Veterans Day 2019…Honoring and Remembering American Heroes and the Families Who Served Too…

Vernon H. Sparks US Navy WWII, Korean War, Pearl Harbor Survivor USS West Virginia

jimdowningbobbenafal
Steve Sparks with Jim Downing, left and Robert Benafal, right. Both served with my father on the USS West Virginia (BB48) in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

Oregon Veterans Memorials Directory click here

This is a red granite memorial tablet mounted behind on a gray granite slab with an electric flame on a pedestal in front of the Lincoln County Courthouse.

Flame of Freedom…Newport, Oregon  Click highlighted text for more…

Several  years ago while walking around our City Park in Depoe Bay, Oregon, I stopped to look closely at our town’s VFW Veterans Memorial.  When I looked closer, the name Ronald Allen Slane, Sp5, US Army 1967-68 was engraved on the plaque as an example to honor veterans of all wars.  Ron was a medic who died during an ambush in Vietnam while trying to save another soldier…he didn’t even have a weapon to defend himself.  “Ron Slane, Lincoln City, Oregon, volunteered to go to war as an army medic.  He was a conscientious objector, but believed he had a duty to serve in some way.”

Depoe Bay, Oregon VFW Memorial In Memory of Ronald Allen Slane SP5 US Army, Vietnam 1967-68

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For me, and millions of kids born before and after WWII, Veterans Day, is very personal.  Now, in retirement, I devote much of my spare time honoring veterans of all wars, and military families who serve too…  I also honor my fellow veterans who served during the Vietnam War, and all the wars since then.  We can never thank our veterans and their families enough for serving America while protecting the freedoms we enjoy each and every day of our lives.  This is a debt that can never be paid back…

On this Veterans Day, go visit at least one veterans memorial close to home, and give thanks to all those who have served, who serve now, and will serve in the future, including 1st responders who keep us safe on the home front.  Thank the families and loved ones who serve too, and who become the care givers to our heroes who return home with moral and physical injuries that often require a lifetime of healing. 

Steve Sparks US Navy Vietnam Era Pearl Harbor Submarine Base

Serving as a Nonprofit Board Director, the Good, the Bad, & the Ugly… A lessons learned conversation…

Community Building, Stepping Up Initiative, Lincoln County Oregon 2017…

Introduction

ATTENTION! This is a reader engaging lessons learned activity! Think about what this suggests from a dear friend(s) and colleague(s), “running a nonprofit ain’t no picnic at the beach!” Neighbors for Kids, Depoe Bay, Oregon. I served as board director and officer from 2010 to 2016. What a ride! My first nonprofit board service experience was Village Art in the Park, Leavenworth, Wa from 1991 to 1996, including serving as chair for three years. Anyone serving on a nonprofit board, staff, committee, including stakeholders and partners, or interested in making a difference for your community, this is a worthy read!

Please begin this activity by reading the brief article in the link below.

I will take the highlights of certain “truths” and discuss my own professional experiences. Part of the learning exercise as we engage in this topic is writing your own story… Please consider sharing your story. Steve Sparks

Big Picture Realities

Serving is far more work than you anticipated… Until you experience this you will never know how much board members, staff and volunteers slave to build the best of the best nonprofit business model for a social services cause they love.

Far more responsibility than you may have understood or imagined, but highly rewarding. Count on a relatively few board members who are actually appropriately passionate, compassionate and empathetic toward the cause. Social services non-profits, as an example, are often providing 24/7 essential community based services to the most vulnerable citizens in our community. The executive director’s passion and leadership is the difference between success and failure. But without a proactive, highly engaged board and larger community commitment to the cause, your non-profit will struggle to compete for funding… It’s like a 3 legged stool…

No doubt it is far more frustrating than you considered. Serving on a board is thankless, believe me. The charity cause has to be part of your DNA. Don’t commit to board service if this makes you nervous about a time and energy commitment, please don’t do it! Serve on a committee first. Try it, you might like it… This experience could be the most rewarding thing you have done in a lifetime of giving back to your community. Serving on boards and making a difference in my community has been a source of healing for me from a very challenging life history.

