PTSD, Counterfactuals, and the Dose-Responsive Cur[s]e

Trauma as a Social Wound

Reading: The Evil Hours, David Morris

In my limited understanding of trauma studies, I feel like Morris makes so many good points in this chapter that it’s difficult for me to fully absorb them, but I know when I finished reading it, I felt as if something had clicked for me in my understanding. It helps because I’ve been thinking about writing a story that involves a female veteran suffering from PTSD. A couple things that really stuck out to me are Morris’s discussion of trauma as a social wound, indicative of a betrayal, and the creation of a narrative out of a traumatic experience. I appreciated Morris’s acknowledgement of rape as a very real and oft ignored traumatic event and that his PTSD studies include survivors.

It seems like part of living through the trauma, of navigating it and learning what narrative to tell about it involves finding someone to blame for, if not the actual misfortune, the surrounding bits of pain or displeasure. I thought of this when Morris writes about Sonali Deraniyagala and her memoir. And even for believers in powerful nature-manipulating, person-cursing deities, the blame could never be aimed in a holy direction. It has to be cast outward, either to someone who influenced the “protagonist” or onto the protagonist themselves for failing the deity. Morris goes on a bit about the culpability of nature (the lack thereof), but I wonder if there could be something else than just the nature of the trauma. If we take the Linda example he uses, the woman pinned under a bookshelf during an earthquake: what if she had told her husband to move it to another side of the room and he never did? Or what if the bookshelf was an heirloom from a relative she never wanted and was waiting for a sibling to come get it all this time? If the earthquake, the blunt force of trauma, didn’t cause PTSD, could her interpretation of the event change her level of PTSD? In any case, I’m fascinated by Morris’s observation that people are most traumatized by things perpetuated by other people, because it makes sense, all the way down to his instinct and shopping model metaphors. Our bodies are programmed to survive, to recognize and catalogue possible threats. And humans are not so drastically different that we can differentiate one traumatic one from another, the same way some people fear all dogs and their barks and many dogs fear adult males. A dog’s individual memory may not be as intricate as a human’s, I don’t know, but it’s probably the same sense of instinct that makes manmade trauma worse for creating PTSD.

As far as narrative creation goes, we can see this evidenced in every war story and essay and even this trauma book. This is David Morris’s ultimate attempt to make sense of the things he’s seen and/or done, as well as anyone else’s struggle, as much as possible. The fact that so many veterans write so many books or stories or poems or essays—each episode is another chance to tell, to put together or take apart things that they hold as memory or something like it. (I was also interested in Morris’s thoughts on memory distortion and how it shows up in our stories.) In his stories, Tim O’Brian takes multiple stories to tell about a soldier dying and in one story, he’ll relive or mention the man’s death in multiple different ways. Obviously there are separations between an artist’s lived life and produced art, but we can all leave our school’s of theory to acknowledge that experience influences art and what one attempts to express. Some of his stories reflect the “disparate images of [an] actual experience” (44) to create a protagonist’s “narrative.” Somehow, this passage gave me an understanding of how to write a character dealing with trauma, even without PTSD, even a non-veteran. The questions asked were so similar to the character-creation templates in how they provoke the building of a particular person around it. (Which, to my understanding, is the issue, because a unique individual’s trauma and reactions and background, etc. keep scientists from being completely quantitative in their “dosing.”)

I also found myself wondering what compounded trauma would be, how Morris would chart or rank or measure or whatever.

One thought on “PTSD, Counterfactuals, and the Dose-Responsive Cur[s]e

  1. Pingback: My short story “Sisyphus” | Battlefields

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