Monthly Archives: May 2012

Honoring Vietnam Veterans on Memorial Day…

http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2012/05/29/50th-anniversary-vietnam-war?utm_source=email161&utm_medium=text1&utm_campaign=memorialday

As a US Navy veteran from the Vietnam era it moves me deeply to honor the service of our brave soldiers from that time. Those who gave the ultimate sacrifice in combat during the war will be memorialized forever. In my view, when America goes to war, the country serves and honors veterans of all wars without question. Because that is what our veterans do with pride and honor…

Steve Sparks
Author
Reconciliation: A Son’s Story

Staggering rate of invisible brain injuries—and the addictions that go with them.

http://www.thefix.com/content/veterans-PTSD-TBI-CTE-addiction#.T7-k8bQQDuQ.facebook

“LeHeup is a former Marine sergeant, who served two grueling tours in Afghanistan during the US invasion and early occupation. He drinks to dull memories of the everyday chaos and carnage. He drinks to tolerate his disgust at the raucous bar-goers who have no idea how easy life is in America, compared to the casual violence and grinding poverty of Afghanistan. He drinks because, in the Marines, that is just what everybody does.”

I know from my own personal experience how substance abuse can make the challenge of PTSD exponentially more difficult.  Alcohol in particular mixed with prescription medications will take a person over the edge.   The calming part feels good at first, but then once the body and mind begins to reject the chemicals, we tend to become even more anxious and angry, including over reacting to little things.  I hate PTSD as much as anyone who suffers from the debilitating symptoms, and have lived with the challenge for most of my 65 years on the planet.  But it is far easier to mitigate and manage symptoms without alcohol and various narcotic prescription medications.  The best part is my marriage was saved 12 years ago by stopping alcohol consumption completely.  And finally after many years of using pain killers and other prescription medications following several surgeries, I am now free of narcotics in my body.  PTSD is still a challenge, but managing the symptoms is so much easier.   I wake up these days much happier and confident about the future.  My wife and extended family, including close friends, are happy campers too.

Steve Sparks
Author
Reconciliation: A Son’s Story

Vernon H. Sparks (1918-1998), BMC United States Navy, World War II and Korean War

My book, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story, was written in memory of my Father, Vernon H. Sparks. Dad served 66 months of continuous combat duty starting in the China Sea before WWII, survived the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor while while serving aboard the Battleship USS West Virginia on December 7, 1941; and served aboard the USS Belle Grove LSD2 in 7 campaigns during the Asiatic Pacific Theater. 

The war did not end when Dad came home during the summer of 1945.  He suffered severe moral injury during extended combat duty and lived his entire life with the pain of war.  It was not until long after the Vietnam War that Dad finally received some relief from psychotherapy and medications. 

My nonfiction story was also written in memory of all veterans of World War II who died in combat and came home to make a difference in life after war.   We now honor WWII veterans as the “Greatest Generation.”  My book is especially written for all the military families and loved ones who “served too” and cared for and supported soldiers during the war and in life following the war. 

Steve Sparks
Author
Reconciliation: A Son’s Story

In Memory:
Vernon H. Sparks (1918-1998), BMC United States Navy, World War II and Korean War

Combat veteran who served his country with pride and honor

Honoring an American Hero: “Gene Curtis Sharratt U.S. Army, Vietnam, Paratrooper, 173rd Airborne, Sgt. E-5, 1967-1969 (Bronze Star and Army Commendation Medals)”

I am honored and privileged to share Gene Sharratt’s story on this Memorial Day weekend.  Gene’s experience as a combat veteran from the Vietnam War, and early research on the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or combat stress, including readjustment to civilian life, is significant and historical.  What is most relevant to me in my own research, and writing my book, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story, is how Gene lives his life.  Gene begins each day thinking of how he is going to help someone else and goes about each day making a difference in very positive ways.  Gene has been an inspiration to me for 15 years, and is a close friend and mentor.

My dear friend and mentor, Gene Sharratt, has never talked about his Vietnam combat experience.  He does, however, on rare occasions mention his time in Vietnam leading men into battle, in the context of how he lives his life.  In fact, Gene’s 12 page resume, including his amazing contributions to kids and public education in the State of Washington shows the title of this blog posting in one line on page 12.  Gene learned very early as a Vietnam combat veteran about the pain and horror of war, but he also discovered very early that his focus in life each day is about hope and what he can do to help others.  Gene also learned very early, long before others, about combat stress and PTSD.  His 1983 Doctor of Philosophy dissertation is entitled, An Analysis of Occupational Stress Reported by Vietnam Era Veteran Educators in Washington State.

