“Twenty three years later (following WWI), we were preparing for yet another world war and we answered that all too familiar call. The call that your country needs you, and without hesitation spouses gave what their country demanded of them, even on the heels of The Great Depression when times were still tough. Spouses went to work in defense plants and volunteered for many war related organizations such as The Red Cross. Life on the home front was a crucial part of the war effort and had a significant influence on the outcome of this particular war. Spouses, in part, helped supply the fruits of victory. That is where we come from, remember that!”
The photo above of my mother, Marcella, was taken the very last time we visited in Reno, Nevada. Mom passed away January 1, 2016. With each visit for so many years, I couldn’t help asking myself if this was the last time I would see her. At age 97 on September 25, 2015 was up and around living her life in the comfortable and caring home of Regent Care Center in Reno, Nevada.
We owe so much to the military spouses and moms of all wars! “Together we served!” Without the courageous military spouses of “then and now,” we military kids, including my own boomer generation, would not be here at all. War weary soldiers and sailors had the hopes and dreams of going home to resume their lives, which gave them the spiritual power and bravery to get through each day, no matter how horrific the circumstances of battle. We remember and honor the ultimate sacrifice of countless numbers of warriors who didn’t make it home. Many had children they never met. It was then and now that the military spouse as a single mom, had to carry on and raise the children who would not have a father. For those warriors who did come home, the war often came home with them. It was then and now a double duty to care for a broken warrior as well as raise the children who came before and after the war was over…
It is with love, privilege and honor to celebrate my mother’s birthday; and her service to America. Military families serve(d) too! It was a hard road for my parents and countless couples who came out of the Depression Era to fight for freedom during World War II. The home front was critical to fighting and winning wars then and now…
Happy Birthday, Mom! I will always treasure the memories of our closeness during the last years of your life… We heal as a military family…
The reality of my own “adverse childhood experiences” is just catching up with me at age 73. My guess is I’m not alone. Not too long ago I took an ACEs test for the very first time, and scored 9/10, not good, terrible really, and sad, very sad. The only reason for not getting the worst ACEs score of 10 was our parents stayed married. From my own life experiences, I don’t know if staying married makes any sense if it damages children with life-long mental health challenges, like me and so many others. But back in the 1950’s, the US Navy was the only source of income for our family. Otherwise, we would have been foster kids, and that could have made things far worse. We will never know.
It was a very tough start for me as a young child when I contracted Polio at age 2 in 1948. Of course, there are no memories, probably a good thing. But from learning through conversations with my loving and caring siblings, I know that around that time, early in Polio research and before the discovery of a vaccine by Jonas Salk, I was isolated for many weeks in the US Naval Hospital in San Diego, CA. People were scared of Polio back then, so there was little or no hugging or nurturing as a toddler and throughout my childhood.
The unfortunate and emotionally numb state of mind of my mother for all of my childhood must have caused me to feel alone and scared that something was wrong with me…click here. Why did other kids get hugs and not me?What was wrong with me? My siblings were not hugged either, so it seemed that was the way it was in our home. Sadly, our home during the 50s and early 60s before I left home at age 17, was a loveless, chaotic, cold and scary place to be. My father was just getting back on his feet from 4 years fighting during the Pacific War, including surviving Pearl Harbor. Dad was also deployed for 9 months during the Korean War. Both parents suffered from significant mental health challenges from their own ACEs and after the war for the rest of their lives…inadequate treatment.
With much sadness in my heart, hugging and nurturing was not in the mix back then for our US Navy military family. Hugging – 7 Benefits For You And Your Child (Backed By Science)…click here. Add that to the overall profoundly dysfunctional culture in our home following the war, and it is not surprising that an ACEs score of 9/10 would apply to all 5 children in the Sparks home. Every one of us took all the baggage of moral injury into adult life. We decided as a family to end the cycle of intergenerational pain. The true motivation for me in healing is to leave this planet with a smile, peace of mind and a heart full of warm fuzzies.
