“Fighting Anger After the War” a short article by Steve Sparks

                             Fight Anger” in Life after War with the Same Discipline as in Combat!

                                   By Steve Sparks, Author, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story  (click to order)

Until recently, following the completion and publication of my book, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story (click to order) in November 2011, I was angry for most of my life, very angry.  The anger manifested itself in two ways.  First, on a personal level at home, and second, in professional endeavors, anger was most often contrasting in terms of how it was directed from my heart and soul.    On the job, my anger looked like hyper- vigilance and facilitated my great success in a highly intense sales and marketing career.  The bad news was at home; I acted out and was at times emotionally and verbally abusive toward my spouse and kids.  I tried to treat my anger with intense physical exercise and any other at-home distractions I could think of, including alcohol abuse.  For the better part of my adult life, my anger was so deep seated and not understood that bursting out and exploding at stupid things became a pattern.  This unsettled and troubling behavior resulted in a failed marriage, and left my oldest daughters without a consistently available and accessible Dad.  My present wife, Judy and I have been married for 28 years.   I have been blessed with a strong foundation in my current marriage and a partner who keeps me grounded.   My anger continued well into later life until taking the first step of eliminating alcohol 12 years ago.  But what really started the healing process was learning of my own PTSD condition while researching and writing my book.     

The reader is probably asking questions now.  What made me so angry?  Why did it take so long to figure it out?  How did I live with the pain of anger for so long?  I really don’t know, but it is heart wrenching to think of a person living with this type of intense, unprovoked anger, especially if the person does not understand why.  The other more serious question is, how did this happen to a young man who served in the US Navy during the Vietnam era, but had no exposure to severe trauma in combat?

To answer the last most troubling question, following is an excerpt from my book, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story.

“As an added tragic note, my brother didn’t mention the time in Waukegan just before he entered the Navy, that Dad hit him in the head after Jerry was confronted in front of the house by some bullies. He almost took them all on and could have cleaned up since he was so strong. Dad hit his head so hard that it swelled up and we thought he needed medical attention. But Dad was afraid to take him to the hospital. Fortunately, Jerry recovered, but it is my opinion that this incident gave him a severe concussion that needed treatment. I know one thing for sure, as a little kid it hurt me deeply to see this happen. To this day I remember the terrible incident vividly. This horrid event is an example of a man who lived by day as a highly respected war hero training boots at the US Naval Training Center; and by night Dad was a mentally ill dangerous man who kept his family in a cage as victims of extreme abuse.  None of us would talk about it for fear of being beaten.  The US Navy did not see it, nor probably wanted to see it. This was a man who was solely responsible for our welfare and without him we would have been poor and homeless at the time. We had no choice but to live with him and to avoid his wrath as much as possible. None of us even understood the gravity of the situation until later.  Denial certainly helped us survive but all the baggage is clear.”

It is very difficult and emotional for me even now to think about this horrific event in my life.  I was just 10 years old when I observed my father almost kill my big brother.  I saw and experienced many toxic physical and emotional events at home for much of my life at that time.  As a result, memory is an issue for me, so my siblings helped me remember other events I had conveniently blocked out.  In fact, I could not have written my book and started the healing process without my sister and brothers who helped me by being willing to return with me to those other extreme abusive and toxic conditions surrounding our childhood. 

The process of researching and writing my book made me acutely aware of a profoundly serious problem in our society which is the “legacy of war” or the inter-generational effects of combat veterans who suffer from the symptoms of PTSD.  This makes PTSD an exponential problem now that we understand the implications on families “who serve too.”  The lesson learned for me at age 64 while writing my story, is that untreated PTSD can destroy families for a lifetime.  PTSD can effectively transfer to spouses and children just like bad genes.  If you are a battlefield veteran, I have a message for you: Do not wait for the symptoms of PTSD ruin your life and the lives of your loved ones!  Talk about it, write about it, read about it, identify support resources, and appropriate mental health treatment.  Think about your loved ones when you return from combat and begin transitioning to a healthy and well balanced life at home.  Becoming completely engaged in fighting your own personal anger as if you were still in the combat theater must have a sense of urgency in your heart.  Combat throws off your moral compass and leaves the soul at a loss.  Get your soul back and protect your family and loved ones from carrying your anger forward to the next generation! 

For me, it is a huge blessing to live my life at this stage in peace and without anger toward my parents and family as a whole.  Living with PTSD; however, continues to be a challenge as the many other symptoms must be managed with appropriate awareness and treatment.  Key to my own continued healing process was reconciliation with self and family.  At the same time, my strong commitment to community service and helping the greater good gives me a high level of personal satisfaction.  Creating a world larger than self is heartwarming and healthy for the soul.  I have an awareness of both my “self” and the world around me that could not have existed had I not reached out for help at the prime age of 65.  My book, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story, includes a message of hope for the future and a self discovery model in the epilogue.

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