The Haunt and The Hunger
Just this week, I worked with a female soldier to share the story of her rape. It happened over a decade ago, but she’s still processing what her therapists call “non-combat-related PTSD.” As a physician in the army, today she helps patients just like herself come to terms with assault: both The Incident itself, and The Incident’s aftermath: STDs. Uncontrollable crying. A feeling like the world is caving in on you.
Sexual trauma is not the only type of trauma, of course. Cider Spoon Stories also writes war veterans’ stories. I’ve worked with six Vietnam vets alone in the past two years. Mark my words: we’re about to see a flood of Vietnam stories on the market. These vets are getting older, and they’re ready to tell their side—some for the very first time.
One man I know never told his family anything, because he’d been met by Vietnam protestors when his plane landed stateside … protestors who spit on him and made him feel like the last year of his life had been meaningless … a hollow nightmare … and like his friends and comrades-in-arms had died in vain.
In March, I’ll start ghostwriting the life story of a former child soldier from Uganda. When we met, she asked me how I handled listening to, and writing about, trauma. I won’t pretend it’s easy, or that I don’t feel drained afterward. But that’s the point of doing the hard work: those stories live inside a body … until we can purge them to the page, and everyone can heal.
No matter what’s happened to you, what you’ve witnessed, or what you’ve done, writing about it—and through it—can help you come out the other side. Sometimes release is found in the act of confession. For others, the book itself becomes a container, a safe space in which to deposit “the haunt and the hunger” (True Detective).
PTSD AND THE DSM-V
The DSM-V (the 5th and current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) was published in May 2013. It introduced many important changes to 2000’s DSM-IV-TR, including a long-overdue categorical shift that finally removed PTSD (Post-Traumautic Stress Disorder) from the list of anxiety disorders and reclassified it as a trauma disorder with origins in an etiological event (the traumatic stressor).
THE PSYCHOLOGY BEHIND PTSD
In Jungian terms, PTSD affects the ego, or that part of the person we call the Self. The ego is the center of consciousness; it orients us in time and space; and the ego wants to survive as long as possible with as little pain as possible. When confronted with pain, the ego defends itself with the only weapons it has: projection, idealization, and denial. All three of these defense mechanisms have as their corollary suppression and repression. Because the psyche is a closed system, repressed energy necessarily leaks out in other forms: anxiety and depression, for example.
COPING WITH PTSD: EMPATHIC PRESENCE
No one “cure” has ever worked for every PTSD sufferer, but there are many suggestions for helping individuals learn to cope with high-level stress. The first is practicing empathic presence. Empathic presence occurs when the PTSD-afflicted individual meets with a qualified therapist who simply listens to the individual's story, over and over again … until such time as the story begins to lose its power. At that point, the story stops “owning” the individual.
There are many free or low-cost resources for people with PTSD (click here for a list of Austin’s veteran services, and here for a unique civilian service), but a good friend with a kind ear can also go a long way toward alleviating said suffering. To be an empathic presence for someone you know, practice being a “container” for story, where narratives may be received and treated as sacred. Friends and family members, even more so than therapists, are good about seeing the human being and not just his/her symptoms.
PTSD AND CIDER SPOON
When asked what war was like, a Vietnam veteran recently replied:
PTSD is commonly associated with veterans, but many non-veterans suffer from PTSD. Rape victims, abuse victims, and those who have lived through car accidents are just a few examples of afflicted sub-groups. While there are more PTSD services than ever before, the paradigm of trauma remains the same. Our vets and others are dealing with the same problems as 40 years ago, and still not feeling heard.
At Cider Spoon, my job is to listen to your story. No judgment, and no “therapy” in the licensed sense … but helping you make sense of your life all the same, through healing narratives.