Updated: Nov 13, 2020
I live in Queensland, Australia. Fascinated by the extremes of human behaviour, and the reasons why we behave as we do, I am researching into trauma and PTSD. Trauma affects so many of us and it is only with professional help that we can examine and dispel its effects and through a variety of taught techniques release the pain frozen in our bodies and so heal.
The recent studies in somatic therapy for PTSD and trauma sufferers and our relatively new knowledge of neuroplasticity of our brains is very exciting. I am making my way through some of the works of Dr Bessell van der Kolk whose work initiated the establishment of the National Child Traumatic Stress network. Dr Peter Levine, the originator of Somatic Experiencing and Dr Bruce Perry of the Child Trauma Academy in Houston, are representative of people who have spent their professional lives studying how children and adults adapt to traumatic experiences.
I found it hard to stop wanting to find out more. I began to recognise some of the very many children I have taught in schools in Southern Africa, England and Australia in some of the case studies described. What I am finding out has further helped me understand the lives of the young men I ‘taught’ while in juvenile detention. Thank you to all such dedicated people who are willing to teach us more about how our brains work and what we can do to promote healing. And thank you to those extremely brave survivors of what are often unspeakably traumatic episodes, who have been able to revisit the pain in telling their own stories about what was often ‘swept under the carpet’.
Traumatising experiences shake the foundations of all beliefs about safety in the world and those around us. And if the trauma arises from abuse our assumptions of trust are shattered. The effects of trauma on those living through and after their experiences and those in relationships of close proximity are profound. Disorders such as dissociation and PTSD can result. Thank goodness our brains invent the most ingenious ways in which to protect us from being overwhelmed, incapacitated and damaged beyond repair. And then the difficult task of healing of survivors must start.
Among children and adolescents, lifetime estimates of PTSD in the general population range from 1 to 6%. As with adults, the prevalence of PTSD among those exposed to trauma depends on the type and frequency of trauma experienced. Overall, about one-third of trauma-exposed children and adolescents can be expected to develop PTSD. In children of all ages, PTSD is co-morbid with other orders, including behavioural and attentional problems, anxiety disorders and affective disorders. This has serious implications for children’s abilities to learn at school.
In adolescents, suicidal ideation and substance dependency may also be present.
This debut novel, I Am the Sand, is a psychological thriller. It is brutal in places and comes very close to the boundaries of acceptability in literary fiction. It will leave you, the reader, feeling quite uncomfortable and very likely disturbed if you have not learnt much about the effects of trauma, in children, in particular.
Perhaps you are suffering from trauma or PTSD and know very well how debilitating it can be in every area of your own life. If so, you may recognise some of the frightening physical and cognitive manifestations of trauma which I have tried to convey. Each person’s experiences are different in detail, but the effects of that abuse are startlingly similar when they are stored in our bodies.
If you are a sufferer/survivor of childhood abuse or neglect, I hope that you will accept that I have written this novel in good faith, and although being fortunate enough not to have suffered in childhood as you may have, I have researched widely reading first-hand accounts of those like you and have then used my imagination to create a fictional story of a teenage girl who is abducted, and also of a man who has himself experienced terrible abuse as a child. It is only a story. But my purpose in writing it was two-fold. I wanted to get rid of a deep-seated anxiety I had harboured many years ago when my son and daughter were very young. and beautiful blonde cherubs. I was fearful that they might be abducted. A very faint and unlikely chance event of course, but one which was born out of my experiences of teaching in a juvenile offenders’ detention centre and out of my deep, deep love for them. I suppose the fear that something awful might happen to them if I did not protect them enough haunted me from time to time. I could not have coped with losing one of them and the thought that they might suffer was sometimes enough to leave me awakening from a nightmare sweating. I am a self-diagnosed sufferer of general anxiety, I think! The exercise of writing done this organic story as it bubbled up out of me even unbidden, was hugely cathartic and I feel quite different now, after the process of putting it down on paper. I am relieved in some strange way and more light-hearted about what fate holds for us.
The second purpose grew as I began to write, and that was to write about trauma. The more I read, the more I wanted to read. I read biographies of some very brave young women, abducted as children and held captive by severely disturbed men who suffered insecurities and feelings of grandiosity and entitlement and who decided to hold a person in a cage to do their bidding in order to elevate their feelings about themselves. I was astonished at the extraordinary pragmatism and courage of these women. They are nothing short of heroic in its purest sense.
Dark and challenging, at the heart of my fictitious story is a naive, vulnerable but courageous teenage girl held captive by an unhinged predator. As their worlds collide, the perspectives of both characters unfold. You will feel outraged and you will be appalled, but you will also experience Chloe’s dogged determination to survive. There is a choice as one of the young women I read about noted: such a person can give in and surrender or can choose to fight and survive. Once the choice is made, and it may take a long time with children, then the person can direct all their energies and focus on achieving that result. Often, and especially in the case of long-term captives who have been manipulated and conditioned to believe that dreadful things will befall them and those they love if they try to escape, the harder fight is within one’s own head and mind.
Trauma of all kinds leaves indelible marks on the psyche of sufferers regardless of age, gender or socioeconomic status. The marks may be disguised, but deep down can anyone really recover from these sorts of abuse, violence or abject cruelty?