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Thirty Days with My Father: Finding Peace from Wartime PTSD

Thirty Days with My Father: Finding Peace from Wartime PTSD

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Thirty Days with My Father is a heartwarming memoir about a traumatic childhood, the effects of war on a military family and an inspiring reconnection of father and daughter. Gritty, touching and enlightening, Thirty Days with My Father is a must-read for families of veterans and even veterans themselves who have battled with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Through masterful storytelling and poignant memories, author Dr. Christal Presley provides brilliant insights into uncovering the truth, facing the past and ultimately embarking on the road to forgiveness. 

Presley’s father, Delmer, was drafted into the Vietnam War at the age of 18. He served for a year and when he came home, he was not the same person. He was later diagnosed with PTSD, which would come to affect the relationship and childhood that Presley endured with her father. For Presley and her mother, Judy, walking on eggshells and avoiding anything that could trigger an episode of PTSD was just a part of everyday life. They were subjected to Delmer’s instant mood changes, his suicidal ideations and his violent rages. Presley would be chased through the house by her wide-eyed and yelling father if she happened to drop a glass or break a plate. Despite all their experiences at home, Presley was told by her mother never to mention what happened in order to protect their family. After years of traumatic episodes and her father’s threats of suicide, Presley left home when she was 18 and never looked back. Interestingly, she later learned that she had developed PTSD herself through dealing with her father’s PTSD symptoms for her entire childhood. Through her young adulthood and beyond, Presley’s turbulent relationships, bouts of therapy and self-medication with alcohol and antidepressants pushed her into a never-ending search for peace of mind that simply would not come. 

Eventually, Presley earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, got married and divorced, taught in the Atlanta public school system and lived an otherwise “normal life.” She hadn’t spoken to her father in 13 years and planned to keep it that way, despite her increasing feelings of never finding true peace for herself. She eventually came up with the idea for the “Thirty Days Project” when a writing workshop professor pushed her to write about what scared her the most. The “Thirty Days Project” involved reconnecting with her father for only 30 days, just in case it all went downhill, to ask him questions about his experiences in Vietnam. She knew it would be difficult, and she wasn’t even sure that her father would agree to the plan. When he did, she was completely taken aback and realized that she would have to go through with her project. 

The “Thirty Days Project” got off to a rough start, which is what Presley expected after having no relationship with her father for so long. However, by day four, when Presley, her boyfriend and a classmate met her parents for lunch, her father began to open up and talk about the war. After this astonishing development, daily phone calls with her father educated Presley not only about the war itself, but his role in it. The beginnings of a relationship unfolded, not made any easier by Presley’s hectic personal life and her own PTSD symptoms. Despite outside factors, Presley learned about the war she had never known, discovered her father as a person and struggled through her own fears by visiting a VA hospital and dealing with her relationship issues. She began to find peace in her life, confidence in herself and joy in the newfound relationship with her father. 

9780757316463The result of the “Thirty Days Project” is Presley’s first book, Thirty Days with My Father. She brings readers into her own story as well as her father’s, chronicling her childhood with him, her experiences once she had left home and their conversations about his time in Vietnam. Through their conversations, she begins to understand him, herself and how PTSD can transfer and affect other family members. The book is separated into each of the 30 days, written as present-tense accounts of what happened between Presley and her father during the “Thirty Days Project.” Inside each day are sections of journal entries in which Presley writes chronologically about memories she had of her childhood: the good, the bad, and ones about her father, her mother and her family as a whole. 

Thirty Days with My Father is an excellent depiction of Presley’s struggle through the worst times in her life and her emergence on the other side–feeling stronger, more at peace and reconnected with her family. This inspiring story is highly recommended for counselors dealing with patients who suffer from PTSD, intergenerational PTSD and anyone whose childhood trauma has affected their relationships and daily lives. Presley’s memoir exemplifies the importance of truth, acceptance and the nature of survival.

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