I bring you a pretty surprising (albeit enjoyable) reading experience.
337 by M Jonathan Lee
337 follows the life of Samuel Darte whose mother vanished when he was in his teens.
It was his brother, Tom who found her wedding ring on the kitchen table along with the note. While their father pays the price of his mother s disappearance, Sam learns that his long-estranged Gramma is living out her last days in a nursing home nearby.
Keen to learn about what really happened that day and realising the importance of how little time there is, he visits her to finally get the truth. Soon it’ll be too late and the family secrets will be lost forever. Reduced to ashes. But in a story like this, nothing is as it seems.
I had never met M. Jonathan Lee before but when I was approached by his publishing company and read a bit more about the new story and its background, I had to give it a go. I thank them for providing me an ARC hardback copy of the book, which I freely chose to review.
I was intrigued because they were insistent on sending me a hardback copy, but once I had it on my hands, I knew why. This is a pretty special book, not only because of the way it is written and the story it contains, but also because of the format. At first sight, the book appears to be double-ended. The images on both sides are the same (or almost): the door of a house with several transparent glass panels and a stained glass geometrical design on top and on one side, wood flooring (flooded by light) and a side door (on that door the glass panels on the cover are glossy rather than matte like the rest of the cover) —although perhaps it is a reflection rather than a real door— and the number 337 written (inside a box in a lighter colour) at the bottom on the right hand corner (oh, and the number is also glossy). The palette of colours includes different tonalities of yellows and browns, with a touch of green in the stained window. The other side is the same, but the palette of colours goes from violet to blue, as if this was a nocturnal version of the previous cover. It seems that the name of the author is only written on the spine, but if we pay attention to the title and the typography we soon realise that the 337 of the title, upside down, reads “LEE”. Whichever end of the book you open, it seems to be the start of the book, with the information about the edition, some quotes about the author’s previous books, a poem, and then chapter one. As I am a bit contrary, I started reading by what I later discovered was the back cover (I guess), the night version of the door, and when I reached page 16 I was greeted by this message ‘Nothing is as it seems…’ and in the next page I was told to turn the book and keep reading from page 16. Several empty pages and pages with geometrical motives followed, so I turned the book, and after checking to make sure I hadn’t missed a different beginning, I kept reading. Yes, not your standard novel, and it got me thinking. However, in case you’re already intrigued and rushing to order the book, please note the double-ended upside-down opening for this book is available in books ordered in hard copy from UK booksellers only. Don’t worry, though, the rest of the book is pretty special as well.
This is a work of literary fiction, even if a quick reading of the description might induce some people to think they are going to read a standard murder mystery book. Although there is an investigation or a process of research going on, there is nothing standard about it, and the book’s description hints at that. The book delves into memories, looks at how we remember our childhood and past events, examines the stories we tell ourselves (both about ourselves and about those around us), the way we protect ourselves from events and feelings, what happens when we are confronted with reality, and also reflects upon the many alternative ways different people deal with trauma in their lives. Some refuse to let it go; some bury it; some chose to try and forget (sometimes aided by drugs and alcohol); some reinvent themselves…
This is a book with very few characters, and in some ways, it reminded me of a play with a very small cast. It also brought to my mind a very well-known (and excellent) Spanish novel by Miguel Delibes called Cinco horas con Mario (Five hours with Mario) where the recently widowed wife of Mario reflects upon her life with him while she seats next to his coffin at the wake. Here, the main character and narrator of the story, Sam (Samuel) tells the story, in the first-person and in the present tense. He is a man leading a life that appears rather meaningless. He still lives in his parents’ house; he has an online job where he just seems to clock hours for doing as little as possible; he is in the process of divorcing his wife (she initiated divorce proceedings); and he seems to live stuck in the past, still trying to understand what happened to his family following his mother’s disappearance and his father’s imprisonment for her murder. The book opens with a dream/memory from the past, a time when his family and his grandparents —on his father’s side— had gone for a picnic to the park, a family annual tradition. There are several dreams/flashbacks throughout the book, and they are so beautifully and carefully described that we get quite a clear sense of what the family life might have been like (in full technicolour detail). Of course, as the book reminds us, things are not always as they seem, and although for much of the book we only have Sam’s own point of view, events, comments, and even memories that intrude into the action make us start wondering how reliable a narrator he is as we keep reading. We also hear about his wife, Sarah, his brother, Tom, his father, his mother (the one whose disappearance is at the centre of the book), his grandfather, and especially his grandmother, who is dying in a nursing home and whom, after much hesitation, he ends up visiting. Despite his initial reluctance, he ends up spending a lot of time with his grandmother, and that makes him reconsider things. We also meet a few members of the staff at his grandmother’s nursing home. And not even there things are as they seem to be.
The writing style is fascinating. I’ve mentioned the beauty of the descriptions, and there are some fabulous similes and metaphors as well. The writing is lyrical and at times reminded me of poetry, both in written and visual form (we might get a white space where there is a meaningful silence in a conversation, or very short sentences written as if they were a prose poem), mixed with some very insightful comments and reflections. We also have access to the conversations Sam shares with others, mostly his grandmother, but also Tom and the other characters that have much to contribute to our understanding, although not perhaps in the way we think at first. The book flows well and there is something very compelling about it, although it is not a page-turner in the usual sense, because nothing much happens for those who love action, while at the same time there is a lot going on.
