Adversity Needn’t Thwart or Define You. Here’s How to Cope.

Adversity Needn’t Thwart or Define You. Here’s How to Cope.

It’s really quite shocking what people do ask, and I say that as a deeply nosy person. But I can say with certainty that it would never have occurred to me to ask — as one man did on a first date with Smart — if, during all the times she was raped, she had ever enjoyed it.

JOURNEY THROUGH TRAUMA: A Trail Guide to the 5-Phase Cycle of Healing Repeated Trauma (Avery, $27), by Gretchen Schmelzer, is written for the trauma victim. Schmelzer isn’t a storyteller, and she isn’t interested in sharing case histories; she describes what happened in her own childhood using only the broadest strokes. So a page turner “Journey Through Trauma” is not. But this Harvard-trained psychologist has some shrewd observations, including the reminder that “repeated trauma is about both what did happen and what didn’t happen” (in other words, “the normal developmental growth that would have taken place during the years that the trauma was occurring”). Life stories have coherence, Schmelzer writes, and trauma shatters that coherence. Healing means finding the thread, the narrative, of your life again.

Schmelzer’s plan for healing is organized into five phases: Preparation (which usually involves coping with the behavior, like drug or alcohol abuse, that can result from trauma, a process that may take years); Unintegration (“a controlled coming apart”); Identification (categorizing and examining the various aspects of the trauma that you may have avoided); Integration (reassembling the pieces of your story); and, finally, Consolidation (the creation of a whole intact you). Schmelzer gets a little lost in her metaphors (Wait, is “practice falling” literally about rock climbing or are we talking about therapy? Both? Oh, O.K.). But those who have had repeated trauma in their lives may find this book a useful adjunct to therapy.

The subject of Katherine Ketcham’s THE ONLY LIFE I COULD SAVE (Sounds True, $21.95) isn’t explicitly trauma, but at the heart of all trauma is helplessness — and I can think of few things more traumatic than watching the personality of the child you love vanish in the face of drug addiction. Ketcham had written several popular books about addiction (her son, Ben, was forced to read one of them in rehab), and she had led counseling groups for addicted teenagers. You might assume this expertise would have prepared her for her own son’s battle. Quite the opposite. “I know how to talk and listen to other people’s children,” she confesses. “But I don’t know how to listen or talk to my own child.” Treating addiction involves a great deal of rinse-and-repeat behavior; at heart, it’s drudgery. But there’s repeated, brutal battering at the heart of any story of a mother trying to save her child, particularly when you know that nothing you say or do will make a difference until he or she is ready. It’s like watching a game of Frogger — only the frog that might be roadkill is your kid, and the cars are real.

Ketcham’s story has a predictable Lifetime Channel arc, sprinkled with statistics about addiction. But for the true science nerd who also craves a page turner there’s Nadine Burke Harris’s THE DEEPEST WELL: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $27). Burke Harris, who founded the Center for Youth Wellness in one of the poorest, most crime-ridden areas of San Francisco, first came to national prominence with her TED Talk, “How Childhood Trauma Affects Health Across a Lifetime.” As a young pediatrician, she was treating a population of kids who suffered disproportionately from conditions like asthma, eczema and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). But then into her clinic walked a 7-year-old child who had stopped growing for no apparent reason — until it turned out that he’d been molested at the age of 4. Early childhood trauma releases buckets of stress hormones, Burke Harris explains, which in turn can lead to a lifetime of medical problems. While she didn’t originate the idea of the ACE (adverse childhood experiences) score, she did put it into practice in her clinic: She realized that she could give out all the inhalers and Ritalin she wanted, but unless she addressed the underlying issues of trauma, the medications were just a bandage and a lifetime of other health issues were unavoidable.

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