I can never appreciate enough all the love and support received over the years from the person who has been my rock for over 35 years, my soul mate, and wife, Judy. As a person seriously affected by addiction and mental illness with lifetime recovery implications, I would not be here today at age 73 without the profoundly life saving unconditional love of Judy… This is what I truly believe…
With all the decades of loving support from Judy and caregivers like her everywhere, it takes its toll and often presents a risk of Secondary PTSD on the person caring for a loved one or as a friend, colleague, clinician or peer support professional. Along with the joyful times in our life together, my physical and mental health issues have been ever present from day 1, and a work in progress, indeed. I was in denial for most of my life so the “work in progress” part was much harder and reactionery with bad results. Now, in these later years with a much higher level of awareness, we work more as a team and help each other as a family. Healing is a team effort. Don’t try it alone, please!
Take a moment each day to thank the caregivers in your life and hug them often, Check out the reference links above to learn more about how to support your special caregiver(s).
“Holidays and family functions can make the PTSD sufferer feel like an outsider. They may feel uncomfortable joining in the celebration and, as a result, end up feeling alone and isolated. Although family members may try to include the person with PTSD, if the event brings back memories or makes him or her uncomfortable, being pushed into participating can make the feelings of isolation even more uncomfortable.”
I am now learning how to love the best time of the year, the Holiday Season! It is still a challenge at times, but knowing why I “hated Christmas” for most of my adult life has been very healing and constructive for me and my loved ones. Each and every year at Christmas time, my wife, Judy, dreaded my annual announcement, “I hate Christmas!” The joyous season was no joy for me starting around Thanksgiving, and it was a feeling never understood until researching and writing my book, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story. I usually did a pretty good job making others at home miserable during the Holiday Season.
Not knowing why one has certain negative feelings that affect those close to you is not good anytime of the year. But with increased awareness of the symptoms of PTSD and the pain of moral injury, it is entirely possible to experience the joy of the Holiday Season. This will be the sixth year in a row that Judy nor others will hear, “I hate Christmas.” I feel more joy now than ever, and very blessed. The journey of healing is well in hand for me and others in my family. My heart is more open to the spiritual meaning of Christmas as a Christian. My only regret is not knowing and learning much earlier in life about moral injury and the symptoms of PTSD. Living and coping with the pain is terrible for the person affected, but even worse for those you love, who have to live with this negative behavior. This time of the year is special and it is when we should all have forgiveness in our hearts, lots of love to share, and a desire to make a difference for others. When you engage in making others happy, you are much happier!
The holidays are far more joyful for me these days since researching and writing my book, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story. I am now fully aware of the circumstances and symptoms of life after trauma. Although still a work in progress, it is so much easier to keep the pain of the past at a safe distance. I now look forward to the holidays with my family and friends. I engage with pleasure and joy with loved ones in all the preparations and celebrations rather than escape to my blanket fort of the past. I spend my time counting our blessings and the spiritual meaning of this season of joy. For me, helping others, focusing on loved ones, and things larger than myself creates new and positive memories during the holidays. The best part is knowing that my own outward expressions of happiness and joy are infectious and allow those close to me to experience a much happier season rather than being distracted.
“Even if we’ve gotten pretty good and consistent about offering forgiveness to others, isn’t forgivingourselvesoften the most difficult?”
Hello again dear friends and followers,
It has been awhile since I have written a blog post, one from my heart and soul that is… It has been an amazing year so far, mostly living a happy and healthy life with my loving wife, Judy, and Simba, our aging kitty. Most importantly, we are growing as senior citizens in a highly active community on the central coast of Oregon near Depoe Bay. We love living at the beach! We are blessed with loving friends and neighbors who look out for each other. But as life usually works, stuff happens…
Just when I thought my own journey of healing was well in hand; you know, a manageable work in progress, I went off the rails big time in late May and early June! I can’t even know why my heart and soul picked this exact time and moment to revisit a very dark and painful time in my young adult life. Sometimes unfinished business and a reckoning with the demons of another life can come at the most unexpected and surprising time in one’s life, especially as we age.
It was like my brain was exploding with grief about a long ago severe traumatic experience that I had kept in a hidden compartment…a state of denial. The last time I grieved with great intensity and healing was while writing my first book, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story. But that was just a first step in 2011, and a very long way to go in taking an honest shot at truly forgiving myself as a challenged young man. I was woefully unprepared for adult life in the 1960’s and early 70’s, in a marriage that failed, leaving my 2 young beautiful children with a single mom, only to see Dad on vacations and short visits. A very sad reality for too many young marriages that end in pain. I feel deep regret and profound guilt from this part of my life as a young adult. But it is now time to forgive myself after 45 years of self punishment and denial. The lifelong nagging and destructive emotional pain of severe guilt stops now! If you are angry with yourself, you behave in angry ways toward loved ones.
