Up until April 24, 2014, I had never slept a single night without anxiety, fear, or anger in my life. That day was significant because it was my first ever attempt at an ultramarathon (50 Miles). I had never contemplated something so daunting and challenging. Of course, that’s the way I viewed my first regular marathon (26.2 miles) in Charleston, SC in 1998. From my early childhood, much had been expected, and much had been achieved.
However, all of the achievements felt like they were for someone else, like I was living another person’s life. I grew up in a suburban, rural area of South Carolina called Taylors. Like most small southern enclaves, Taylors had one traffic light, a railroad track, and ten churches. It was 1970 when my young, hardworking and very Southern Baptist parents had not yet conceived a child. The south I grew up in was, and in many ways still is, very tribal. Part of that tribal nature is to get married as soon as possible and start “bearing God’s fruit” to the world. My parents had been married six long childless years, and they had become so desperate that they were planning a trip to the Holy Land—yep, Israel. I guess they wanted to go directly to the source and see if the Almighty could help out a couple of good, Jesus loving kids from the outskirts of Greenville, SC. Thankfully, nature, God, my dad’s romantic moves in the summer of 1970, or just random luck, intervened before my very American parents landed in the middle of a current war zone between Egypt and Israel. Timing will become an evident theme to this narrative.
So, I was born on April 7, 1971 and given the name Randall Lee Sims. I was also given a belief system before I could see or breathe air—Southern Baptist Christian. I was proclaimed a “Prayer Baby.” According to legend, my parents’ entire church prayed and prayed and prayed that my mother would conceive. And, much like the virgin Mary, a miracle occurred and I was born. Of course, my sister’s birth three years later wasn’t received with as much fanfare and exultation to God. Having a first-born son is much more important in the world of tribal religious communities.
It was under this umbrella of Christianity and faith that the true lie and the violation of my childhood and identity obscured. I know now that my mother sexually, mentally, and emotionally abused me my entire life up until her death from breast cancer in 1994. The sexual and emotional enmeshment and incest were very early on in my childhood. It wasn’t really uncovered or identified as the root of my wound until my forties. Regardless, the abuse occurred, and nothing was done to protect me or even help me process it. Instead, there were a lot of visits with the pastor and regular and disciplined attendance at church on Sundays. God would fix it—that was the plan.
I WAS PROCLAIMED A “PRAYER BABY.” ACCORDING TO LEGEND, MY PARENTS’ ENTIRE CHURCH PRAYED AND PRAYED AND PRAYED THAT MY MOTHER WOULD CONCEIVE. AND... A MIRACLE OCCURRED AND I WAS BORN.
All that did was solidify my distrust in adults and organized religion. Being very bright and verbal, I developed my own protection mechanism I now refer to as “The Wolf.” My name literally means, “leader of wolves.” I didn’t know this at the time, but I nonetheless created an alter ego—a persona if you will. This heightened version of me was overconfident, sarcastic, aloof, and at times, aggressive.
I also wouldn’t allow anyone to touch me, hug me, or kiss me. I was belligerent about this. My mother, being an undiagnosed bipolar and victim of her own hellish childhood abuse, recognized that if she wanted to keep me “in love” with her, she would have to use emotional and mental manipulation with me. And so, my programming began. Over the next two decades, she groomed me to be her perfect man. I graduated high school with a 4.8 GPA, and went to the University of South Carolina on a full academic scholarship, graduating with a B.S. in Economics and Finance in 1993, Magna Cum Laude. But none of this was for me.
During my sophomore year in college, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a seismic and crushing blow. My abuser and my mother were going to die. Four agonizing and gut wrenching years later, she let go of this physical plane. That’s when my lone odyssey began.
From 1994 until about 2012, I blindly, at times, and yet enthusiastically pursued this experience without any real adult training or skills outside of what a text book or teacher had taught me. I had never dated. All women were sluts—sex was a sin, and if I had sex with a slutty woman, then I would be damned to hell. I distinctly remember one occasion where a twelve-year-old young lady at one of the cults we meandered in and out of through the late 80s and early 90s had a crush on me. I was 18 at the time and just thought it was cute and sweet. Mom pulled me aside after some church event and began to verbally destroy this child, describing her as a whore and harlot. I was taken aback. I knew Mom could be cold and cruel to me whenever I displeased her, but to hear the venom projected on to an “innocent” was terrifying. Our enmeshment was so dysfunctional and caustic that immediately after her death, I took up an illicit affair with her best friend who was still married at the time with two children and also 15 years my senior. I don’t need a psychology degree to know that I was displacing the void left by my mother’s departure. This affair led to me losing my virginity in a most sad and pathetic manner.
I DEVELOPED MY OWN PROTECTION MECHANISM I NOW REFER TO AS “THE WOLF.” ...THIS HEIGHTENED VERSION OF ME WAS OVERCONFIDENT, SARCASTIC, ALOOF, AND AT TIMES, AGGRESSIVE.
