Monthly Archives: October 2016

Survive the Fear and Thrive with Post Trauma Stress… You can win over PTSD!

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ALGEE…Assess, Listen, Give, Encourage, Encourage…more Mental Health First Aid USA

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Steve Sparks, Age 10, 1956…

My personal perspective of living with post-traumatic stress…by Steve Sparks…

There were many years that the thought of my big brother getting hit in the head and knocked out by Dad triggered nightmares and uncontrolled emotions.  Although the nightmares rarely happen anymore, the events of that time stay with me.  The horrific nature of seeing my big brother almost killed by our father comes to me almost every day, sometimes more than once.  The never ending toxic turmoil and dysfunction in our home left me feeling numb and without empathy and compassion for others.  The worst of post-trauma conditions is becoming self-absorbed, caring only about your own interests and survival.  There is no world larger than self in the worst case of emotional challenge in life after trauma.  My thoughts were mostly of self-defense and survival each and every day followed by self-medication at night.  Self-talk was filled with trauma from the past and fear and trepidation of the future.  I couldn’t talk to others about my feelings because no one else could possibly get it or understand.  Mental health was, and still is to a large extent, a risky topic to explore with others, especially family members and those you work with in your professional life.  Living in the moment and feeling safe is a life-long work in progress.

It was always challenging for me to trust others without some sort of escape plan and defensive position.  My feeling was that survival was an all-consuming occupation.  Even as kids we would avoid being visible or exposed for fear of being criticized and punished for being “bad, stupid, and sinful”.   For many years spirituality was something connected to religion, not my soul.  I didn’t know how to love until my mid-30s. I never trusted anyone completely and with unconditional love until later in life.

I have learned to live with and mostly mitigate the fear of failure and excessive insecurity in these later years.  For most of my life as a child, through adulthood and midlife years, my fear of failure served me well with intense hyper-vigilance and hyper-arousal as a professional.  But these persistent and less than healthy post-trauma stress symptoms did not work well for me at home when free time should be used for peace of mind and relaxation…a mindfulness existence is a gift.

At home in a safe environment, I was always on the move and could not sit still.  When the pain creeped in during weekends, or holidays and sleep deprived nights, I became angry with outbursts and rage at times. The absolute worst part of my behavior is acknowledging how it hurt others close to me, especially my family.  What I know from research and awareness now is the larger tragedy of post-trauma stress on children and families. The transferred emotional pain often appears as a secondary post-trauma affliction in loved ones on the receiving end who become care givers and must try to live with the toxic behaviors of a parent, partner, or mentor. The generational consequences become a much bigger burden on others in your immediate family and society as a whole. 

I drank alcohol for self-medication until age 55.  I got addicted to narcotic pain and sleep medications in later years due to arthritic pain and joint replacements.  The combination of alcohol and prescription medications was a very bad cocktail and almost took me down.  The grace of God and my wonderful, loving, compassionate and caring spouse saved my life!

Yes, I believe now that healing from a painful and traumatic past is possible.  But it takes discipline, focus, and lots of love from family and friends.  Healing for me is fueled by my passion to make a difference for others who suffer from debilitating mental health conditions.

Steve Sparks, Author, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story and My Journey of Healing in Life After Trauma, Part 1&2…click the highlighted text for my author page to order books and other stuff from Amazon.

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Click here to download for $3.99. “Saving your children, family and loved ones from inter-generational post-traumatic stress (PTS)…”

Pearl Harbor WWII Survivors of USS West Virginia (BB48)…Honor and Remembrance…

 

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Click photo for larger view...USS West Virginia (BB48) Pearl Harbor and WWII shipmates:  From the bottom left, Robert Benafal, Pearl Harbor survivor; Robert John Adler, WWII; George Gackle, WWII; John Brown, WWII; Jim Downing, Pearl Harbor survivor; top from left, Tony Reiter, WWII; Herbert G. Crask, WWII: Arthur Rinetti, WWII.

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USS West Virginia (BB48) c1941 click image for full view…

It was truly an emotional and spiritual connection with my father, Vernon, during this annual reunion of WWII veterans who served aboard the USS West Virginia (BB48).  Jim Downing and Bob Benafel both served with my father on December 7, 1941.  This was one of the most humbling and healing experiences of my life.   I had the honor to speak at the Saturday evening banquet to veterans and family members of the heroes who attended the reunion celebration.  This was indeed a personal experience that will go down as a significant life changing event…Honor and Remembrance…

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From the left, Jim Downing, Steve Sparks, and Bob Benafel… Jim is age 103 and Bob is age 96… Both served with my father, Vernon, on December 7, 1941…

 

USS West Virginia Association Annual Reunion, Seattle, Washington…October 8, 2016

Honor and Remembrance…Children and Families Serve Too!