When kids grow up in a less than loving home, as I did in the 1950s and early 60s, they tough it out, but often take the emotional pain and baggage into adult life, affecting loved ones and others in too many negative ways. Read my book and learn more about the challenges of a military child growing up in a profoundly dysfunctional post WWII family culture.
“Learning who you are is a life long labor of love.” This quote, on my home page…Children and Families in Life After Truma came to me some months ago while working as a community building project consultant in Lincoln County Oregon where we live. This personal and professional experience has turned out to be one of the most profoundly humanistic learning opportunities in my lifetime… It has been a journey of exploring humanity at worst and best. I’ll say more about this in a later post.
Allow me to share a couple of highlights from my summer visits with a wonderful therapist, a psychologist, from my own boomer generation. He is an ol’ surf dude as well…just like me. There was an instant connection of empathy and compassion…great chemistry. It is very challenging to find the right therapist. It is never to late…keep trying.
Before this last spring I can’t remember ever having a therapist who actually provided me with specific tools to help build skills and techniques that showed me how to meditate. These disciplined self talk and deep breathing exercises proved to me how positive talk can beat back self deprecation and guilt from past emotionally painful life events…post trauma recurring painful thoughts and triggers.
Once the meditation exercises became a daily practice, I was able to effectively divert attention from negative and painful self talk back to the logical part of my brain where living in the moment and mitigating flight/fight responses happens. I learned how to stop the churning of a lifetime of severe guilt from moral injuries during childhood and young adult life…. Peace of mind is a gift at any age!
In my next post, I’ll share more of how my therapy and daily practice of meditation is helping me heal and discover how to live in the moment with a higher level of internal peace and self love. Until then, practice saying to yourself “Curious, Open, Accepting and Loving” or COAL for short. Seeking an attitude of COAL while breathing deeply during a highly stressful encounter or event is worth a try.
With empathy, compassion and love to all who seek happiness, peace of mind and good health.
I want to tell you about a young man whose story touches so many things that are important to me–honoring veterans, helping the homeless, treating addictions. He’s a Lincoln County native who came from the most loving, supportive family you could imagine. Did well in school. Honorably served in Afghanistan. He was riding in a Humvee like this that ran over an IED that went off. Complained of back pain. Was given opioid pain killers and sent home. Months later, when the pain persisted, the VA finally did an MRI and found he had a fractured back. Cut off his pain meds. He had a live-in companion, a child, a home, a responsible job. He turned to heroin to deal with the ongoing pain and lost companion, child, home and job. Ended up running afoul of the law and making the news. I saw many horrible comments about him here on Facebook. Ignorant, judgmental people. There’s a ray of hope now. He’s in treatment and so far, so good, but he faces a long road. We have to stop criminalizing addictions, people. We have to start honoring veterans by doing more than just spouting slogans and waving the flag. We have to become a more just and caring society. I know, I’m a dreamer. But if I stop dreaming, I’ll lose hope.
I spent the first 6 decades of my life trying to figure out what was wrong with me and everything else in my life. When I finally started learning about post trauma stress (PTS) and trauma informed care, it was clear that empathy and compassion were possible once we changed the conversation to “what happened” not “what is wrong.” This seemingly basic concept allowed me to begin my own journey of healing in 2011 at age 64. Everytime I talk to a person suffering from PTSD, including depression, anxiety, addiction, and other mental health challenges, I try to find out what happened, not what is wrong. Once we change the conversation to what happened, the talk shifts immediately to a greater mutual understanding of the roots of the emotional struggles of your friends, neighbors, and loved ones who are suffering from a past traumatic life event. In the story above, we are talking about a combat veteran who came home from war a different person because of being exposed to the horrific violence of war. The explosion from an IED can also cause traumatic brain injury, a compounded physical injury that affects a persons ability to process stressful circumstances. We know now that the human brain is rewired, the chemistry changes to adapt to extreme survival circumstances that combat veterans experience in extended deployments on the battlefield. Because we know this as human beings we can have more empathy and compassion for others who suffer terribly, often 24/7 with the emotional baggage of war, the violence and carnage, losing a buddy, seeing little children dead in the streets as collateral damage is too much for a once healthy mind to process and get past once home to resume life as a typical citizen.
