by Dave Ziegler, Ph.D. , L.M.F.T., Psychologist
As a psychologist and specialist in the aftermath of traumatic experiences, the author has allowed me to comment on the emotional and psychological components touched upon in this book. At the outset I want to say that Dayna Hester has done a good job in this novel to introduce the reader to the world of the abducted individual. She would be the first to say that the story required that she make some accommodations in order for the reader to understand some of the complex themes that such an experience would bring up including: mental confusion, memory loss, loyalty binds, emotional conflicts, and auto-biographical chaos (trying to figure out who you are).
The main character in Speaking Truths is not presented as a typical trauma survivor or typical victim of abduction because if he were the story would be nearly impossible to follow or understand. The reason for this is the aftermath of severe trauma, such as those experienced by Landon/Tyler, often leaves the victim in a hopelessly confusing state of not understanding what has happened, who is responsible, and not trusting either his or her perceptions, facts, or feelings about oneself, or the experience. From such a position, the ability to tell a cohesive story of the events outside and inside the individual would be next to impossible. To address this difficulty the author had to accommodate the reader by bringing some level of cohesiveness to the narrative of the protagonist. In essence the reader receives the insights of the author projected onto the abducted individual. This was not only necessary but it was a very good way to invite the reader into the inner world of a person who experienced much more than his ability to cope, and enter the experience of trauma that would be expected to seriously impact the brain and mental and emotional processes.
Everyone is different and traumatic experience is uniquely felt by the individual involved. It is not impossible that Landon/Tyler in the story could have the level of personal insight, self reflection, openness to question what was going on, and sufficient trust to let others into his chaotic inner world. While not impossible, the level of mental functioning and his rapid development of trust in those reaching out to help him portrayed in the book are not typical from my experience. I say this not to be critical of the author or story, but to take the story another step in the process of educating the reader to the profound impacts on the brain of individuals who have experiences like those in this story. Is it typical to forget whole parts of one’s life due to a traumatic event? Yes, it is not only typical but nearly universal. Is it possible to cause someone’s death, as in the story, as well as experience abduction, sexual abuse, profound neglect and other far too frequent traumatic events in our society and not have any recollections of the details? Once again, this is not only possible but the rule rather than the exception, and the reason is how the brain processes traumatic events.
I will not go into a detailed description of the impact of trauma on the brain here. For someone interested in more detail there are many informative resources and websites including my own www.jaspermountain.org. However I believe a brief description can complement the educational component of Speaking Truths.
The brain’s primary job is to promote survival. It has amazing capacities to do its job that we are still discovering. The brain will adapt to the environment it finds itself in regardless of how negative or painful. It does this by changing reality, turning off emotional pain, forgetting the most stressful events, altering perceptions, and adapting to situations that never cease to impress trauma specialists. An example that immediately comes to mind are the thousands of young children in Haiti whose parents died in the earthquake, whose schools are destroyed, who do not know where to find food and water from one day to the next, and some of whom are now restoviches, or indentured servants or even sex slaves. And yet as I write this, rescue workers find these same children laughing and playing in the midst of destroyed buildings and a crumbling society with little safety, stability, or reason to hope for the future. The human brain can adapt to such overwhelming circumstances as catastrophes, war zones, and the very personal hell of traumatic events.
Adapting to trauma does not come without a price the individual pays. It is not unusual for the memory of whole childhoods to be lost to victims of serious abuse and trauma. While explicit memories can be lost, traumatic memories are never lost, nor do they decrease in intensity over time. The individual may not be aware this is happening either before, during or even after the memory arises. Because these memories are located in the emotional center of the brain, they often cause fear, dread, rage and a host of very strong and very negative feelings that come up whenever and wherever the brain is reminded of traumatic events, or what is called a trigger to a traumatic memory. Unfortunately trauma memories expand to a broad range of triggers, such as a child who has been sexually touched by a male relative may be triggered by being in the proximity of all males. The number of similar issues the traumatized individual must live with or heal from has filled whole books. Some of these impacts are: loss of trust, self-loathing, depression, self-harm, loss of self-regulation, anti-social behavior, aggression, substance abuse, mental disorders, loss of a sense of self, not able to trust perceptions and feelings, along with a profound inability to get close to people or what is referred to as difficulty with attachment to others. The list of impacts goes far beyond this list but suffice it to say they are pervasive and very long lasting. If each of these expected consequences were reflected in Speaking Truths, the narrative would have been scattered, negative, chaotic, and I would expect most readers would put the book down in short order. While the author could and needed to make some accommodations to readers for the sake of this story, many traumatized individuals cannot alter their experience on their own to escape the pervasive impacts on their brain. The only path out of this condition is the right type of help, such as the help generally reflected in this book.
There is good news along with the bad news caused by traumatic events. The brain not only is capable of adapting but it wants to survive and thrive. One of the most profound messages coming out of brain research is the capacity of the human brain to heal given the right help and circumstances. Such help may not be universally available but it can be found and must be found to give traumatized individuals not only their lives back, but also the chance at a positive future. Speaking Truths reflects a positive improvement overtime with the support and help of not only a supportive although flawed family, a trained therapist, and even a caring janitor. The positive ending of the story is that it is very possible for the victim of an abduction or traumatizing experience to heal and move forward in a positive way, but the brain needs help to do this.
For my part I would like to thank Dayna Hester for her contribution to understand what it is like for a child to go through the events in this story. This book also is an opportunity to communicate events that happen every day in our society and how difficult it is to cope and to live with the results. The number of stranger abductions in the United States is fortunately low, but one is too many. The number of parent abductions is not low, and when the full range of traumatic experiences are included there are millions of children who need understanding, support and the help to heal as reflected in this story. If we do not help these children when they are young, the possibility of an isolated, fearful and painful life is all too predictable. Thanks to decades of research and new information on the human brain, there is help and hope available for the victims of any traumatic experiences. Unless we help these children, not only will they pay the price of a life cut short, but we are all diminished because they are our friends, partners, family members and members of our community. Speaking Truths may be a fictional novel but for those who have lived through this or a similar trauma, there is nothing fictional about the aftermath. As in this book, despite the level of the traumatic events or how profound the resulting impact is on the individual, we must reach out to every trauma survivor and give them hope.
Dave Ziegler, Ph.D. , L.M.F.T., Psychologist
Author of Traumatic Experience and the Brain and Beyond Healing, the Path to Personal Contentment after Trauma.