Trauma comes in many forms

Published 3:47 pm Monday, February 12, 2018

Sometimes in your lifetime, you meet someone you have an instant liking for. That was the case when I met Jo Spencer recently.

Jo was visiting with Colista Ledford the day of the Clark County AARP chapter’s board meeting this past month when she and I met.

She seemed to be an interesting person with an even more interesting past.

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Jo was born in Middletown, Ohio. Her mom was born in Hazard, though.

In the late 1940s, Jo’s mom, like many other Kentuckians, moved to Ohio to find work. She ended up working as a waitress.

Her dad was a veteran of World War II and returned back to Middletown, Ohio, a completely different man than when he had left for service. He returned with shell shock that is now known as post traumatic stress disorder.

Unable to deal with his stress, he turned to alcohol. Many of the war veterans could not talk about their war experiences and so they dealt with their stress in other ways. This was the case because they really had nowhere to turn or any type of government agencies to offer assistance like our veterans now have.

He married Jo’s mom eight years later and soon thereafter, Jo was born. Her father ended up being Jo’s primary caretaker. However, when Jo was a wee four months old, her dad had to be hospitalized with pancreatitis and had to have a part of his stomach removed.

After he was able to leave the hospital, he returned home and he again became the caretaker for Jo. However, early one morning at 4 a.m, before her mom would leave for work, she and her mom watched as he lay dying in a pool of blood.

This would haunt Jo later in life.

Jo was 13 months old when this happened. While some people believe children can not remember at such a young age, others disagree. Jo has flashbacks of terror in her life that makes her believe she can.

There is a quote from Sigmund Freud that reads, “I believe we accept too indifferently the fact of infantile amnesia that is the failure of memory for the first years of our life and fail to find in it, a strange riddle.”

Jo can identify with that quote as she has tried to deal with that riddle of her life.

After her father’s death, Jo and her mother moved in with her aunt and uncle in Middletown. They would visit her mom’s family in Wolfe County, where she learned to love Kentucky. She would long to stay in Kentucky on those visits instead of having to return to her life in Middletown.

She now bides her time between California and Kentucky since she has a sister who lives in Kentucky.

Jo Spencer has spent most of her life working with people with mental disabilities. She has been a counselor for many and tries to help others with abandonment trauma and other problems that relate to all aspects of mental illness.

She even wrote a book entitled, “Healing the Wound That Won’t Heal, The Reality of Trauma.”

She is willing to share or hear stories from anyone who can relate to her experience. You can reach her at or call her at 606-481-0331.

Luckily, mental illness treatment and awareness has come a long way since her father’s death. So many however, for some reason or another, neglect to get the help they need. The stigma of mental illness is slowly fading since it affects so many.

I do hope by writing this column it can help someone get the help they need.

We have a local National Alliance for Mental Illness group in Winchester. The group meets at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, 2410 W. Lexington Road.

Sue Staton is a Clark County native who grew up in the Kiddville area. She is a wife, mother and grandmother who is active in her church, First United Methodist Church, and her homemakers group, Towne and Country Homemakers. 

About Whitney Leggett

Whitney Leggett is managing editor of The Winchester Sun and Winchester Living magazine. To contact her, email or call 859-759-0049.

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