A few examples of the writing, so you can see for yourselves what I mean (although remember this is an ARC copy):
Random thoughts are now jumping like kernels of corn over heat. They pop and explode inside my head like fireworks in New Year’s Eve.
When you experience some kind of serious trauma at a young age, it stays with you. It’s like a ghost which follows a few feet behind every footstep — a quiet whispered sound that reminds you of your past.
It has always confused me why people who have not got the slightest clue of what somebody is experiencing still believe that it is their right to state their opinion on the subject. I’ve given this a lot of thought. I believe it comes down to guilt.
And here, Sam is ranting (mentally) about the effects of mobile phones on conversations:
We could be locked in some deep conversation, maybe about to open up about some desperate fear or seemingly unsurmountable problem, and instead a screen is thrust in front of us and we have to smile politely at a picture of a surprised-looking cat near a cucumber. It is unbelievable. The number of truly worthwhile moments that have been spoiled by the interruption of mobile phones is limitless.
The ending… I am going to keep my peace and only tell you that I loved the way it is written and I liked the ending itself, although it wasn’t a surprise for me.
This is not a book for people who are looking for a plot-driven book and an intricate story. It has elements of mystery but it is, first and foremost, a subjective reading experience. If you enjoy literary fiction and like to savour writing in the same way you might enjoy a delicate meal or a beautiful piece of music, I recommend this novel to you. It is a ‘total’ reading experience.
Thanks to the publisher and to the author for this very special novel, thanks to all of you for reading, remember to keep safe, and if you feel like it, like, share, comment, click, review, and keep smiling. We’ll get there.
I bring you a review of another book from Rosie’s Team. Another great find.
The Lake Never Tells by Alex Tully
Zoe has lived in Sunny Shores Trailer Park her whole life and she knows what the Memorial Day weekend brings—snobby rich kids who serve as a constant reminder of how pathetic her life really is. So when she meets Ethan, the awkward boy from the exclusive community of Crystal Waters, she can’t help being intrigued. He’s different, but in a good way.
Along with her stand-in little brother Parker, and her best friend Meredith, the four of them form an unlikely friendship. But one morning, their idyllic summer is turned upside down when a dead body washes up on the beach…
From the author of the critically acclaimed Hope for Garbage, comes another story of friendship, hope, and the incredible power of the human spirit.
I found a possible picture, but as the author does not seem to be sharing her picture anywhere these days, I decided to respect that.
About the author:
Alex Tully lives outside Cleveland with her husband and two teenagers. Almost twenty years ago, her life took a dramatic turn with a diagnosis of MS. She decided to quit her career as a finance professional and try something she truly loved ~ writing.
She is the author of three feel-good YA novels: Hope for Garbage, Beautiful Chaos, and The Lake Never Tells.
All of her stories feature ordinary characters who overcome extraordinary challenges with friendship, hope, and the incredible power of the human spirit.
Her hope is that readers will smile after turning the last page.
I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you are looking for reviews, check here), and I freely chose to review an ARC copy of this novel.
This is the first of Tully’s books I’ve read, although it is the third novel she has published, and in the ‘About the author’ section of her page and her books she describes her stories as ‘feel good’ stories, and she states that she hopes ‘readers will smile after turning the last page’. Well, hope accomplished, as far as I’m concerned.
The book description provides enough clues as to the general plot of the story. This is the story of a summer that changed the lives of the young characters at the centre of the story. Two of them, Zoe and Parker, live in a trailer park at the shore of a lake, just a stone’s throw from a posh resort ‘Crystal Waters’. They both have unconventional families (Parker lost his mother in tragic circumstances, never met his father, and lives with his grandmother, who is the strict but fair and wonderful Shirley; while Zoe lives with her single Mom, Debbie, who refuses to take responsibility for anybody, even herself, and acts much younger than her years). Zoe’s best friend, Meredith, the daughter of the local sheriff, can be pushy and harsh at times, but she is also funny and amusing, and always has Zoe’s back. Ethan, a young boy from the posh side of the divide who has come for the summer, somewhat stumbles into their group dragging his own problems with him. Although his life and circumstances might seem charmed from the outside, his parents’ relationship is a sham, and he suffered a traumatic event one year ago that he has not fully recovered from. It has changed him and turned him into somebody quite different. As the novel advances, we come to realise that Ethan’s change might have been for the better, even if that is not so evident for him at the beginning of the story. The novel fits well into the YA genre, and although the characters are put to the test and have to confront some harsh truths about themselves and others, these are not extreme, brutal or too challenging, and I think the book would be suited to fairly young teens as well, although I’d recommend parents to check it out because there are mentions of drugs, mental health difficulties, a suspicious death, a suggestion of sexual harassment, as well as divorce and drinking.
I liked the way the story is told. It starts with a hook, as we follow Parker on the 5th of July when he makes a shocking discovery, and then we go back a few weeks, to learn more about the characters and how they came to this point. The story is told in the third person, but from the points of view of the three main protagonists, Zoe, Parker, and Ethan, and their emotions and thoughts feel suitable to their ages (Parker is only 11, and he behaves appropriately to his age) and to their circumstances. I also liked the way we get and insight into Ethan’s disturbing thoughts and the way he tries to deal with them. We don’t learn what happened to him until quite late in the story, but by that time we’ve got to know him as he is now, and we can empathise with him even more. The way he and Zoe behave with Parker, as if he were their younger brother, is heart-warming.
