Thirty Days with My Father: Finding Peace from Wartime PTSD

Thirty Days with My Father: Finding Peace from Wartime PTSD

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by Christal Presley, PhD
     
 

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"Whether you are a professional who treats veterans and their loved ones, or a person at risk for military PTSD, or anyone who cares, you will be profoundly moved by this eloquent memoir."
Frank Ochberg, MD, award-winning mental health expert who helped define the term "post-traumatic stress disorder"

"An incredible memoir . . . an

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Overview

"Whether you are a professional who treats veterans and their loved ones, or a person at risk for military PTSD, or anyone who cares, you will be profoundly moved by this eloquent memoir."
Frank Ochberg, MD, award-winning mental health expert who helped define the term "post-traumatic stress disorder"

"An incredible memoir . . . an important part of the still unhealed wounds of war. Christal has given as much of her heart to this story as her father gave to his country."
—Nikki Giovanni, world-renowned poet, writer, activist, and educator

"Thirty Days with My Father is an important addition to the literature of trauma psychology, shining a beacon of hope for transformation and healing."
—From the Foreword by Edward Tick, PhD, author, War and the Soul and founding co-director, Soldier's Heart

"To me, post-traumatic stress disorder was just a bunch of words. All I knew was that it had something to do with my father's brain, and he seemed to be going crazy. And I knew it was bad because my mom told me that if anyone found out how sick he was, they'd come and take him away forever, and they'd take me away too, and she couldn't live like that. If he had to be that sick, I wanted him to have something everybody could understand. So I picked brain cancer."
—From Thirty Days with My Father

When Christal Presley's father was eighteen, he was drafted to Vietnam. Like many men of that era who returned home with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), he was never the same. Christal's father spent much of her childhood locked in his room, gravitating between the deepest depression and unspeakable rage, unable to participate in holidays or birthdays. At a very young age, Christal learned to walk on eggshells, doing anything and everything not to provoke him, but this dance caused her to become a profoundly disturbed little girl. She acted out at school, engaged in self-mutilation, and couldn't make friends. At the age of eighteen, Christal left home and didn't look back. She barely spoke to her father for the next thirteen years.

To any outsider, Christal appeared to be doing well: she earned a BA and a master's, got married, and traveled to India. But despite all these accomplishments, Christal still hadn't faced her biggest challenge—her relationship with her father. In 2009, something changed. Christal decided it was time to begin the healing process, and she extended an olive branch. She came up with what she called "The Thirty Day Project," a month's worth of conversations during which she would finally ask her father difficult questions about Vietnam. Thirty Days with My Father is a gritty yet heartwarming story of those thirty days of a daughter and father reconnecting in a way that will inspire us all to seek the truth, even from life's most difficult relationships. This beautifully realized memoir shares how one woman and her father discovered profound lessons about their own strength and will to survive, shedding an inspiring light on generational PTSD.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A soldier’s return home from war is often just the beginning of another, more internalized battle. In her memoir, Presley recounts 30 days of interviews with her Vietnam veteran father—conversations in which she attempts to understand her father, his PTSD, and her own lifetime of vicarious traumas. Each day is given a chapter, and each chapter concludes with a “Journal” entry that revisits Presley’s tumultuous childhood memories. What emerges from this format is a harrowing portrait of the past’s ability to haunt the present; Presley’s descriptions of the troubled child she was blend all too easily into the confused and searching adult she becomes. In some cases, she is compelled to go to a Veterans Affairs hospital and even to Vietnam. The book’s division into 30 days feels increasingly forced and fragmented with the passing of each chapter. Such a story is, by its very nature, fractured, and by the end of the book Presley’s father is no less tormented than he was at Day One. Yet Presley has found stability in her father’s story, and her willingness to share it—and her own revelations—will be appreciated by readers who deal with any form of wartime PTSD. (Nov.)
From the Publisher

