“HIGH GROUND is the honest and gripping portrayal of 11 Afghan and Iraqi war veterans overcoming both physical and emotional injuries to summit the 20,000 foot-high Mount Lobuche led by blind adventurer Erik Weihenmayer. These 11 men, representing nearly every branch of the military, risk everything for a chance to make it to the top and find emotional peace. HIGH GROUND won two awards after its premiere at the Boulder International Film Festival, and recently screened at the Seattle International Film Festival. moreless”
Invisible illnesses as in PTSD among combat veterans challenged with life after war, often requires treatment on the extreme side to break through barriers and begin the life long journey of healing. Passion for achieving a hugely challenging goal of climbing a 20,000 summit to overcome both physical and emotional injuries is an extreme treatment measure, but very effective in repairing the soul of those suffering from exposure to extended combat or other severe traumatic events in life. Once this goal is achieved and a sense of balance returns to the soul, combat veterans return to a much higher quality of life after war. Climbing high peaks is just one way to find peace of mind from moral injuries. Many physically demanding adventures can be pursued closer to home to achieve the same result. It is important to find buddies with common interests and a desire to mentally prepare and to physically train for extreme sports that are possible. Getting professional guidance from those who have experience is a must.
Watch the High Ground trailer and get a sense for this remarkable way of “feeding the soul” and returning to a healthy, happy, and productive life after war…
“Artists, we imagine, dazzle us with inspired insight precisely because they have achieved an elevated level of mental health. Not so fast, Sparky. In fact, many of our most popular performers suffer crippling forms of mental illness and manage to flourish anyway, even going so far as to incorporate their psychological challenges directly into their art and performances. For example: Lady Gaga has a pathological fear of being eaten by a bear (arktophobia). Psychologists are evenly split regarding the significance of her now iconic “meat dress”. Some maintain that it was a way for her to bravely confront her fear, while others believe it was so reckless as to border on sheer self-destruction. Adam Sandler has crippling self-esteem issues; ridicule reduces him to tears. This is why, despite the odds against it, he managed to produce many movies without ever making a funny one – that is how intensely he dreads the idea of being laughed at. Sacha Baron Cohen, who suffers from malignant narcissism and profound self-loathing, insists on making films so insulting to audiences that contempt and revulsion seem to rise from them like steam, eventually finding their way back to him, thereby solidifying the illnesses.”
As written in my book, living with the stigma and denial of mental health challenges was my secret journey for most of my adult life. Learning how to cope was a trial and error experience at best. But discovering a few hidden talents along the way that came from my symptoms of PTSD helped me to succeed in professional life. Hyper-vigilance for one was a good thing that energized me each and every day, and still does. I am always on alert! I rarely missed an opportunity to make a difference in my work. My creative instincts put me ahead of the pack most of the time. I refused to fail! It was survival and a desire to succeed that kept me going to be sure. If a person with mental health challenges can focus and channel the upside of symptoms like extreme hyper-vigilance & hyper-arousal you can compete more effectively in corporate life or in other professional endeavors i.e., a first responder vocation. Sales and marketing was my career path, and bosses loved me! Sometimes it was a love/hate relationship, but my employers always knew the results would come with me at the helm. I really believe employers can miss an opportunity to hire a talented and results focused employee if they allow a mental health issue such as PTSD steer them away. I hired professionals who had the energy and motivation to succeed. I was given the chance of my life with the Western Union Telegraph Company in 1965 while another company rejected me because they were concerned about my mental health diagnosis. I will say, however, that it was very challenging coping with my symptoms without understanding what was happening, and not knowing anything about treatments that may or may not have been available. It would have been much better to mitigate, especially off the job, if the information and awareness of PTSD and treatments were known to me many years ago.
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…
“Poetry Dissects PTSD by Healing Emotions– Not Reliving the Trauma”
During the months since publishing my book in late 2011, I have been learning much about human connectedness and spirituality as a healthy path of healing moral injury and addressing the symptoms of PTSD. The poetry of Risa Ruth and healing approach adds to my recent exposure to the healing value of music, yoga, writing, & cathartic http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catharsis readings in general. This is not to take away from the value of psychotherapy and the use of medications as recommended by mental health professionals. The journey of healing from traumatic events in life appears to be complex; involving a mix of psychotherapy, human connectedness, and spiritual approaches, all of which could be used together appropriately with professional guidance. The key factors of success for those suffering from the symptoms of PTSD is awareness and education. Reaching out and getting help is the first step in finding the right path and your individual journey of healing the soul.
Moral injury was defined by Veterans Affairs clinicians in 2009 as the consequence of “perpetrating, failing to prevent, bearing witness to, or learning about acts that transgress deeply held moral beliefs and expectations.” Under the extreme, morally ambiguous conditions of war, moral injury occurs through:
Reflection on memories of the use of personal agency that violates core moral beliefs;
Inner judgments against oneself;
Feelings of unresolved grief, guilt, anger at the failure of others or self to behave morally, shame, betrayal by leaders, seeking to make amends, and wanting to die;
A collapse of personal moral identity and a meaning system that supports it.
