An Interview with Christal Presley: Thirty Days with My Father: Finding Peace from Wartime PTSD
1) Christal,you have just written a book about PTSD from the perspective of a veteran’s child. How did this come about?
When my father was 18, he was drafted to Vietnam. Like many men of that era, when he returned home, he was not the same person. My father spent much of my childhood locked in his room, gravitating between depression and rage, and unable to participate in Christmases or birthdays. My mother and I learned to walk on eggshells, doing anything and everything not to provoke him.
His symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) were so severe that he was eventually declared 100 percent disabled. His bizarre and erratic behaviors were so confusing and scary to me that I could not get away from him fast enough. At 18, I left that house and didn’t look back. I barely spoke to my father for the next 13 years.
In November of 2009—after years of therapy—I extended the olive branch. I asked my mother to ask my father if he would allow me to call him for thirty days, and to ask him questions about Vietnam and what happened to my family back then. In truth, I thought he’d say no. I could say I’d tried, and then finally move on—without him.
But my father said yes. My book Thirty Days with My Father: Finding Peace from Wartime PTSD is the story of those thirty days.
2) It is subtitled “Finding Peace from Wartime PTSD”. Has your father actually found peace, contentment, and the ability to sleep at night?
My father has healed a lot over the past few years, primarily as a result of music therapy. He’s an avid guitar player, and he says it soothes him and calms his nerves much more than medication or psychotherapy ever could. My father has found a level of peace and contentment because his guitar gives him a purpose for living. Because of his PTSD, he hasn’t been able to hold down a job for years, but his days are full because he is so often asked to sing and play his guitar at funerals, weddings, churches, and other local community events. He sleeps better at night these days, but I know he still has nightmares and flashbacks. The book is mostly about my own newfound peace, contentment, and the ability to sleep at night–because I better understand my father now, and thus, what happened to my family as a result of Vietnam. It’s no longer a secret from which we hide, and that’s made a big difference in my life. Acknowledging what happened to my family and telling my truth has set me free.
3) What are some of the “demons” and difficulties of PTSD?
(from my website United Children of Veterans:)
Recurrent nightmares, intense distress, or upsetting memories of a traumatic event or events
Physical reactions such as rapid pulse, heavy breathing, sweating, muscle tension, or nausea when reminded of the trauma
Depression and loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
Memory loss of events connected to the trauma
Feeling distant from others and emotionally numb
An overwhelming sense of guilt or shame
Hypersensitivity to noises (feeling jumpy or easily startled)
Inability to focus
Hypervigilance (feeling constantly “on guard”)
Avoidance of conversations, people, and places that remind you of the trauma
Feelings of hopelessness about the future
Irritability and aggression
4) I know that one of the main problems is sleep difficulties, sleep disorders, and sleep apnea. Did your father have any of these, and if so, how did he cope, or how does he cope?
My father did have difficulty sleeping for years–and occasionally he still does. For years he slept on thick pads to catch the sweat from his nightmares. He began taking depression and anxiety medications from the VA, but playing his guitar has helped regulate his sleep most of all.
5) Flashbacks- has he had any? And does he talk about them?
My father has struggled with flashbacks ever since Vietnam–40 years ago. He doesn’t talk about them much, but he’s told me that when he hears a loud noise–whether it be a truck backfiring, a dropped plate or glass, or something else entirely– it’s as if he goes into “war mode,” and is back in Vietnam.
6) I know some individuals who served in Viet Nam- and they still talk to me about what occurred there. Did you and your dad have lengthy conversations, and what were some typical topics?
We did have lengthy conversations–about anything from the historical occurrences during Vietnam (TET offensive, My Lai and more) to day-to-day life in the infantry, to the horrors my father experienced there. We also talked so much about the way my father and other Vietnam veterans were treated when they returned from Vietnam; that affected my father greatly.
7) Some vets get religion, and some just haunt the coffee shops- how has your father coped? And what adjustment issues has he had to face?
My father drowned his PTSD symptoms in alcohol when he returned from the war. He stopped drinking when he met my mother, and then tried to alleviate his symptoms by working all the time and keeping himself so busy he wouldn’t think about the war. But that didn’t work. Lately, he uses his music as a way to keep himself busy. It’s still hard for my father to be around people sometimes, and he needs lots of alone time.
8) Many vets come back with concussions, head injury, brain trauma….has your father been impacted by any of these?
No, my father’s wounds are invisible–but there nonetheless.
9) What have I neglected to ask?
I definitely want people to know that this book is about healing and reconciliation–and about breaking the silence about how the invisible wounds of war can affect families.
10) Where can interested readers get a copy of this book…..?
Interested readers can get a copy of Thirty Days with My Father: Finding Peace from Wartime PTSD at any major bookseller (and online too): Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, or IndieBound. They can visit my author website (www.christalpresley.com) to peruse TV and radio interviews I’ve done, to see a book tour schedule, to read an excerpt of the book, and more.