1) Board service may well be the hardest but most rewarding job in your life. It has been for me…

Board service is a very serious commitment. Board officers and directors have fiduciary and governance duties and must follow best practices as any other business enterprise. Vetting good board members is the key to building a solid team of community building leaders who really care about the charity. There is a huge amount of “sweat equity” by board members, including investing in the non-profit’s future sustainability through in-kind services and money. In the for profit business world it is called, “participation.” The most important ingredients to success are trust, respect, and confidence in each other as friends and colleagues. Don’t hold back, communicate your passion and ideas. Board development and capacity building training must be an on-going priority with measured outcomes.

2) Your voice is as valuable at your first meeting as it is at your last.

Each and every board member has equal power to make a difference. It is in your commitment and participatory engagement that builds exponential capacity to make things happen in your community. When the full board is working together as a cohesive, strategy driven team with the executive director, staff and larger community, anything is possible!

3) You deserve a very good orientation.

The best advice I ever heard from a legacy donor about board service; “The good news, is you will not go to jail for being stupid.”

The most critical orientation for a new board member is learning the laws and executive management best practices connected with 501cX charity nonprofits. This is IMPORTANT! Buddy up with a board member with experience, meet once a week for coffee/chat. Build relationships and trust. Work together to champion a new fund raising idea. Pursue opportunities for building capacity with new community collaborations and partnerships. Learn how you can help and get engaged as a board member volunteer. I have found that my empathy and compassion for the most vulnerable citizens we serve, increased ten fold. This kind of proactive engagement results in more passion, more energy, more personal satisfaction with the social cause and in succeeding as a star agency in your community. Leading in the community as a nonprofit pays off big time with extra sweat equity on the part of board members. Hire a business development director. These highly skilled community building professionals pay for themselves 10 times over the long run by building a strong donor list, with estate planning and legacy giving strategies.

Here’s a template for a great board orientation.

4) The board is NOT an appendage to the organization.

Maximizing opportunities as a board in your social services space requires highly passionate and compassionate board members. This work is all about empathy and trust. The staff of a nonprofit wouldn’t be there if they were not all in on the mission and probably have a life history connected to the cause. Don’t get in their way! Be a collaborator on the inside as well as community building on the the outside. Don’t wait for the phone to ring, listen, learn, get involved, and take ownership. The board’s job is to build capacity for the charity cause with a long term goal of achieving sustainability. Board members are the very best citizens in communities all over America. A well run nonprofit charity will recruit and retain volunteers far more effectively. When you love your community, they will love you back! We are the stewards of community owned nonprofits. It has always been an honor and priviledge to serve my community in this capacity.

5) You do NOT need to know rich people to be successful.

It’s worth knowing that the smaller donor ($100) living within your community represents a significant potential for incremental and sustainable funding. We can’t live off a “grant to grant pay period” for staff and operations. Building a diversified funding strategy and portfolio is key to sustainability. Board members are the ‘sales arm’ of a charity! It is your passion about the cause that attracts new donors and funding opportunities. For nonprofits fortunate enough, larger donations are more competitive with “bricks and morter” on the balance sheet. Identify and apply for earned income opportunities through larger community partnerships, especially upstream health care and social services connected with Medicaid population for the most vulnerable citizens in your community. The social services landscape is changing dramatically and taking on more of the services related to the “social determinants of health care.” Start a new ‘innovation’ committee on your board to look at earned income opportunites and/or partnerships that open the door to building capacity. The future is in public/private/philanthropic partnerships that leverage and scale social services to be more responsive and cost effective to the community.

6) Your passion for the organization must be greater than your fear of asking

“Passion is the #1 ingredient for successful board service. It’s also the ingredient to inviting people to know and do more for the organization.” Board members become the face to the community, community outreach champions. Without the high energy, sense of urgency, and hypervigilence of great board members we have all known and love, the community would be unable to sustain vital and essential community based social services. I have always been so grateful for the friends and colleagues who served with me over many decades, and treasure the fond memories and community successes.

7) If you miss two board meetings in a row, call your board chair.

If you are unable to attend regular board meetings and start to fall away, have a chat with your board chair. Maybe it is time to move on or get a new assignment that touches your heart. Missing all the action of community events, regular and committee meetings, makes it hard for the rest of the team. I remember the worst of it on rare occassions when myriad personal and professional circumstances of board members made it very challenging for those of us left behind to pick up the pieces, requiring volunteer neighbors, along with back up temporary board director appointments. It’s usually a big mess and no fun for your remaining friends and colleagues. I call it the “Humpty Dumpty” transition back to good governance and fiduciary stability. They will hate you for this, believe me! Your staff typically knows how to ride this wave…and keep the ship afloat. All heros in my mind…

8) You have power over staff – use it wisely and never abuse it.

