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Denial: A Memoir of Terror by Jessica Stern
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Denial: A Memoir of Terror

by Jessica Stern

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She was raped as a young girl but grew up to be a writer and expert on terrorism. She interviewed terrorists in war zones and willingly put herself in dangerous situations. She began to realize that her emotionless reaction to danger and stress and calmness in such situations was unusual. She resisted the idea that she might have PTSD but decided to research her own rape, hoping to interview her rapist. She was able to work with one of the detectives and get records about her case, but it turned out that he was dead. But there had been at least 44 other victims. She made it a project to interview some of them, the rapist's family and people who'd known him, and her family members.

Her father was a Holocaust survivor who had similar reactions to stress, and there had been a lot of secrets and stress in her family. Her mother died when she was very young, of cancer probably caused by radiation treatments her own doctor father gave her for overactive thyroid. But her mother was never spoken of in the family.

She's honest and ruthless about examining her feelings: how one of her PTSD symptoms is the feeling of being hyper aware and in control during dangerous situations, which she likes. The complicated feelings about being a "victim" vs. a "survivor" and her dislike of people who seem to remain in victimhood. Her father dismissed her feelings as "candy-assed" and "navel-gazing" but I found them fascinating. ( )
  piemouth | Jun 14, 2018 |
Jessica Stern seems to suffer from PTSD even though she was never in the military. Instead, the domestic front proved to be just as dangerous for her. Jessica's grandfather probably abused her--and he killed Jessica's mother by exposing her to high radiation levels from x-rays. He was a doctor, and it seems in the mid-50s it was erroneously believed that x-rays were harmless and he suspected an oversized thalmus, which he thought was dangerous, and instead the radiation led inevitably to fatal cancer. His error in judgement killed at 28. And then Jessica and her sister were raped when they were young teens. Her father was away on business at the time and didn't hurry home which made Jessica feel as if didn't care. He is a Holocaust survivor and does not believe in victim-hood. Each time he remarried however, Jessica had to bond with another mother and she became a difficult, angry, provacative teen who pushed people away with her behavior. The point of the book is that a police detective notices Jessica's rape case has never officially been solved and he takes it upon himself to do so. Jessica is both intrigued by what she learns and overwhelmed by it--she just suffers more trauma trying to understand. And she feels compelled to learn all she can about her rapist; to me this was pure masochism. The book is claustrophobic and eventually Jessica's complaints about her crippling symptoms and her problematic relationship with her father become her problem not yours. Where is her sister in all this? She experienced much of the same trauma and she is missing in action. For such an intelligent family, it seems shocking that a competent therapist does not make more of a contribution, or that medications might have made Jessica more functional and less symptom overt. She describes repetitiously the fugue states she suffers through because of her history and one hopes the book opened her up to sunshine and improved prospects. But given what she shares, it's doubtful. ( )
  neddludd | Dec 3, 2015 |
This is so not what I thought that it was going to be and I am very happy for that. Stern is musing on denial and its effects with PTSD in rape, war and any other trauma by looking back at the trauma of her own rape and rapist. Dispassionately Passionate is the phrase that kept coming to mind while reading. She faced tough issues, but never allowed her self to get stuck down in the dirty details of them. She also tries to answer the question, why is there so much shame involved in rape and sexual abuse? If you are mugged in central park or fought in Iraq, it is openly talked about and accepted. When it comes to talking about rape, a hush falls over the room and people scurry away uncomfortably.

So many memoirs written about rape end up traumatizing the writer and the reader all over again. By confronting this denial, Stern is opening the doors to healing and acceptance. Wonderful book! ( )
  ChewDigest | Sep 12, 2014 |
This is so not what I thought that it was going to be and I am very happy for that. Stern is musing on denial and its effects with PTSD in rape, war and any other trauma by looking back at the trauma of her own rape and rapist. Dispassionately Passionate is the phrase that kept coming to mind while reading. She faced tough issues, but never allowed her self to get stuck down in the dirty details of them. She also tries to answer the question, why is there so much shame involved in rape and sexual abuse? If you are mugged in central park or fought in Iraq, it is openly talked about and accepted. When it comes to talking about rape, a hush falls over the room and people scurry away uncomfortably.

So many memoirs written about rape end up traumatizing the writer and the reader all over again. By confronting this denial, Stern is opening the doors to healing and acceptance. Wonderful book! ( )
  ChewDigest | Sep 12, 2014 |
This book gives truth to the fact that the things we suppress do not go away and investigating them brings only so much resolution. Jessica Stern is the bravest woman I have ever read because she dared to look at her frightening experience and bring it to light even years later. I'm very glad I read this book. ( )
  Marssie | Mar 2, 2014 |
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A scientist and expert on terrorism and post-traumatic stress disorder describes her own journey through trauma and its lingering effects after repressing and disassociating her own ordeal as the victim of an unsolved sexual assault as a teenager.

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