Book Review: Struggle Well: Thriving in the Aftermath of Trauma
Like me, you’ve probably seen people crumble and fail to recover from trauma (big or small) and you’ve also probably seen others who come through their experiences with clearer eyes, stronger spirits, straighter backs, and deeper wells of empathy and compassion. Perhaps they are even able to use their experiences in profoundly creative ways.
The Japanese concept of kintsugi treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object rather than something to disguise. People can be proud of their scars, and some even transform them into memoir or service, or embellish them literally with tattoos and other approaches that celebrate the strength and courage they had—or learned to have—in the face of trauma.
Ken Falke and Josh Goldberg work with combat veterans battling post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), helping them understand and process their experiences and grow from them. The authors have a wealth of real-world experience and deep compassion for those with whom they work. Their new book, Struggle Well: Thriving in the Aftermath of Trauma, translates those experiences and perspectives into useful information for readers who wants to make peace with the past, live in the present, and thrive in the future.
The foreword, written by Captain Charlie Plumb, (Ret.) US Navy, establishes a common thread throughout the book: the authors’ approach is illuminated by their own personal stories and those of veterans with whom they have worked. The stories aren’t simply drawn from combat experiences, although they are presented in that context. But the fact is, whether we end up in combat or not, we come to big traumas with a host of smaller traumas in our pockets, and the big traumas can come out in the face of smaller traumas. It’s all connected.
Although Falke and Goldberg present a version of the training program they have developed for the Boulder Crest Institute for Posttraumatic Growth (PTG), it’s not presented as a guidebook or series of focused lessons with exercises for the reader to work through. And while the material is presented at a high level, I was often left wanting to know more and wishing for specifics to accompany these high-level topics.
For example, in Chapter 2, “Struggle Well, Live Well” the authors describe a “strong wellness triangle.” The outer triangle comprises mental, physical, and financial wellness; the inner triangle is spiritual wellness. They offer reading as an example of a mental wellness practice, and say financial wellness is key. Well, yes…but I wanted more than that. An anecdote by one of the authors drawn from his personal life followed, and I was left hungry for a bit more guidance than the example he provided.
I felt this desire for deeper material throughout the book, always wishing for more substance on a specific topic, more elaboration.
This book would be an extremely helpful first step for readers who are just beginning to face the consequences of their traumatic combat experiences. It would probably be extremely helpful to readers who are grappling with PTSD from combat experiences or to their loved ones. Hearing the voices of people who speak their language and know the nuances of those specific difficulties may crack open the door and begin to let in some light.
The stark cover image, of a combat veteran, would set the familiar tone, and the presence of Captain Plumb’s foreword — himself a POW in the Vietnam War — would establish a sense of trust. It’s easy to imagine the relief such readers might feel in the pages of this book, the awareness that they are not alone and there is a way through to a thriving life. This book is unlikely to be the end of that process, but rather a broad roadmap. I wish the references list at the end of the book had included a list of other resources for readers – books, articles, programs, resources that the authors could recommend with confidence.
The power of this book is in its authors’ experiences of life and their work with combat veterans. That alone might be the initial balm for struggling readers, and it’s easy to recommend it on that basis.
Struggle Well: Thriving in the Aftermath of Trauma
Lioncrest Publishing, March 2018
Paperback, 348 pages