The protagonist in my first published book, Angels in the Mist, suffers PTSD from sexual assault when she was a teenager, and while many other strange things happen (it’s urban fantasy, after all), part of the book is focused on how that trauma has shaped (and ruined) her life because she didn’t know how to face it. For 18 years, she tries bandage after bandage, managing the symptoms of her trauma first with alcohol, then by isolating herself from the rest of the world, resigned to never having the sort of relationship she craves, relationships that “normal” people enjoy every day. Her life revolves around managing her flashbacks. She’s found a routine that works, and anything outside of that safety net is too risky to consider.
I’ve never experienced sexual trauma, for which I’m grateful, but it also puts the spark of doubt in my mind (and probably others) about my audacity to write on the subject. “How dare he try to imagine what I’ve been through? He can’t!” Accusing thoughts like those echoed in my mind, spurring me to research PTSD so I did understand, as much as possible, what living with it was like so I didn’t inadvertently downplay the seriousness of the disorder, nor trivialize the difficult journey of healing.
For those who haven’t read Angels in the Mist, I won’t spoil it for you except to say the protagonist’s path to healing is unconventional, to put it mildly, which is what drew me to Leah Braun’s Sex on Fire.
First, to Leah Braun I say bravo. Bravo for laying your soul bare to the world. Bravo for crafting an incredibly well-written book. Bravo for your perseverance, your strength of character, your devotion to yourself and your family. Bravo for your compassion and empathy, and most of all, bravo for the happiness you worked so hard to achieve.
Sex on Fire focuses on the effects of America’s “rape culture” on Leah, starting at the tender age of 5. Yes, 5. This is not a tale of child abuse or molestation, rather it’s a deep look at how aspects of our society affected the author since she was old enough to be affected, how those patterns recurred throughout her life, and how they shaped her into an affection- and approval-seeking addict who, thanks to her environment, only knew how to obtain these things through sex. Fortunately, it also tells of her gradual awareness of the behavior patterns that trapped her in unhealthy relationships, the help she sought, and the grueling journey of ups and downs that finally led to what most would consider a normal life. Maybe better.
I finished the book feeling like a better person than when I started, and if not better, then at least more aware. I have 2 daughters of my own. Leah’s outpour has given me a new perspective, clues to look for throughout their lives and, if I’m lucky, help prevent them from going through the same periods of intense sadness and helplessness she did.