I am adding a new resource to my website, Brite Divinity School. There has been much discussion and education on how the soul is damaged in war. It is most encouraging to learn of an accredited educational institution focused on moral injury. It is now clear that war can damage deeply held moral beliefs of those who engage directly in combat or anyone who is exposed to severe traumatic events; including loved ones, especially children, who live with a parent suffering from the symptoms of PTSD. We cannot repair the souls affected by truamatic events overnight, but the more we become educated on the subject and aware of the symptoms of PTSD we can make a difference.
“For the retired road construction foreman, coping with what he knew as “shell shock” was a private battle and one he didn’t admit to for more than 50 years. It was part pride, part shame. “I didn’t want anyone to think I was a crybaby,” said Goode, 80, of Grovetown.”
My book goes into great detail on the consequences of not knowing about the symptoms of PTSD as happened for 6 decades in my family. Worse yet is having far more awareness on the subject today, and not seeking treatment at all. Living with PTSD is very painful. It is even more painful when family members are exposed and wind up with secondary PTSD, including the consequences of creating a completely disfunctional family culture as happened in my family. Don’t let this happen to you! Read the above article, and my book, along with all the resources and references available right now. Seek out treatment alternatives and solutions. Please don’t hesitate for the sake of your own quality life and that of your family…
I am honored to share these heartfelt comments from “anonymous” who’s father served in WWII and recently passed away… It is once again clear that we all need to have more awareness of the challenges of life after war, and profound human need for forgiveness and healing…
Steve Sparks, Author, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story
Steve: Your short letter here is very helpful and I’ll look for the book now. I’m 65 and we buried our dad the other day and I just realized he suffered from PTSD based on his actions in WW2 during the four island invasions his unit undertook during the Pacific Campaign. He was a combat engineer and in our early years he would say “I just operated a crane,” which he did and I have pictures of it.
What’s frustrating is the symptoms of PTSD were before my eyes these last four decades, but until he asked for forgiveness during those last hours of his life for “what he had to do” did it finally hit me. He had told me of the generalities of life aboard the transport ships, the tough living conditions, building airfields, bridges, roads, etc and only once of horrible scenes he saw of the Japanese torture to Philipino civilians in Manila, but he never mentioned his personal combat experiences which I assumed there were none, but it was incorrect. It’s a relief now knowing, but also a disappointment in that I couldn’t have figured it out sooner. I’ve talked with my brothers and mother in detail…they understand I think.
Your heartfelt comments are moving… Especially with regard to your father’s desire to be foregiven. We didn’t know then, but we know now, that moral injury and PTSD does not just “go away” without the process of treatment and healing, a life long journey. Our fathers served with pride and honor during WW2 to protect the freedoms we have today. The pain did not end after the war and often resulted in emotional suffering for combat veterans and families for a life time. It was not easy at first to write our family story. We were all in denial, and my Dad, Vernon, avoided talking about the realities of the pain of 66 months of extended combat duty in the South China Sea before the war, at the beginning in Pearl Harbor while serving on the USS West Virginia, and finally 25 months and 7 campaigns on the USS Belle Grove in the Asiatic Pacific Theater.
Your comments will be shared among countless others and help with healing and foregiveness for all veterans and the families who served too… As a tribute to you and your father, I will post your comments, & re-post my Father’s Day letter.
Steve Sparks Author Reconciliation: A Son’s Story
ps please write to me separately at email@example.com if you would like to continue our contact. I am gathering stories of WW2 for my next book.
Saturday, June 16, 2012
Celebrating Fathers’ Day with Forgiveness, Pride, and Honor…
Dear family and friends,
My 66th birthday arrives soon, July 6th. I celebrated Fathers Day without anger for the first time last year following the publication of my book, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story. Researching and writing my family story gave me an insight to life after war that never existed prior to age 64. Living with anger toward my Dad, Vernon, so much of my life was painful. It was even more painful after leaving home at 17, becoming an adult with my own challenges, and living in denial about our toxic home life as a family. Once denial sets in the anger persists, but it never leaves your soul. For so many years I asked myself, why does anger persist along with anxiety even when completely separated from the toxic childhood culture at home? Now I know! Knowing is healing! But healing from traumatic experiences is a lifetime challenge.