Happy Adult Kids…
The good news from all of the truly painful childhood experiences, is that it is never too late to heal and recover. Healing is a life long journey of being exceptionally kind to yourself every day. It is hard, very complicated and painful at times to navigate my own journey of healing. I will say without a doubt, it is worth it! With a strong and loving family support system, great friends, and colleagues, I feel hopeful that peace of mind is now a healthy work in progress. I have also learned from my heightened awareness that with a “whole patient” treatment and recovery strategy, recovery success per the above reference is 86%. There is HOPE!
When you go home and hug your kids tonight, hug them tight, and tell them you love them. Help your little ones grow up so they leave home happy, healthly, confident, loving, and smart.
Lincoln County Commissioner, Claire Hall, a close friend and colleague, asked me to come in for a visit in May of 2016 after she attended a National Association of Counties (NACo) conference in Washington D.C. At that moment the Stepping Up Initiative was hatched in Claire’s office, and the rest is history. Commissioner Hall hired me as project consultant, and recruited newly installed Lincoln County Sheriff Curtis Landers to join the project leadership team. It is within this leadership structure and steadfast commitment that we began paving the way for the amazing transformation we have experienced as a community in the last three (3) years, including a ready and willing community of partners and stakeholders. As a community we had reached a critical point in 2016 when we had to change or be left behind as a rural County of close to 50,000 citizens. We were running out of time…
On October 5, 2016 Lincoln County Oregon Board of Commissioners (BOC) passed a resolution to make Stepping Up Initiative a top priority for leading Lincoln County into a 21st Century transformative health care delivery system; especially for the most vulnerable citizens, including our brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, cousins, who are so often left behind in the streets as homeless, and all too often suffer from mental illness, and addiction. We then set out to navigate the County through an exciting and challenging period of change and breaking down barriers. As a community we were too siloed stuck in place for far too long. We had limited collaborations and partnerships which denied the community of diversified funding opportunities. Lincoln County Sheriff, Curtis Landers stepped up immediately to help lead with a smart on crime approach of diverting vulnerable individuals from the County Jail and hospital emergency services to community based treatment and recovery upstream services…a continuum of care.
The culmination of this awesome community building effort was represented in full force last Friday, September 13th. With a full moon and the stars aligned we met for the 3rd year as a leadership team of partners and stakeholders to review progress and continue to close the gaps and solidify Stepping Up Initiative as the new community based culture of collaboration. Hosted by Oregon Center on Behavioral Health & Justice Integration, the workshop goals are focused on this broader theme…
“Mental health and criminal justice systems often collide, creating significant barriers to treatment and support services. Sequential Intercept Mapping & Taking Action for Change helps develop and implement plans for community change through cross-system collaboration. This workshop enhances practices and facilitates organizational change utilizing innovative and dynamic tools to map systems, identify gaps in service, and clarify community resources.”
delivery of appropriate services to people with mental illness and/or substance
use disorders involved in the criminal justice system
identifying gaps in service
of local resources
This program is customized to the very specific needs and desired
outcomes of our community.
and Gaps in Service
an Action Plan to Implement Change
As a long time citizen of Lincoln County and Depoe Bay, Oregon, I’m so very honored and proud to have been part of this unprecedented community building effort in our coastal community. Lincoln County now leads in the State of Oregon and across the nation as a transformative rural community. We can be proud as a community of the excellent leadership and commitment from Lincoln County Board of Commissioners and Sheriff for their steadfast leadership commitment…and innovative spirit. We succeeded in becoming an empowered community of partners and stakeholders…and there is no turning back the clock. We are more than ready for the next generation of Stepping Up Initiative…2.0.
Steve Sparks, Project Consultant, Stepping Up Initiative, Lincoln County Oregon and Resident Cheer Leader
As an 18 year old young man in the US Navy in 1965, I was very lucky! Click here… Thanks to the excellent care by US Navy mental health professionals, I am here today at age 73, I struggle with lifelong symptoms of agitated depression, but with loving support from family, friends and effective clinical therapy, I feel a peace of mind that everything is going to be okay. I know now from receiving my medical records from that time that traumatic experiences from childhood years and as a young adult took its toll. Even though my memory is lost from that time, my medical records show that W. F. Miner, LCDR. MC USN in May of 1965 was paying attention. I am very thankful for Dr. Miner’s thorough evaluation and treatment to help me through a most critical and risky period in my life.