As Superintendent of North Central ESD, Gene, helped organize and lead a POW reunion, Honor by Listening Project, which included publishing the stories of 14 amazing war veterans and former POWs from the Vietnam War.  The project resulted in the 2001 publication, Returning with Honor: Stories of American Heroes.  Ken Zontek and his Cashmere High School students at the time spent four years on the Honor by Listening project to help record and write the powerful and moving stories in this publication. One essay in particular is unique, describing the life of children of a POW.  The final essay is from an interview of Dr. Robert Mitchell who conducts medical analysis of the former POWs.

Gene Sharratt’s life is remarkable and an inspiration to all who know him.  His philosophy comes alive every day while he does the work he loves, helping others succeed and achieve their dreams.  Gene believes strongly that the pain of war is kept in its proper place in life after war when each day is dedicated to helping others.  I can tell you from my own experience that Gene’s life work and personal philosophy represents the optimum formula for long term healing from traumatic events like war.  Gene will tell you that he works hard every day to keep his focus on the greater good and his passion for education.  As long as each day includes the rewards of making a difference for others, the pain of war stays a safe distance away from Gene’s heart and mind.  The positive high energy gained through his philosophy and life style sets an example for the journey of maintaining a happy, healthy, and productive life after war.
Steve Sparks
Author
Reconciliation: A Son’s Story

Talking2Minds – Bruce Martin Launches Summer Campaign With Kilimanjaro Climb

http://www.nevillethurlbeck.com/

Since starting this blog over a year ago, and publishing my book, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story, it  became clear immediately that none of us are alone with personal and family challenges, especially in life after war.  Our own story comes alive and the dots are connected once others join the conversation.  My life has changed dramatically in the past year, and the journey of healing is well on its way.  I have made new friends all over the world through connections with social media, meeting folks at book signings, in book reviews published on Amazon.com http://www.amazon.com/Steve-Sparks/e/B0070CJDCM/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0 and in one to one conversations.

The new friendship that stands out the most is Bruce Martin from the UK referenced in the above link.  Bruce’s charity work, including http://www.talking2minds.co.uk and http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/BruceMartin66 is impressive and sets an example for all those who work for the greater good.  Bruce’s work through “talking2minds” is especially significant to me because the cognitive work with UK combat veterans appears to be powerful and very effective.  Talking2minds is getting a great deal of attention in the UK and the therapy model practiced with combat veterans suffering from the symptoms of PTSD is making a huge difference.

Please learn more about Bruce Martin and the work he is doing to help combat veterans with readjustment to civilian life after war…  We American’s can learn much from our friends and partners in the UK…

Steve Sparks
Author
Reconciliation: A Son’s Story

USO: “Until Everyone Comes Home.”

http://www.uso.org/Programs/Warrior-and-Family-Care/PSA/USO-Invisible-Wounds.aspx

MSGT Mike Martinez

Deployed to Iraq
1990 / 2004

Listen as MSGT Mike Martinez shares how traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post traumatic stress (PTS) have affected his life. |
I am highly recommending this new website from the USO!  It is without question, very powerful!
Steve Sparks

Life After War “Flashbacks.”

http://voiceofwarriors.com/2012/05/aftermath-of-a-flashback/

“What happens after a flashback?  What do we do after something triggers our combat veteran and he has a meltdown?  When things fall apart we often don’t know how to react.  As family members and caregivers, we feel helpless.  We struggle for the right words to say. We wonder if we should say or do something or if it is just better to do nothing?  Our reaction could escalate the situation and then what?”

While visiting my elderly Mother, Marcella, last week, I was reminded of the subject of PTSD “flashbacks.”  I am well aware of this experience, and the nighmares as well, from my own childhood toxic culture at home.  My Dad, Vernon, a US Navy WWII & Korean War combat veteran, brought the war home to his family, including Mom.  At age 94 she still has flashbacks when we visit.  This time she asked me, “why was Dad always angry with me?”  She then recalled the incidents of knife throwing by my Dad at times during an angry outburst.  I used to just listen and get a tad angry myself before researching and writing my book, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story.  This time, I explained to her that Dad wasn’t really mad at her, he was angry because of his experience during the war.  I have had peace with this since last year for the first time following the publication of my book.  I’ll never know if my response to Mom this time at this stage in her life gave her some peace of mind.  I really hope and pray she can have peace now at the end of her life.  It is sad, but we do know more now how to address PTSD, and the above link provides a resource to help mitigate and manage the “flashback” challenge among those who suffer the symptoms of PTSD. 

