Title: PTSD Road to Recovery: One Soliders Story
Author: Bob Bray
Review: I loved the forward by George Bissett as he gently explains what he understands PTSD is and how he like Bray’s story-telling approach to recounting his experiences which he himself encouraged. In the introduction Bray talks us through some of the conditions he and people he has worked with suffer with including what they are and how the affect people’s behaviors and personalities. These conditions include PTSD, ADD/ADHD and RAD. One thing I did notice in the introduction was a repeated paragraph but this doesn’t hamper the reading experiences unless you are a real stickler for grammatical correctness. Even though this introduction sounds very clinical it lays the groundwork for the story Bray is going to tell us throughout the remainder of this novel.
Bray starts the story by telling us about his first spanking as a young child and how this specific incident lead to his having abandonment and betrayal issues later in life. I also loved the cartoons Bray uses to illustrate these points, they are amazing useful visual aids which helps us understand Bray’s thought and evolutionary processes. Bray also talks about an incident where he tried to stab his older brother; this requires a lot of pent up anger for an 8 year old to react with this level of violence. Although growing up in a violent home environment made anger and violence the “normal” reaction for Bray. Bray talks about many upsetting things including being sexual abused by an older boy at school and because of his abandonment and trust issues he wasn’t able to speak out about this even if he wanted to. He also performed poorly at school probably because he had some form of ADD or ADHD inhibiting his ability to focus and learn properly within the school enviroment.
I can honestly say one memory I found particularly saddening was when Bray learns his baby boy had died of cot death with he is finishing up his army service. This incident was particularly shocking for me but it is the way Bray reacts rather than crying or asking about his wife he attempts to run away as this is his natural response, to run away from his own emotions. As Bray tried to understand what he is going through we feel deeply upset for him as he physically can’t process certain emotions. The stress and anxiety in his life eventually to physical side effects like ulcers which only add to his anxiety, it seems in his early and military years the fabric of Bray’s very personality is being tested in some of the most brutal ways imaginable to him.
One of the things Bray is trying to get us to understand is that our experiences in life influence the way we deal with our emotions and throwing mental conditions like ADD into the mix can also hinder a person’s life progress and all of this can shape our character and demeanor as adults. Bray believes certain conditions like hyper-vigilance can surface due to conditioning, for example in the military men are trained to be hyper alert after years of being like this many don’t know how to turn this off after leaving the military. One thing Bray does point out is even though his conditions had arisen before he joined the military his training there on exasperated his conditions despite needed them to save his life in combat they made his transition back to a civilian a lot harder. After leaving the military Bray becomes a police officer and with a second child on the way his anxiety and PTSD become prominent as he has flashbacks about his first child’s’ death and whether the meager police pay will support them. Eventually he turns to drink and women to relieve his tension but after a near miss car accident he turns his attention to marathon training. But training was as addictive as drink and soon he finds himself on a slippery slope once again. Due to his addictions ranging from drink to porn and his emotional withdrawal Bray’s first marriage ending extremely badly, even counselling didn’t seem to help, I believe this is because Bray didn’t know what was wrong with him in order to get help about. As the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem and at this point Bray has not done that.
Bray begins to question how people outside of the solider community view them and their issues as everyday people don’t understand how the minds works when put in a life or death situation but they understand that if soldiers can’t fight ordinary people will have to be trained to take their place. Bray also tackles the idea that crying is showing weakness so the only emotion they show is anger, this is because of feelings of betrayal and abandonment resurfaces and with it comes people who will bully those that appear weak, so in the interest for self-preservation solider bottle up their emotions only further deteriorating their mental state. One theme that constantly recurs when Bray talks about these conditions is co-dependency; where soldiers rely on orders and their comrades in order to survive, how the police are loyal to and rely on the force to maintain stability but this only make the transition from solider back to civilian twice as difficult.