I found a couple of references to W. F. Miner USN. His service to America and contributions as a mental health professional appear to be substantial. He along with D. S. Burgoyne CDR MC USN, Psychiatrist, were both instrumental in my treatment and recovery. I have a much better appreciation and gratitude for the US Navy mental health community after reviewing my medical records from long ago. We hear mostly of the statistics presented in the above chart, but not always about the lives saved every day by caring mental health professionals everywhere. I only wish I could find these two heroes from my US Navy experience and thank them personally for saving my life…
Most folks know that writing has been a critical source of healing for me. I started writing this blog in April 2011 on the encouragement of my dear friend and best buddy Byron Lewis. Byron passed away in October 2018 after a long battle with cancer. I miss Byron everyday, but he still taps me on the shoulder to help me get back on the right track. Byron encouraged me to keep writing before he passed. I honor my ol’ surf dude pal, Byron, with this first installment of a new series of lessons learned in life…and my personal journey of healing… Bryon also helped me edit my books and contributed to this blog over the years…click here.
Back in the day we surf dudes would look at each other when a bad wipe out was imminent and say, “when you’re fucked you’re fucked!” That’s exactly how I felt at the beginning of this story so very long ago…
It was a gorgeous sunny morning in January 1965 cruising around Oahu near Makaha Beach aboard the USS Coucal (ASR8); a submarine rescue and salvage ship, shown in the above photo…click here. I only have surreal foggy memory from that moment. I was on a break and looking on shore off of Makaha Beach. We were about a football field from shore. I could see surfers taking off on beautiful glassy waves when I dreamed of being on my board waiting in the pocket for the perfect wave. I could feel the waves under my feet, the freedom and control of my destiny for a moment in time…a true mindfulness escape that allowed me to forget everything painful. Impulsively, I just jumped in and swam to shore! Last I remember about that moment so long ago is being at Treasure Island in San Francisco in August 1965, transitioning out of the US Navy with an early honorable separation.
I suffer from significant memory loss over a lifetime, especially during early childhood, teen years, and as a young adult. With a much higher level of awareness from Trauma Informed Care and personal treatment and recovery strategies, my memory is returning little by little and helping me get the closure I so desparately need to finally heal from the too terrible to remember younger years.
This was the beginning of 6 decades of running away from mental illness, searching for my soul with a desparation to find my truth and a passion to succeed as a worthy and honorable man. I wanted to prove that mental illness was not possible in my life. At age 19, I didn’t even understand the depth and breadth of my sickness from a terribly abusive and sick childhood that included surviving polio at age 2. What happened? How could I get out of this outrageious disaster? All the rotten memories were blocked out during that time, denial was the only logical direction for me. I would not last 2 minutes on the outside if anything was revealed about my mental illness. My life was on the line. There was no way out but denial. What else could any young man do in my shoes at that time, but pull up his boot strapes and learn how to survive. I felt extreme shame and guilt for letting the Navy down and my family. I believed I was crazy and couldn’t imagine talking about it, not once, not ever!
I was reassigned as a Radioman 3rd Class from Comsubpac/Comsubflot5, a highly secure communications center at Pearl Harbor subbase to the USS Coucal in January 1965. I was given this assignment as a lighter duty station while in treatment and recovery for a diagnosis of acute agitated depression and anxiety…click here. The Coucal was supposed to be an opportunity for me to work in a less stressful duty station, but the temptation of seeking refuge to what felt the safest spot on earth to me at the time was my surfboard. Without hesitation, and in a surreal state of panic, I jumped in to join my brothers in the surf at a familiar and favorite surf spot on Oahu. I was a strong swimmer and in great shape, so swimming to shore was a piece of cake.