Steve Sparks,
Author
Reconciliation: A Son’s Story

Laughing is healthy for the soul!

Everybody else thinks the following story is funny, but not me. While going through TSA security in Portland, Oregon en route to Reno, my pants fell down to my knees when they made me take my belt off. While this was taking place, all the stuff in my bag fell out because the TSA dude didn’t zip my bag after they sorted through it looking for whatever. Then I couldn’t find my boarding ticket while getting everything back together including my pants and belt back on. Luckily, I was told to go to the gate and get another boarding ticket, so didn’t have to go back through security. While all this was going on, my cell phone butt dialed Judy. She was going crazy on the other end of the phone thinking I was having a heart attack of sorts. Got another boarding ticket, then found the other one, while the agent gave me a paper towel to wipe all the sweat from my face. Fortunately, at least for the moment, no pictures or video of a 65 year old guy losing it at the airport in cyberspace. Suppose others might think this is funny too. Join the conversation… Laughing is healthy for the soul…
 
Steve Sparks
Author
Reconciliation: A Son’s Story

The Faith Community needs to be educated about PTSD too!

Because of the following comment from Dan and Elaina, including their experience in attending a church they loved, I am re-posting my blog from May 16, 2012, http://livingwithptsd-sparkles.blogspot.com/2012/05/invisible-illness-is-challenge-of.html?showComment=1337501320834#c954242136973022957.

My psychiatrist friend and mentor, Dr. Erv Janssen, from Tulsa, Oklahoma, sent me a book written by the faith community, Welcome Them Home, Help Them Heal: Pastoral care and ministry with service members returning from war, http://www.welcomethemhomebook.com.

Rural communities are not always equipped with the resources from the VA nor local non-profits to help educate and lead the community in support of combat veterans returning home from war.  The ideal solution, but no less a challenge, is to get churches in your smaller community involved and engaged with PTSD awareness.  Church leaders must be contacted and provided with the information and resources so that the empathy needed to work with those who suffer from the symptoms of PTSD can become heartfelt.  There is a solution where those affected find that a particular church or faith group does not understand or relate.  The faith community can be just as ignorant on this subject as the average person because average people go to church.  Community leaders and residents who attend church need to help themselves before God can help them.  Sit down with your church leaders and show them the way…  Next step is to speak directly to the faith community at large, especially in church on Sunday, or any other time there is a gathering of the faithful.

Steve Sparks
Author
Reconciliation: A Son’s Story

Dan and Elaina* ~ PTSD-is-Normal.com said…

Thank you, Steve, for what you are doing to help people become aware of the invisible injury of PTSD. Since both my husband and I have severe PTSD, we two are like the blind trying to lead the blind, sometimes, as we stumble along through life being dysfunctional together.

The good part about it is that we understand each other, we don’t get upset and frustrated with each other for not being “normal.” But the bad part about it is that nobody is functioning very well much of the time! Then people look at us from the outside, they look at our dysfunctional life and treat us like we’re faking or lazy.

We were even ostracized in a church we loved, when the people found out that my husband was on disability for his Vietnam Combat PTSD. It seemed like they thought you can’t be a true Christian and have PTSD! Christians can have diabetes, high blood pressure, heart problems, cancer, they can need to wear hearing aids and glasses, but you must not be living right in the eyes of the Lord if you have a “mental illness” or a “mood disorder….” Where’s your faith, where’s your trust in God, etc. How can you have anxiety, depression, flashbacks, and anxiety attacks, if you are obeying the Biblical commands to “fear not” and to have joy in the Lord?

When you can’t even find compassionate people in Church…it gets very lonely having PTSD!

Elaina

Wes Campbell wrote:

“Hard to explain to someone who has no clue. Or doesn’t believe you. It’s a daily struggle being in pain or feeling sick on the inside while you look fine on the outside. Please put this as your status for at least 1 hour if you or someone you know has an invisible illness (Pancreatitis, Crohn’s, IBS, PTSD, Anxiety, Bipolar, Depression, Diabetes, LUPUS, Fibromyalgia, MS, ME, Arthritis, Cancer, …
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry.”

