Anne Peterson, author, poet and public speaker shares her very personal account as a survivor of childhood physical abuse. She has overcome many experiences of loss and grief and lives with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
I freeze. Tears run down my reddened face. I have to get out of here.
PTSD. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It’s funny how real struggles can be reduced to letters.
Remember the television show, Quantum Leap? One moment Samuel Beckett would be living his regular life, when in an instant he was thrust to another time and place either in the past or the future. A place he didn’t choose.
That’s kind of what PTSD is like. Except when buttons get pressed your mind travels back in time while your body stays here.
When PTSD first came on the scene it was associated with wartime soldiers and the horrific things they experienced.
I’m here to tell you there are different wars. Some wars are fought without guns. People will often tell others, “Forget your past.”
And some people are able to do that. Those with PTSD try to, but their past keeps finding them. And then holds on tight.
Having grown up in an abusive home, my radar is always on. We never knew what would happen next as children. Who would get it. Our older brother Gus was often the first target when Dad slipped off his belt. It was brutal. The rest of us cringed in our rooms, knowing we were next.
We’d plead, “Dad stop.”
“Put your hands down or you’re gonna get it even worse!” he’d yell.
And when we lowered our hands from our faces, we still got it.
I hated when Dad cut my brothers’ hair. Towering over them, he’d slap them if they moved the tiniest bit.
“Stupid idiot! I said don’t move!”
If the electric trimmer cut too close, their flinching earned them another slap. I don’t remember one tearless haircut.
As far as my buttons. Well, most of them are tied to authority. No surprise there. I grew up scared to death. A stern look was enough to make me crumple up. Add a belt and you get the picture.
I spent most of my life afraid and when I left home, my memories of abuse followed. Even years after my Dad’s death, buttons still get pressed.
Authority still equals fear
Rushing to an appointment I forgot the speed limit on Main Street had been lowered. The police didn’t.
Seeing the flashing lights in my rearview mirror I froze. As the officer approached my car, No longer was I an adult who takes responsibility for her mistakes. Instead I was a little girl who knew she was in trouble. And trouble meant pain.
Hearing the fine would be $200.00, my tears were unstoppable.
My day in court
Then came my court date, an opportunity to explain my actions, maybe get a lesser fine. I had to try.
I sat on the edge of my seat waiting for my turn. I was on high alert. I scrutinized each person’s actions as they were called, so I knew what to do.
Hearing my name, I shot up like a bullet. The man in the suit talked too fast, or was I hearing in slow motion?
After a few questions, he directed me to a clerk to pay my fine. What happened to seeing a judge? I couldn’t ask, my words were being held hostage in my mind.
And I couldn’t risk looking stupid. Not anymore.
I paid the fine with money earmarked for my electric bill. Once inside my car, tears cascaded down my face.
Asking about Driving Safety Class, I decided to take it. Maybe it would lower my fine. But though I wasn’t sure, I couldn’t ask because… Well you know why.
A week later I drove to the driving class, held at the community college. Though I never received directions, I assumed it would be easy to find. Looking at the five buildings I started shaking inside.
Walking through the empty hall of the first building I remembered being tardy to grammar school as a little girl. My heart started beating faster. Not now. I need to stay in the present.
A kind gentleman in the parking lot made a call and located my class. Running inside, I said to a woman behind the counter, “I need to get to room 101. I’m here for the Driving class.”
“No,” she stated, “It’s already started, you can’t go in.”
“Can’t I just talk to the instructor?” I pleaded.
“No,” she repeated. “But if you like, you can sign up here for another class. But you’ll have to pay again.”
Smiling weakly, I thanked her and left. Maybe my Dad was right, maybe I was stupid.
Once in my car, more tears. I drove home defeated. I had wasted not only my energy but also more money.
People who live with PTSD never know what their days will be like because they never know when those buttons will go off.
I once asked a counselor, “Can I stop the buttons from going off?”
“No,” he explained. “But you can learn how to deal with them more effectively.
So I watch what I tell myself: You’re gonna be okay.
Before I knew about PTSD, I wondered why things affected me in such a big way? I discovered the more powerless, the younger I was when I was traumatized.
I’m thankful for the help I’ve received through the years. Thankful for greater understanding about something that used to cripple me. That still tries to.
There is help for people who suffer with PTSD. And you can learn to self-soothe. That makes all the difference in the world.
The next time you see someone dissolve in tears. Be patient. The truth is, you never know what buttons just went off. You just never know.
Some of Anne’s Poetry
not my image,
my image still, not me. But my reflection
is the one!
that you reflect,
Every day I took
another step back
and then I wondered
where everyone went.
in the quiet of the night
thoughts awaken me
screaming what I should have done
beating up on me.
Would you step
a little closer
just to let me see,
my own reflection
in your eyes
You thought that I forgave you
from all the things you heard,
For I recited things I knew,
but didn’t mean a word.
Inside my heart I stuffed my pain;
I did it all along,
You thought that I forgave you;
but I’m afraid, you’re wrong.
I wasn’t one to fight at all
I couldn’t do it well
And when I did get angry
I couldn’t even yell
The anger lived inside me
All locked away for years
The only way it got away
Was through my many tears
Anne Peterson is well acquainted with grief and PTSD, having sustained multiple losses in her life in addition to suffering physical abuse as a child. Anne is a poet, speaker, a published author of four books and 42 published Bible Studies and 27 articles with christianbiblestudies.com/Today’s Christian Woman. Her poetry is available 23 countries, and gift stores throughout the U.S.
Her favorite title is still “Grandma”.
To find out more about Anne you can visit her at: