My journey of healing is truly a life-long work in progress that has provided a peace of mind never before achieved. My life transformed after publishing my book, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story in November 2011. I no longer have anger or hate in my heart from growing up in profoundly dysfunctional family circumstances.
Like tens of thousands of families living in the post WWII and Korean War era, we lived without any awareness of the painful outcomes resulting from exposure to traumatic experiences from wars, domestic violence, child abuse, maltreatment, and alcohol self medication. My family was fractured over 7 decades, consumed with the challenges of post trauma stress symptoms that replaced the gift of love with the pain of anger and hate. In our military family life, the wars of our father never ended when he came home from years of hard combat. The “battle stations” experiences of his deeply held emotional struggles came home to the dinner table. My mother was scared and numb from this exposure as well. We children feared going home from school or play with friends. Our family life was profoundly dysfunctional, especially during the 1950’s and 1960’s.
I now have a completely different perspective of a most challenging childhood circumstance and experience. I see my parents as doing the best they could do with what was available in their parental toolkit during this difficult time in the lives of so many who returned from extended deployments in hard combat during WWII. We did not have a trauma informed society back then…just the opposite. Sailors and soldiers were told to go home when the war was over and forget about it, never talk about the horrific experiences, battle buddies who were left behind, death and carnage almost daily for months and even years at a time. But the severe emotional pain became bottled up in the heart and soul of these hardened combat veterans. The pain did rear its ugly head at dinner tables all over America for decades, including the post Vietnam War era, until we started learning about severe trauma’s long term affects on the children and families of sufferers.
For those of us lucky enough to find a path of healing and recovery from the damage of severe traumatic experiences, it is possible to achieve peace of mind. It is possible to learn how to love yourself and others. Forgiveness seems like a gift rather than giving in Being vulnerable is not only okay, it is a healthy disposition in our daily lives.
I think about Mom and Dad with love in my heart and a healing soul… I could not have felt or said this a short 7 years ago. I feel blessed and at peace, living with joy and love for family and friends. My journey of healing continues each day with the good work of public service in Lincoln County Oregon, being mindful of living in the moment, and appreciating the blessings each day offers.
“No one is immune to the impact of trauma. Trauma affects the individual, families, and communities by disrupting healthy development, adversely affecting relationships, and contributing to mental health issues including substance abuse, domestic violence, and child abuse. Everyone pays the price when a community produces multi-generations of people with untreated trauma by an increase in crime, loss of wages, and threat to the stability of the family.”
“Research tells us that experiencing traumatic life events can affect the way people learn, plan, and interact with others. Providing human services to individuals who have experienced trauma calls for an approach that takes into consideration their trauma histories. This guide is designed for professional human services providers to help them decide if their services are trauma-informed and how best to deliver and design those services using evidence-based, evidence-informed, and innovative practices most relevant to their needs.”
For me, the most encouraging news for children and families in these past few years is we know how trauma impacts the way we live, learn, and interact with others. During the past 6 six years since researching and writing my books, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story, and My Journey of Healing in Life After Trauma, Part2, I have observed a huge investment on the part of communities everywhere, with great support on a national level, both public and private, to address the full impact of post traumatic stress on society. We now know trauma is a generational disease that can affect families for decades, even unborn children. The research and evidence is indisputable.
In the beginning my research and writing was limited to understanding PTSD and the effect on my own post WWII and Korean War military family experience. Although tackling a painful research project of revisiting the impact of growing up in a profoundly dysfunctional home was emotionally challenging at best, the end result was keen awareness, which led to forgiveness and healing. I have discovered in my research how the wars we fight abroad come home to haunt families and loved ones at the dinner table. We can no longer be silent as a society and allow our children to inhale the pain of their parents who suffer and expect these kids to grow up as typical healthy adults. It is not just the wars we fight that haunt us for generations, it is violence in neighborhoods, crime, alcohol, drugs, and anger that feeds more violence and dysfunctional behaviors. More seriously, these behaviors can carry forward to the next generation, over and over and over again.
We can stop the cycle of pain in its tracks by making the discussion and treatment of mental health disorders, alcohol and drug abuse as acceptable as cancer and heart disease treatment. I can say as an aging boomer whose life changed after learning about the enormously painful impact of post traumatic stress and the wide ranging implications, that seeing a trauma informed society emerge in my lifetime is a gift. It gives me peace of mind to believe that we can actually eliminate the stigma of mental illness in my lifetime.
