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Love, Surviving Invisible Scars, and Traumatic Stress Disorders

February 26, 2014

biker rose detailA confession: I have a soft spot in my heart for those serving in the military. My family has had, and still has, a lot of veterans in it. Some have passed on – either in the course of duty or after returning to civilian life, some are advanced in age, and some are still very young. We have been rightfully proud of each and every one of them.

When I began writing The Rocky Road romantic suspense series, I knew that my male protagonist, Doug, would have a military background. The training, attitude and experience would be a valuable part of his character. He would be a Vietnam-era veteran, one of the younger ones, who survived his tour of duty but returned with scars both visible and unseen. I did not expect to make a great issue of the unseen scars, but something unexpected happened to me as I worked on my books.

I began to realize the pervasiveness of stress disorders in those returning from active duty, and I realized how very little I really knew about the ways in which my relatives had been affected by their service. What I have come to know has been gleaned from conversations with their spouses, siblings, and children, because our veterans did not want to burden their civilian family members with horrific memories. Even after being discharged, they still protect us.

Since then I have been researching stress disorders. These afflictions are not confined to the military. There are similarities between “civilian” and combat-induced trauma, certainly, but they are not identical in magnitude and kind. Much depends on the severe nature of the trauma. Chronic and severe stress disorders are definitely more condensed and prominent in that segment of our population which has served, or still serves, in the military, particularly those directly involved in combat.

Traumatic Stress Disorder (Post or no) is not a simple thing, but a broad category with many levels, from a one-time, temporary shocked condition (Acute Stress Disorder) to a permanent condition resulting from continued traumatic exposure without an accompanying breakdown, one that literally re-wires a person’s brain, often nullifying their ability to have normal emotions and relationships (DESNOS). Do a basic Google search for “Traumatic Stress Disorders” and you will be overwhelmed with information.

There is no cure for PTSD, or its worst-case scenario, DESNOS, but it is possible for those so afflicted to learn to not only live with these disorders, but to live reasonable lives. It takes an enormous amount of desire, determination, and sheer fortitude to accomplish this, and for the truly lucky ones, a lot of unconditional love from those they care most about.

My female protagonist, Christine, suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, too, as a result of savage and chronic sexual abuse from a sadistic boyfriend, and from directly experiencing the catastrophic loss of her first husband.

Together, Christine and Doug have a lot of deep-seated issues to resolve. They must learn to love, trust, comfort, and strengthen each other despite their respective reactions to a variety of stressors. It is difficult enough to begin a new life with another person after having been independent without throwing variations of stress disorders into that mix.

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