Thirty Days with My Father: Finding Peace from Wartime PTSD
Christal Presley. HCI, $14.95 trade paper (264p) ISBN 978-0-7573- 1646-3
A soldier's return home from war is often just the beginning of another, more internalized battle. In her memoir, Presley recounts 30 days of interviews with her Vietnam veteran father—conversations in which she attempts to understand her father, his PTSD, and her own lifetime of vicarious traumas. Each day is given a chapter, and each chapter concludes with a "Journal" entry that revisits Presley's tumultuous childhood memories. What emerges from this format is a harrowing portrait of the past's ability to haunt the present; Presley's descriptions of the troubled child she was blend all too easily into the confused and searching adult she becomes. In some cases, she is compelled to go to a Veterans Affairs hospital and even to Vietnam. The book's division into 30 days feels increasingly forced and fragmented with the passing of each chapter. Such a story is, by its very nature, fractured, and by the end of the book Presley's father is no less tormented than he was at Day One. Yet Presley has found stability in her father's story, and her willingness to share it—and her own revelations—will be appreciated by readers who deal with any form of wartime PTSD. (Nov.)

--Publishers Weekly

"I recommend this powerful book to anyone who wants to better understand the personal aspects of post-traumatic stress disorder."

--Daivd Wilson, VVA Veteran Magazine

'Christal Presley is uniquely equipped to tell a tale that affects not only her generation, but that must be understood if we are to prevent second generation PTSD in the sons and daughters of our current wave of returning veterans. Whether you are a professional who treats veterans and their loved ones, a person at risk for military PTSD, or anyone who cares, you will be profoundly moved by this eloquent, true memoir.'

–Frank M Ochberg, MD, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Michigan State University

'An incredible memoir. I think Thirty Days with My Father is an important part of the still unhealed wounds of wars. Christal has given as much of her heart to this story as her father gave to his country. This is not a journey to miss.'

–Nikki Giovanni (University Review)

'Thirty Days with My Father is an unforgettable account of a daughter struggling to find connection with herself and her father in the aftermath of war. Christal Presley's memoir is a truly inspiring portrayal of survival, forgiveness, and love."

–Jessica Handler, author of Invisible Sisters: A Memoir.

'Thirty Days With My Father: Finding Peace from Wartime PTSD by Christal Presley uses memory and flashback to create a riveting and ultimately loving account of a child terribly affected by her Vietnam Veteran father's PTSD. This intergenerational trauma threatens to break the bonds between father and daughter. However, with great courage to face the darkness and great love to heal the wounds, this book is also a journey towards joy—and how a daughter and her father finally find their way back to each other.'

Louise Nayer, author of Burned

'Though Thirty Days with My Father is close-up and personal, one daughter's attempt to break through her father's post-traumatic stress syndrome following Vietnam, it is also a big, big story which affects many Americans—–not only soldiers and veterans, as Christal Presley makes clear, but also their entire families, especially the children. Thirty Days with My Father is a beautifully written, necessary book—heart-wrenching and affirming all at once.'

Lee Smith, best-selling and award-winning author of Mrs. Darcy Meets the Blue-Eyed Stranger and The Last Girls

'Important and beautifully written, Presley's memoir is a welcome and much-needed contribution to the genre.'

–Melody Moezzi, award-winning author and mental health advocate

"It is a book that had to be written... which no doubt will prove helpful to people suffering the same fate as the author and her family."

--Alma Bond, Midwest Review

"Presley's stylistic excellence, vivid prose and disarming sense of humor make this gift all the more rewarding."

--Taylor Poor, NAMI Education Coordinator

"Thirty Days With My Father, by Christal Presley, is an interesting, original book, in that it deals with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) brought about in a family as a result of the father's service in the Vietnam War. It is a book that had to be written, as no one, to the reviewer's knowledge, has written such a book, which no doubt will prove helpful to people suffering the same fate as the author and her family."

