By Chet Yarbrough
Written by: David J. Morris
Narration by: Mike Chamberlain
In most lives, there is at least one trauma; i.e. a traumatic experience that imprints a sense of unease, fear, or terror that affirms physical mortality. It may be a near death experience, a car crash, a sexual assault, a natural disaster, or the relentless physical/mental trauma of war.
David Morris is a former marine who served his country in the 1990s, when America is between wars. After four years, Morris resigns his commission and returns to civilian life. Then, 9/11 occurs. America becomes embroiled in Iraq and Morris chooses to become an embedded civilian reporter. That fateful decision leads Morris to a mental dysfunction widely known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Morris writes “The Evil Hours” to offer a history of PTSD and a theory about its causes, consequences, and cures.
He is singularly qualified to write about the subject. Morris’s education, experience, and personal PTSD’ diagnosis offer unique insight to human trauma. One may not be completely in tune with Morris’s judgment but his analysis is well researched and erudite; his personal experience unquestionable.
Morris shows that PTSD as a post-Vietnam diagnostic category exists, though previously unnamed, at the time of Homeric tales. It is not a diagnosis limited to war but to all humanity that faces the trials of life, from birth to death. The Mayo Clinic defines PTSD as “…a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event—either experiencing it or witnessing it.” Morris would take a partial exception to this definition by arguing that a terrifying event is not necessarily singular. In the case of his personal experience, PTSD is contextual. The general atmosphere of war; not just an IED’ (improvised explosive device) detonation, results in his PTSD’ diagnosis.
Morris recounts his night terrors, drinking habits, challenged personal relationships, and anger management issues to exemplify PTSD’ consequences. Bad dreams, nightly drinking, a girlfriends’ abandonment, and curse filled diatribes against a workman that parks a truck in an alley show Morris’s distress. He seeks treatment from the Veterans Administration and tells of long waiting lines and game playing to get treatment.
Once diagnosis is confirmed, Morris is placed in a program called “Prolonged Exposure Therapy”, also known as PE. Morris works with a therapist that insists on his reliving the IED detonation in Iraq. The therapist explains that telling and re-telling the details of the incident is like debriding a wound of damaged tissue that is causing his pain. The argument is that once the wound is clean, PTSD’ victims will feel better and begin to heal.
Morris finds this therapy does not work for him and, in fact, increases many of the symptoms that led to his diagnosis. Morris argues that PE is too narrowly focused on single incidents of soldiers in a war zone. Morris explains his symptoms are from the context of war, not one single incident. The therapist continues to argue that Morris has not fully explored the IED incident and that if he continues to disagree with the program, he will be removed from the study.
Morris acknowledges PE is a successful therapy for some PTSD survivors but suggests “Prolonged Exposure Therapy” has more relevance to single incident occurrences like rape, assault, or robbery.
In returning to the VA, Morris is offered entrance to an alternative therapy program called CPT (Cognitive Processing Therapy) which is more along the lines of group therapy. Morris meets regularly with a group of PTSD’ sufferers that are dealing with symptoms in different ways based on different causes. This contextual therapy works for Morris because he sees people with similar symptoms that are not exclusively correlated with singular events.
Morris also writes about, what he calls, the balkanization of psychiatry. He explains that there are those psychiatrists that rely on interpersonal therapy and those who rely on physiological causes and pharmacological cures for mental dysfunction. Though Morris admits that CPT helped him, it constitutes only part of his rehabilitation.
Morris suggests a human interconnection psychotherapy practiced by Doctor Blaine Carr offers better statistical evidence of rehabilitation; i.e. maybe not a cure but better than CPT or exclusive pharmacological treatment of PTSD. Dr. Carr suggests patients suffering from traumatic events need to be treated more empathetically with recognition of feelings of intense sadness, grief, guilt, shame, anger, and disbelief.
Does what Morris writes ring true? His reflection on conversations with rape victims and their feelings of guilt, fear, and vulnerability are confirmed by media reports, books, and personal accounts. The experience of seeing time slow down when disaster is about to strike; dreams that one has when recalling a near death experience; anxiety about past bad experiences of life are traumatic events that many people have felt in their lives.
Not everyone suffers from PTSD when bad things happen but Morris convinces reader/listeners that it is a valid diagnosis. Morris suggests physiological/pharmacological treatment may be a long-term solution for PTSD but Carr’s treatment seems to work for some patients. According to Morris, Carr’s therapy shows less recidivism than either Prolonged Therapy or Cognitive Process Therapy.
Morris expresses concern about pharmacological cures for PTSD because of the ethics of blunting the reality of trauma. Pharmacological treatment has a potential for anesthetizing humanity to a point where murder, rape, and other forms of mayhem have no moral or ethical meaning to society. On the other hand, Morris explains the consequence of severe PTSD can make life unlivable. Morris quotes Frank Sinatra when asked about living life. Sinatra says, “Basically, I’m for anything that gets you through the night – be it prayer, tranquilizers or a bottle of Jack Daniels.”
In the end, Morris suggests PTSD is fundamentally a symptom of time distortion. There is no universal cure but his journey infers that any treatment that makes the sufferer “live-in-the-moment” rather than the past will ameliorate PTSD’s debilitating consequences. Contrary to the desire of the Veterans Administration, Morris infers science will not discover any universal therapy that effectively treats PTSD. Causes are too diverse. However, Morris suggests PTSD has a redeeming quality for some that survive its debilitating symptoms. PTSD’ survival can change the course of one’s life for the better with recognition of humanity’s interconnection and the value of living life well.