Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear,
not the absence of fear.
Connard’s trauma survivor journey as a Vietnam Veteran and an adult child of an alcoholic, assisted by his work as a recovery therapist and enthusiast of outdoor adventure, has led him to writing fiction and nonfiction, primarily memoir.
Though I’d pondered my dreams as a child, later to journal them as an older teen, I discovered writing late in life as a healthy, constructive way to exorcise my demons. In doing so I experienced a catharsis and discovered the healing aspect of offering hope to others on their journeys of recovery.
No stranger to conflict, I struggled with trauma early in life, as a result of my father's alcohol consumption--which I now suspect stemmed from PTSD from his childhood years and WWII naval experiences in the Pacific--and his subsequent physical/verbal abuse of my mother. In my search to escape my emotional pain of witnessing my parents’ marital discord, I found refuge in visits to my maternal grandparents' Kentucky farm.
As a child the farm seemed safe, changeless and boundless, a predictable part of my life. There, I didn’t have to contend with sidewalks and street curbs, traffic lights, neighbors’ menacing dogs, and most of all, Mom and Dad’s terrible fights over his drinking. The farm possessed some magical quality, I’d believed as a child, since Dad never drank and become a raging bull there, nor, as a result, did he and Mom argue.
But, I knew as a young man, during my last visit with my grandparents at the farm, that the remnants of my childhood refuge, that hadn’t already slipped away, would soon do so, and I’d never again recreate my childhood days. The glory days of my innocent play with cousin Billy couldn’t be brought back. I’d never again have the thrill of the mad-rush of Easter egg hunts, experience the large noisy, pleasant, yet chaotic gatherings of extended family at Thanksgiving and Christmas meals, and the fun-scare rituals of Halloween. I’d never again experience hunts for rabbits, squirrels and frogs, and picking fruit upon that continent of my childhood imagination. But my grandparents' farm played a much more important and healthy role in my development, growing from child to young man, than I could appreciate then, or will ever forget now.
My maternal grandparents,
"Gramma and Grampa" Riggs,
pose in front of the house
on their Kentucky subsistence
The recoil from my Dad's drinking bouts and abuse of Mom resulted in my social withdrawal and heightened my introspection. I turned towards studying science in school, thus exercising logic and tiptoeing around my trauma. However, curious about the meaning of my childhood nightmares, I was spurred to journal my dreams and study dream analysis when a late-teen.
Meanwhile, the caverns, which peppered the limestone bedrock of Kentucky, beckoned to me. Spelunking offered physical challenge, adventure and opportunity to carouse with several friends, all the while away from my parents' arguments over finances and Dad's drinking and at the same time serving my desire to achieve emancipation.
The historical entrance to Mammoth
Cave, which has more than 400
miles of known passages.
Following high school graduation, I entered college, though after a year-and-a-half of engineering school and Air Force ROTC, I dropped out. Months later, my local draft board embraced my availability for military service, and yanked me from the remnants of my childhood innocence into the reality of Vietnam.
I pose in my US Army khaki
uniform during a 30-day leave
before shipping to South Vietnam.
As an Intelligence Analyst, I calculated my army non-combat role to be my best option to avoid returning home in a body bag. Once I'd been assigned to a unit at II Corps Headquarters, I considered myself safer from harm than most GIs. Confronted with the contradictions, vagaries and waste of warfare, both human and matériel, I struggled with my anger and frustration over our collective conduct there, however. In the meantime, considerations of my survival, jeopardized by the tedium of administrative office tasks--reading, writing and filing reports, ad nauseam--and my male hormones, which played havoc with my better judgment, became all-consuming. When assigned after-hours office duty to "baby-sit the General," as my cohorts and I mockingly referred to it, I resorted to "reading" a dictionary in desperation.
I often visualize a beach outing, within shouting distance of our headquarters compound. An office buddy purchased a duck egg from a passing mama-san, then dropped it onto road pavement. A duckling embryo, of value to that Vietnamese merchant and substantial to many Vietnamese, as I'd come to believe, lay exposed in the midst of it's shattered shell. The crunch of beak and bones, and the texture of intestines and feathers, didn’t appeal to me. Nobody would force me to eat a duck embryo, but if the "locals" favored them, who was I to judge? I'd thought we were in Vietnam to help those people, which to me included respecting their culture, and deliberately throwing food on the ground was a sign of disrespect in my mind. Growing up I didn't purposefully waste food, which had been a precious commodity. In the presence of that act I felt embarrassed and cheapened, like an “ugly American” about which I’d read in school.