I liked Zoe, because she is strong and determined, and I liked the way Meredith can be annoying but also amusing and supportive, and she usually helps lighten up the atmosphere. Shirley is a great character, although like all the adult characters, she does not play as big a part in the story as the young people.
The element of mystery is well resolved and integrated into the story, and I particularly enjoyed the fact that this is not a story of amateur detectives that can find answers and clues the police have missed, pushing the suspension of disbelief, but one where the characters are involved in the story because this is a small community and people’s lives become easily entangled. I also enjoyed the red herrings, twists, and revelations, and the resolution of the plot is very satisfying and hopeful.
The writing is simple and straight forward, without unnecessarily lengthy descriptions, but the author still manages to create a good sense of place and, especially, of the feeling of friendship and affection between the protagonists.
I cannot highlight any major negatives for me. Readers who are looking for diverse characters might not find them here (there are major differences in social class, and this is something the book focuses on, and one of the characters suffers from mental health issues, but no issues of genre, or race are discussed), and although I enjoyed the ending, the fact that the author decides to share the same scene from the point of view of the three main characters in succession results in some minor unavoidable repetitions. This slows down the ending a bit, but it wasn’t something that bothered me in particular. Each chapter is told from a single point of view (apart from the final one), and it is clearly labelled, so that does not cause confusion. I also missed some more interaction between Ethan and his twin sister, who hardly makes an appearance during the book. Ethan thinks about her at times, but she does not have a presence, and she is the only one of the younger characters I didn’t feel I had got to know. Even Heather, one of the cabana girls working with Zoe, has a bigger part than her. Other than that, the book flows well and is fairly cohesive, although the action speeds up towards the end, as is usually the case with mysteries.
I recommend this book to people who enjoy YA fiction, especially, as the author says, ‘feel-good’ fiction, where some important subjects are discussed but in a sensitive rather than a challenging manner. It is an ode to friendship and hope, and it feels particularly suited to the times we’re living. And it will leave readers with a smile.
Thanks to the author, to Rosie for her hard work and to her fabulous team, and to all of you for reading. Remember you can like, share, comment, and click if you feel like it, but make sure to keep safe, and always keep smiling!
Today I bring you the review of a book that I got sent quite a while ago but had been hiding from me. I’ve finally got around to it, and I hope to catch up on some more that I’m sure are also buried under my long list. Sorry! Better late than never, I hope!
Closer than You Think (A Broken Minds Thriller) by Lee Maguire
Meet Bryce Davison, a gifted psychologist who can heal any troubled mind—except his own.
You see, Bryce’s life is falling apart. His marriage is crumbling. His insomnia brings only half-sleep and troubled dreams—visions of dark and buried memories he’d rather forget or ignore completely. And the new female patient in his psych ward just might be more trouble than he’s able to cope with.
…and now he has a stalker.
Somebody’s been watching Bryce for a long time. Somebody who knows his life inside and out—his fears, his regrets, his greatest longings and deepest despairs. Somebody with access to his most private places—his workplace, his home, his family…anywhere Bryce might have felt safe.
They do their dirty work in the shadows… and they want Bryce Davison dead.
So Bryce has got to get his life together. To save his patients. To save his family. To save his marriage…and his life.
Because no matter how close Bryce gets to the deadly truth, the enigmatic stalker is always closer than he thinks.
Fans of psychological thrillers like I Am Watching You by Teresa Driscoll, Stillhouse Lake by Rachel Caine, and No Exit by Taylor Adams will love this book.
Lee Maguire grew up reading mysteries and thrillers. While he has continued to enjoy medical and legal thrillers, psychological suspense quickly became his preferred genre. Writing such a work became a passion.
Lee has practiced as a psychotherapist, behavioral health consultant, clinical supervisor, and graduate psychology instructor. His clinical experience meshes well with the activities of Doctor Bryce Davison, drawing the reader into the mind of the clinician.
Closer Than You Think is book one of the planned Broken Minds Thriller series featuring Doctor Bryce Davison. Additional information may be found at leemaguirebooks.com
Disclaimer: the publisher offered me a free ARC copy of this book. This this not affect my review.
In brief, this is a promising debut novel (in a planned series of psychological thrillers), narrated in the first person, with a solid stalker plot (clues, red-herrings and twists likely to make most readers of the genre happy), an interesting setting (a mental health treatment facility for troubled youths) and a good development of the main character (psychologist Bryce Davison, a man with an unsettled and traumatic past), and a wonderful Basset Hound. On the minus side, it could do with a tighter editing, more development of the secondary characters, and more attention to the pacing of the action.
This book will be especially appealing to those who enjoy psychological suspense, with particular emphasis on the “psychological” part. The author’s professional experience shines through, and that aspect of the novel is particularly well achieved, although it might seem overdetailed to people used to faster-paced thrillers.
The first-person point of view works well for the type of story, as it allows readers to share in the doubts and thoughts of the victim, experiencing his anxiety, reliving the trauma he experienced when he was young, and also trying to piece together the clues with him. On the other hand, the novel reads, at times, like a poorly focused memoir, with plenty of repetition of everyday living activities and chores that don’t help move the action forward and don’t add much to our understanding of the character. (There are so many times we can read about the character having a shower, the fact that his fridge is empty, or his switching or on off the computer). I’ve read novels that meander through stuff that does not seem particularly noteworthy, but the style of writing makes it impossible not to enjoy the detour. In this novel, neither the style of writing nor the genre are best suited for it. The other characters are not very well-developed, partly perhaps to do with the choice of point of view, and in some cases, like Bryce’s wife, that has the effect of making them appear inconsistent or totally at odds with the protagonist’s opinion of them.