On this Fathers Day, I can honor my Dad with love and forgiveness. I can also honor with pride Dad’s WWII service to his country. You see Dad didn’t know why he was angry either for most of his life following the end of WWII in the summer of 1945. During that time thousands of veterans returned home from the battle field, and thousands never returned. Those that did return were told, “get lots of rest, go home to your family, and forget about it.” As it turned out, forgetting was not possible, but denial was. With denial the soul baggage from months and years in combat during WWII seeing your buddies die or injured, and observing the horror of extended and continuous combat during the entire time of WWII, stays for good unless it is revealed and accepted. Unlike today with all the awareness and attention surrounding PTSD, WWII veterans and their loved ones had none of it. That’s right, no awareness whatsoever! It was a homecoming without “soul feeding.” It was life after war suffering from the symptoms of PTSD and moral injury, and not even knowing why. “Not knowing” is very painful. The medication of choice, and the only medication for our heroes from WWII was alcohol for the most part. We all know without any review that alcohol provides short term relief of pain, but has dangerous side effects and consequences to the individuals seeking relief, including family members, loved ones, and friends. The legacy of all wars lingers on today, and will until there are no more wars to fight. But we can mitigate the challenges of life after war and the effects of moral injury by becoming highly aware as citizens and caregivers of veterans returning home to serious challenges of readjustment and reintegration back in civilian life. All of us play an important role in helping our heroes live a healthy, happy, and productive life after war.
I feel blessed to celebrate Fathers Day for the second year in a row without anger toward my Dad, Vernon H. Sparks. I can freely honor Dad’s US Navy WWII service protecting the freedoms of all Americans with pride. More importantly, I am proud to share our family story with countless others through my book, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story. Researching and writing the book was an amazing journey of healing and forgiveness. And so far, those who read my book and this blog seem to gain the same insight to the challenges of combat veterans in life after war. Healing begins with awareness.
“I hate having PTSD! It’s not an excuse for the way I acted last night with my kids and wife. I went in the back of our house and fell a sleep after I acted like an ass for no reason. I have this thing from going to war and no way to deal with it. The VA keeps me on meds but something isn’t right. I’ve been on edge for about a week and a half now. Maybe all the problems in my relationship is my fault. I think I push my wife away by the way I act sometimes. I acted like a fool last night and today is worse because I see the look on her face when she looks at me and its disappointment. It kills me to have her look at me that way because I love her so much!”
The above website resource, MilitarywithPTSD, is one of the best sites for engaging with real PTSD family issues I can recommend. The quote and experience described has probably repeated itself 1000’s of times over many years in life after all wars of our time. In my own case, observing my WWII combat veteran father acting out so many times while growing up was scary. The consequence of this kind of behavior is that it eventually affects family members who then experience the same behaviors in life unless there is first, AWARENESS of the symptoms of PTSD, and second, ACTION in terms of seeking help. Communicating feelings of these symptoms with family members is critical. Attempting to hide or deny that there is anything wrong promotes more bad behavior and damage to families living with PTSD. Once families become educated, aware of symptoms, and begin to communicate effectively, the journey of healing kicks in. My family was ignorant for the most part over 70 years before we started the healing process. No family should have to suffer the on-going pain of PTSD, including the risk of destroying the family unit. Being transparent and open to learning and seeking treatment is the best answer, but still hard work. Communicating effectively with your peer group, including resources like MilitarywithPTSD and others, is by far the best path to success in your long journey of healing from moral injury.
Page 64 – “Another veteran described how he had spoiled a very pleasant outing in the early autumn woods with his wife. When they stopped to picnic, she wanted to sit in a sunny meadow so as not to get chilled. He insisted on picnicking in deep shade “in the tree line,” because the meadow was too exposed. Exposed to what? To sniper and mortar rounds. In their argument over where to picnic, he agreed that it was chilly, but could not explain to his wife the nonnegotiable fear he experienced in open places. It’s not that the fear was “unconscious.” He knew he was afraid of sniper and the mortars but was embarrassed to admit that he was afraid of these things in the pleasant woods of north coastal Massachusetts.”
Naturally, a fight would ensue if your spouse or friend had little or no awareness of the symptoms and effects of PTSD. Getting educated on this subject is a huge effort and personal responsibility of everyone connected with loved ones or friends who are challenged with making a transition from combat to a safer world at home and life after war.
Emotional numbing and the state of readiness is a condition of most combat veterans who are in the early stages of adjusting to civilian life. It is very difficult for loved ones to understand and develop patience for this behavior of a person who has been changed by war. Others can’t be expected to fix the problems of veterans over night, but can facilitate an easier transition and adjustment by becoming highly educated and aware of these conditions. Marriages and relationships can be salvaged as well with knowledge. It is a tough road ahead when your loved one returns home, but in the end, we have the best chance for success when we recognize the symptoms, facilitate safe adjustments, and find compromise that works effectively for both partners.
Daughters Deanna & Bianca, now 40-something and still beautiful!
My oldest daughter Deanna had a birthday over the weekend. Bianca’s birthday is coming up in October. I treasure the memories of my two little girls from that time long ago. I treasure most seeing both of them become of age and building their own lives; each making a difference in their own loving ways. I treasure as much all my grand children who are pictured in the above photo on this blog. I am lucky enough to be here to experience all the joy that comes from being a Dad, knowing that life is not perfect with all the challenges we face along the way. But sharing life with my loving family will be treasured forever…