I was completely unaware, ignorant, and immature during my early struggles with mental health. Mental illness was a very bad thing to happen to a young man serving with pride and honor in the US Navy. My father, a highly decorated WWII US Navy veteran, Pearl Harbor survivor, Pacific War, and Korean War, would no doubt beat the crap out of me while asking me once again for the millionth time, “what is wrong with you?” There was never a conversation about what happened back then or how to help a young man suffering from mental illness. If you were diagnosed with mental illness, life as a normal person would end. I would be seen as a ‘weak sister’ (vernacular term for weak dudes). I do see my father now with a different perspective. He suffered all his life with mental illness and didn’t have a way to treat his PTSD and major depressive disorder until later in life. My mother and all of us siblings suffered the same, living a life of emotional baggage.
I was never told of my specific mental illness diagnosis when leaving the Navy in August 1965. I learned later that my father was contacted by the commanding officer of Comsubpac and provided an update on my mental health circumstances. The first time I got a hint of it was when seeking a vocational position as a teletype technician with General Tel in Los Angeles in September 1965. At that time medical records of veterans were not sealed, so I was screened out for having a mental illness diagnosis from the US Navy on my DD214. Isn’t that the shits? Imagine how a young man age 19 might feel being told for the first time by a lay person that he is mentally unstable?
As a result of my own traumatic life experiences as a child, it is horrific for me to think of a child living in a profoundly dysfunctional home…click here. I cringe thinking about how children inhale the pain of parents suffering and the chaos presented in troubled homes across America. There are too many kids in my community who are damaged emotionally and morally for a lifetime following a childhood of abuse and maltreatment, including being exposed to substance abuse, addiction, and violence that serves as an intergenerational problem. Reach out to children and families who need community support. We know now with evidence based facts that finding ways to support kids who come to school with challenges early in life will help heal moral injuries that persist over a lifetime. We must stop the cycle of intergenerational pain, and it starts with all of us making a difference each and everyday.
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. Imagine a combat veteran who came home from war a different person because of being exposed to the terrible violence of war. Think about a child who suffers from persistent and pervasive emotional and physical abuse in a profoundly dysfunctional home. In all these circumstances of severe trauma, we know now that the human brain is rewired, the brain chemistry changes and adapts to extreme survival circumstances and danger to life in war or at home living in fear. Because we know this as human beings we can have more empathy and compassion for others who suffer for a lifetime. 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. It is far worse to see traumatized children grow up with serious mental illness, including PTSD and life long major depression, that must be treated for a lifetime. It is heartbreaking to know that too many people of all ages resort to suicide or overdose on opioids because there is no hope and the emotional pain is too horrific to live with.
The life long journey of healing takes a highly disciplined personal effort of awareness of one’s own symptoms and strong support from family, close friends and a sustainable clinical and community based peer support treatment/recovery plan. Even so, the 24/7 intrusive thoughts and emotional pain stick for a lifetime for those of us who suffer from a major depressive disorder. I feel lucky to have a strong support system in these later years of my life. There are too many people in my community suffering from mental illness, including co-occuring alcohol and drug addiction, who are not as lucky. We see it in communities everywhere, the homeless and most vulnerable citizens who live among us. The way we treat the most vulnerable population in our community is a direct reflection of who we are, a loving community with great empathy and compassion.
So, with much empathy and compassion, reach out to the most vulnerable members of your community with kindness and love. Listen to them and help them find a safe place to begin living a healthy and happy quality of life.
“Passion meets technology in the search for downed aircraft in the South Pacific. The BentProp Project is a group of volunteers who search for and help repatriate missing World War II Airmen. Their searches were long and arduous until they enlisted the scientific know-how of Scripps Institution of Oceanography-UCSD and The University of Delaware. What they find is truly inspiring.”
