“At the forefront is his father, the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, whom Patrick now believes suffered not only from a serious “drinking problem” but also from untreated post-traumatic stress disorder following the assassinations of brother and President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and brother Robert F. Kennedy in 1968.
Patrick goes on to paint a raw and unsettling portrait of his father, a man he says suffered “in silent desperation for much of his life, self-medicating and unwittingly passing his unprocessed trauma onto my sister, brother and me.”
I know something about a common struggle of “untreated post-traumatic stress!” Patrick Kennedy does too… Children growing up in a family affected by severe traumatic experiences, often take on the same mental health symptoms and behaviors as parents who struggle. Untreated PTSD is mostly hidden behind closed doors with family members getting the direct hit of the symptoms of self medication, anger, depression, panic attacks, including emotional and physical abuse. The toxic behaviors are mostly invisible outside of the home where parents who suffer can keep a safe distance from the pain of the past while becoming workaholics who self medicate with a good whiskey to keep calm. The false cover of calmness by day turns into a nightmare for family members during evening hours and on weekends as the trauma sufferer releases all the pent up anger connected with bottled up pain from the past and the sickness from a never ending hang over…
When I wrote my book many years after Dad passed away in 1998, my family members helped me with stories that were difficult to remember and to share with the world. But it was a most cathartic and healing experience that gave me and others who read my story a path to recovery, including peace of mind. When my book was published; however, family members became agitated and anxious, distancing themselves from me and our painful family story. There has never been any denial of the events described in my book since my siblings and mother helped me reconcile the stories and experiences showing a violent and toxic family life that drove us all away. We carried the emotional baggage with us and were consistently challenged in confronting something we did not understand until later in life. We acted out in our own ways to each other and our own family members with behaviors that added up to all the symptoms of post-traumatic stress, that all of us know much more about in the 21st century. Even though we know so much more, there is still denial and stigma keeping sufferers from seeking treatment and find the lasting peace of mind we all deserve.
I attempt to write in my latest book, My Journey of Healing in Life after Trauma, Part 2, about how critical it is to seek treatment, if for no other reason than to save your children from suffering the same fate, and their children as well. PTSD is an inter-generational national mental health crisis that will take decades of awareness and treatment to cure from society. We have been a nation at war since the Civil War with families becoming embroiled in the symptoms of post trauma as a fact of life. It doesn’t have to be like bad genes that carry forward forever. I am encouraged and confident that someday, following my life-time, that PTSD will be in the history books and cut off at the pass eventually. We will become strong enough as compassionate human beings to address mental health needs effectively, starting with kids at an early age, without the stigma that holds us back today. I know we can do it, and the books written and on-going awareness efforts by those who have survived and thrived like Patrick J. Kennedy will help society heal in time. We must talk and write freely about mental health to each other and in public places so that it is as comfortable as talking about a cure for a common cold.
Steve Sparks, Author, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story and My Journey of Healing in Life after Trauma, Part 1&2… Click the highlighted text for my author page…