The suspenseful plot and the way it builds up work well, although I agree with some of the reviewers that complain about the ending and the final explanation being too rushed. The story is not heavy on action or violence, although there is some, and the ending itself is satisfying.
As I said, this is a solid first novel that could be further improved by another round of editing, and I’d recommend it to people who prefer psychological suspense and who value plot over character building. Also recommended to Basset Hound lovers.
Thanks to the publisher and to the author, huge thanks to you all for reading, if you like it, share it and/or comment, and keep on smiling!
This is a fairly long post, because it includes an article by one of the authors of this non-fictional book, apart from my own review, but I felt it was so important it deserved the space.
Trauma Recovery – Sessions With Dr. Matt: Narratives of Hope and Resilience for Victims with PTSD by Matt E. Jaremko, Beth Fehlbaum. Recommended to readers and professionals interested in PTSD and to those considering therapy.
Trauma Recovery: Sessions with Dr. Matt conveys hope and resilience for trauma victims. Written by a psychologist with 35 years of clinical experience, and a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Between compellingly-written scenes of group, individual and family therapy, the cognitive-behavioral science of PTSD and its treatment is explained. The book movingly describes the collaboration between therapist and clients as they strive to get unstuck from trauma-ravaged lives. Reluctant trauma victims who have avoided treatment or who are having trouble processing life’s catastrophes will find in these pages a “fly-on-the-wall” perspective of how therapy can help. Useful information about overcoming obstacles in treatment is provided while fears about facing trauma are allayed, motivating the reluctant victim to finally seek treatment. The book will also greatly inform motivated patients by providing a thorough, scientifically-sound understanding of PTSD’s nature and treatment. This book should be in every trauma therapist’s office and placed in the hand of each of their PTSD patients.
Matt E. Jaremko, Ph.D. Matt Jaremko has taught clinical psychology at the university level for almost 20 years. This academic activity has been balanced by the operation of an independent practice of clinical psychology for over 25 years. He estimates having taught over 2000 students through the years and delivered over 35,000 hours of psychological services to around 10,000 clients. During a career spanning 40 years, he also engaged in stress and trauma research activity, as shown by over 30 publications and nearly a hundred presentations at professional meetings. Matt retired from professional work in 2012 and lives in Dallas, Texas with his wife. In addition to writing, he spends time keeping up with his five grandchildren, teaching them to appreciate nature, science, self-sufficiency, and golf. His passion has become working with his hands, building/rehabilitating homes and making furniture. Check out Dr. Jaremko’s blog, Hope for Post-Traumatic Growth, at drmatt bookblog.com.
In addition to writing Young Adult Contemporary Fiction, Beth Fehlbaum is a high school English-Language Arts teacher who frequently draws on her experience as an educator to write her books. She has a B.A. in English, Minor in Secondary Education, and an M.Ed. in Reading.
Beth is a featured author on the 2015-2016 Spirit of Texas Reading List- High School for the Kirkus Starred Reviewed Big Fat Disaster (Merit Press/F+W Media, March 2014) and The Patience Trilogy: Courage (1), Hope (2), and Truth (3) (Steady On Books, April 2016).
Beth is a member of the RAINN (Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network) Speakers’ Bureau. She has a following in the young adult literature world and also among survivors of sexual abuse because of her work with victims’ advocacy groups.
She has been the keynote speaker at the National Crime Victims’ Week Commemoration Ceremony at the Hall of State in Dallas, Texas and a presenter for Greater Texas Community Partners, where she addressed a group of social workers and foster children on the subject of “Hope.”
Beth is a survivor of a traumatic childhood, like Ashley in The Patience Trilogy, and the day-to-day manager of an eating disorder much like Colby’s in Big Fat Disaster. These life experiences give her a unique perspective, and she writes her characters’ stories in a way meant to inspire hope. Trauma Recovery: Sessions With Dr. Matt is Beth’s first foray into creative non-fiction.
Beth lives with her family in the woods of East Texas.
One of the authors, Dr Matt Jaremko, contacted me about the launch of this book a few months before it was published, and he has kept me up-to-date with its progress. He was also kind enough to write a bit of a description/introduction for my readers, explaining how this book came to be and offering a bit more background on it. This is it:
Understanding How Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Can Become Post-Traumatic Growth
A Brief Summary of Trauma Recovery: Sessions with Dr. Matt
In the early 1980s, my Monday evenings were spent as co-leader of an open-ended therapy and support group for Vietnam veterans at the Memphis Vet Center, a storefront clinic and service center housed in downtown Memphis, not far from Beale Street and its blues music. The Memphis Vet Center was the VA’s program to make services more intimate and available to veterans.
The mood of every session varied widely, but anger was a common theme. Group sizes ranged from 3 to 20 participants, homeless vets alongside retired officers. Most attendees came to only a couple of sessions, but there was a sizable block who were ‘regulars’—maybe 100—who attended dozens of sessions in the 3 years I was involved leading the group.
Most group participants had psychological and behavioral problems associated with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. But as I listened to them talk about themselves and to each other, the most valuable lessons I learned had more to do with their strengths than their weaknesses. First, one of the biggest tragedies of military experience was not the nightmares, flashbacks, shame and/or horror of having witnessed or committed horrible acts, and not even the never-ending negative emotions of their lives. The worst outcome of serving in that war for many was being robbed of the value system they believed in prior to their service.