—Alma H. Bond, Midwest Book Reviews

University Review

'An incredible memoir. I think Thirty Days with My Father is an important part of the still unhealed wounds of wars. Christal has given as much of her heart to this story as her father gave to his country. This is not a journey to miss.'
— Nikki Giovanni

VVA Veteran Magazine

"I recommend this powerful book to anyone who wants to better understand the personal aspects of post-traumatic stress disorder."
— David Wilson

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780757316463
Publisher:
Health Communications, Incorporated
Publication date:
11/01/2012
Pages:
264
Sales rank:
740,844
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)

Read an Excerpt

"Dad says he'll do it,' my mother tells me.

My hand is suddenly sweaty as I press the phone against my ear. Two days earlier, I'd called my mother to ask if she would relay a request to my father. I'd decided that would be the best way to gauge his reaction without actually having to deal with him directly. I wanted to know if he would be okay with me calling him every day for thirty days to ask him about his experiences during the Vietnam War for a writing project.

I had been writing about my life for years to work through some emotional issues, leaving out anything related to my father or to Vietnam. Those subjects were too painful, and I was too afraid of what would happen if I opened that Pandora's box.

But as much as I wrote—about my botched marriage, the emotional turmoil I felt, and my failed quest to find contentment—I remained stuck. Blocked in both my writing and my life.

Then one day a guest speaker at a writing workshop posed a question that hit me right between the eyes: 'What if you wrote about the thing you fear the most?' He said that he'd been trying to find happiness for years but nothing had made him happy until he started to explore and work through his fears. Although he would never have expected it starting out, doing that was the way he'd finally become happy.

Frightening as it was, the idea also intrigued me. Could the key to finding happiness really be so simple? Nothing else I'd done had made me feel fulfilled, and I was tired of being miserable. I was willing to try just about anything.

I knew exactly what I feared the most: my father and the war he had brought home with him from Vietnam. But that was the last thing I wanted to write about. I'd spent the last thirteen years of my life trying to put Vietnam behind me, and I'd gotten pretty good at pretending to be happy. But on some level I must have known that I wouldn't ever be truly happy until I addressed all the unspoken questions and issues with my father that I'd been trying so hard to ignore. Until then, I'd be stuck—not only in my writing, but in my life.

When I asked my mother to ask him, I thought I was finally strong enough to go through with it and hear whatever he had to say. But when he agreed, I realized that my initial bravado had been resting precariously on my deep-down certainty that my father would never say yes. He wasn't supposed to say yes. Although I hadn't been consciously aware of it when I made the call to my mother, I must have subconsciously believed that when he refused I'd be able to tell myself I'd tried and go right on being angry with him as I had for as long as I could remember.

But he said yes. Now what?

Too late to back out now. I'd just have to figure it out along the way.

The following morning I decided to go back into therapy for the first time in two years—just for a month, in case I needed some support to get me through the next thirty days. I thought I'd been doing very well. But what if the plan I'd come up with to move me forward actually wound up setting me back? I didn't want that to happen. I needed to stay strong.

The therapist I found, Dr. Louise James, was older than I expected, old enough to be my mother. As she read through the lengthy questionnaire I had just completed, I sat across from her, silently counting the framed photographs adorning the walls and then the potted plants scattered about the office.

I've always hated the first appointment with a new therapist, and there have been many. By the time I went to see Dr. James, I was highly skilled at sizing them up. I could tell right away if someone would be able to help me. Or if it was someone whom I wanted to help me. I liked Dr. James. Her voice was kind, and she didn't try to impress me with her qualifications.

As ridiculous as it now sounds even to me, I remember clearly the first thing I said when I walked through the door of her tidy, homey office: 'I've had more therapists than I can remember. I'm not here to begin therapy again. I only need you for thirty days because I'm doing this project with my dad. Once a week for thirty days; that's all I need.' That's how I thought of it—as a project. Like a school assignment I'd complete, hand in, then file it away and be done.

Dr. James wrote down everything I said without ever taking her eyes off mine. She didn't even glance at her paper. You have to admire talent like that.

She must have been doubtful (and who could blame her?) because the first thing she told me was, 'I will only be here until February. After that, I'm retiring. You might want to go with someone else. Someone who will be here longer.'

I kept assuring her that wouldn't be a problem. It was only November. My thirty-day plan meant I'd be out of there before Christmas. Finally she just shrugged.

