Tag Archives: Empathy

Searching for My Lost Soul… A life time of stumbling, bumbling, and surviving to fight for sanity another day…

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.

Byron Lewis, a true friend who cared deeply for the children in our community. Byron served 8 years on the board of Neighbors for Kids, Depoe Bay, Oregon…click here. He lives in our hearts forever…

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.

Promoted to RM3 in 1964 while serving at Comsubflot5

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.

Best wishes in your journey of healing,

Independence Day Remembrance…Lost WWII Heroes Discovered in South Pacific…a profoundly healing legacy experience for loved ones…

Heroes of Palau…

Palau…Searching for Heroes…  Click on this powerful video clip…worth all 13 minutes! Published on Nov 7, 2014

“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.”

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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…

Steve Sparks

Empathy and Compassion….We need to think about what happened not what is wrong!

A Humvee doesn’t offer much protection for combat soldiers who are at risk of an IED explosion.

Commissioner Bill Hall, Lincoln County Oregon

by Commissioner Bill Hall, Lincoln County Oregon

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.

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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!

Steve Sparks, Author, Blogger, Child Advocate, Mental Health Champion

click here for my author page…

 

 

The Ft. Hood Shootings and Questions Concerning PTSD…

Please support my mission of helping families who suffer from PTSD and moral injury…order my books, My Journey of Healing in Life After Trauma, Part 1… (Kindle $2.99), and Reconciliation: A Son’s Story.  Click and order paperback or download Kindle version.  Buy my book at Barnes & Noble as well… Thank you! Steve Sparks, Author

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Ft. Hood Shootings Interview with PTSD experts… click here for informative video clip…ABC Action News quote…

“TAMPA – The recent shooting at Fort Hood military base has raised several conversations about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the effects it has on a person, specifically someone in the military.

The shooter, Spc. Ivan Lopez, was believed to have had PTSD, even though authorities are saying that was not the driving factor that lead to the mass shooting Wednesday.

Dr. Diego Hernandez is currently working on a special program with University of South Florida that focuses treating PTSD within former service members. Through the program they aim to resolve traumatic memories through methods of relaxation.

Hernandez joined ABC Action News’ John Thomas in studio Sunday morning to discuss the mental illness and what resources are available to those who suffer from it.

Joining him was former Army member Tony Williams Jr. who served at Ft. Hood. Now he runs Veterans Counseling Veterans. Also Ana Aluis, a former marine and President elect of Suncoast Mental Health Counselors Association, attended providing additional insight on local programs that are available during the discuss.”

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Treatment must start long before a soldier or trauma victim is left to struggle with the symptoms of PTSD on their own.  Most who wait eventually seek treatment, but it can be decades of emotional pain, and in the worst case, suicide.  Those who screen and provide counseling and treatment for PTSD must be highly sensitive to potential triggers that can cause a person to act out.  Soldiers and 1st responders believe “empathy” from family members and
loved ones help them heal…  Empathy is absolutely critical in the prevention of violence connected with victims of trauma!  Friends, loved ones, and care givers with awareness and a sensitive heart can make a big difference in helping trauma victims ease the pain and seek a path of healing…

Click on this video clip and listen to the experts answer questions about how you can help make a difference and potentially mitigate violence or save a life…  Awareness is the first step in the process of healing from the painful symptoms of PTSD.

Steve Sparks, Author, My Journey of Healing in Life After Trauma, Part 1 and Reconciliation: A Son’s Story…