Most Vietnam veterans volunteered in order to contribute to a cause they thought noble and worth their sacrifice: to protect a democratic way of life by providing a check on Communism. Unfortunately, after serving, many vets came to the conclusion that their sacrifice had been wasted by politicized leadership agendas and military tactics that made little sense. The veterans were disillusioned because they began to see they were being used by their country, rather than serving their country.
Moreover, when those combatants returned home, their patriotism was attacked and shamed by those in a protest movement. Home was a place in which they no longer fit. They were hurting, alone and bitter about what they had seen and done. The ideals upon which they had decided to serve had been shattered. In the resulting “values vacuum,” only the unpleasantry of powerful PTSD symptoms was left. Additionally, they were rarely taught how to replace or renew the compromised values system.
A second thing I learned from those Vietnam Veterans was the importance of the “platoon”, usually a squad of 10 or 12 men. Even though together for only 13 months, the bond that quickly developed was very powerful and motivating. It was not uncommon in the sessions to hear men talk about how much they cared for the others in their basic small unit. In fact, often it was only other vets these men felt comfortable with and/or trusted.
I came to realize the healing power in those small groups. The Memphis Vet Center Monday Night Therapy and Support group became a “platoon” where vets could work with each other to rediscover or replace their lost values. Once they accomplished this values clarification, many found more strength to cope with the symptoms of PTSD, and they became more receptive to learning the cognitive and behavioral skills helpful in rebuilding life after trauma.
Since those days at the Vet Center, I have been involved in the treatment of many other folks who had traumatic events in their lives, including Childhood Sexual Abuse, motor vehicle accidents, crime victimization and sexual assault. A common feature of these trauma survivors is this loss of belief in previously-held values. Values can be defined as activities or outcomes considered important in life. Being clear about what is important is often missing for trauma victims. Like the combat veterans’ loss of guiding patriotic values, survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse (CSA) spend the first 8–10 years of life learning trust, only to find that it was no more authentic than a politician’s promise. Many battered spouses go through life in fear for their physical safety, only to have such fears confirmed by violence eliminating a valuable sense of security. A vacuum is formed where once there was a strongly-held belief about an important feature of life. Without a sense of knowing what is important in life, trauma victims find little motivation to engage in the hard work of coping with unpleasant symptoms.
Addressing this values vacuum is important so victims can find increased strength to cope with the trauma encountered. Since the main method by which we learn values in the first place is through social interaction with important people in our lives, group process is a powerful mechanism by which victims can examine changed values systems and begin to renew and replace them.
Rates of Trauma and Overcoming It
A recent study (Kilpatrick, et al, 2013) reveals that over 80% of 3000 people surveyed report having experienced a major trauma. 80%! These traumas include physical or sexual abuse-53%; death of a family member due to violence-51%; natural disaster-50%; accident/fire-48%; witnessing physical or sexual assault-33%; and combat or warzone exposure-8%.
Most victims of trauma (including most veterans of military combat) “get over it” in 12-18 months. But 20% don’t. They develop PTSD. What is the difference between the 80% who adjust and the 20 % who can’t “get over it”?
An entire article can and should be devoted to the complicated concept of “getting over it.” For starters, even if they get past the trauma, their life narrative is forever changed. Plus, somewhere between 40-60% of folks who have a life trauma end up eventually saying that their life is better for it: an outcome called post-traumatic growth (Calhoun and Tedeschi, 2103).
In fact, if one thinks about it carefully, a good question to consider is WHY IS THERE NOT MORE PTSD, if over 80% of people report having had trauma in life? My experience with Vietnam veterans has led me to the conclusion that folks who “get over it” address the destruction of their values system in some kind of group interaction, formal or otherwise.
Internal Dialogue: The Role of Narrative in Recovery
Each of us spends most of our waking hours engaged in an “internal dialogue” where we describe, evaluate, and re-imagine the events happening around us. To a cognitive-behavioral psychologist, internal dialogue is behavior that can be examined in a technical manner. It is determined by past social experiences and it is changeable.
The incessant internal dialogue going on inside is the raw material of the life story or narrative we each are creating. After a trauma, that narrative naturally becomes negative, even tragic. But the good news is that the trauma-tinged internal dialogue can be modified by changing the patterns and content of interactions with others.
Verbal behavior, including self-talk, is strengthened or weakened by how those listening to it respond to it. When what we say is met with positive reactions from others, similar thoughts and statements in the future are more likely. But when the verbal behavior is met with bland or even negative reactions from those in our social community, such content tends to be weakened. This process of ‘shaping’ what we say and what we think goes on constantly and has been going on in our social interactions since birth.
Thus, the content of internal dialogue is infinitely changeable, depending on with whom one is interacting. However, once set, internal dialogue can and does get stuck if the social group with whom one interacts becomes stagnant where only one type of content (e.g., negative/hopeless) is encouraged over other types. In addition, many exposed to trauma greatly reduce the number and range of people with whom they interact, further reducing input to change internal dialogue.
The narrative of a life can be going along great, maybe even according to one’s life plan, and then WHAM!—a trauma happens, and the narrative changes. Before trauma, a glimpse of the internal dialogue might be summarized as “Everything is okay/I’m in charge/I like my life/ I have hope/this is fun, if not hard.” After trauma, however, it becomes “The hurt is unbearable/I can see no end to it/I can’t do anything to stop this pain/others don’t understand/nothing matters anyway/my life is awful/I’m awful/HELP/leave me alone.”
