Friday, March 30, 2018

Healing With Words

How Researching PTSD Changed My Book


A Higher Purpose

When I was a writing teacher, I would often show my students J.K. Rowling's commencement address she gave at Harvard. I showed this speech to students so they could learn how to properly write and give a speech. Rowling did an excellent job. 


But as I listened to the moving speech, a few things hit my heart rather hard. In addition to sharing her writing journey, she described her time working for a human rights organization. She went on to describe the impact her time at the organization had on her life and on her writing. After learning more about her time there, readers can easily see how important human rights are to her just by reading her famous Harry Potter series. 

PTSD and Other Issues

That revelation by Rowling made me pause and consider my own writing projects. Do they have an impact on my readers? Am I successfully conveying my message to them?

I'd love to be a writer simply to make money, but that's just not me. I write to send a message, too. In my current WIP, Leaving Eden, my protagonist is a war correspondent who suffers from PTSD. She doesn't realize it at first, but friends and family recognize the symptoms. When they confront her, she resists getting help at first. But later she realizes her friends and family are right. She seeks help.


So many people don't truly understand the disorder and what trauma can do to a person's mental state. I know I didn't understand the scope until I experienced it when my mother died suddenly. I then started studying it. 

The disorder was first recorded and researched at the time of the Civil War. Military physicians called it "irritable heart" and "soldier's heart." Later it was called "battle shock."

Experiencing and witnessing a sudden traumatic death can forever change a person. You can't "un-see" what you have seen. I worked in a criminal court and saw the horrific crime scenes and listened to descriptive testimony about those crimes. I also witnessed several autopsies live because I once thought about going into forensic science. I once sat four feet away from a mass murderer and rapist. All of these experiences stayed in my mind and began to change how I thought. I had no idea this was happening until 7 years later. I knew I had to walk away from this atmosphere. Imagine the police officers, medical examiners, paramedics, and firefighters who cannot walk away. They need their jobs!

And I also knew that I could never be a forensic scientist. And that's okay. It's important to respect your boundaries



Now consider those who have experienced war! The constant threat of death and destruction does affect the psyche. 

During WWI, soldiers were psychologically wounded. The weapons of war had advanced and chemical weaponry had a severe result on soldiers. The term "shell shock" entered the vernacular and alerted Freud. He submitted a memorandum about the brutal treatment wounded soldiers were enduring. Not only were they physically wounded, but psychologically wounded. Doctors had to learn to treat wounds they could not see. 

WWII changed the terminology and called PTSD "battle fatigue" and "combat stress." These men (and even the women who served as nurses) had reached their limit. 

PTSD wasn't even officially diagnosed until the 1950s. 

In the 1960s and 70s, of course, Vietnam veterans and the mistreatment of their psychological wounds perpetuated the problem rather than prevented it. 

Today, we all know more about PTSD and its affects on those who have served in war. The good thing is that the more PTSD is discussed, the more prevention options are discussed as well. 

Books About War



War Torn: Stories of War from the Women Reporters who Covered Vietnam

American Daughter Gone to War: On the Front Lines with an Army Nurse in Vietnam

In my book, Leaving Eden, my protagonist experienced war in Afghanistan and Iraq by embedding with the troops in both countries. 

To prepare for writing this book, I read War Torn by Tad Bartimus and Tracy Wood which is about women journalists who served and reported on the Vietnam War. It was an eye-opening read. I knew women journalists went to Vietnam, but I had no idea what they had endured. 

Another good book to read that also prepared me was American Daughter Gone to War by Winnie Smith. This book is also well written and fascinating. It opened my eyes to what nurses endured during Vietnam. 

But the aftermath of war was also presented in both books. That's what intrigued me the most. Survivors of war suffer much when they return home; Survivor's guilt, depression, anxiety all of which are typically self-medicated at first, resulting in alcohol abuse and drug abuse. 

Now that my protagonist is home again, how will she adjust? How do all war vets adjust?

Knowledge is Power

Now that I know more about PTSD, I can write about it. There is still so much for me to learn. I want to interview those who have returned home from war to ensure I am adequately portraying the affects of the disorder in my story. 

Now that we know more about PTSD and its affects on people (and not just veterans but all victims and survivors of trauma), we should do our best to spread the knowledge. 

If we keep quiet about it, we perpetuate the problem rather than solve or prevent the problem. Words can heal.

For this reason, I am making sure the issues that surround PTSD are addressed in my novel. My protagonist is a strong headed woman with a purpose. Pride and fear keep her from understanding the effects of the trauma she has experienced after 8 years of dealing with war. Pride almost kept me from seeking help after I experienced the trauma of losing my mom suddenly. What else keeps people from seeking help or talking about their traumatic experiences? How can they be helped to move forward?

There are resources out there. Books are just some of the resources. As writers, we can help get the conversation started by addressing PTSD and other issues in our stories. 

