well, I think taking ownership and taking responsibility for where you end up is completely on you. I think what it taught me the most being with my mom and really hating it tremendously, was that I needed to change my circumstances and there was no one that was going to come in and save me. I would run away constantly, and the cops would just bring me back because they were bound by law because I was underage.
At an early age, I started to adopt the idea that if you’re not happy, it’s entirely up to you to do something about it. I could sit there and blame everybody else and say how terrible my circumstances were, but it’s not going to change that sinking gut feeling I wake up to every morning because I hate my own circumstances.
I think it was something I learned right out of the gate to just phase that out and acknowledge that, regardless of how I started, it was going to be up to me to control where I ended up. I did not want to end up in a place that I was unhappy like that ever again.
Jane Borden: You have, which is admirable. You write something so interesting that one needs to accept that your traumas have shaped both the good and bad qualities of your life. Tell me what you mean by that?
Sean J. Rogers: That was something I learned going through and journaling and really picking apart my traumas, which I didn’t do until I was 32. For my whole life, I just put those things away and so my past basically just didn’t exist.
It was like a black hole that I tried to just forget and move on and run away from. It wasn’t until I started digging back through it that I realized that the successes and the failures were all tied in together. The past and the trauma had tremendous benefits to my personality, the way I go about life, the drive, the determination.
It just so happened to be combined and intertwined with the negatives like the temper, the distrust, the anger, the short-sightedness in certain situations. I realized that these things were bound together and if you throw one away because it brought a negative experience, then you’re throwing the other one away too, and you’re wasting that negativity because it really did have a positive impact on you.
Jane Borden: How do you do that–how do you keep the positive effect without holding on to the negative effect as well?
Sean J. Rogers: For me, I think it was I started a YouTube channel, and the book, and being open about it. I started to use my past as something that makes me proud instead of something I’m ashamed of, and that started to really change things for me because it allowed me to be more open about those circumstances and stop being angry at the fact that they happened.
It allowed me to really appreciate why they happened and honestly now, it’s to the point where I thank God every morning that I had those experiences because they’ve allowed me to do things that I would have never been able to do without them.
I think it’s really important to pull those apart and then face it and be okay with it, which, in reality, the biggest thing that has done for me is it’s made me okay with who I am as a person and that’s probably the biggest change.
Jane Borden: Tell me how that has affected you in turn?
Sean J. Rogers: Before, I was always ashamed of who I was. Everything I did was in an attempt to hide that person, so people didn’t see it. I didn’t want them to see me. I would do things like getting an education, to try and prove that I was not this uneducated person from a trailer.
I would run marathons, I would do these “achievements” to distance myself from the past, and then the minute I started embracing who I was, I was able to say, “You know what? It’s not something to be ashamed of to grow up on welfare, and have a past riddled with child abuse.” It’s something to be proud of because you could say “Yes, I had those situations but look how far I’ve come and look what I was able to do with those things.”
Embracing that has really changed my perspective, my outlook, and I may be shoulder-to-shoulder with a lot of people in the same situations as me but if we really dig into the past, it’s almost guaranteed that they didn’t start where I started and that’s a source of pride for me now.
Jane Borden: You write again and again in the book, we read about someone who has pulled himself up or gotten himself out and there was one passage I found so moving. You said, “The most important part was understanding that someone had already been there.” There is where you said you wanted to go, “They had already made the map from my location to the new destination. All I had to do is get the map and follow it”. That’s so empowering.
Sean J. Rogers: Thank you. It still baffles me today when I see people and they come up with an idea of something they want to do and then you see them the minute they get caught in the thought of how to accomplish that goal, they completely freeze and they say, “Never mind, it’s not possible.”
I don’t know if it’s something, again, it’s likely tied to the way I grew up. But in reality, there’s already, like a hundred people have already done that thing. All you need to do is not get tied up in the how, figure out what you want to do, figure out what gives you that burning sensation of excitement, and then just go find the people that have already done it and study them. See the steps that they took from where you are, to getting to the goal, and that’s been tremendous for me.
Even being right here, right now, I wanted to get this into a book so, “Who has done it for me and who has done something that I enjoy?” Well, David Goggins did, I loved Can’t Hurt Me. What did he do? He went to this company and they helped him make it into a book so that’s what I’m going to do. That’s not something that I just say, it’s something that I put into practice with almost everything I do.
Find the Map
Jane Borden: Did you have a similar path when you decided you wanted to join the Green Berets?
Sean J. Rogers: Absolutely. This is why the channel does pretty well is because every time you decide as a person that you want to go into special operations, whether you’re coming from the civilian side or you’re in the military already, you’re going to get hit right in the gut with a ton of insecurity that you’re not good enough and that the guys that do make it are these super humans.
It’s important to associate with and identify people that you know have already taken that step and made it through and then watch them closely. Use their example.
Every day in selection, I thought about a buddy of mine who had gotten selected, and in the morning, I thought, “He woke up this morning and he made it happen and if he could do it then I could do it.”