Specific content in the internal dialogue is important. Social communities encourage asking others for advice, input and even help. Also encouraged, even demanded, is the labeling of the causes of the events that happened and attributions of who caused them. Most of us spend significant time engaged in an internal dialogue musing about who did what and why it was done, influenced greatly by what those around us are saying on similar issues. Unfortunately, after trauma, when victims decrease interaction with others, less input can be provided from other people and internal dialogue can remain stagnant and usually negative.
When that happens the avoidance symptoms of PTSD take over, and the life gets stuck! But the internal dialogue does not stop. Constant negative self-talk, often on “automatic pilot,” goes on indefinitely. Social relations suffer (and stop), health suffers, job/family/marriage and other practical matters get dysfunctional. The narrative that accumulates turns into a pain-filled and hopeless modern tragedy. Mix in alcohol, drug abuse or poor life decisions, and the spiral swirls wildly.
Two Particularly Pernicious Patterns-Values Vacuum and Loss of Self-Efficacy
The unchecked internal dialogue results in an unrelenting and pervasive sense of pain and avoidance, which makes life bad enough. But when the victim stays stuck for too long in this spiral, life worsens.
First, as outlined above, the trauma event often shatters long-held central beliefs and values. The victim loses sight of what is important in life. With the values vacuum often comes a lack of passion and enthusiasm for progress or renewal. The grieving parent loses the motivation to show love to others. An abuse victim dares not place trust in others, however well-meaning. A veteran finds it impossible to take orders or tolerate the petty details of life. Crime victims never allow themselves to assume safety. A rape victim can’t let intimacy happen because it only means more pain. Getting stuck in the negative internal dialogue only creates more being stuck because new interactions and ideas are avoided due to reduced interaction with others.
A second outcome of a life thus interrupted by trauma is a horrible case of the “I can’ts.” Psychologists identify Self Efficacy as the belief a person has that he/she can actually perform a specific behavior. For example, successful cooks have the belief they can prepare a tasty meal, whereas someone who has never done any cooking has very little belief (self-efficacy) in the ability to cook. An experienced driver might have a strong belief that she can drive in heavy traffic, but the new driver is not so certain.
Self-efficacy beliefs result from four types of life experiences: performance accomplishments, vicarious experiences of watching another conduct a task, verbal encouragement from others about learning and doing a new skill, and the experience of actual physical sensations/feedback when a task is attempted and completed.
Self-efficacy is important because if one has little of it in a particular category of behavior, that person will make very few, if any, attempts to perform that action. Trauma victims who are stuck are convinced they can do nothing about the unpleasantry of their lives. They can’t be honest about the trauma and their shame. They can’t let other people know how completely messed up they feel. They can’t take on new challenges added to the load of daily survival. They can’t, they can’t, they can’t. And sadly, they don’t.
PTSD is a disorder of “being stuck” in a never-ending cycle of avoiding the unpleasantry, believing and/or trusting in nothing once-valued and a lack of belief that something can be done to change this cycle (self-efficacy).
A crucial component in trauma recovery is becoming educated and aware of this process of getting stuck so that plans can be devised to reverse it. Cognitive behavior therapy typically consists of three phases: education about the problems-their causes and effects; identification and practice of skills that reduce the problems; real-time application of the newly learned coping skills in day to day life situations to reduce the problems. The first step in the education phase for trauma victims is to understand why they are stuck. Such an educational rationale then provides the framework on which new skills and behaviors are gradually tried and eventually perfected.
Engineering Post-traumatic Growth-What Must Be Done to Become Unstuck
The good news is that there is much that can be done to change the dynamics described above. In fact, the difference between trauma victims who eventually come to have post-trauma growth and those who go on to get stuck in PTSD is the arrangement of a social community in which self-efficacy is “manufactured” by arranging the four life experiences mentioned above.
Engineering can be defined as the process of combining smaller parts to construct a larger and useful entity. A thousand 2×4 sticks can be made (engineered) into the frame of a 3000 square foot house. Behavioral engineering happens when we combine smaller acts into a longer chain of acts that can produce beneficial outcomes. Attending 120 hours of college classes can result in learning a profession or trade useful for the rest of one’s life.
For the trauma victim, the narrative of “I can’t” must change to “I can.” Behavioral science suggests a technology of behavioral engineering through social interaction, i.e., the power of the group. Trauma victims who survive and learn to thrive make social interaction changes by taking small steps toward being more real and “authentic” with themselves and others. They begin to make gradual progress toward improved coping by learning new stress management skills. And they redefine what is important in their lives by finding passion and meaning in pursuing those values. All of these outcomes happen by changed social interaction patterns, sometimes in therapeutic situations and sometimes in self-help groups or other groups occurring naturally in a person’s life, like family or a work environment.
While it might at first seem difficult if not impossible to find or become a part of such a healing community, changes are more possible than ever in the age of social media. Many opportunities exist in which trauma victims can reach out to others and begin the step by step process of rehabilitation. The necessary conditions for the above changes taking place include finding someone to guide such a journey (therapist, mentor, coach or sponsor), taking small steps toward being more truthful and open about the trauma and its impact (writing or sharing an account of what actually happened), learning new skills to think about and manage stress or modify behavior (stress management training and behavior contracting) , participating in group involvement with others on similar journeys (regular meetups devoted to supporting and challenging oneself and others) and finally, finding meaningful life pursuits that generate passion (values clarification).