Watching this inspiring and beautiful video clip moved me deeply. I know more now of the empathy and passion I feel each and every day about the sacrifice of veterans of all wars, especially the children and families who never find out what happened to their loved ones injured or lost to wars long ago… Once learning about my own father’s experience in WWII and my family’s post war emotional challenges living and caring for Dad, I had no idea this would be the beginning of my own journey of healing. Millions of children and families live with the trauma connected with war and the lifelong generational struggle of the inherent trauma and the loss of loved ones. There is too often silence among family members who have a deep desire to find peace of mind, but just “suck it up” and move on without the benefits of healing.
I hope this powerful story moves your family to find out more about fathers, mothers, and grandparents who sacrificed for the freedoms we enjoy in America. You can start your own journey of healing and make a difference for others at the same time. We owe this to ourselves and the legacy of war we honor to learn more and to help our nation heal in life after war…
The following is an excerpt from my book, Reconciliation, A Son’s Story…click here. I was in my teens when PTSD symptoms started to kick-in and become worrisome. It seemed like my mind was overwhelmed with fear and anxiety. I had no idea who I was or what I would become…
“I believe all of the mental and physical abuse discussed in this story begs the question of how it affected my own disposition as my teen years advanced. I was feeling more and more in-secure as time went by, wondering about what was next, and who our new friends would be, and how we would fit in, and what my parents would end up doing, and where we would live. There was some excitement about returning to Southern California at that time, getting back to school, and meeting new girls especially. I had lots of goals and my thoughts were often of the future, leaving home and being on my own. I wanted out of this chaotic and unstable toxic home life. I was nervous very nervous most of the time. I believe the early stages of PTSD and unstable behavior started to kick in at that time. At age 14 or so, I felt exhausted and confused, without direction, and not knowing whether my parents really cared about us at all.”
My Experience as a Former Military Child Who Became Homeless… by Jenny Green
Close to a year ago, little did I know that I would befriend someone who shares somewhat similar experiences from childhood as me. Although these experiences are generations apart, they are rooted from the same source…both our fathers experienced PTSD from war. My friend Steve’s father suffered PTSD from WWII and Korean War, while my father suffers PTSD from Vietnam. I am glad I am friends with Steve; he helped me to realize that I am not the only one out there with effects from a family members fight with this dilemma. Now I know that I am not my own little island in the sea of humanity, there are many of us islands.I was fortunate enough as a child to live in Italy and Germany as a military brat. Dad was active duty and a Vietnam vet with USMC and later enlisted with the U.S. Army. What I didn’t realize then, was that he had PTSD. When he would yell, scream, and smack me around I thought it was normal, in fact, to me it was a simple fact of life. What I also didn’t realize, was how my Dad’s PTSD affected my Mom as well. She would go to work early, come home late, and work many weekends for the Stars and Strips Newspaper; staying away from Dad as much as possible. I did not know my mother, and she did not know me, and the only thing I knew of my Dad was the abuse and anger he had towards me.That was my life ’till I was almost 10 years old, then the apple cart was turned upside down, we moved back from overseas. Dad divorced Mom about a year and a half after we returned leaving us in southern Indiana, and Dad left for good to Michigan. Once Mom realized he was never coming back, the monster she had harbored came out with a vengeance, secondary PTSD.When Dad left, I was lucky enough to be at my Grandmother’s house, as she took us in for six months. Mom slept 14 to 18 hours a day, only getting up to go to use the bathroom, and then back to bed to either sleep or lie there and cry. Finally my Grandmother had enough of us being in her house and forced my Mom and I out, leaving us at a public housing office. After a few nights in a shelter, we were placed in a small public housing apartment called, “White Court” in New Albany, In.I thought this move was going to help give my Mom momentum with having a fresh start; indeed this was not the case, her PTSD got worse. I had to wear the same pair of socks for 8 months; they smelled like ammonia, were caked with filth and were literally plastered to my feet. When I had shoes, I walked out of them at the toes and wear them for months in that condition. My jeans and t-shirt were stained with wearing them for weeks straight day and night, as I did not have night pajamas. There was no washer and dryer, no laundry mat in walking distance, and she would not buy soap or a bucket to wash clothes. There was never any food in the house, and if