Jane Borden: What was the hardest part of training for the Green Berets?
Sean J. Rogers: I think the hardest part probably was before going, before starting anything for selection, the physical training I put myself through, and the mental agony of every single time you go out to train, thinking about whether or not that’s going to be a waste of time because you don’t know if you even have what it takes. I think the toughest part is dealing with your own thoughts before showing up.
It’s a little easier once they start telling you, “Yes,” because then you could trust that they know what they’re talking about. But before anyone’s had the chance to evaluate you, it’s all in your head and you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into. I think that was probably one of the most difficult parts for me.
Jane Borden: Well, you already practiced it, your methodology, that must have served you well.
Sean J. Rogers: Yeah, it’s just like, “Listen, I set a goal, I found the path, I found the map if you will, I followed the map and here we go.” There’s no deviating. I always find it that when you set a goal, it’s just so much easier to just finish it than it is to jump off and then always have that regret and doubt because that’s just going to bleed over into the next thing that you really want to do.
Even if you finish it and it’s a failure, a complete failure, at least you know that you decided to go from point A to point B and then you went from point A to point B.
Jane Borden: Okay, talk to me about the dragon and how you use that in the book to discuss two different kinds of dragons or maybe it’s the same dragon, you tell me.
Sean J. Rogers: So, the dragon presented it to my head and the way I thought about it when I was comparing, my reaction to our childhood and my brother’s reaction to it. I felt like it was the yin and yang of those things being intertwined. The good and the bad being intertwined, it’s powerful and that is one thing that we don’t realize is how powerful it is. The dragon is just a representation of your past and the more trauma you’ve been through, the bigger and more powerful that dragon is.
I really hope that people will get from this book, is that the more broken they feel, it is not the worst off they are. They are actually quite a bit stronger than most people because of that brokenness, but you have to learn how to tame it. I think that from my experience and then watching my brother, we both had two different ways.
I tried to run away from it by distancing myself from my past as much as possible through degrees and achievements and medals and stuff like that. But it was all a façade. I was not able to run away from it. What I would find is that I could tell somebody that I had a degree and for the immediate few seconds, they’d be impressed but almost immediately, I would say something or do something that would clue them in to the real me–whether it’s lack of basic knowledge or saying something that doesn’t fit the narrative I was trying to portray, and then I just felt like a fraud.
That was the cycle that I was in of trying to run away from it. Then, my brother, I felt like he was always trying to fight it. He felt like if he could just face it and kill his dragon if he can kill his past by just being constantly overwhelmed by it, and by looking into its eyes, then he would be able to move on from it, and that didn’t work either. If anything, that it really caused him a lot of pain and a lot of suffering for nothing. You know, the dragon is not going away.
I found through this process that you can tame it, and not only can you tame it, once you learn how powerful it is and learn that it can be used as a weapon, it’s an amazingly powerful thing. I always saw it burning down the places I wanted to go, and now I see it burning down the obstacles. It is really possible to train yourself to use your trauma.
Jane Borden: It makes me think of another line that I loved. You said, “Broken boys want to break things. It makes sense if they are causing the pain and they are not feeling the pain.”
Sean J. Rogers: That was my personal feeling on it because I remember as a kid, being out in the desert, doing whatever I wanted and when I was the one causing the pain to other people, for those brief moments it was like things were better because of this person’s suffering. It’s not me for once. He is feeling the pain of me being here, and if I’m so involved in causing another person harm that takes me out of my own reality.
I did a lot of things–lying to try to escape it and hurting others to try and escape it, drugs, alcohol. I feel like it’s an over-indulgence in its own way to avoid your own feelings. Similar to drugs and alcohol but for kids that haven’t got to that point of experimenting with that stuff yet.
Jane Borden: Do you have advice for kids out there who might be feeling the need to cause pain in order not to feel it?
Sean J. Rogers: Absolutely. I get questions from kids that want to go to selection on Instagram and stuff, and you know as a cop, I had to quit being a police officer because I would come across a lot of kids that had really terrible situations and I would see myself in them. One kid, I remember pulling him aside and I said, “Man, I promise you it is going to get better. I know where you are sitting right now. I know that you are stuck here because you’re 16-years-old, your mom is crazy and doing crazy things and treating you like garbage and you still have two years of dealing with it before you are able to make your own decisions.” But I told him, “In those two years, once your two years are up, and you’re essentially free, what you do from that point on is on you and the decisions you make. You have the rest of your life to live the life that you want. So, don’t allow two years to affect the rest of your life.”
I think a lot of kids, and I try to talk about it in the book, two years for a 16-year-old kid might as well be a lifetime. They start to get this mindset that they are not going to think about their future. If you want to do stupid stuff, let’s do it–anything that takes their mind off the present. The one thing I would say is to try your hardest to hold out for that freedom and then take advantage of it. Don’t let it go to waste.