“Do not get me started on abuse of power. The number of stories I hear about bullying and abusive board members just gobsmacks me. So two things… if you are joining a board because it feels powerful, go be powerful somewhere else. And secondly and more importantly, please call it out if you see it.” I can’t say this any better!

9) You need to give a gift that Is one of the top 3 charitable gifts you make.

My experience with board members gifts is very personal. Don’t push board members on this topic. Each person will make a commitment of their own choosing on their own time. Gifts are both cash and in-kind. Board members who bring professional experience and skill sets to the board, are worth much appreciation and acknowledgement. Think of the cost of professional services if board members offered experience and certain skills in fund raising and community building. Put it all together, building a diversified board with complementary skill sets and life experience is ideal and doable, no pipe dream.

10) PLEASE share rewarding stories of board service to folks by joining the conversation.

Please share your story! I can be reached at stevesparks.councilor@gmail.com or leave a comment.

Steve Sparks, Author, Blogger, Community Builder, Mental Health Advocate

Honoring Military Spouses and Mothers of Modern Wars… Remembering Marcella C. Sparks, US Navy Mom and Wife who Served Too…

Last visit with mom in September 2015… Lots of laughs and hugs on that day…

Military Spouses Now & Then… By Dana Bretz Click on this link for more…  Quote…from Military Spouses Advocacy Network…

“Twenty three years later (following WWI), we were preparing for yet another world war and we answered that all too familiar call. The call that your country needs you, and without hesitation spouses gave what their country demanded of them, even on the heels of The Great Depression when times were still tough. Spouses went to work in defense plants and volunteered for many war related organizations such as The Red Cross. Life on the home front was a crucial part of the war effort and had a significant influence on the outcome of this particular war. Spouses, in part, helped supply the fruits of victory. That is where we come from, remember that!”

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The photo above of my mother, Marcella, was taken the very last time we visited in Reno, Nevada. Mom passed away January 1, 2016.  With each visit for so many years, I couldn’t help asking myself if this was the last time I would see her.  At age 97 on September 25, 2015 was up and around living her life in the comfortable and caring home of Regent Care Center in Reno, Nevada.

We owe so much to the military spouses and moms of all wars!  “Together we served!”  Without the courageous military spouses of “then and now,” we military kids, including my own boomer generation, would not be here at all.  War weary soldiers and sailors had the hopes and dreams of going home to resume their lives, which gave them the spiritual power and bravery to get through each day, no matter how horrific the circumstances of battle.  We remember and honor the ultimate sacrifice of countless numbers of warriors who didn’t make it home.  Many had children they never met.  It was then and now that the military spouse as a single mom, had to carry on and raise the children who would not have a father.  For those warriors who did come home, the war often came home with them.  It was then and now a double duty to care for a broken warrior as well as raise the children who came before and after the war was over…

It is with love, privilege and honor to celebrate my mother’s birthday; and her service to America.  Military families serve(d) too!  It was a hard road for my parents and countless couples who came out of the Depression Era to fight for freedom during World War II.  The home front was critical to fighting and winning wars then and now…

Happy Birthday, Mom! I will always treasure the memories of our closeness during the last years of your life… We heal as a military family…

Steve Sparks, Author, Blogger, Mental Health Advocate

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)…Why is Hugging Sooo Very Critical?

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

Sad Kids

The reality of my own “adverse childhood experiences” is just catching up with me at age 73. My guess is I’m not alone. Not too long ago I took an ACEs test for the very first time, and scored 9/10, not good, terrible really, and sad, very sad. The only reason for not getting the worst ACEs score of 10 was our parents stayed married. From my own life experiences, I don’t know if staying married makes any sense if it damages children with life-long mental health challenges, like me and so many others. But back in the 1950’s, the US Navy was the only source of income for our family. Otherwise, we would have been foster kids, and that could have made things far worse. We will never know.

Steve Sparks 1948…

Healing Kids

It was a very tough start for me as a young child when I contracted Polio at age 2 in 1948. Of course, there are no memories, probably a good thing. But from learning through conversations with my loving and caring siblings, I know that around that time, early in Polio research and before the discovery of a vaccine by Jonas Salk, I was isolated for many weeks in the US Naval Hospital in San Diego, CA. People were scared of Polio back then, so there was little or no hugging or nurturing as a toddler and throughout my childhood.

