Haas (Dakini Power, 2013) offers a combination of science reportage, memoir, and advice on the subject of trauma.
The book opens with a difficult question: why are some people resilient in the face of misfortune, while others struggle? After acquiring a mysterious virus in Tibet that demolished her health, Haas returned to France, where her spouse lived, and began a drawn-out process of physical and mental renewal. That journey led to this volume investigating “the science of posttraumatic growth” via interviews with people who persisted through pain. Among the interview subjects are Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen, who continued a successful career after losing his left arm in a car accident; autistic scientist Temple Grandin, whose father wanted to abandon her as a child; and military medic Rhonda Cornum, who survived a helicopter crash during Operation Desert Storm in Iraq. Haas assimilates these conversations into a structured but flowing discussion of the nature and social perception of trauma and recovery. Drawing on her interviewees’ insights as well as her own experiences with Buddhist meditative practices, she makes a thorough case that what counts as trauma can vary greatly from person to person, that overly narrow clinical definitions can be detrimental to healing and progress, and, most importantly, that trauma can help people adapt in radically new ways. She recounts a story that Richard Tedeschi, a scientist at the forefront of research on posttraumatic growth, told her about a man with terminal cancer who was more preoccupied with his past divorce—a tale that shows that trauma can take many, often surprising, forms. If hardship resists generalization, the author seems to say, so do the effective ways that one can respond to it. Haas unifies her subjects’ differing responses to catastrophe with the idea that, somehow, they all transformed difficult plights into valuable opportunities. She also peppers the book with practical tips, some better than others, and includes a meditation guide.
An often masterful hybrid of self-help and firsthand history.