I suppose that's why I write what I write.: Flawed characters who do their best to move forward, conquering the "dragons" along the way. 

Write with a purpose, that's what I always say. 

My purpose is to help others cope with what life has handed them. 


For help with PTSD, please visit:

R. A. Douthitt is an award-winning author of books for middle grade readers. She is now working on a contemporary inspirational novel, Leaving Eden for release later this fall. She is also an educator and speaker with a Masters degree in Education.

History of PTSD in veterans: Civil war to DSM-5. National Center for PTSD. (2016). Retrieved from //

Friedman, M. J. (2015). History of PTSD in veterans: Civil War to DSM-5. Retrieved from //

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Broken Vessels


Last year, I attended a thought-provoking conference for writers that challenged my thinking.

As a Christian author, I work hard to ensure my books contain Christian themes and principals: redemption, deliverance, faith, hope, covenant, salvation, justice, forgiveness.

 Because of this effort, I struggle with my own past. The devil is good at attacking those who seek to do God's will and he has definitely attacked me over the years.

Our conference guest speaker, Allen Arnold, reminded me of the healing that comes from God. I was struggling spiritually. My heart was heavy. Without knowing the significance of his actions, Allen Arnold provided me with a composition book with the word Kintsugi written on it. I quickly Googled the word and saw what it meant:

By repairing broken ceramics it’s possible to give a new lease of life to pottery that becomes even more refined thanks to its “scars”. 

The Japanese concept of Kintsugi aligns perfectly with my story. I am a broken vessel repaired by a good and merciful God. I have been given a new lease on life and am more refined thanks to my "scars."


But revisiting that brokenness is never easy. I remember one day, at another writers' conference, where I had to deal with the sins and shame of my past. I sat in a hotel room I shared with two other Christian women. These two women were almost twenty years younger than me. In the room, they spoke of how they had met their husbands and how they had waited to be intimate with their husbands until their wedding nights.

It was like listening to fairy tale romances! I sat there mesmerized by their lovely stories. And then it hit me.


You see, my own story isn't all that romantic. My husband and I had dated for almost 3 years and we did not wait for our wedding night to be intimate. We participated in sexual sin as Christians. Knowing full well what we were doing was wrong, we continued. Our actions displeased God immensely. It was a time of great darkness for me. The darkness engulfed me and separated me from Christ. Not the love of Christ, nothing can separate us from His love, but I couldn't have fellowship with Him while living in sin.

Living in daily sin as a Christian has a horrifying effect. I became so depressed. It felt like I was at war with the darkness. And the darkness almost won. I almost took my life. But God intervened and stopped me...and admonished me.

As I sat there listening to these young women tell their romantic stories of courtship with their spouses, I didn't say a word. Inside I was hoping they wouldn't turn to me and ask me about my courtship. I was hoping they wouldn't ask me to share because I had shame. In the midst of their beautiful "light-filled" stories of love and obedience to God, the darkness and shame of my past began to fill the room. Their light began to hurt my eyes just like it did when I had lived in darkness for almost 3 years.

The shame made me sick to my stomach. I was reminded of who I used to be: That broken vessel.

Blessedly, the two young women didn't ask. They simply went about the rest of their day. "Whew," I thought. "So glad I didn't have to revisit my past..."

Yet, I did revisit it. I often do.

Broken Vessels Repaired by God

I read through the information about Kintsugi with tear-filled eyes. It was the first time I had ever heard of this Japanese concept. Who knew you could repair what was broken and then reuse it!

Who knew?

God knew. 

He knew what I needed to see that morning. He saw my heart that morning. I couldn't believe it! But then, as Yoda said, that's why we fail isn't it? We don't believe God when He says He resides with a broken and contrite spirit:

"I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite..." Isaiah 57:15

Why does God dwell with those with a contrite and lowly spirit? To revive the spirit! He repairs us so we can be used by Him.

Praise God!

I am repaired by a loving God. As a result, like the Kintsugi vases, I am more beautiful now than I was then. Today I regret not telling those two young women my story. Who knows how God could have used it.

So, I am telling my story now: I am a sinner saved by a loving, merciful God! I was broken, but He repaired me to be used by Him. Now I shine with the Light of Christ. 

My story could have shown those two young women how God works in us in spite of us. He takes what is rejected and despised by the world and uses us. Much like how King David sought out the family of his enemy, Saul, because he remembered his covenant with his beloved friend, Jonathan.

King David's servants brought to him Mephibosheth, the lame grandson of Saul. A lame man is considered broken, a reject of society, unable of being anything other than a beggar for life. Yet, King David welcomed him into his court. He sat Mephibosheth at his table and treated him like one of his sons.

One of his sons!

 What a beautiful picture of what God does for us. He repairs us, seats us at His table, and loves us as much as He loves His own Son, Jesus.

Repaired By God

How amazing is our God! Look how much He loves us. He knew I was down that morning. He knew I struggled with my past. Yet He used the Japanese concept of Kintsugi to remind me of how much He loves me and wants to use me to do His good works.