The unfortunate and emotionally numb state of mind of my mother for all of my childhood must have caused me to feel alone and scared that something was wrong with me…click here. Why did other kids get hugs and not me? What was wrong with me? My siblings were not hugged either, so it seemed that was the way it was in our home. Sadly, our home during the 50s and early 60s before I left home at age 17, was a loveless, chaotic, cold and scary place to be. My father was just getting back on his feet from 4 years fighting during the Pacific War, including surviving Pearl Harbor. Dad was also deployed for 9 months during the Korean War. Both parents suffered from significant mental health challenges from their own ACEs and after the war for the rest of their lives…inadequate treatment.

With much sadness in my heart, hugging and nurturing was not in the mix back then for our US Navy military family. Hugging – 7 Benefits For You And Your Child (Backed By Science)…click here. Add that to the overall profoundly dysfunctional culture in our home following the war, and it is not surprising that an ACEs score of 9/10 would apply to all 5 children in the Sparks home. Every one of us took all the baggage of moral injury into adult life. We decided as a family to end the cycle of intergenerational pain. The true motivation for me in healing is to leave this planet with a smile, peace of mind and a heart full of warm fuzzies.

Hope for Recovery! We are all survivors…

Happy Adult Kids

The good news from all of the truly painful childhood experiences, is that it is never too late to heal and recover. Healing is a life long journey of being exceptionally kind to yourself every day. It is hard, very complicated and painful at times to navigate my own journey of healing. I will say without a doubt, it is worth it! With a strong and loving family support system, great friends, and colleagues, I feel hopeful that peace of mind is now a healthy work in progress. I have also learned from my heightened awareness that with a “whole patient” treatment and recovery strategy, recovery success per the above reference is 86%. There is HOPE!

When you go home and hug your kids tonight, hug them tight, and tell them you love them. Help your little ones grow up so they leave home happy, healthly, confident, loving, and smart.

Best wishes on your own journey of healing!

Steve Sparks, Author, Blogger, Mental Health Advocate

Lincoln County Oregon Builds a Collaborative Community…Transforming Health Care to a Patient Centered Model…

Lincoln County Commissioner, Claire Hall, a close friend and colleague, asked me to come in for a visit in May of 2016 after she attended a National Association of Counties (NACo) conference in Washington D.C. At that moment the Stepping Up Initiative was hatched in Claire’s office, and the rest is history. Commissioner Hall hired me as project consultant, and recruited newly installed Lincoln County Sheriff Curtis Landers to join the project leadership team. It is within this leadership structure and steadfast commitment that we began paving the way for the amazing transformation we have experienced as a community in the last three (3) years, including a ready and willing community of partners and stakeholders. As a community we had reached a critical point in 2016 when we had to change or be left behind as a rural County of close to 50,000 citizens. We were running out of time…

Lincoln County Commissioners, Kaety Jacobson, Claire Hall, and Doug Hunt

On October 5, 2016 Lincoln County Oregon Board of Commissioners (BOC) passed a resolution to make Stepping Up Initiative a top priority for leading Lincoln County into a 21st Century transformative health care delivery system; especially for the most vulnerable citizens, including our brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, cousins, who are so often left behind in the streets as homeless, and all too often suffer from mental illness, and addiction. We then set out to navigate the County through an exciting and challenging period of change and breaking down barriers. As a community we were too siloed stuck in place for far too long. We had limited collaborations and partnerships which denied the community of diversified funding opportunities. Lincoln County Sheriff, Curtis Landers stepped up immediately to help lead with a smart on crime approach of diverting vulnerable individuals from the County Jail and hospital emergency services to community based treatment and recovery upstream services…a continuum of care.

Lincoln County Sheriff Curtis Landers

The culmination of this awesome community building effort was represented in full force last Friday, September 13th. With a full moon and the stars aligned we met for the 3rd year as a leadership team of partners and stakeholders to review progress and continue to close the gaps and solidify Stepping Up Initiative as the new community based culture of collaboration. Hosted by Oregon Center on Behavioral Health & Justice Integration, the workshop goals are focused on this broader theme…

“Mental health and criminal justice systems often collide, creating significant barriers to treatment and support services. Sequential Intercept Mapping & Taking Action for Change helps develop and implement plans for community change through cross-system collaboration. This workshop enhances practices and facilitates organizational change utilizing innovative and dynamic tools to map systems, identify gaps in service, and clarify community resources.”