While this was going on, I was also trying to start my professional career. I took the first job offered at a pharmaceutical software company. These two events—the affair and the job—would begin a pattern of failed relationships and the start of my problems and issues with employment and working well with others. Between 1994 and 1999 I was in the information technology sector. I made a lot of money, and I spent all of it. I then met a man who would change my life forever. Judson Vaughn was a successful character actor throughout the late 70s, 80s, and early 90s. He moved to Atlanta in 1989 and began developing a revolutionary system for acting. I met him at an embarrassing model search event in my hometown. By this time, I was in complete narcissism mode. I was ripped to shreds, tanned, and wanting attention. Acting and modeling seemed like a good move at the time.
So I moved to Atlanta in 1999 and began my creative path that has lasted until this very day. In between those 18 years, I was married for a decade to a woman I didn’t even like, but I felt like this is what normal people do so I should do it. In a non-violent and non-sociopathic way, I was a lot like Christian Bale’s character in “American Psycho.” I just wanted to fit in and not seem weird or broken. The marriage ended right around the time I was diagnosed with stage two rectal cancer. I would always joke that I got the perfect cancer for a smart ass. Humor, as much as rage, served to protect me from those who I viewed as threatening or challenging. It also manifested as quite mean and cruel at times.
It took six months and three surgeries, but I survived my cancer scare. In my mind, this was my destiny. My bipolar grandfather died of cancer young (48). My bipolar mother died of cancer younger (47), and I thought it was my destiny to die of cancer the youngest (37). My body, and something deep and ancient inside me, had other plans. During this whole period of my life, I was also a functioning, but at times out of control, alcoholic. To supplement my income as an actor, I had taken many restaurant jobs. They all ended terribly. In general, the only job I did well in and was never fired from was my acting. I am hardworking and hypomanic at times. Thus, the ability to train for and run a 50-mile ultramarathon. My work ethic was never the problem. My talent has always been evident and unique. My attitude and my arrogance usually were my undoing. I know now that I suffer from chronic PTSD, Bipolar II, and A.D.D. So half of my issues were genetic and chemical, and the other half found their origins from my abuse.
I WAS DIAGNOSED WITH STAGE TWO RECTAL CANCER. I WOULD ALWAYS JOKE THAT I GOT THE PERFECT CANCER FOR A SMART ASS. HUMOR, AS MUCH AS RAGE, SERVED TO PROTECT ME...
Undiagnosed and untreated, I was like an overgrown child living with all the perks and privileges of being an adult but with the emotional maturity and coping skills of a child. In 2009, with a wife who no longer wanted me, I decided to take my talents to Los Angeles. I was also bringing my wound, my alcoholism, and my mother with me. For a while, it was exciting. I got a job in casting running sessions for one of L.A.’s top commercial casting directors. I also booked a couple of commercials as well, and I began to start my life anew at 40.
However, it didn’t take long for old patterns to re-emerge. I got a DUI in 2010, and I still kept drinking. I dated an old flame from my youth, and it blew up spectacularly. Then, I tried dating a woman my age and in my industry. The pathetic end to this relationship is where my salvation and healing truly began. On November 17, 2012, I awoke to an angry, sad, confused, and unfairly hurt woman. I was going behind her back to indulge in my self-destructive streak of booze, dark and masochistic fantasy, and ultimately death. She rightfully kicked me to the curb.
That night, I went back to my apartment in Hollywood and somewhere deep inside me a voice said, “Enough!” I have never taken another drink of alcohol. That was an incredible first step, but I was by no means healed. Then a most beautiful and breathtaking change walked into my life. Six months after my awful break up, I met my now-fiancée, Chelsea. We met over Facebook. In a million years, I never would’ve thought I would meet my soul mate and my best friend over a social media site, so I can never really criticize them. Without Facebook, I wouldn’t have my precious flower.
It was rough at first for both of us. Chelsea’s childhood and life were equally as harrowing and terrible as mine. Her father was rarely present, and when he was, he was only doing damage to her and her mother and sister. When she was 16, Chelsea’s mother had a massive aneurysm. She almost died, and Chelsea never really was able to be a child again. But she is the toughest and most determined person I’ve ever met. She got through high school with honors, she graduated from USC with a degree in Theatrical Arts and Psychology, and she did this all on her own. She also went through some dark times with relationships and dealing with her own wounds and abuse. But she came out the other side full of light and hope. I fell in love for the first time in my life. It’s still one of the most beautiful memories of my life.
UNDIAGNOSED AND UNTREATED, I WAS LIKE AN OVERGROWN CHILD LIVING WITH ALL THE PERKS AND PRIVILEGES OF BEING AN ADULT BUT WITH THE EMOTIONAL MATURITY AND COPING SKILLS OF A CHILD.