I hope Bill Hall’s story and my comments help others to empathize with all veterans who come home after serviing America in wars we start and often never finish. We citizens send young men and women to war, afterall. The war comes home to the dinner table and the community where it is often extremely difficult for veterans to readjust to a typical life as a member of our society. Be kind, be loving, listen and learn, then guide your dear friend and loved one to a path of healing. We know how to help in the 21st Century. There was a time decades ago when sons, daughters, fathers and mothers came home from war and we had no idea what they were experiencing emotionally, and didn’t know what to do. There are no more excuses for ignorance, no more excuses for a lack of empathy and compassion!
“Allow me to bottom line this for you. If you think hitting your kid with a stick until he bleeds is an acceptable form of punishment, you’re a bad parent. And, more than likely, you’re engaging in a criminal act. Your culture, race, ethnicity, and upbringing don’t matter in this instance. I don’t care where you’re from or what color you are, because when you decide to whip your 4-year-old with the branch of a tree, you are committing a crime. And I hope you face the same charges Peterson is facing.”
I welcomed the news today that Adrian Peterson was suspended without pay from the Minnesota Vikings for the entire 2014 season!
I write about the intergenerational consequences of child abuse in my book. I wrote this story of my family’s post WWII and Korean War struggles and the challenges of growing up in a toxic family culture because we were all morally injured from child abuse…a lifetime tragedy. My father suffered terribly from the trauma of extended deployment as a US Navy wartime veteran. His severe depression and anxiety can be described as showing the worst symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress (PTS). My father was also beaten and abused as a child, compounding his own mental health issues. During my young life there was little or no awareness, nor protection for kids who were abused. I refer to the worst memories during my childhood as “the too terrible to remember 1950’s and early 1960’s.
““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.”
Please get help if you find as a parent the need to “beat and scare the hell out of your child.” By seeking treatment and support from the mental health professional community, you can stop the cycle of intergenerational child abuse, and break the cycle of emotional pain. As an abused child from a time when there was complete denial and little awareness or treatment strategies, I still live with flashbacks at the prime age of 68. My own journey of healing is a lifelong work in progress… I also firmly believe that Minnesota Vikings star, Adrian Peterson, is a good person and will be a better father in the future…
Each day, 22 veterans commit suicide. But you can give them the hope and encouragement they need. Each 22 you post, share or tweet lets them know they have an army behind them. Join the mission at Mission22.com and help us win the war against veteran suicide.
This powerful video triggered memories of my own father, who often had scary nightmares that came suddenly without warning. I remember Dad yelling, “Japs, Japs, Japs!,” and the loud noise of his fists punching holes in the wall of his bedroom. My Dad was suicidal for a long time following WWII and Korean War where he served in hard combat during multiple deployments in the US Navy. My mother’s dedication to his needs at her own risk and sacrifice no doubt saved his life. Many combat veterans find themselves alone without hope and take their own lives…22 veterans of all ages commit this final act each and every day of the year.
Help save the lives of your loved ones and friends who are suffering from moral injury and PTSD. Click on the YouTube video and join Mission22.com. You can make a difference and help save the life of a veteran you know…
“Together We Served”…Steve & Judy Sparks interview with Circe Woessner, Executive Director, Museum of the American Military Family, Albuquerque, New Mexico…click highlighted text for podcast…
Images of Museum of the American Military Family…click highlighted text…
Included in the above “images” link is an image of a post card from my father, Vernon, sent home to St. Paul in 1936 when serving on his first ship, the USS Tennessee… click the highlighted text… Dad was age 17 when he joined the US Navy in 1936. He retired in 1958 following 22 years of service, including WWII and Korean War…
“The Museum of the American Military Family and Learning Center brings together people with shared experiences showcasing and honoring those who also served—American’s Military Families. The Museum is gathering artifacts and recollections from American military families who served through war and peace in past decades and those who serve today in anticipation of the creation of a permanent facility in Albuquerque that will celebrate their lives and sacrifices for generations to come. For more information, please visit www.museumoftheamericanmilitaryfamily.org. For more information on the exhibition, visit www.nuclearmuseum.org…”
Judy and I were very honored to participate recently during the opening ceremony of the Museum of the American Military Family, “Sacrifice and Service” exhibit in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The interview podcast was recorded just before the start of my book reading for Reconciliation: A Son’s Story. Judy and I were asked to talk briefly about intergenerational PTSD, often a lifetime challenge for the children and families of warriors. The interview was a conversation about my experience as a military child of a father who served in hard combat, and my family’s journey of healing in life after trauma.
“Mental Health First Aid skills can be applied anytime, anywhere, and to anyone in distress, be it a brother officer exhibiting symptoms of PTSD, an unemployed friend displaying signs of severe depression, or a teenage family member presenting evidence of…“
“Mental Health First Aid is an 8-hour course that teaches you how to help someone who is developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis. The training helps you identify, understand, and respond to signs of addictions and mental illnesses.”