Goals

  • Further the delivery of appropriate services to people with mental illness and/or substance use disorders involved in the criminal justice system
  • Assist in identifying gaps in service
  • Optimize use of local resources

Topics and Activities

This program is customized to the very specific needs and desired outcomes of our community.

  • Cross-Systems Mapping
  • Identifying Resources and Gaps in Service
  • Setting Community Priorities
  • Developing an Action Plan to Implement Change

As a long time citizen of Lincoln County and Depoe Bay, Oregon, I’m so very honored and proud to have been part of this unprecedented community building effort in our coastal community. Lincoln County now leads in the State of Oregon and across the nation as a transformative rural community. We can be proud as a community of the excellent leadership and commitment from Lincoln County Board of Commissioners and Sheriff for their steadfast leadership commitment…and innovative spirit. We succeeded in becoming an empowered community of partners and stakeholders…and there is no turning back the clock. We are more than ready for the next generation of Stepping Up Initiative…2.0.

Steve Sparks, Project Consultant, Stepping Up Initiative, Lincoln County Oregon and Resident Cheer Leader

Steve Sparks, Author, Blogger, Mental Health Advocate

On the Brink! As a Young Adult Serving in the US Navy 1965…

Depression and Suicide Among Young Adults

As an 18 year old young man in the US Navy in 1965, I was very lucky!  Click here… Thanks to the excellent care by US Navy mental health professionals, I am here today at age 73, I struggle with lifelong symptoms of agitated depression, but with loving support from family, friends and effective clinical therapy, I feel a peace of mind that everything is going to be okay.  I know now from receiving my medical records from that time that traumatic experiences from childhood years and as a young adult took its toll.  Even though my memory is lost from that time, my medical records show that W. F. Miner, LCDR. MC USN in May of 1965 was paying attention.  I am very thankful for Dr. Miner’s thorough evaluation and treatment to help me through a most critical and risky period in my life.

I found a couple of references to W. F. Miner USN.  His service to America and contributions as a mental health professional appear to be substantial.  He along with D. S. Burgoyne CDR MC USN, Psychiatrist, were both instrumental in my treatment and recovery.  I have a much better appreciation and gratitude for the US Navy mental health community after reviewing my medical records from long ago.  We hear mostly of the statistics presented in the above chart, but not always about the lives saved every day by caring mental health professionals everywhere.  I only wish I could find these two heroes from my US Navy experience and thank them personally for saving my life…

Steve Sparks, Author, Blogger, Mental Heath Advocate

Searching for My Lost Soul… A life time of stumbling, bumbling, and surviving to fight for sanity another day…

Most folks know that writing has been a critical source of healing for me. I started writing this blog in April 2011 on the encouragement of my dear friend and best buddy Byron Lewis. Byron passed away in October 2018 after a long battle with cancer. I miss Byron everyday, but he still taps me on the shoulder to help me get back on the right track. Byron encouraged me to keep writing before he passed. I honor my ol’ surf dude pal, Byron, with this first installment of a new series of lessons learned in life…and my personal journey of healing… Bryon also helped me edit my books and contributed to this blog over the years…click here.

Byron Lewis, a true friend who cared deeply for the children in our community. Byron served 8 years on the board of Neighbors for Kids, Depoe Bay, Oregon…click here. He lives in our hearts forever…

Back in the day we surf dudes would look at each other when a bad wipe out was imminent and say, “when you’re fucked you’re fucked!” That’s exactly how I felt at the beginning of this story so very long ago…

It was a gorgeous sunny morning in January 1965 cruising around Oahu near Makaha Beach aboard the USS Coucal (ASR8); a submarine rescue and salvage ship, shown in the above photo…click here. I only have surreal foggy memory from that moment. I was on a break and looking on shore off of Makaha Beach. We were about a football field from shore. I could see surfers taking off on beautiful glassy waves when I dreamed of being on my board waiting in the pocket for the perfect wave. I could feel the waves under my feet, the freedom and control of my destiny for a moment in time…a true mindfulness escape that allowed me to forget everything painful. Impulsively, I just jumped in and swam to shore! Last I remember about that moment so long ago is being at Treasure Island in San Francisco in August 1965, transitioning out of the US Navy with an early honorable separation.