there was something in the fridge it was usually what someone was tossing out because it was spoiling. I was at least lucky to have free lunch from my elementary school, so I knew I could have a meal once a day during the school year. I relied on that food, as it was literally all I had in my life. I hated summers because I would miss out on the lunches from school and would scrap together meager meals of stale hamburger buns and souring bologna, bologna so soured that there was a white pasty film on it that I would scrap off.It was during one of these summers when I was 12 about to be 13 and had to attend summer school, that Mom closed the door to me. It was my last day of elementary school, when I got home all the doors and windows were locked and Mom was not answering. I sat on the porch till 10pm wondering what had happened, asking neighbors if they had seen anyone at the apartment, nothing. I went to a 5th grade friend’s house, but her family did not want anything to do with stained clothed, ammonia smelling kid; they told me to leave and not return. Under the glow of the dim street light I slept on the porch that night. The next morning I walked downtown to the amphitheater next to the Ohio River. I would sleep in and around this amphitheater for the next three months. Summer school did not serve lunch, so at night for food I would dig in the dumpsters of the local restaurants after they had closed. I remember eating half eaten fried chicken legs, macaroni salad with my fingers, licking pie filling off of paper plates, and using old napkins with lipstick stains smeared on them. I remember being afraid to sleep outside at night; so I would walk around town, watch the trains, or sit and listen to the coal barges and tugs going up and down the Ohio River till dawn. I was also afraid of the local law enforcement, as I was scared of getting in trouble for being homeless and filthy. I did not know at the time that they would actually have helped me. I kept going home every other day and knocking on the door and no one ever answered, even though I could see the mail was picked up and curtains were moved.The day 7th grade started, again I went back home and knocked on the door. To my surprise my mom answered the door. Dark circles under her eyes, dirty clothes, and matted hair is how she greeted me. I asked where she had been, and all she could say was that she had been busy. I told her 7th grade started today and I need her to go register me for school at the junior high, she agreed and we walked to school. I walk in the office with the same jeans, t-shirt, socks, and shoes I had been wearing for four months since the end of April, as people are staring at us I get registered for school and receive my class schedule. Second period was pre-algebra, and I hated math but I did not know that my life was about to change. I met my best friend Tracy, she didn’t care what I looked like or smelled like. In fact, later in the school year her Mom and Dad invited me over to their house as often as I wanted. They fed me, washed my clothes, and let me shower. By 8th grade I was living in their house. Mom still had custody of me but she allowed for my move. I was in their household ’till just after high school graduation with a 3.75 GPA, college bound, clean clothes and good food. Someone had finally given me a chance to survive, and I thrived…
Jenny’s testimonial was first published in January 2014. Thank you Jenny for all you do for our community! We are kindred spirits!
Description: Social stigma is the disapproval of, or discrimination against, a person based on perceivable social characteristics that serve to distinguish them from other members of a society. Social stigmas are commonly related to culture, gender, race, intelligence and health. Wikipedia
My first shocking experience with mental health stigma as an adult happened shortly after honorably separating from the US Navy in September 1965. It was in that moment that my world as a young adult with a bright future was seriously threatened. Following a very productive and exciting interview process with a Fortune 100 company in Los Angeles, I fully expected an offer for employment as an apprentice teleprinter technician. I felt grateful for the excellent training and experience received in the Navy as a radioman. But all the excitement and hope for a career in telecommunications came to a shocking halt when the HR recruiter said, “even though your qualifications exceeded minimum requirements I could not be hired!” I thought with complete dispair, “how could this be?” It was at that moment, the HR recruiter revealed to me that my hospitalization for severe depression and anxiety while serving in the US Navy was considered a risk. It was then that I decided to never ever speak of my mental health diagnosis…my secret, forever put away in a box and out of reach. This was stigma then, it is still stigma in the 21st Century. (Note: I was fortunate to receive a job offer from another respectable telecom company and started my career.) We can all do so much more to stamp out stigma. Please help make a difference by taking quality time to talk openly and honestly with friends and family about mental health. Awareness is the first step in healing invisible wounds.