'So you say your father has posttraumatic stress disorder, and there were times when you were growing up that you didn't speak to each other for days, even weeks on end?' she asked. 'But he and your mother are still together, and you lived with them until you were eighteen, correct?'

Her questions stung. I knew that my relationship with my father was broken, but hearing those words spoken aloud somehow made it seem that much worse. I nodded.

'And now you're going to talk to him every day for the next month to try to get to know him?'

I took a deep breath. 'Yes,' I replied.

'When was he diagnosed?' she wanted to know.

I shrugged my shoulders. 'I was in elementary school,' I muttered, staring down at my lap. Just thinking about that time in my life makes me nervous. 'He's had symptoms since I was five, maybe longer.'

'And you say you, too, have been diagnosed with PTSD. When did you start having symptoms?'

'I don't remember,' I said. 'Around that same time maybe.'

I always knew there was something wrong with me, but it wasn't until I went to a therapist when I was in college that anyone had put a name to my problems. Although there's no 'official' illness known as intergenerational PTSD, it is well known and acknowledged that the children of veterans with PTSD may develop symptoms of their own that are related to dealing with their parent's symptoms, and this is sometimes called 'secondary traumatization.'

'What are your parents' names?' Dr. James asked.

I looked down. 'Delmer and Judy Presley,' I said tentatively, not quite sure why she needed to know this.

'Okay,' she said. 'If we're going to do this together, I want you to start a journal. Write down all the things you feel angry about. What your conversations bring up for you. What you remember, and how it felt for you as a child. Do you feel angry right now?'

Did I feel angry right now? I didn't know. I thought I was past that. Did I sound angry?

I handed Dr. James my co-pay and closed the door behind me. My mind was already churning. I'd agreed to keep the journal, but where would I start? It had been twenty-six years since I first realized something about my family was horribly, terribly wrong. Twenty-six years that I'd been hiding from my father.

I was barely out of the building when I was surprised by the words that suddenly flashed through my mind: Dear world, I would write. You missed it. I was dying back then, I couldn't tell you, and you goddamn missed it. . . .

©2012. Christal Presley, PhD. All rights reserved. Reprinted from Thirty Days with My Father. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442.

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Meet the Author

Christal Presley, PhD, is the founder of United Children of Veterans (www.unitedchildrenofveterans.com), a website that provides resources about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in children of war veterans. She obtained her PhD in education in 2009, and is an instructional mentor teacher in Atlanta Public Schools. This is her first book.

Edward Tick, PhD, is the author of the groundbreaking book, War and the Soul, and the founder of Soldier's Heart. A practicing psychotherapist specializing in veterans with PTSD, Dr. Tick received his master's in psychology from Goddard College in Vermont and his doctorate in communication from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. He is known for his pioneering work with PTSD, and he continues his healing work with veterans and other trauma survivors with innovative yet time-honored methods.

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Thirty Days with My Father: Finding Peace from Wartime PTSD 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
evatx More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is easy reading and gave me a better understanding of the Vietnam war and the brave men who served there.
DonnaTiller More than 1 year ago
This is an unforgettable memoir. Christal poured her heart and soul into writing this book "Thirty Days With My Father." As you journey through this book you will experience sadness as well as laughter that you will never forget.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An important book for anyone with a loved one suffering from PTSD. I regret that my father (a 3-tour Vietnam vet) died before I had the courage (and Cristal's example) to attempt a real conversation about the terrible pain he experienced (and inflicted).
MyBookAddictionandMore More than 1 year ago
THIRTY DAYS WITH MY FATHER was a very compelling read. Christal showed a lot of courage and perseverance which ultimately led to her healing. It gave a glimpsed into the Vietnam war and what the veterans and their families must have gone through. This book really touched me, seeing her pain and what both of them went through. It also gave a view of what PTSD is and how war affects so many. It was very well written and will touch on all emotions. A great memoir! Rating: 4 Reviewed by: KellyR Courtesy of My Book Addiction and More
Anonymous More than 1 year ago