I did it! I have just recently completed my self-help book called How To Cope with Stress after Trauma: Especially for Veterans, Families, and Friends. It will be published at the end of February and you will be able to get it on both Amazon books and on Kindle. Although I have addressed the book specifically to veterans, and the examples are of veterans, the 20 steps I write about are just as valuable for anyone who is suffering from a severe trauma such as a sudden death, an accident, abuse, or a natural disaster. It is also for their families and friends.
Why does someone like me write self-help books? I'm not sure about others. I imagine some people see a relevant problem they can explore and turn into some money. But for me, the topic I would be willing to explore so deeply that I could actually write a book about it and try to help others, has to do with what I have felt passionate about in my life. Of course it also has to do with my knowledge and experience working for many years with clients who had PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
There were lots of times over the last two years that I wanted to press the delete button on my book file but somehow I kept coming back to it. If you are a writer you will understand what I mean. "It's garbage" I said to myself. "No one would want to use this book, never mind read it. What do I think I know that's so important?"
Now looking back to those days I can see what motivated me to keep writing: my love for my father. He had been severely traumatized during war when he was young, He suffered with symptoms of post trauma stress most of his life. My mother, my sister, and I suffered too. But none of us knew how to "fix" him although we very much wanted to. At the time we didn't even have a name for what was going on. Now that I do have the knowledge of how to help, I want others like him and their families to find ways to recover and live productive and happy lives. That is my goal, and that is why I write self-help books. Are there any other self-help writers out there? Share with the rest of us about what motivates you.
Here is the beginning of Part 1 of the book How to Cope with Stress after Trauma:
Before I get started revealing information and ways to cope with stress after a trauma, I’d like to tell you a story. I was well known in my community for my work with people who dealt with severe trauma, and agencies often referred clients to me, sometimes as far as two hundred miles away.
Years ago, while working in my private practice, a husky, muscular man, then in his mid- thirties came to me via the Veterans Administration (VA). It was about ten years after Joe’s tour of duty in Vietnam and he had survived without help, although he reluctantly admitted to having problems sleeping and some nightmares about Vietnam.
Joe had been employed at a saw mill for several years and he loved his work. Recently the owner of the adjoining property had opened a gun range and soon after, Joe developed a phobia to what he called “loud noise.” Every time he heard a shot, he jumped, covered his head, and crouched behind a pile of logs. His heart raced and he shook for several minutes.
Understandably, he decided to change jobs.
He expected his phobia to end, but instead, now when a car backfired or he heard a loud bang, he reacted in a similar way that he had to the gunshots. Over the last couple of months he had spent much of his time trying to avoid people and loud noises. He had frequent nightmares and woke up sweating. He couldn’t work. At this point he slept very little, and he had become unpredictably explosive at his wife and children. She was threatening to take the children and leave if the problem didn’t stop. In plain words, his life had become unmanageable.
When he arrived in my office, I noticed his face was drawn and his hands trembled. The first words he said to me after he explained his symptoms were, “This has nothing to do with Vietnam.”
I took a deep breath, nodded, and said, “Then let’s find out what’s really going on.”
I asked him to tell me his family history, starting with his childhood. He told me that his father was an alcoholic and that life at home had been difficult. Within less than five minutes he began to vividly relate stories about his experiences on the front line in Vietnam, as though they had happened yesterday.
In time, Joe dealt with his symptoms and eventually with his memories. During our year together, Joe did not forget his two years in Vietnam, the hand to hand combat, the many men in his platoon who died, the women and children he thought he could trust but who carried weapons, the innocent people he killed in the villages. Most of all he never forgot the guilt and shame he felt when he came home, and instead of a hero’s welcome, he was shunned or ignored. Yes, the memories were still there but they were much less intense and they no longer triggered flashbacks and nightmares. His anger subsided and after a short separation from his family he returned home.
Why did I start the book with Joe instead of defining words or listing symptoms? Because I think it’s important to understand the lessons taught in Joe’s story. Regardless of which war you fought---World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Operation Just Cause in Panama, the Gulf War, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, or any other war---the lessons learned will be similar.
The first lesson:
Don’t make excuses or ignore your first symptoms of post trauma stress. The sooner you deal with the symptoms, the more likely they will recede into the past without you becoming dysfunctional, or have what psychologists call a “disorder.”
Although most post trauma stress occurs immediately or shortly after a trauma, delayed reactions are fairly common. It may be months, sometimes years, before they manifest in the conscious mind. According to recent reports, after 40 years, Vietnam veterans are increasingly having nightmares and flashbacks now that they are getting older, are retired, and have more time to think. Usually there is a trigger. For Joe the trigger became gun shots. For others it may be the death of a loved one.
You are strong, not weak, when you face life and deal with it as it happens instead of pretending there’s nothing wrong. You are strong, not weak, when you ask for help. Anyone, and I mean anyone, may react to trauma in a way similar to Joe’s response. Use some of the steps in this book to help you learn how to cope, but if they don’t relieve your symptoms, see a psychotherapist and/or a medical doctor.
You are not alone even though you may often feel like you are. Certainly, you are unique as to the circumstances and specifics of your trauma, and it is very important for you to meet with other veterans who can understand you in a way civilians at home can't. But regardless of the severe trauma people have been exposed to, whether it occurred in war, in an accident, or natural disaster, or at home in an abusive situation---sometimes for many years---and regardless of who the survivors are, all are humans. Their bodies, especially their brains, control their emotions and their minds and will respond similarly. Some will react more severely and some less so, and for more or less time, but millions of people around the globe experience trauma symptoms although different cultures may respond and answer questions about trauma symptoms somewhat differently.
Recovery is possible. If you get help, your symptoms will most likely lessen to a point where they are easily managed.