I really have learned a lot about trauma. Life has helped, but writing Mirrored Reflections really gave it a greater reality. I now have a better understanding about PTSD and Complex Trauma. And it all started with a television show.

Dancing with the Stars  was the show when J.R. Martinez won the mirrored trophy with Karina Smirnoff in 2011. Yep, my story started then. Karina made J.R. so sexy. You see J.R Martinez is a burn survivor — someone  who  has been  scarred by a fire of some sort — a roadside bomb, fireworks, BBQ grills. Watching Karina so seductively caress J.R.’s visible scars made me realize my own reaction to other people’s physical tragedies.

I once read an article (that I have since lost unfortunately) about what a burn survivor has to deal with — debridement, when the burned flesh must be removed and cleansed. To say undergoing that is hell in itself is an understatement. The writer/nurse had me in tears. With the reality of what burn scars do to a person’s body emotionally is hard, now add this procedure, that is absolutely necessary…no wonder they struggle with PTSD.

Then I uncovered human trafficking and how that horror destroys the person’s soul. These scars you rarely see, but they are as real and deep as any scar on anyone’s flesh. Thus, these survivors struggle with Complex Trauma.

What I learned during my research is that PTSD is usually an episode such as a roadside bomb as it was for J.R. As the therapist in my story Mirrored Reflections says, PTSD is like being in World Trade Center when the plane hits. As the floors above collapse above you, you race down the stairs. You escape the building but the concussion behind you flings you into an ambulance that races you to a hospital where you are saved…but not your friends.

Complex trauma is  years of constant trauma as in human trafficking, where the survivor is emotionally destroyed , it also applies to kidnap victims, children/wives/husbands of abuse, and slavery. This is like driving into an underground parking garage. It starts on Level A is where you are a teen who is grounded without a phone. Level B — your boyfriend deserts you for your best friend. Level C –your husband/wife cheats on you. Level D  — you are beat up and raped…and so on. Down and down and down you go until you reach Level Z. At  each level, one light bulb goes out. Under the one lit bulb on Level Z,  you step out at into rising water, and you realize…you have to get out …NOW! But the only way out is back up the way you came in…one level at a time. Have you ever tried to find exits out of underground parking buildings??

When you do finally escape, you  are flung out into society and into  rush-hour traffic where everyone is yelling at you to get out of the way and  calling you names when you don’t know where you are. Finally, you make it to the sidewalk filled with NYC pedestrian traffic and are shoved into trash barrels and walls. You are fu….king lost. Where to turn? What to do? Then along comes someone, an angel, who sees your trauma and stops. They lead you to a bench and ask softly, “Are you alright? Do you need help?” 

What I learned researching trauma and writing Mirrored Reflections is that we all need to be more like angels and those  who struggle with life’s trauma are survivors  not victims. I hope my story — with Chad, a burn survivor and Sierra, a trafficked child – will help you  see why angels are so important. Thank God for the Phoenix Burn Society and Truckers Against Trafficking for they are angels out there.  Let’s be more like them.

from hell to hope



Opposites attract and Chad and Sierra are that. Chad is destroyed on the outside by a suicide bomber while Sierra is broken on the inside by human trafficking. They are each other’s reflection of who they are – beautiful but ravaged by life. Chad Michaels, an Afghan vet, comes home to a suicide bomber who destroys not only his family but the man he was. Now, he must deal with life as a burn victim — as a monster. Sierra doesn’t see a monster. She sees the  beautiful man Chad truly is.

Not all wounds are flesh. Many are inside one’s soul where Sierra Smith’s scars run deep. Yet, Chad sees the innocence that Sierra fails to see within herself. Kidnapped at the early age of six, Sierra was raised to become a high-end prostitute who now dreams of becoming a nurse…someone who helps heal people not service them. But her past relentlessly haunts her. Sierra and Chad are determined to help each other heal from their traumas – whatever it takes. And, somehow, with God’s help, they will survive to see a brighter day.


JF Ridgley is the author of eight novels and short stories set in ancient Rome and three contemporary romance novels. She loves researching history and writing fiction based on real stories of real people. She also loves to write contemporary romance because the ancient Roman saying of ‘Live. Love. Laugh.’ is just as true today. For more at  JFRIDGLEY.COM

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