Nico Stoerner, Staff Writer
Imagine growing up in a war zone.
Now imagine growing up in a war zone and in the closet.
That is exactly the story of Christal Presley, whose book Thirty Days with My Father: Finding Peace from Wartime PTSD serves to tell the story of her childhood and growing up with a Vietnam Veteran suffering from PTSD. In fact, Presley states that “writing my book […] was the catalyst for processing a lot of things I never had, that made me realize I was gay.” Many of us remember the trauma of growing up afraid of our sexuality, but the challenges that Presley faced truly affected her ability to acknowledge who she was, and is. Unfortunately, as a result of the environment she grew up in and the “survival mode” in which she operated, she found her closet to be the most comforting place in her home – a fact that speaks to her inability to “come out.”
Chronicling the major events in her childhood, the thirty telephone conversations she had with her father about Vietnam, and the many challenges their relationship has faced, 30 Days reveals much about the relationship between parent and child. Presley was diagnosed with PTSD as a result of her childhood with her father. He was sound sensitive and had many triggers that would put him into “war mode” lashing out at Presley and her mother in a wild, instinctual way. This was of course due to the time he spent at war, and thus made for a difficult childhood.
With journal entries at the end of each chapter, Presley does an incredible job of giving insight into her upbringing and childhood experiences while also discussing the discoveries she made by opening the lines of communication with her father during the thirty days of telephone conversations they had.
Christal Presley grew up in a Pentecostal Church, with a mother who was constantly attempting to cope with her husband’s outbursts of PTSD, and in a small mountain community where being gay was regarded as “unnatural, unholy, and one of the most evil sins one could ever commit.” Christal began suffering from symptoms of PTSD, and was taught to fear homosexuals – a fact that only further intensified the deeply rooted fear of the world she had developed.
Although she sought out therapy after moving away for college, the subject of her sexuality never came up. She found herself dating men again and even had a brief marriage with a man to whom she was “never attracted,” a victim of the social norms that dictated her life choices.
It was after another 10 years of self-exploration, reflection, therapy, evolution, and exposure to many different kinds of people before Presley was even comfortable having friends that were gay. The “brain-washing” of her upbringing had stayed with her until this point and took much effort to work past.
In our interview Presley stated that “by 2009 […] I had become much more self-aware and accepting. I wasn’t ready to tackle my own sexuality – at least, not until I dealt with my relationship with my father. I had so many questions about what happened to my family back then because of Vietnam, and it was something that we’d never talked about. I had a hunch that better understanding of my father and finally hearing his story would fill in some missing pieces of my own childhood, and boy did it ever!”
As a result of writing Thirty Days with my Father and coming to terms with the unintentional damage caused by her father’s PTSD during her childhood she began to evaluate herself and her personal feelings about who she was. She finally began to explore who she was as a person and discover who she wanted to be. Presley stated “these were questions most people begin to explore in their teenage years, but my own emotional blocks had prevented me from doing so.”
She had an epiphany at 31, realizing that she was a woman who had loved women her entire life since she was a little girl, “I began to think about my childhood, and for the first time, was able to see beyond the trauma. I saw a little girl obsessed with Wonder Woman, Kim Basinger, and a host of other women throughout my lifetime. I saw a little girl – and a young woman – who loved women and who was attracted to women in ways she’d never been capable of being attracted to men. The answer was right in front of me, but it was the first time I’d ever seen it, and it was at a place where I could accept it.”
Although she never confronted the topic of her sexuality in the book, if you read between the lines you can spot the points at which it is referenced. Reading her memoir you find referenced numerous flings with older men and her brief marriage, but as Presley states “That was before the book, and this is after.”
“Happy to have opened a new chapter in her life” and “thankful” for the good mental, emotional, and physical health she now enjoys, Presley admits that her journey has not been an easy one. “The best thing of all is that my heart is wide open these days, and I’m no longer afraid. I don’t shy away from who I am – nor my story of the process that brought me to this place. I only hope that by sharing my truth I can make it a little easier for others to share theirs too.”
A remarkable story of self-discovery and strength, Thirty Days with My Father truly proves that the only unbearable thing is that nothing is unbearable…
…and the fact that it does indeed get better.
Christal Presley will be doing a book signing here in Atlanta tonight! Be sure to stop in, grab a copy, and get a signature.
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