I sometimes make it a point to read a book outside my comfort zone to stretch and grow. Juanima Hiatt's exquisitely crafted memoir, The Invisible Storm, is one of those books. The topic of sexual abuse is definitely outside my comfort zone, and the book did stretch my heart and understanding at least a couple of sizes.
The first chapter had me quivering with rage at the barbaric mistreatment Hiatt experienced during the delivery of her second child. The delivery trauma plunged her into an acute case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) based on multiple incidents of sexual abuse she experienced in her youth. The fact that she persisted in her attempts to find help through years of misdiagnosis, apathy and insensitive rejection speaks to her amazing powers of persistence and desire to heal. The book is a horrifying commentary on a widespread lack of empathy and compassion—perhaps due to burnout, perhaps due to ignorance—in all facets of the healthcare system.
But that's not the primary focus. In her story, Hiatt shares intimate details in an insider's view of the experience of PTSD with depth of insight possible only from one who has walked through that Valley of the Shadow of Death. In the book she explains that she was unable to articulate to her family, even to her therapists, how she was feeling during most of years she was suffering because she had repressed her feelings so deeply she was unaware of them and unable to name the occasional one that poked through her layers of denial. One surprising admission was her disclosure that as strongly as she believed in God's love and the value of Jesus' sacrifice, she believed that sacrifice was made for other people—she herself was unworthy. The first incident of "relatively harmless" molestation when she was only seven years old began a sense of being dirty and unworthy that over a few years grew to encompass her entire identity.
Although I admit that I skimmed quickly through one especially graphic chapter, I found her story encouraging and hopeful. That is due to her method of disclosure as much as the message. After instantly getting my attention with her horrifying childbirth account, she backs off and tiptoes into further revelations, following the course of her healing journey. For the first few years she was unable for years to recall or recount her early experiences. Thus early chapters of the story hint at specifics, only gradually building to the brutally climactic details that she finally recalled and faced. The fact that she has been able to reclaim her life, feel joy again, and safeguard her daughters from trauma during her worst suffering, stands as testimony to the resilience of the human spirit.
I so admire the courage it took for her to write this intensely intimate story in the hope that it might help even one single person to persist and heal, or one single friend or family member know how to better understand, help and support someone they care about who is going through the agonies of PTSD. The primary value of the book for those of us who have not experienced this devastating disorder is to help us understand that instinctive efforts we might normally make as we try to understand, encourage, or cope with our own frustration may be counter-productive. I also suspect that most readers will recognize at least a shred of self in her story and perhaps find a bit of personal resolution and closure. I'm grateful to Hiatt for opening her heart in such a vivid and helpful way.
Juanima Hiatt writes from Oregon whenever she can grab precious silence. She is a member of Willamette Writer's Group and the critique group, Scribophile. Juanima has a special place in her heart for kids—especially teens—and a fervent desire to help people. She loves movies, fly-fishing, hunting, nature, and any activity with her husband and two daughters. Her memoir, The Invisible Storm, portrays her battle with PTSD and what it takes to overcome the disorder. She also enjoys writing screenplays, children's books, and is currently working on a political thriller novel. Visit her website and the book website.
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