Attack Your Plan
Jane Borden: What do you mean to take advantage of the freedom?
Sean J. Rogers: A lot of kids that I grew up with, I saw them do the same thing, they get into that victim mentality the minute they get free. If something doesn’t work out for them, the minute they get their freedom to live their own lives, if it doesn’t go the way they want, then they use their past as an excuse and they fall into that trap and they don’t take advantage of it.
You have to not only plan out that future and what you want to do and know how you’re going to do it and find the map of people who have it before, but go attack it. There will be your first failure on your own because that is what we are designed to do, we’re designed to fail so we learn from it. Any kid regardless of their background is going to find failure when they step out into their own, even if they came from a perfect household but they don’t know that.
They might think they’re meeting that failure because of the way they grew up and that’s unfortunate that they don’t realize that it’s a totally normal thing to fail. They need to keep pushing because it is really on them where they end up. It doesn’t matter how bad their parents were, it doesn’t. Nothing else matters because they are the ones that have to wake up in their own shoes every day.
Jane Borden: Maybe also it would be helpful for them to write their stories as you did. You say in the introduction this book is not a result of the process, it is the process.
Sean J. Rogers: Absolutely. I have been thinking a lot about that lately and people want answers to so many things–to reach their goals and to achieve. Regardless of how many people in history and how many books they read, they all say the same thing. So many successful people talk about the importance of pen to paper and the therapy that comes from that is unmatched in my personal experience, especially during hard times.
When I was in Afghanistan, almost getting killed multiple times, getting in gunfights, and then having a really bad experience with my team sergeant while I was there, it was writing and journaling that got me through it. Because I could write when I was in a really bad spot but then two days from then, it would subside a little bit. I could go back and read how bad off I was in that moment and then really embrace the fact that wow if I just gave it a little bit of time, fences start to mend. Even two days later, I would be in a way better spot than I was when I wrote, “Look how upset and look how angry I am.” Journaling could really help me get through the hard times.
Jane Borden: Because then the next time when something hard happens, you can remember in your head, “In a couple of days this won’t feel so raw.”
Sean J. Rogers: Yeah, instead of getting lost in that one moment thinking that everything is falling apart.
Jane Borden: You mentioned your brother earlier and I wanted to ask, how has your family responded to the book? Have they read it?
Sean J. Rogers: They haven’t read it. I don’t really talk to my family. My mother actually, I haven’t talked to her in years and then all of a sudden, I started seeing comments on my YouTube channel from her threatening me and so I’ve had to block her from my channel.
I just did a podcast with this guy Andy and he asked, “Well, did you mend things with your mom?” I am actually worried about it because even though it’s been years, I’m talking maybe even 10 years since I have talked to her, maybe longer, 12 years, all of a sudden just like that, you do something with your life that is successful in a way that people feel like they could take from you now, and there she is, 12 years later, all of a sudden, a book is coming out, now she wants to come after me. I am more worried about how she’s going to come after me, because I know she’s coming.
It’s what people with victim mentalities do. They find somebody that has more than they do, and they say, “You owe me,” and they just make up a reason for that to be true and they come after you until they find out that they can’t get anything and then they move onto the next person.
Jane Borden: Tell me about your podcast and the YouTube channel.
Sean J. Rogers: Yeah, I started the FNG Podcast and FNG Academy–I just looked it up today, it’s only been five months–as a way just to start talking to people, getting my story out, and trying to help people in a way that I knew how–to help them become Special Forces. I know a lot of guys struggle with that, so, in five months I think we hit 44,000 subscribers today. I think the story is just resonating with people.
Having someone from the special operations community who can be open and honest and not have this, “I am tougher than you,” bravado is kind of refreshing to the community.
Jane Borden: What’s next?
Sean J. Rogers: We have a trip coming up to Texas. We’re going to go see Tim Kennedy, he is a former SF guy, UFC fighter, and talk to him and do a vlog-style interview with Tim. We got a few podcasts lined up, a couple in Texas and then one in Vegas, and then from there, once the book is out then it is really getting into the YouTube channel and focusing on how to make that even better, and really grow it and expand the channel into something that’s more than just providing information and really giving back to the community in a big way.
I don’t know if you ever read the book, The One Thing, but it’s been monumental on my journey and once the book is out, the YouTube will be “The One Thing” and we’re really grinding on that.
Jane Borden: Well Sean, I think the last thing I want to say is to thank you for your service.
Sean J. Rogers: Well, thank you.
Jane Borden: It’s been a pleasure speaking with you, congratulations.
Sean Buck Rogers: Thank you.
Jane Borden: Again listeners, the book is Rising Above: A Green Beret’s Story of Childhood Trauma and Ultimate Healing, and Sean, besides checking out the book, tell our listeners again where they can find out more about you and your work.
Sean J. Rogers: Yeah, so the website is seanbuckrogers.com. YouTube is the FNG Academy and Instagram is @seanbuckrogers.
Jane Borden: Okay, thanks so much.
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