Through her and our relationship, I began to unravel the mystery of my wound and my life’s struggle. She introduced me to plant medicine. She showed me the importance of experiencing this life, not just existing in it. She liked the same things I liked. She liked me. It was a foreign and wonderful feeling. But liking, or even loving, someone doesn’t mean it will all work out in a fairy tale. I still had issues with my sexual identity, and I was terribly afraid of intimacy and being touched. I went to a therapist and finally identified my abuse at the hands of my mother. I began developing a more spiritual side to my life. And then, a friend introduced me to a Wolf Dog Rescue in the Palmdale, CA area. I began volunteering in late 2015. It wasn’t easy, as working within the confines of an organization was, and still, is a challenge for me. I was often referred to as a “lone wolf.” But then, I started listening to the wolves and wolf dogs. I would feed them, scoop their poop, replenish their waters and spend time with them. They taught me to be still. They taught me to just be.
It was life altering. Everything about me became more authentic. But that was just the tip of the iceberg. During this time, I was also introduced to Ayahuasca and Psilocybin. I experienced many ceremonies and dug much deeper into my wound. This process literally took me outside into nature. I would hike and walk for hours in silence. I would sit and just connect. My whole view of what had happened to me as a child, and the carnage that followed, was turned upside down. A core belief that I follow from my acting training and development is a simple axiom: “Everything that happens is good.” Sounds simple and unrealistic, but when you think about it, everything that got me to where I am at this exact moment gets credit for it, even the bad and the horrible things. I started loving and embracing the terrible parts of my past. I began to empathize with my mother and grandfather. I saw them as little children, scared and alone. In one Aya vision, the adult Randall picked up his mother and grandfather as little children and just hugged them. I said, “It’s okay. We’re together. I love you.” I never looked at my wound or abuse the same ever again. I’m healing generations of PTSD, physical, and emotional abuse. If all I do with my life is heal this chain of generational pain, then my life has been a massive and beautiful success.
With the mind expansion brought on by Aya and Cy, as I refer to them, my anger, my ruminations, and my victimhood were now seen as detrimental and unproductive. Previously, I would talk about my pain and abuse and how unfair it all was. I was continuing to pick at my “scab,” if you will, and then wondering why it was never healing. When a wolf experiences a trauma it is terrible and frightening, but when it is over, the wolf doesn’t hold on to that pain and fear. Then you are able to be constantly present—the past and future can’t cause anxiety, fear, or ruminations. In simpler terms: one can’t move forward if one is always looking back. Likewise, if you look too far ahead on the path, you might miss some important moments and experiences on your journey.
I STARTED LISTENING TO THE WOLVES AND WOLF DOGS... THEY TAUGHT ME TO BE STILL. THEY TAUGHT ME TO JUST BE.
I’m still working at it every day, but I am so much more self-aware and connected to myself and the natural world around me than I was even just four years ago. I’ve grown my hair long for the first time in my life, and because of this journey and process, Chelsea and I are now full vegan. My physical and mental health improved in so many unexpected ways. I’m quieter now. Stillness is a joy. Walking next to wolves, bunnies, cranes, ducks, lizards, and my favorite, butterflies, is now a walk amongst friends and neighbors. I even was inspired to begin researching my family ancestry to understand my native blood and roots. It showed me I’m not just a white male from South Carolina, but that I am Cherokee as much as I am European. It may sound silly to some, but I feel my ancestors vividly through plant medicine ceremonies and my nature excursions, more than I ever thought possible. I’m equipped with much better coping skills than my previous systems had given me, and I know now that my health and well-being are connected to nature and the physical world. Whether it be with wolves, bunnies, horses, nature hikes, or unexplored adventures, getting outside and truly feeling your place in the larger landscape provides a sense of community, belonging, responsibility to protect and nurture, empathy, and above all else, connection.
My world is the creative arts. As I look around, I see a lot of similarly wounded and lost souls. When I write about the wolves or plant medicine or connecting with nature, I always receive such intense interest and longing from my creative communities. I’m not a therapist. I’m not a healer. I’m a teacher. I’m a coach. I’m a dad for all those kids who never had one. I’ve run over 100K auditions in my career as a session runner. I can fix any performance at any level of acting experience. Part of my job is to quickly and quietly assess what’s going right and what’s not. I only use positive reinforcement to train and teach actors. You can find the bad very easily in any performance, but striving to find the good is much more satisfying and ultimately more efficient in helping actors improve their skills.
Actors and artists are brutalized in this business. Picked apart, demeaned, and in some cases discarded, these gifted and thoughtful souls can become broken, defeated, and lost. I know I was, and I wish I had had a wolf looking out for me.
A CORE BELIEF THAT I FOLLOW FROM MY ACTING TRAINING AND DEVELOPMENT IS A SIMPLE AXIOM: ‘EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENS IS GOOD.’
Oh, and as far as why I had never slept a night without anxiety, fear, or anger in my life up until the night before my ultramarathon endeavor? I’m not really sure. I didn’t know what to expect or what would happen the next day, but I knew by the end of the race my life would be forever altered. Maybe that gave me calm. Maybe it gave me joy. Or maybe, that little child inside me felt like he and I were finally living the life we wanted to live. I’ll never really know, but I finished that race. I ran across that finish line. My Chelsea was yelling my name and cheering me on, and everyone around me was so loving and supportive. I belonged to not only them, but I belonged to those 50 miles of dirt, grass, rock, and sand, forever. It’s our experiences and connections that makes this life worth living.