How to repair families torn apart by war and PTSD? Is it even possible after decades of moral injury and dysfunctional behaviors?
Please support my mission of helping families who suffer from PTSD and moral injury…order my book, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story. Click and order paperback or download Kindle version. Buy my book at Barnes and Noble as well… Thank you!Steve Sparks, Author
Broken: Candy Desmond-Woods comforts her husband Tom, an Iraq veteran who came home with debilitating PTSD and a serious alcohol problem
Wrenching: Woods, a veteran of two tours in Iraq Army, visits a memorial at Northwood Community Park in Irvine. He wept as he saw the names of comrades whose bodies he carried and as he imbibed to dull the pain
“Tom was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. He’d carried dead comrades, cleaned blood and gore off the dashes of bombed Humvees, and piled slaughtered dogs he and his fellow soldiers killed in order to keep their cover, among other horrors. And it was starting to show.
Tom quickly got two DUIs. Candy took away his car keys and booze, but it didn’t help.
‘I don’t know what it feels like to be happy anymore,’ he said. ‘I don’t know what it feels like to be healthy anymore.’
He soon got a third DUI and feared being thrown in jail for good.
Candy, despite mounting worries, stuck by him.
‘Why,’ he wondered.
‘Because I know who you really are,’ she said. ‘I know you’re gonna be OK. OK?’
Tom went to jail, but only briefly. A sympathetic judge sent him to an intensive, indefinite, last-ditch rehab program designed to keep soldiers like him out of prison.
Gunnery Sgt. Felix Rivera with his son, Christian, and his wife, Sandra, at a White House event for caregivers of wounded service members this summer. Felix has traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder from getting blown up in Afghanistan in 2009. It took the last two and half years for the family to find their footing again.
“CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — The breaking point came when Sandra Rivera found their 9-year-old son backed against a wall with his arms over his face, shielding himself from her husband’s screaming.
Desperate, she did what is unfathomable for a Marine wife: She called her husband’s commander.
It was a Friday in fall 2010, about a year and a half after Gunnery Sgt. Felix Rivera emerged as the sole survivor of a car bomb in Afghanistan. By the following Monday, he was checked into a mental hospital.
His struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury were ravaging their marriage. Husband and wife had been relegated to patient and caregiver.”
A heart breaking question from one of my followers triggered the realities of my own post WWII and Korean War family. For the most part we are all estranged, damaged beyond repair by decades of dysfunction and emotional baggage created by my father’s severe PTSD. Dad left us in 1998. Mother will be 96 in September, living a relatively comfortable and safe life in a wonderful nursing facility in Reno, Nevada. Mother can smile and laugh at times, but still suffers from the memories of a toxic home life with emotional and physical abuse stemming from my father’s PTSD, including her own life experiences as a child of the Great Depression era. The problems of our dysfunctional family were so great, I wrote a book(s) with the hope that we could start to heal as a family and live our later years enjoying each other as siblings…together again. My sister, Laura, has joined me on a similar journey of healing. My brothers live and cope with their past by keeping a safe distance from the conversation. My own children seem to be more comfortable not discussing the topic as well. I respect that living and coping with PTSD is an individual matter, and will not judge the choices of loved ones in confronting the emotional pain of the past. My body of work, including this blog, is healing for me and countless others outside of my family. My sister, Laura, saved the day by supporting my work completely with unconditional love. We have a very close bond and friendship in these later years of our life. And she helps me with my work in making a difference for others who struggle with PTSD and moral injury. It would appear from the references picked above, that it is critical for a family to start very early in life after war and trauma to receive help and treatment from outside mental health professionals and lay persons who can be objective. This is when the kids are younger and not damaged beyond repair. It also means that the military spouse and mom takes a very strong leadership role and does not back down! We should give medals to the military spouses and moms who stick it out and save their families from lifetime estrangement! The bottom line is do not allow your family to be torn apart over an extended period of time by the effects of PTSD when a parent finally comes home from war. Once we become adults it would appear that we all go our own ways, mostly in denial with bottled up anger from the roots of a highly painful childhood. Christal Presley’s book, 30 Days With My Father, shows that deliberate intervention with parents by a child of a veteran later in life can be successful. Christal’s story does show that a high level of awareness and persistence can work in repairing long standing estrangement. But it does not address how other siblings would have influenced the outcome, since Christal is the only child. Christal’s account of her experience bringing her family back together again offers much hope, but shows the hard work involved in mending fences in a family torn apart by war. Although I succeeded in following my own journey of healing and in helping others outside of the family, my original goal of fixing the Sparks family failed. So my sister and I count our blessings, enjoy a close friendship, and share peace of mind. I hope and pray that with the high level of awareness we have today regarding PTSD and life after trauma, that families will be more motivated to seek help immediately before it is too late… Steve Sparks Author Reconciliation: A Son’s Story My Journey of Healing in Life After Trauma, Part 1