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PTSD in VETS vs. SURVIVORS: BRIEF COMMENT

26 September, 2012

While gratified that my post about PTSD in vets has drawn so much attention, I am torn.  I think it all goes to illustrate how readily PTSD from war experiences is accepted and understood while that of sexual abuse survivors continues to receive relatively scant attention.  I do have to say that the latter has improved markedly over the past 30 years, but still has a long way to go. There’s enough research on the syndrome I published that there could be a specific sub-category of PTSD in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) for sexual abuse survivors.

At least vets weren’t brutalized by their own families, and had at least some (hopefully) adult coping skills to deal with trauma.  That’s not so for children, and the task of undoing damage suffered as a child is ever so much more difficult than that suffered as an adult.  I’m not saying it’s easy for vets to overcome PTSD; quite the contrary but there is a difference. There is something of a parallel to the sexual abuse survivors being treated badly by their mothers and other family members in the rejection of Vietnam war veterans on their return home to be spat upon and called “baby killers”.

All PTSD sufferers, male and female, are sisters and brothers and have the advantage of being able to relate to each other’s suffering, if not each other’s exact experiences.  Together, they (for some reason I resist saying “we”) can be a force.  I still have trouble accepting my own, relatively minor PTSD, knowing what those who spent their tours in the bush suffered after the war. Though relatively minor compared to combat troops, it caused a lot of havoc in my life, including leading to a divorce and destruction of my career track.

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2 Comments
  1. suzemagoo permalink

    I was one of the first domestic violence PTSD cases taken on in the US by a well seasoned and talented psychiatrist/psychologist team just as the disorder was being listed in the DSM III. This was deemed a teaching case and I was given a reduced scale because of it.

    Prior to me, the team had only been working with vets. A mutual friend who was a Vietnam vet talked them into taking me on. It was very fortunate for me they agreed. For 2-1/2 years, I did nothing but eat, sleep, work and do (and pay for) therapy. It saved my life. I understood later they published articles about the work we did and that helped broaden the scope of PTSD to domestic violence cases.

    I have found it not only an uphill battle to be recognized appropriately outside AND, shockingly, inside the medical community but I see evidence that combat vet PTSD has lost considerable ground too.

    Prior to the Columbine tragedy, many people had a tough time believing what happened to me since it was extreme abuse and at the hands of a fellow high school student who appeared quite capable of killing me. A clueless dysfunctional family and a couldn’t-happen-here wealthy community provided no safe shelter. There were no stalking laws on the books in those days. There was precious little help. I escaped eventually by chance and a cop who understood exactly I was dealing with.

    I drank and drugged my way through therapy (it was that lax back then) and later ended up in AA where everything finally came together for me. I spoke for a time about my recovery from alcoholism and included the PTSD (I can’t hardly separate one from the other) but it scared some women so badly (it crashed their denial system about who they share public space with) they would accuse me of making it all up. Many men would look at their feet afterwards and not at me.

    I rarely speak of it apart from offering a bit of private help to a struggling vet as a pay back. While in therapy, the psychologist asked me to visit a PTSD group and tell my story. It was all men (vets) and that posed some risk (which we discussed) but she felt the possible gain outweighed it. I had been telling the story in a flattened monotone voice, so disconnected from what happen. She hoped this would help me connect. Boy, did it. I made them cry and it hit me like a ton of bricks, a good ton of bricks. One said something to the affect “Man, at least I had my unit while at war when you were in this alone”. I will never forget him. INCREDIBLY cathartic for me.

    I have tried a few domestic violence groups since therapy and they all fizzled for me for one reason or another. Since getting sober in 1987, I’ve lived a very fulfilling life. I worked to have a life but I did not do it alone– I had a lot of help that I think was uncommon then and a rarity now.

    I find your site refreshing and thought you’d like to know.

    • Thanks for taking the time for your lengthy comment. I, for one, consider the sexual abuse of children (and the resultant PTSD) to be one of, if not the, most serious social problems in the nation. Aside from the other misery, it spawns violence, substance abuse, prostitution, the exploitation inherent in pornography, poor school performance, unstable family units … on and on.

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