As we approach the half way point in the novel, we learn that the mental conditions these people have freeze their mental maturity levels, not allowing them to progress forward in life but also preventing them for regressing meaning they are stuck and there isn’t a lot they can do about it until they learn to cope with their conditions. I feel sorry for Bray to have gone through all these experiences and have some severe mental conditions but as I am progressing through the book I am finding I am beginning to understand a little more about conditions such as PTSD. When Bray talks about experimental learning I understand this thoroughly as this is the “ability to learn something by experiencing something” and this is closely associated with flight or fight syndrome with which anger is closely related. The key thing we see as a reader is that all these things are interlinked and co-dependent on one another as the person becomes more withdrawn. Just over the half way mark I did feel Bray as dwelling on his points of anger, resentment and fear being connected. While this is interesting to read I felt these point were a little too long or should have been broken up a little more to make the information a little easier for the reader to digest.
One thing I can truly understand is that Bray at this point doesn’t understand unwritten social rules due to his conditioning to follow a strict set of commands. So social rules like telling a date she looks nice even when she doesn’t he cannot process or understand the logical behind these statements or requests. One thing I think is key that Bray touches is on is the aspect of being in control, when people like Bray feel they have no control of the situation fight ot flight comes into play which eventually leads to anger and although they may maintain a calm exterior they are furious on the inside but many people interpret this as they don’t care or they don’t feel anything which is completely wrong.
After outlining the various conditions and how different people deal with them quite clinically Bray begins to talk about these things from the angle of someone that suffers with them and how it affects the person’s day to day relationships. Working relationship are widely affected as soldiers who have left service may be placed into jobs which are suited to their skills leading them to feel entitled to something better and become anger at co-workers and authoritative figures. Sexual and emotional relationship can also be affected as communication between the two parties will begin to break down causing a lot more stress and anxiety to what the victim is already dealing with. One example Bray gives is when he was arguing with a girlfriend as she was putting him down and he hit her although he regretted it afterwards in the moment his past experiences forced him to react in the only way he knew how; violently. Bray does touch on some slightly disturbing issues like spousal abuse which can include physical, emotionally and sexual abuse and how both parties feel the victim. The cartoon’s he uses here are very frank and may be seen as offensive by someone who had been through these events or has been the one committing these offences.
As we enter one of the final sections of the novel Bray talks about things people that suffer with these conditions can do to help them cope a little better as there is no cure for these conditions and although drugs may help it will often incite more addictive tendencies. Bray talks about when he was first diagonised with ADD where he began to see himself and the world differently but this doesn’t mean that the journey was easy. He had to see a counselor to find out what his problems were which they argued about frequently, he also had to attend AA meetings for his alcohol issues among other things. As Bray begins to get help he not only changes the way he acts but also the way he thinks. He also uses the skills he has learnt to help others, like the receptionist where he was seeking counselling. He eventually goes on to be a life coach and help other people as he was helped. Bray also tells us about many simple methods we can use to change the way we think and feel like meditation or attaching a color to an emotion so blue for happiness and when we get angry to think of this color and eventually after practicing the emotion attached should come with the color, I found this to be intriguing and trying it myself and it does indeed work.
In the conclusion of the novel, Brays wraps up everything he has discussed throughout the novel, he also questions what we as individuals see as normal and how people with conditions like PTSD and ADD fit in this idea of “normal” and the answer is they don’t. While these people can’t unlearn the indoctrinated behaviors they have been taught they can change how they react to certain stressful situations. The part I like best about this book was how Bray says these kinds of people aren’t normal but they can become their own version of normal and people should support and accept this and not meet it with frustration and anger as all this will do is make the situation worse for everyone involved. I also loved some of the points Bray makes like how people with PTSD cannot let go off the past this isn’t because they want to hold onto these horrid memories but rather because they don’t know how to get rid of them. And at the end of the day we have all had life experiences we don’t want to relive and some of us make struggle to cope with this in the same way as ex-service men and therefore we should be more understanding towards these kinds of people.
Overall I really enjoyed this book and found it to be extremely helpful as it has provided me with some new coping methods for my day to day stresses. It has also given a better understand of how people with conditions like ADD and PTSD think and feel, and I for one will be more understanding when I met or see someone acting in this ways described in this book. I would highly recommend this book to everyone especially those interested in psychology or people who have any of the conditions mentioned in the book as it may help you or start you on the road to recovery.
This book was sent to me for review consideration by Chrissy Hobbs on the author’s behalf
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