How is God speaking to you, today? How is He challenging you to use your story to tell others about His wonderful works? 

You are a broken vessel repaired by God. Go and tell others about it! They need to know...


It's All Uphill from Here!

Wait? I thought it Was All Downhill From Here?

Ever take on a project that just might be more than you had planned? At first, you couldn't wait to work on it, but then you began to realize that there's no way you can complete it.

As a writer, I have been there.

Some projects are simple: A low word count book that follows a "formula" of Act I, II, and III with an uncomplicated conclusion.


You're done, get it edited, revise, upload, hit publish and there it is! A completed project.

Other projects, however, require more thought, effort, time, and determination.

Up Hill

Running on a flat surface is a piece of cake. As a runner of many marathons, the words "flat course" when describing a race is heaven to us runners. No one enjoys running uphill. it is a challenge, but boy does it take its toll on the body.

Same with some writing projects. They just seem uphill all the way! Why is that?

Research: You've heard the saying, "Write what you know" because that's the easy way to do it. But some projects require some research and that can cause a writer to freeze up. The cognitive dissonance almost paralyzes us! Procrastination wins.

Critique: I have writer friends who are blessed to have a FREE (free as in cost as well as in availability) critique group help them brainstorm a project from beginning to end. I have never had such a blessing. I guess I came into this writing game too late, but it seems all the critique groups are full and not receiving "new patients" at this time! LOL

Bummer. I could really use the help getting through my current project. I may have bitten off more than I can chew! It would help to sit with a writer familiar with the genre I'm writing and provide some pointers. Nothing makes you stop writing faster than when you realize that you may not know what the heck you're writing! But to find a critique group today requires a lot of money: You have to register for a writers conference, pay for airline tickets, and hotel because hardly any conferences are in your neck of the woods, doncha know?  And then pay for the critique. Ugh!! I get it, they are professionals who deserve to be paid for their time.

Personal Responsibilities:This hill gets me all the time. I tend to plan so many activities (running, writing, ministry, etc) that I don't have as much time to work on an uphill project. Why do I do this?? Probably because this project is so intimidating that, subconsciously, I don't want to work on it. Making myself busy is the perfect excuse!

But running uphill requires time, effort, and skill.There is a right way and wrong way to do it.

The right way leads to successfully reaching the top and celebrating the success!

The wrong way leads to pain...pain in the lungs, legs, and shins. Not knowing how to run uphill can lead to injury. And nothing ends a running career quite like injury.

As with writing, there is a way to conquer that hill succesfully!

First: running uphill requires that you are up on the balls of your feet, NOT leaning forward, and using of all the muscles of your legs. Why? Leaning forward flat on your feet will burn out your thighs and cause shin splints. Slightly leaning backwards while on the balls of your feet will cause your glutes, hamstrings, and calves to assist your thighs. This will result in lasting longer! Using your arms will drive you forward.

Second: This type of exercise is called "anaerobic." This means that this workout isn't intended to build up cardiovascular health. Because you are running uphill, your breathing will be shorter, you'll be taking in less oxygen. As a result, your muscles won't receive as much oxygen rich blood! But, on the plus side, you'll burn more sugar and fat in addition to oxygen. This type of workout is an excellent way to break out of a slump and boost your metabolism (how quickly you burn calories) from a plateau to super fast!

Warning: Because you are working those muscles, lungs, and your heart...this workout is not something you should do everyday. It breaks down a lot of muscle, so it requires rest! After running uphill for more than 20 minutes, you should spend 24 hours resting, consume protein, and stretch sore muscles. Doing this will help your muscles rebuild which means you will avoid injury.

See how this all applies to writing as well?

An intimidating writing project shouldn't be entered into lightly. It will cause more stress and require more of a commitment than those shorter, lower word count projects.

These big projects require more assistance. Like uphill running requires help from just one set of muscles, these writing projects require help from other writers. Without that assistance, the project will become overwhelming and make you want to quit.

I know from experience.

Running is a solo sport, as with writing. It is just you at the computer pouring your heart out into words that you hope will inspire others. We write to be read, after all.

The toughest marathon I ever ran was the Marine Corps Marathon back in 2014. The first 7 miles of that race were uphill. Ouch!! That was one intimidating project!

But because I knew how to run hills, I knew how to train for that race. I trained, rested, and prepared my body (as well as my mind...) and finished that race successfully.

I know this current Work-in-Progress is an uphill climb, but I am fully prepared for it. I pray I get the assistance that I need. I'm hoping to participate in a FREE critique group this summer. Hopefully, I'll be able to get up this hill once and for all. It hasn't been easy.

What about you? How do you get up those hilly projects? What do you do to prepare? 

What it all comes down to is to keep going. Pushing through the hard times is what makes completion so satisfying! You can look back, hold up the project, and say, "I did that!"

So, keep writing...keep running...and never give up!