I suffer from significant memory loss over a lifetime, especially during early childhood, teen years, and as a young adult. With a much higher level of awareness from Trauma Informed Care and personal treatment and recovery strategies, my memory is returning little by little and helping me get the closure I so desparately need to finally heal from the too terrible to remember younger years.

Promoted to RM3 in 1964 while serving at Comsubflot5

This was the beginning of 6 decades of running away from mental illness, searching for my soul with a desparation to find my truth and a passion to succeed as a worthy and honorable man. I wanted to prove that mental illness was not possible in my life. At age 19, I didn’t even understand the depth and breadth of my sickness from a terribly abusive and sick childhood that included surviving polio at age 2. What happened? How could I get out of this outrageious disaster? All the rotten memories were blocked out during that time, denial was the only logical direction for me. I would not last 2 minutes on the outside if anything was revealed about my mental illness. My life was on the line. There was no way out but denial. What else could any young man do in my shoes at that time, but pull up his boot strapes and learn how to survive. I felt extreme shame and guilt for letting the Navy down and my family. I believed I was crazy and couldn’t imagine talking about it, not once, not ever!

I was reassigned as a Radioman 3rd Class from Comsubpac/Comsubflot5, a highly secure communications center at Pearl Harbor subbase to the USS Coucal in January 1965. I was given this assignment as a lighter duty station while in treatment and recovery for a diagnosis of acute agitated depression and anxiety…click here. The Coucal was supposed to be an opportunity for me to work in a less stressful duty station, but the temptation of seeking refuge to what felt the safest spot on earth to me at the time was my surfboard. Without hesitation, and in a surreal state of panic, I jumped in to join my brothers in the surf at a familiar and favorite surf spot on Oahu. I was a strong swimmer and in great shape, so swimming to shore was a piece of cake.

I was completely unaware, ignorant, and immature during my early struggles with mental health. Mental illness was a very bad thing to happen to a young man serving with pride and honor in the US Navy. My father, a highly decorated WWII US Navy veteran, Pearl Harbor survivor, Pacific War, and Korean War, would no doubt beat the crap out of me while asking me once again for the millionth time, “what is wrong with you?” There was never a conversation about what happened back then or how to help a young man suffering from mental illness. If you were diagnosed with mental illness, life as a normal person would end. I would be seen as a ‘weak sister’ (vernacular term for weak dudes). I do see my father now with a different perspective. He suffered all his life with mental illness and didn’t have a way to treat his PTSD and major depressive disorder until later in life. My mother and all of us siblings suffered the same, living a life of emotional baggage.

I was never told of my specific mental illness diagnosis when leaving the Navy in August 1965. I learned later that my father was contacted by the commanding officer of Comsubpac and provided an update on my mental health circumstances. The first time I got a hint of it was when seeking a vocational position as a teletype technician with General Tel in Los Angeles in September 1965. At that time medical records of veterans were not sealed, so I was screened out for having a mental illness diagnosis from the US Navy on my DD214. Isn’t that the shits? Imagine how a young man age 19 might feel being told for the first time by a lay person that he is mentally unstable?

As a result of my own traumatic life experiences as a child, it is horrific for me to think of a child living in a profoundly dysfunctional home…click here. I cringe thinking about how children inhale the pain of parents suffering and the chaos presented in troubled homes across America. There are too many kids in my community who are damaged emotionally and morally for a lifetime following a childhood of abuse and maltreatment, including being exposed to substance abuse, addiction, and violence that serves as an intergenerational problem. Reach out to children and families who need community support. We know now with evidence based facts that finding ways to support kids who come to school with challenges early in life will help heal moral injuries that persist over a lifetime. We must stop the cycle of intergenerational pain, and it starts with all of us making a difference each and everyday.

Best wishes in your journey of healing,

Ask What Happened, Not What is Wrong!

