As a former professional wrestler of 25 years, Jeff Bearden knows quite a bit about knocking people down. But Bearden’s greatest passion is quite the opposite: encouraging people to get back up. In fact, the seven foot, 350-pound Bearden, who once operated under names such as “Giant Warrior,” “Big Tiger Steele” and “Colossus the Giant,” is today known as the “Get Back On Your Feet Guy” in his current work as a motivational speaker.
As someone whose battles with alcoholism, drug abuse and depression have presented him with obstacles more imposing than his gigantic stature, Bearden speaks very candidly to audiences nationwide about his past struggles and how recommitting himself to Christian values helped him overcome them. And, though he was never a major target of bullying during his childhood, Bearden’s thorough understanding of the psychological torment that victims of bullying endure inspires him to include extensive anti-bullying content in his speeches.
Substance abuse, depression and bullying are all very different discussion topics, but Bearden posits that their consequences have a unifying solution: communicating the need for help. In Bearden’s own experience, this has entailed communicating openly not only with friends and family, but also with God. It comes as no surprise that Bearden describes prayer as “a conversation with a friend,” something he says he does often — even while driving alone in his car.
Lucky for me, while Bearden was driving to an engagement last week, he was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule (and perhaps an ongoing prayer) to speak with me over the phone from his car about his long journey back to his feet.
rnOn overcoming alcohol and cocaine abuse
I have been clean for fifteen years now. But I’ve had times in my life when a shot was too much and the bottle wasn’t enough. And I had that same problem with cocaine. I had a real ‘sex, drugs, and rock and roll’-type lifestyle, and it was a lot easier to give into temptation than to fight it and be a strong Christian. I’m very thankful I have a God who never gave up on me as much as I gave up on him. I see God kind of like the North Pole: your compass is always going to point North, but you don’t always go North. I knew where I needed to be, I just wasn’t always there. Thankfully, I had a really supportive family, and my parents would help reel me back in. One thing I always say to kids is ‘look at the friends you have.’ It’s a lot easier to be a strong Christian when you’re surrounded by strong Christians. As it says in Philippians 4:13, ‘all things are possible through Him and His grace.’ And that was something I always clung to. It took me a while to realize that some of the hard times I had could’ve been a lot worse had I not had God looking over me. He had a plan for me. And even though I didn’t know what it was, especially at the time, I see now that His plan for me was to reach out and touch other people.
On how wrestling helped him understand bullying psychology
My opponent was a tool for me to bully the crowd. When I’d get a reaction from the crowd, I’d want to do more of the same thing or maybe even amp it up a little bit so that I’d keep getting that reaction. And bullies are the same way; it’s the same mentality. A lot of times, bullies are coming from a household where they’re being bullied, by a parent, an older sibling, or somebody in the neighborhood, so they go to school and bully others because it’s the only time they feel they have control over their lives. They want attention. And if they’re trying to bully someone and they’re not getting the attention they’re looking for, they give up and go to the next person.
rnOn battling depression
I came close, on a couple occasions, to committing suicide. Once, to the point that I had the gun in my mouth, and I just couldn’t pull the trigger. I was training away from my home and family, and things weren’t going the way I wanted. I had two little kids, and my wife at the time and I were always fighting. It was really almost too much for me. I’m really thankful I didn’t; suicide is a very permanent solution to a very temporary problem. There are times every once in a while when thoughts creep back in of, “If I just ended it now, things would be a lot better for everybody.” But I’ve learned to step back and remind myself that’s not the case and just pray hard.
A lot of people try to make prayer something much more complicated than it has to be, as if there’s a specific formula. But for me, prayer is as simple as just talking to God. You don’t have to be on your knees or have your eyes closed. It’s just a conversation with God. There’s times where I’m just out driving by myself and I have that conversation with God. It’s just like talking to one of your friends. God is there for you.
I love the first Corinthians message about love, which we [Jeff and wife of five years, Brittany, who is also his publicist] had read at our wedding. I’m all for people being nice, and it just doesn’t feel like people are nice anymore. It’s really not that hard to be nice to people. It’s actually easier to be nice to people than to look for ways not to be nice. I feel that one way to understand love is to feel like you’ve seen hate. I know how badly I’ve treated others during different parts of my life, but I was able to ask God for forgiveness and I knew that I was forgiven. And that’s the beautiful thing about the God that we have: no matter how badly you mess up, if you ask for forgiveness, he’ll give it to you.