Cognitive and behavioral therapies, preferably in group contexts, are available to create the new social communities that will help one re-write the narrative of damaged lives. Many published or online sources exist that show how to create these essential changes. An excellent place to start is this website: cptforptsd.com. Another helpful webpage details the narratives of trauma survivors who achieved post-traumatic growth by clarifying values and finding life pursuits about which they became passionate.
And when recovery from trauma happens, a glimpse of the repeating loop of internal dialogue might become: “That hurt was the most difficult experience in my life/But I have managed to survive/If I can survive that, I can do anything/Thank goodness for my real friends/I’ve learned what is truly important in life/I’m pumped about passing on what I’ve learned.”
We hope you begin to investigate this approach to trauma recovery through rearranging social interaction in healthy and progressive ways. Our new book, Trauma Recovery: Sessions with Dr. Matt is one way to visualize such a journey in that it describes in detail the narratives of seven trauma victims whose interactions with a therapist and each other achieved the needed changes to recover from trauma. While the book is on sale at Amazon and other booksellers, both Matt and Beth are committed to making a copy of the book available to anyone who is not able to afford its purchase. We can be contacted through our website, drmattbook.com.
I thank the authors and the publisher for providing me an ARC copy of this non-fiction book that I freely chose to review.
As some of you might know, I’m a psychiatrist, and although I am not working as a psychiatrist at the moment and have mostly worked in Forensic Psychiatry, there is no specialty of psychiatry where we don’t come across Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, unfortunately. As researchers and practitioners have discovered in recent years, trauma is more widespread than people think, and it can have a bearing even in some of the classic psychiatric diagnosis, like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
You have probably come across many books written by survivors of a variety of traumatic experiences, and this is a very useful trend, as one of the things that people who have experienced trauma share in common is the feeling that they are alone and nobody understands or shares the way they feel. Reading other people’s accounts and sharing in their hope can be a very useful first-step towards seeking specialised help and starting the journey towards recovery.
This book manages to combine two aspects contained in books on the topic that are difficult to get right. On the one hand, there is a solid and clear explanation of the main therapeutic technique he uses and some adjunctive therapies, and the background to the approaches that Dr Jaremko has used in his everyday clinical practice for many years. On the other, and to illustrate the theory, there is a fictionalised account of a series of sessions of group therapy that seven patients engage in throughout the book. These patients, males and females, from different backgrounds, ethnic and social origins, and who had suffered a variety of traumas, meet regularly for a whole year and learn together, through their interactions within the group, how to apply the lessons learned through the therapy, while supporting each other and modelling their behaviours upon those of the others in the group who might be further away in their journey. Some of the patients, like Ashley and Darren, had been attending the group for a long time, while others, like Patty and Felicia, are newcomers. Beth Fehlbaum, the co-author of the book, has her personal experience as a trauma survivor to bring to the book and her years as an author too, and the fictionalised part of the book works very well. The characters are individualised, fully-fledged, and we get to know them, not only through their group sessions, but through some fragments of chapters when we share in what they think and how they feel from their own perspective. There are highs and lows for all the characters, and not a single one of them is always right and well (life is not without its bumps), even those who have come the farthest through the process. Because it is a process and there are no magic bullets, but there is help out there, and that is what the book excels at: giving hope to those who experience PTSD but have never tried therapy, or have tried therapy but it has not worked for them.
As I read the book, I kept wondering about its format. At first, especially as somebody who has read a bit about the subject (although I have never worked exclusively as a therapist, run group therapy, or used Cognitive Processing Therapy, the approach recommended by the book and also by many experts working in PTSD), I found that there was a fair amount of repetition of some of the key elements and theoretical concepts, that would make sense if the book was read more slowly by people interested in becoming familiar with many of the basic therapeutic aspects, perhaps chapter by chapter. Although I felt readers would probably connect more easily with the fictionalized characters and their difficulties and experiences, than with the purely theoretical parts, I realised that the process is somewhat similar to that the characters go through. They have much to learn and to become familiar with at first (you cannot enjoy stories if you don’t know the alphabet and understand the mechanics of reading), but slowly they gain in confidence, start applying what they have learned and can offer insights to others that they might have missed. The book, towards the end, becomes more dynamic and we can follow more directly the group sessions and the events in the characters’ lives, with the therapeutic aspects more seamlessly incorporated.
Dr Matt, the fictionalised version of Dr Jaremko, also shines through the book, and we get to know him, not only as a professional, but also, although less, as a person with his own plans and interests outside of his practice. Although he is well-liked by the patients, there is no hero-worship at play, and the book clearly explains that finding a therapist with whom one can work is not easy, no matter how good a professional the therapist is or how highly recommended s/he comes. The book emphasises the importance of finding a therapist or a mentor expert in the condition and there is never any suggestion that the book itself can cure anybody, but it is meant as a way to explain and exemplify what the therapeutic process might look like, and to offer hope and encouragement to those who have been stuck suffering, unable to decide what to do, or firmly believing there is no solution.