Pearl Harbor and WWII Survivors:

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USS West Virginia (BB48) during the surprise Japanese attack in Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7, 1941. Click here…USS West Virginia Assocation…

  • Robert Benafel (PH)
  • Jim Downing (PH)
  • Arthur Rinetti
  • Tony Reiter
  • Herbert G. Crask
  • Robert John Andler
  • John Brown
  • George Gackle

 

The well recognized photo of the USS West Virginia (BB48) is very personal to me.  I know my father, Vernon, was swimming to Ford Island at the time the photo was taken of his ship sinking in Pearl Harbor.  The heartfelt feelings are healing and provide a special spiritual connection to my father.  When asked, Dad talked of his experience on that fateful day so long ago… I could tell it was hard for Dad to speak of the events because the memories were so vivid and painful for him.  He lost his best friend and shipmate Roy Powers on that day, and could never get past the memory of seeing his battle buddy falling back headless from looking out the porthole of the ship during the bombing.  Dad rarely spoke of the rest of WWII and the many months he spent in hard combat in the South Pacific.  He finally came home in June of 1945 just before WWII ended.  I share my family’s post WWII story of forgiveness and healing in my book, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story. 

Writing this non-fiction memoir gave me new perspective and a deep appreciation for the human sacrifice of war, especially on generations of families, who live with the legacy of war long after the war is over.  I was able to achieve a peace of mind for the first time in my life, and see the importance of preserving our family legacy as both a post WWII military child and US Navy veteran.  We should never forget our heroes who served America in all wars.  We should never forget the sacrifice of the children and families who serve too.  By honoring and remembering the legacy of service to our country, we are able to build a more loving, compassionate and empathetic society for future generations.  As the children of warriors, we have a duty to honor and never ever forget the sacrifice of war.

My cousin, Dawn, in Minneapolis, Mn., sent me Dad’s written account of his experience aboard the USS West Virginia (BB48) before he finally abandoned ship as ordered.  Dad wrote his account for the US Park Service on the 50th Anniversary (1991) of the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor.(click on this powerful ABC video clip)!  This was the first time he returned to Pearl Harbor following WWII to receive the Pearl Harbor Survivors Medal.  The unexplained part of this story is that my father never shared the US Park Service document with his immediate family.  He mailed it to his sister, Dolly, for safe keeping.  My guess is that it was too painful for him to share the tragic details with us by revisiting the experience over and over again…

In honor of all those who served, and the families who waited for weeks to learn of the fate of loved ones, following is my father Vernon’s transcribed first person account of those minutes following the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941…

Steve Sparks, US Navy veteran, post WWII Navy BRAT and author

www.survivethriveptsd.com

http://www.usswestvirginia.org/veterans/personalpage.php?id=3015

http://www.usswestvirginia.org/

Steve Sparks

Vernon H. Sparks, BMC, US Navy c1943

I was on the 3rd deck heading for the anchor windless room when the first torpedo hit the USS West Virginia. From there, more bombing and torpedoes-when all hell broke loose. Men in the brig were screaming for help. I could not respond, there was no time…to check where the Marine guard was with the keys to the cells. Evidently, he had already been hit. The men in the brig were engulfed in water and perished. I worked my way up to the2nd deck with water up to my waist. By this time, I came to a hatch with the manhole still open leading to the main deck. I barely made it out of the escape hatch and was ordered by Lt. Stark to close that hatch. The men were still down there but it was too late for them. That was the first time I heard that the Japs were attacking our fleet…and the whole island. I watched one of my best shipmates get him-self killed-Roy Powers. He stuck his head out the port side close to the ship-fitters shop; and about that time another torpedo hit and the concussion blew his head off.His body fell back on deck headless. After that it was a matter of surviving. There was no defense, the ship was already listing to port at about 35 degrees angle. I worked myself up further on the deck and observed the Commanding Officer, Mervyn S. Bennion, heading for the bridge. The strafing and bombing was still on. When I arrived on the main deck going forward to the number one turret…strafing still going on…I dived under the overhang of the turret. Communications was out, so by word of mouth heard the order, “all hands abandon ship.” Note: Capt. Bennion was lying on the wing of the bridge mortally wounded…He asked the doc, “What kind of chance he had?” And was told, “Not much Captain.” Then, Captain Bennion, said, “Leave me on the bridge and this is my last order, ALL HANDS ABANDON SHIP!” He died right after that order… After that order I jumped over the side to starboard and swam to Ford Island…Us guys that made it were standing on the beach watching the USS Arizona blow up sky high…what a helpless feeling. I had torn my white uniform up to use as emergency treatment bandages for the wounded. Anyway, to make a long story short, we dashed across the field under strafing conditions to shelter. In the BOQ, we were able shower in there and salvage clothes from the lockers, and helped organize the Harbor Patrol. And was with that duty for a few months – then assigned to new construction with the 5th Amphibious Force hitting the beaches of the South Pacific, all the way, then finally Iwo Jima, & Okinawa until the Peace Treaty was signed aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo, Japan. People like myself could go on & on…but that would take a book… Vernon H. Sparks, December 7, 1941, Battleship USS West Virginia From Ship’s Crew Muster Sparks, Vernon H.328-41-29Cox.13Jan.3610/12/39 “Remember Pearl Harbor!”

Steve Sparks, Author, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story and My Journey of Healing in Life After Trauma, Part 1&2…Click on highlighted text for my author page…and to download e-books or paperback.

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Steve Sparks, Author, Blogger, Child Advocate, and member, Lincoln County Mental Health Advisory Committee (MHAC)