All we have to do now is make it happen in our communities, schools, churches, and with the families most affected…often those who are less fortunate than us. Click on the trauma informed resources guide link, here…
“But depression is a real threat among the old; some drift into isolation, bitterness, and a sense of meaninglessness. Still others put up their dukes, determined to go down swinging. Face-lifts and tummy tucks? Bring it on!”
I love the article reference and quote from the link, The Art of Aging Gracefully, especially following a year like 2016, that started out in a very dark place for this senior citizen, and ended in a very sunny and happy place.
Just before the end of 2015, illness hit me like the sound of a powerful avalanche. All of us experience this kind of reality check more than once or twice in a life time. But this time it felt more profound and serious than at any other time in my life…my age caught up with me… I recall feeling completely at the end of a hard fought journey but without a grasp for what was happening at the moment… I felt like a loser approaching the end of my life. It felt like my body was going down fast… My mind was overwhelmed with negative self talk… I thought only of the heart aches of the past and an uncertain future. No longer was my mind living in the present. I was angry for the first time in a long time… I was also very depressed, a most hated and scary mental health condition from my own life experience.
I was overcome with both physical illness and mental stress…over the top community commitments with no end in sight, and little or no feeling of real accomplishment. At the same time, my mother passed away on January 1, 2016…taking me back to a lifetime of triggers. All of this came down at once, forcing me to step back, get well again, reassess, and regain my balance as a senior citizen. There is clearly a 3rd act in the making…
Whether right, wrong, or indifferent, I felt abused, misused, and disrespected as a dedicated and passionate community service volunteer. I was hell bent to make a difference and solve all the problems single handedly. Sound familiar? I also felt like I let my family down, especially my wife and best friend, by being irresponsible with our personal goals and health. I could have risked everything by losing sight of maintaining a healthy life style and balance, or better said, aging gracefully.
After a few good slaps in the face and following the advice of my primary care physician, including paying attention and listening to my wife and family members, the road back to a healthy balance was well in hand by the spring of 2016. But it was my choice to believe in myself and get back to my great passion in public service while staying grounded.
Life seemed to begin again like a breath of fresh air for my 70th birthday on July 6, 2016. After a great sleep that night, I woke up early as usual to catch the early sunrise and listen to the soothing sounds of the ocean. In that instant, I said to myself, “I’m still here!” It was with the momentum of that moment of positive and hopeful self talk that we marched off for a hike to the top of Mary’s Peak near Corvallis, Oregon…see photo above. We decided weeks earlier that the relatively easy but spectacular view of the 4000′ Mary’s Peak is where we were going for a birthday picnic. It was a very good day, indeed, with my loving wife, Judy. We talked of and celebrated our life together and plans for the future. We thanked God for our blessings, especially good health as members of the aging boomer generation.
The summer of 2016 was full of joy and adventure doing our favorite coastal hikes, walks, a little golf, and day trips up and down the Oregon coast doing what we love the most together. I had the good fortune and opportunity to be engaged in a new and very exciting professional assignment with Lincoln County Oregon Board of Commissioners as a project consultant for the Stepping Up Initiative. I was also certified as a Mental Health First Aid USA Adult Trainer in September. We capped off the summer with a cruise to Alaska at the end of August…an exceedingly spiritual adventure. When we arrived at Glacier Bay, we were completely captivated by God’s creation of such abundant, protected and stunning beauty…
Early in October we had the opportunity to attend the USS West Virginia (BB48) Reunion in Seattle to honor Pearl Harbor & WWII veterans and family members and friends of the US Navy. I was also asked to speak about my father, Vernon H. Sparks‘, experience on that fateful day, December 7, 1941. This was a profoundly emotional and spiritual experience for me connecting to my Dad, his shipmates, family members. (Click highlighted text to learn more.)
Late in the fall we headed out of town on a road trip to southern California to spend a few weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas with family and friends. It was during this time that we felt a much closer connection with our family. For the first time in many years we were able to visit with our entire family around the holidays…the entire large extended family. A very special time indeed! We will treasure the memories, photos above…
So we remember 2016 fondly as a year of great change and growth…some painful experiences in the beginning, but with much hope for the future as the year progressed. On this first day of 2017 we give thanks to God for our blessings. We look forward to a year of making a difference on behalf of the community we serve, and in our travels to explore new beginnings, adventure, and romance.
We wish our family, friends, and followers good health and happiness in 2017. We hope that by sharing our experiences that you see a hopeful and bright future in your own lives.