The book also offers great resources, to both professionals and patients. There is a bibliography at the end that includes books, articles that can be downloaded, and websites to check for more information. The appendixes include relaxation techniques, worksheets, advice on how to choose a therapist (and although some aspects of this are very USA based, the general principles would apply anywhere), and one of my favourite aspects of the book was that each chapter contains a playlist including songs and movies relevant to the aspects of trauma and therapy discussed there, and there is much emphasis placed on the importance of reading and of books that inspire the journey to recovery. In the same way that no patient would be cured just by reading this book, but they might feel inspired to seek help, no psychologist or therapist would become an expert on how to treat PTSD just by reading this book, but they might discover new approaches that they might want to explore further and learn more about. Although the book talks about PTSD, as I read it I could not help but think that many of its lessons and the examples of behaviours and erroneous beliefs highlighted through the theory and especially the sessions (there are some individual sessions also illustrated in the book, although they always result from questions or aspects of a patient’s experience that has been discussed in one of the group sessions) would have practical application in many other conditions. Cognitive errors (or “stinking thinking”, as it is known in the sessions) are common in many psychiatric conditions, and we all get stuck with them at some point or other. Much of the advice about how to change behaviour (CPT has its roots in CBT, cognitive behavioural therapy) could be applied to aspects of our lives that we wish to change, and that is one of the beauties of this method and the book, that it feels common-sensical once we get used to analysing the way we think in those terms.
As a writer, I also thought this book would be a great resource to other writers who are interested in understanding their characters’ motivations better, in particular to those who write about characters with a diagnosis of PTSD or severe trauma.
This is not a book for everybody, but it is a book that I am sure will provide useful information to people interested in the subject, and you do not need to be an expert to follow the theoretical basis behind the therapy. It is also very well written, and you will get to care and feel for all the characters in the group, and that is something that as an avid reader I know is not always easy to find, even in fiction. As you can imagine, the book contains descriptions of the traumas that the characters have suffered, as that is necessary to understand the therapy and the way the patients react to it. Those go from sexual and physical abuse to war trauma, natural disasters, hate crimes, and road traffic accidents. So, plenty of trigger warnings. On the other hand, if the book can inspire readers suffering from the condition to seek a therapist and start in the way to recovery, it is well worth a read.
Note that both authors are happy to provide copies of the book to people who cannot afford it but feel might benefit from it.
A great resource for professionals and others interested in the topic, with characters that feel real and we get to understand and care about. Highly recommended.
Thanks to both authors and to the publishers for this opportunity to read this important book, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and if you know anybody who might be interested, please, let them know. And keep smiling!
I am sure some of you remember Marie Lavender, an author who has featured me on her blog many times and who writes and publishes many stories. She has a new book, a collection of stories, coming out tomorrow, and she is celebrating with a Facebook event. I knew you’d want to take part, so…. here she brings you her next book.
Title: Directions of the Heart by Marie Lavender
Release Date: July 25, 2017
Genre: modern romantic drama collection
Embark on a remarkable journey of drama, romance, and passion…
In all of these amazing stories, there’s one burning question…is love worth the risk?
Reece and Jenna are two childhood friends separated by time and distance. Can they find a way to heal their bond, or perhaps forge a new one?
Spurred by her friend’s close call, Victoria decides to take a risk and prove the lifestyle she led was her downfall. But as Tory sinks deeper into the tumultuous abyss of desire with the mysterious Rick, can she climb back out before it’s too late? Or does she even want to?
Struggling to run her family’s farm on her own, Sadie takes on a hired hand, Matt. As they grow closer, so does the danger. Someone wants her legacy. Can they combat this new threat, as well as the demons of the past, before Sadie loses everything, including her life?
A Touch of Dawn
Caitlyn thought she’d be in the dark forever. But with the light came Jack, the police consultant who found her. Can they take a journey of healing together, or will Caitlyn retreat into the darkness of her mind, where she lived for so long?
(CONTENT WARNING: With an abuse awareness theme in this collection, there may be triggers here for past trauma sufferers. However, HEAs are guaranteed.)
And here, just in case you needed any more convincing, the book trailer.
Bestselling multi-genre author of UPON YOUR RETURN and 21 other books. Mystery Blogger Award for 2017. A to Z Blog Challenge Survivor in 2016. March 2016 Empress of the Universe title – winner of the “Broken Heart” themed contest and the “I Love You” themed contest on Poetry Universe. SECOND CHANCE HEART and A LITTLE MAGICK placed in the TOP 10 on the 2015 P&E Readers’ Poll. Nominated in the TRR Readers’ Choice Awards for Winter 2015. Poetry winner of the 2015 PnPAuthors Contest. The Versatile Blogger Award for 2015. Honorable Mention in the 2014 BTS Red Carpet Book Awards. Finalist and Runner-up in the 2014 MARSocial’s Author of the Year Competition. Honorable mention in the January 2014 Reader’s Choice Award. Liebster Blogger Award for 2013 and 2014. Top 10 Authors on AuthorsDB.com. Winner of the Great One Liners Contest on the Directory of Published Authors.
Marie Lavender lives in the Midwest with her family and three cats. She has been writing for a little over twenty-five years. She has more works in progress than she can count on two hands. Since 2010, Marie has published 22 books in the genres of historical romance, contemporary romance, romantic suspense, paranormal romance, fantasy, science fiction, mystery/thriller, dramatic fiction, literary fiction and poetry. She has also contributed to several multi-author anthologies. Her current series are The Heiresses in Love Series, The Magick Series, The Blood at First Sight Series and The Code of Endhivar Series.
Strictly Necessary Cookies
Strictly Necessary Cookie should be enabled at all times so that we can save your preferences for cookie settings.
If you disable this cookie, we will not be able to save your preferences. This means that every time you visit this website you will need to enable or disable cookies again.