July 27, 2017

From Steve Sparks, Author and Leadership Coach

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.

Challenges Living with Post-Traumatic Stress

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!

Making a Difference for Others

My work in making a difference for others is currently connected to the Stepping Up Initiative in Lincoln County Oregon. Stepping Up is a collaborative effort of the National Association of Counties, the Council of State Governments, and the American Psychiatric Association to reduce the numbers of people with mental illness in the justice system. In Lincoln County we are building a new community solution and collaboration to create a seamless community treatment continuum that effectively diverts those who suffer from mental illness and addiction to local peer to peer support resources, making jail the last recourse. In addition, we have just recently launched a new jail reentry transition and programming services (TAPS). TAPS is a service provided by Lincoln County Community Justice Adult Parole and Probation that provides transitional housing and services to offenders recently released into the community from prison or jail. Each client works with their supervising officer to develop a case plan for supervision with the goal of helping the individual resume a healthy, happy, and productive life outside of jail. The evidence based best practices of jail diversion and reentry transition programs are designed to significantly reduce recidivism and the revolving door of the jail in communities all over America. Lincoln County Oregon is leading the way as a rural county.

I believe now with a happy heart and peaceful soul 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 each day by my passion to make a difference for others who suffer from debilitating mental health conditions.

Read more at http://www.survivethriveptsd.org/