The above statement is very powerful! The goal of PTSD awareness is a huge challenge. Under 10 million Americans suffer from PTSD according to the latest statistics. It is a large number but a small minority in the context of over 300 million USA population. Since researching and writing my book, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story, I have become highly sensitive to the countless others who have not had an opportunity to experience or know the symptoms of severe PTSD resulting from traumatic events i.e., combat and life after war. When you can’t see it or experience the pain of another person’s hidden illness, it is virtually impossible to have any empathy or compassion. I am encouraged with all the media coverage, including social media, providing exponentially more information on this subject. It will take time, lots of time, but the meaningful work of PTSD awareness is critical and must continue with every means available. Otherwise, the help and compassion from the larger community will be difficult to achieve.

Steve Sparks
Author
Reconciliation: A Son’s Story

Not enough attention given to children of parents who live with the symptoms of PTSD!

Based on my observations and the following comment from a teen who found the posting, we are not getting connected to the kids who are affected!!  My own experience as a child growing up in a toxic home living with a very angry and disturbed parent who spent 66 months in continuous combat during WWII, reinforces what this teen is saying.  And while visiting with my Mother, Marcella, who is approaching 94, she still has “flashbacks” of my Dad’s anger, and still believes he was angry with her.  I tried once again to explain to her that Dad was not angry at her, and loved her dearly.  We all loved him…  Dad was angry because of his experience in combat during WWII.  He experienced significant trauma while being exposed to death and destruction for the entire war beginning with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941 while serving on the USS West Virginia.  We must do more, especially with young children and loved ones who are affected with secondary PTSD, often for their entire life…  Specifically, try to connect to kids in the public school setting first, then connecting the family to appropriate resources.  Easy to say, but hard to accomplish due to limited resources in public education.  We are attempting to educate parents in my community through the public schools and after-school programs i.e., Neighbors for Kids, http://www.neighborsforkids.org.  Other resources include Sesame Street Workshop, http://archive.sesameworkshop.org/tlc/

Please join the conversation on this subject and offer your own experience and ideas to help kids with the challenges of living with parents who suffer from the symptoms of PTSD!

Steve Sparks
Author
Reconciliation: A Son’s Story

Anonymous said…

“I just came across this site.. I’m only 16 but my mom has suffered from PTSD my entire life. I had to “be the parent” at 7, and am constantly switching roles between the child and the adult. There should be more sites like this that offer support, but I can”t seem to find any.”

http://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/pages/pro_child_parent_ptsd.asp

The following quote is from the above National Center for PTSD site.

“A parent’s PTSD symptoms can be directly linked to their child’s responses. Children can respond




in certain ways:

The “over-identified” child

might feel and behave just like their parent as a way of trying




to connect with the parent. Such a child might show many of the same symptoms as the
parent with PTSD.

The “rescuer” child

takes on the adult role to fill in for the parent with PTSD. The child




acts too grown-up for his or her age.

The “emotionally uninvolved child”

gets little emotional help. This results in problems at school, depression, anxiety (worry, fear), and relationship problems later in life.”

The PTSD paper written and published by the National Center for PTSD addresses an often not discussed secondary PTSD problem in a family where the parent shows severe symptoms from experience in combat or other traumatic events. My book, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story, describes my own family’s post WWII culture in the context of how we siblings behaved under the toxic home life conditions resulting from my father’s extended combat duty. Dad’s symptoms became worse in the ’50’s following a tour of additional combat duty during the Korean War. It is highly painful but healing at the same time to revisit the past in our family story. Kids take on PTSD like bad genes and often deal with the symptoms for a life time with or without treatment. My family deals with this so much better these days after learning and becoming more aware of Dad’s mental health challenges following two wars and over five years of combat duty beginning with the South China Sea just before WWII, surviving the Japanese attack in Pearl Harbor while serving on the USS West Virginia, the Asiatic Pacific Theater serving of the USS Belle Grove, and finally the USS Andromeda during the Korean War. This was far too much combat duty for one human being to endure. And think of it, 1000’s of combat veterans experienced the same kind of combat duty during my father’s “Greatest Generation” of warriors. Life after war for countless wartime veterans was a total experiment in coping with symptoms of anxiety and depression, including acting out with rage at home around spouses, children and loved ones. We really didn’t begin to learn a whole lot of PTSD until the post Vietnam era, and now are in a much better position to provide diagnosis and treatment. The key to healing is awareness, education, and discussion among ourselves as families and the community as a whole. We must take responsibility and action as a community where our veterans return home to live a healthy, happy, and productive life after war.

Steve Sparks
Author
Reconciliation: A Son’s Story