The ever-present poverty in Vietnam and our general wasteful behavior, though reminding me of my childhood deprivations, moved me towards action and a desire coalesced driving me towards a higher service, one of assisting others in overcoming their difficulties, whether external or internal.
Coming out of military service, where I'd witnessed my fair share of trauma and developed PTSD, not only in my quest to survive Vietnam, but in observing the struggles of my fellow GIs and that of the Vietnamese people, my plan of action led me to study sociology, psychology and social work.
I migrated to California in pursuit of my master's degree, as well as, my steadfast determination to follow my dreams and avoid repeating for myself one of Mom's regrets. My journey veered towards Marriage, Family and Child Counseling. Licensed in California for twenty-five years before retirement, I worked in the fields of alcohol/drug recovery and the assessment and treatment of major psychiatric disorders. Over time, I recognized that my work of helping others inadvertently contributed to my journey of trauma healing, too.
A 12-Step Recovery Program medallion.
Mountains dominate California's geography, as a result mountaineering supplanted my earlier spelunking
adventures, driven to challenge myself and develop of sense of individuality and uniqueness. My horizons expanded geographically, spanning a significant portion of the world and involving a visit to all fifty of the high points, and low points, within the United States. After my summit of Denali, which is not only Alaska's highest point, but also that of the United States . . . and North America, I gathered my notes into a climbing manuscript.
Dan T. (in the foreground and one
of three expedition partners) and I
(background) pause below Denali's
Thus, my aspirations to be a published author burgeoned and I discovered writing as a healthy, constructive way to exorcise my demons. In doing so I experienced a catharsis and discovered the healing aspect of offering hope to others on their journeys of recovery through writing.
As my lifelong recovery continues, I cherish and am nourished by my childhood memories of the farm, like Mom’s laughs, her playing piano and accordion, Dad’s fireside jokes and tall-tales, Gramma’s smiles and tolerance, Grampa's steadfastness in his beliefs, Uncle James' gentle manner . . . all my aunts, uncles and cousins there. I often think upon experiences of warm tomatoes eaten fresh off the vine, cornbread soaked in a glass of cold freshly-surrendered milk, and chilled watermelon consumed on the front porch. All of my memories weave a tapestry providing me succor and inspiration, as well as a wellspring of writing material.
At my brother Verlon's wedding,
(right to left) my mom, dad and I
examine a poem written by Verlon.
Still evolving, that under-developed, primal part of my brain asserts a presence, challenges me, pushes and pulls me. All of my aspects mingle in that undefined arena of the depths of my mind, collaborate to create, even quibble as I interact with the world. Eclectic, with many interests, I fancy myself as a "jack-of-all-trades." When I encounter “two roads that diverge in a yellow wood,” I yearn to travel both. I’ve been certified to sky dive and scuba dive. I enjoy travel, different cultures, food, music, ceramics and am in awe of the splendor of the universe. I look to "the bigger picture" and have had the good fortune to visit every continent . . . including Antarctica.
My wife, Janet, and I enjoy a day
excursion during our Antarctica
Along my journey, I've mulled my painful memories, and my mental tapestry shifts and the worst parts lose their power and fade, like grime cleansed by detergent, and what remains are the better parts, the best parts . . . the important parts to keep. Memory is strange . . . and wonderful that way. In the process, I've gained a more balanced perspective of my past experiences and come to believe a number of things, including the following:
- Humans are animals, not better, nor worse than any other, just different.
- We are fallible.
- Perception is a poor judge of reality and memory a poor historian of it.
- “One true love” is a myth.
- The purpose of life is to live.
- We are "star-stuff" and the universe looking at itself.
"Starry Night" in Joshua
Tree National Park.
I've long accepted that healing and recovery from trauma is a lifelong journey. I write narrative nonfiction in the genres of memoir, travelogue and personal adventures as a way to share, inspire, encourage and, even if only in a small way, shine a light for those who follow.
And now that my writing has advanced ... somewhat ... and I've become an award-winning author, I'm working to avoid a swellhead! Humility fuels our spirituality.
Walk in beauty.
12-Step Medallion - recoverychip.myshopify.com
Starry Night - wallpapers13.com