The mental health awareness campaign in America is really taking hold! A “first aid” program is now available to communities everywhere. I know this program is critically important in my rural community on the Oregon Central Coast. All schools, non-profits, government agencies, public private partnerships, and citizens everywhere should learn about mental health first aid. The invisible nature of mental health challenges, including moral injury and PTSD, make it even more challenging to perform first aid because we are often unable to see or understand the symptoms. Building more understanding of the signs of mental illness will help save lives! Early and on-going treatment is very critical in finding a path to healing. Please take the time to learn about the mental health first aid program in your community, and get the word out by sharing this blog post on your social media network.
“Now the sun’s gone to hell
And the moon’s riding high
Let me bid you farewell
Every man has to die
But it’s written in the starlight
And every line on your palm
We’re fools to make war
On our brothers in arms…”
“Any event that is life-threatening or greatly affects a person’s emotional well-being can result in PTSD. Examples of these traumatic events include:
natural disasters (hurricane, tornado, etc.)
Traumas caused by other people (such as rape or assault) are more likely to cause PTSD. Strong emotions caused by these events can create changes in the brain that can bring about PTSD. People can also have PTSD for traumas they have perpetrated (i.e., soldiers who have shot enemy combatants can have PTSD).”
Who is at risk for PTSD?
Anyone who witnesses or experiences a traumatic event, especially if it is long-term or repeated, is at risk for PTSD. Certain groups, including war veterans and women, may be more likely to develop PTSD. For example, about 8% of men and 20% of women develop PTSD after a traumatic event.
It is not known why some people suffer from PTSD after a traumatic event and some do not. Some factors make you more likely to develop PTSD, including:”
Exposure to multiple traumatic events
Exposure to long-term or repeated traumas
Personal history of mental health problems, especially anxiety disorders
Lack of support from family and friends after a trauma
By far, the public’s first reaction to the acronym, PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is war, warriors, combat veterans, military, soldiers, etc. The on-set of PTSD is the normal reaction of the human brain’s chemistry to severe trauma. The public is flooded by the media every day with the term PTSD as it relates to our heroes who serve America in all wars, especially when exposed to combat and injured with visible or invisible wounds.
It is not fair to veterans and their loved ones to isolate PTSD to one cause or one segment of our population. It is also not fair to the thousands of people of all ages who experience trauma at home in America and elsewhere in the world each and every day, then suffer from the symptoms of PTSD. Following is a quote from the back cover of my book, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story, published in November of 2011:
“Approximately 8 Million Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lives. Steve has the courage to share his story, hoping it will help others to address their PTSD and break the intergenerational cycle. Don’t go the journey alone. As in Steve’s story, it requires the connectedness with others to go down the path of hope and healing…” Beverly Ventura, Marriage Family Therapist and Life Coach, Laguna Counseling.
Beverly Ventura, MFT
When I first started to write my childhood and early adult story of my own traumatic experience, Beverly was one of the first of my dear friends I contacted to learn about the symptoms and implications of PTSD. At first it was a shock to find out that my experience with trauma was not an exception. I was not alone! Beverly gave me the confidence and courage to write my story to help me find a path of healing while making a difference for others. She spoke to me on the phone often, and on Skype with encouragement and friendship. Bev even read my first manuscript and gave me pointers on character development. Our conversations showed me the way to an abundance of research on the subject. My new level of awareness of the roots and symptoms of PTSD, and how it affected my own family for decades, gave me the passion and motivation to write my first non-fiction story, including starting a website and blog. I will be forever grateful to Beverly’s caring friendship and give her major credit for helping me find peace of mind later in life. My life was changed forever and for the better as a result of pressing forward to write my book. I could not have accomplished this huge task without the help from dear friends like, Beverly, and loved ones who pushed me forward.
Trauma leading to PTSD and moral injury compares to an epidemic in my view… The intergenerational pain and suffering seems endless. The lack of awareness and stigma connected with mental health challenges discourages treatment and conversation. Young adults who served America in combat hesitate to admit to a diagnosis of PTSD and treatment for fear they will not find work. Others who suffer from severe trauma as civilians are often ignored and shunned by family members and must fend for themselves. My own experience is a testimonial of a post WWII family destroyed by PTSD and decades of emotional challenges that went untreated.
The good news is we are achieving more and more awareness and the conversation is much louder and deeper than it was just 3 years ago when my book was first published. I continue to have hope and confidence that we are close to achieving critical mass in knowledge and awareness around the subject of trauma and PTSD. The first step in healing from invisible wounds from war or other traumatic experiences in life is awareness. My new level of knowledge, human connectedness and healing saved my life. It is never too late to find your own journey of healing…