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April 12, 2012 Volume 3, Issue 14
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The second 2012 Webinar on culture and spirituality in recovery-oriented practice was held April 4, 2012.
Download the presentation slides, recording, and handout.

Touching Home
My Touch-and-Go Relationship with Dad
by Lori Ashcraft, Ph.D.
It never occurred to me a soldier’s addiction and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) would play a big part in my life. These were things that happened to old men who lived alone and got checks from the Government once a month. I was in for a big, disappointing surprise.

When addiction and PTSD hit close to home, it shook me to my core. It all started in 1968 on a trip to visit my paternal grandparents, whom I hadn't seen for more than 8 years. I also hadn’t seen my father for more than 20 years. I had scratched together enough money to fly into the high mountain region near Bakersfield, California, where my grandparents had lived for 30 years. My Aunt Edna, who agreed to pick me up at the airstrip, arrived right on time in her rattletrap station wagon. When we reached the edge of town, Aunt Edna slowed down a bit and cleared her throat.

"There's something I should probably tell you about your father," she said, without changing her expression or looking in my direction. "I'm sorry to be the one to tell you this … I'm sorry you have to find this out, but … he's a drunk. He's a skid row drunk!" Somehow, she had kept this secret for a long time, but now that the door was open, she recounted a series of tragic stories about the person who was my father—a man I had wondered about for most of my 24 years. "He never got over the war," she guessed aloud. "It changed him."

Soon we pulled up to Edna's house. She turned off the ignition, but continued with the stories. While she rolled out tale after tale of my father's failed attempts at life, I was lost in my own world, recalibrating the fantasies I'd made up about him in the absence of any real information. I had stitched together a few fragments, mostly glowing comments from my grandmother about how brilliant and creative he was, the important role he played in the war, and how successful he was with his new wife and (worst of all) new daughter.

My last memory of my father was watching him walk backwards from our front doorstep when I was 4 years old. My mom's tearful voice was barely audible, but she clearly told him to go away and never come back. All I knew was something very sad was happening.

My dad was a well-trained photographer and his skills were immediately put to work documenting the savagery of war. He captured tragic and mortifying scenes … usually dead bodies in various forms of decay, destroyed buildings, or devastated civilians. But he was not mentally or emotionally prepared to deal with these atrocities, and his escape became alcohol. By the time he was discharged, alcoholism had a firm grip on him.

My mom no longer knew him, and he didn't know her. Unlike later wars, World War II veterans received a hero's welcome when they returned home, but even this didn't help his transition or relieve the trauma. The damage had been done, with too many ruined lives captured in the lens of his camera and soul. He spent the rest of his life trying to escape, either by drowning himself in alcohol or moving on to the next marriage, the next town, the next unlucky venture.

I met with my father a few years later, and we had some interesting visits over a period of 6 or 8 years. Most times, he was in varying degrees of intoxication, but I loved him anyway. He often talked about his numerous attempts to stop drinking. There were times when he went to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings twice a day, occasionally for several months in a row. But he would eventually succumb to the ravages of addiction and haul himself back to the hospital to dry out. Each time, the cycles of sobriety grew shorter, until he finally gave up. He died of alcoholism in a veterans hospital at age 65. Although I would like to think my father's life had some purpose, I believe the world will never know his true brilliance and creativity. His unsuccessful attempts to overcome PTSD and alcoholism rendered him incapable of delivering gifts that would have made the world a better place.

If this story had happened today, would anything be different? Have we gotten better at helping people like my father re-enter their lives in productive ways, giving them opportunities to contribute and participate in their communities? What can we learn from the past to create a better future for those who protect our country?

I still have my father's army uniform with the "photographer" patch on one arm. Don't ask why, but I've carried it around for 60 years. Every time I look in the closet, I see it there, reminding me of part of myself.

Dr. Ashcraft is Director of the Recovery Opportunity Center at Recovery Innovations, Inc. She is also a person in recovery.

Report Sheds Light on Consumer–Practitioner Interaction
The consumer–provider relationship can affect how committed people are to continuing behavioral health services. In the sixth Research and Practice Brief from the Center on Adherence and Self-Determination, Dr. Colleen Mahoney explores the link between consumers and practitioners, specifically how their collaboration supports perseverance and autonomy. What parts of their conversation enhance or deter service engagement, and how can people benefit from the interpersonal nature of such care?

VA and Veterans Split over Mental Health Care
Two years after Congress passed a high-profile law to improve health care for military veterans, lawmakers and advocates are questioning the Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) responsiveness to vets and their families. This time, the issue is twofold: campaigners want to establish a peer counselors network for soldiers who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, and they say families of National Guard and Reserve members should have access to mental health services at VA facilities.

Read the article.

The RTP Resource Center Wants to Hear from
Recovery-Oriented Practitioners!
We invite practitioners to submit personal stories that describe how they became involved in
recovery-oriented work and how it has changed the way they practice.
The RTP Resource Center Wants to Hear from You, Too!
We invite you to submit personal stories that describe recovery experiences. To submit stories or other recovery resources, please contact Cheryl Tutt, MSW, at 877.584.8535,
or email recoverytopractice@dsgonline.com. All stories are reviewed by Carrie Nathans, RTP Editor.

We welcome your views, comments, suggestions, and inquiries.
For more information on this topic or any other recovery topic,
please contact the RTP Resource Center at
877.584.8535, or email recoverytopractice@dsgonline.com.


The views, opinions, and content of this Weekly Highlight are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect
the views, opinions, or policies of SAMHSA or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.