I spent the first 6 decades of my life trying to figure out what was wrong with me and everything else in my life.  When I finally started learning about post trauma stress (PTS) and trauma informed care, it was clear that empathy and compassion were possible once we changed the conversation to “what happened” not “what is wrong.”  This seemingly basic concept allowed me to begin my own journey of healing in 2011 at age 64.  Everytime I talk to a person suffering from PTSD, including depression, anxiety, addiction, and other mental health challenges, I try to find out what happened, not what is wrong.  Once we change the conversation to what happened, the talk shifts immediately to a greater mutual understanding of the roots of the emotional struggles of your friends, neighbors, and loved ones who are suffering from a past traumatic life event. Imagine a combat veteran who came home from war a different person because of being exposed to the terrible violence of war. Think about a child who suffers from persistent and pervasive emotional and physical abuse in a profoundly dysfunctional home. In all these circumstances of severe trauma, we know now that the human brain is rewired, the brain chemistry changes and adapts to extreme survival circumstances and danger to life in war or at home living in fear.   Because we know this as human beings we can have more empathy and compassion for others who suffer for a lifetime. The emotional baggage of war, the violence and carnage, losing a buddy, seeing little children dead in the streets as collateral damage is too much for a once healthy mind to process and get past once home to resume life as a typical citizen. It is far worse to see traumatized children grow up with serious mental illness, including PTSD and life long major depression, that must be treated for a lifetime. It is heartbreaking to know that too many people of all ages resort to suicide or overdose on opioids because there is no hope and the emotional pain is too horrific to live with.

The life long journey of healing takes a highly disciplined personal effort of awareness of one’s own symptoms and strong support from family, close friends and a sustainable clinical and community based peer support treatment/recovery plan. Even so, the 24/7 intrusive thoughts and emotional pain stick for a lifetime for those of us who suffer from a major depressive disorder. I feel lucky to have a strong support system in these later years of my life. There are too many people in my community suffering from mental illness, including co-occuring alcohol and drug addiction, who are not as lucky. We see it in communities everywhere, the homeless and most vulnerable citizens who live among us. The way we treat the most vulnerable population in our community is a direct reflection of who we are, a loving community with great empathy and compassion.

So, with much empathy and compassion, reach out to the most vulnerable members of your community with kindness and love. Listen to them and help them find a safe place to begin living a healthy and happy quality of life.

Steve Sparks

click here for my author page…

Independence Day Remembrance…Lost WWII Heroes Discovered in South Pacific…a profoundly healing legacy experience for loved ones…

Heroes of Palau…

Palau…Searching for Heroes…  Click on this powerful video clip…worth all 13 minutes! Published on Nov 7, 2014

“Passion meets technology in the search for downed aircraft in the South Pacific. The BentProp Project is a group of volunteers who search for and help repatriate missing World War II Airmen. Their searches were long and arduous until they enlisted the scientific know-how of Scripps Institution of Oceanography-UCSD and The University of Delaware. What they find is truly inspiring.”

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Watching this inspiring and beautiful video clip moved me deeply.  I know more now of the empathy and passion I feel each and every day about the sacrifice of veterans of all wars, especially the children and families who never find out what happened to their loved ones injured or lost to wars long ago…  Once learning about my own father’s experience in WWII and my family’s post war emotional challenges living and caring for Dad, I had no idea this would be the beginning of my own journey of healing.  Millions of children and families live with the trauma connected with war and the lifelong generational struggle of the inherent trauma and the loss of loved ones.  There is too often silence among family members who have a deep desire to find peace of mind, but just “suck it up” and move on without the benefits of healing. 

I hope this powerful story moves your family to find out more about fathers, mothers, and grandparents who sacrificed for the freedoms we enjoy in America.  You can start your own journey of healing and make a difference for others at the same time.  We owe this to ourselves and the legacy of war we honor to learn more and to help our nation heal in life after war…

Steve Sparks

Prevalence of PTSD in Teens… A personal recollection…

https://www.amazon.com/SteveSparks/e/B0070CJDCM

The following is an excerpt from my book, Reconciliation, A Son’s Story…click here.   I was in my teens when PTSD symptoms started to kick-in and become worrisome. It seemed like my mind was overwhelmed with fear and anxiety. I had no idea who I was or what I would become…

“I believe all of the mental and physical abuse discussed in this story begs the question of how it affected my own disposition as my teen years advanced.  I was feeling more and more in-secure as time went by, wondering about what was next, and who our new friends would be, and how we would fit in, and what my parents would end up doing, and where we would live.  There was some excitement about returning to Southern California at that time, getting back to school, and meeting new girls especially.  I had lots of goals and my thoughts were often of the future, leaving home and being on my own.  I wanted out of this chaotic and unstable toxic home life.   I was nervous very nervous most of the time.  I believe the early stages of PTSD and unstable behavior started to kick in at that time.  At age 14 or so, I felt exhausted and confused, without direction, and not knowing whether my parents really cared about us at all.”