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PTSD and Breaking the Cycle of Abuse

by Laura on May 31st, 2013

We’re back to trauma and PTSD today.

If you wanna know the depths of a person’s trauma/drama/abuse/crazy, or in my case why-she’s-so-darn-messed-up … you’ve gotta read her memoir. She was a great supporter of my memoir, and I’d been bugging her about the publication of hers.

Reaching, a memoir, now available on Amazon, shows how a legacy of abuse, neglect and down-right maliciousness can damage a child. You can read my review here.

It’s only by what some would say “the grace of God,” or luck, or the fact that she is a beautiful, loving person, that she married a good man and started a strong and loving family.

But that didn’t mean that her abuse was over. Grace was so traumatized, that she didn’t even realize that the help she sought from a well-known pastor … was a wolf in shepard’s clothing. You read that right. Brock was no sheep. He was a born leader, and he led Grace into further confusion, delusions, and lies. Reaching is the story of how Grace got herself to that point, and how she ultimately survived.

Today we’re talking a bit about the role her mother played in how Grace viewed herself, and about PTSD triggers.

The mother. The father.

Laura — Your writing is so incredibly evocative. I found your prose easy to read and to lose myself in, but I wanted to savor it; because the images you conjure are so vivid. Early on, here’s your reaction at having to stay at the home of “scary aunt and scary uncle”

Hysterical tears and unabashed vocals mix with snot and errant tufts of hair in an effort to alert the mother of my displeasure. (7)

The descriptions of your physical state, the weather, how you’re driving … they all relate directly to the life experience you’re describing.

But what I’m really intrigued with is this device you use–seemingly to distance yourself from certain family members, especially “the mother” and “the father.” It works beautifully. As readers, we GET it.

Can you talk a little about how you came up with this literary device, and why it’s so important to the storyline?

Grace — Thank you, Laura. It was the only way that felt authentic.

Writing “my mother” and “my father,” felt intensely fabricated. “My” implies ownership and connection. I never had that with the people who birthed me. I wasn’t sure if my editor would go for it but she did. I’m glad you “got it.”

Abused women who then abuse their kids

Laura — As you know, I have little kids. So, I completely connect to this notion of having all this fucked-up-shit that I’m dealing with, and yet, putting it aside in the fierce determination to be a good mother. One thing that, in my view, was particularly traumatizing for you was “the mother’s” emotional neglect

Without really thinking about it, at nine years old, I begin living my life as an orphan, a motherless daughter, emotionally independent. (26)

After your second child is born , “the mother” seems to walk out of your life completely. Does that mean no more letters, no more contact? I’m just so curious–you mention that this was the “family pattern,” that her mom was like this, and so on … what do you think caused her to be so incredibly cold towards her children? Do you have any idea if she was abused also? How have you processed this mother-loss, this grandma-loss for your kids?

Grace — I’m not really sure if I have processed it.

I know it still really pisses me off that my kids have been cheated out of the blessings of relatives, of “the village.” (Except for my sister who is awesome.) But part of this is my doing because distancing myself from people is a skill I learned at a very young age.

As a new mother I tried one final time, following the birth of baby number 3, to connect with the woman who birthed me. But she wasn’t interested.

To protect myself from further hurt, I put an end to the hope of a loving mother and unlike so many who can accept a perfunctory relationship I chose the “nothing” in the all-or-nothing approach. I wasn’t going to continue to do things her way, polishing the veneer but refusing to open the lid and clean up the toxic mess inside, if this makes sense.

“The mother” was abused. Her mother was devoid of any ability to nurture. She was mean. But this is no excuse. I had zero nurturing but somehow, by the grace of God, was able to connect to and nurture my children. It’s a great mystery to me why some mothers who grow up in horrific environments can break the cycle while others perpetuate it.

What was the actual trigger of the PTSD?

Laura  – It’s like … here you were, having a normal relationship with your husband, bearing children. And then your religious faith turned from devout to cult-like … and then things got worse.

At what point do you think the PTSD came on? Was it with you from adolescence? The reason I ask is because trauma and abuse can happen–but the mind creates coping mechanisms, “I’m okay, I’m over it, it’s not that big of a deal, I don’t want to complain, others have it worse.” That type of thing.

But then the headaches, panic attacks, tingling and other physical symptoms take hold. So, was the PTSD there during your adolescence, or was it actually triggered by something? [I’m thinking of Juanima Hiatt’s story in which her PTSD of childhood and teenage abuse were triggered by the traumatic birth experience of her second child.]

Grace — Anxiety began when I was very young but I was unable to identify it.

When I was 17 and having panic attacks in cars, I concluded that I must have died in a car wreck at that age in a previous life. I was too young and naive to look at my history of car traumas and consider PTSD. It was the late 1970s and would be another twenty years before I heard the term and could identify with it.

Living and dealing with anxiety on a constant, moment-by-moment basis was the norm. I did my best to abide by my mental “Do Not Do That” list to avoid triggers, but I also proceeded with living my life, knowing I was messed up but trying desperately to be happy. I compared myself to my struggling siblings and felt intense guilt for having such a good life and yet being miserable inside.

But while the PTSD was there all along, manifesting as perpetual anxiety both awake and asleep, having children and dealing with postpartum issues exacerbated it.

Then a horrific trip down memory lane sent me reeling over the edge.

Looking back, I should have gotten help sooner. I should have recognized that what I was dealing with wasn’t normal and that help was available. I wish my OB/GYN could have seen the markings of a counterfeit life and helped me but I was very adept at being phony and hiding my true colors. Until I couldn’t.

*  *  *  *  *

Thanks so much, Grace!

Grace has generously offered to do a book giveaway of Reaching to one random commenter.

Congrats to Trace DeMeyer for winning a signed copy of Rhonda Noonan’s The Fifth and Final Name!

Grace Peterson is an author, garden columnist and blogger. She is the proud mother of four grown children and four friendly felines. She has been married to her best friend since 1980. Reaching is her first book. Her second book, Grace In The Garden will be published later this year. She can be reached by visiting her blog,

“Rain Cloud Over Sea” by vorakorn from, other photos courtesy of Grace Peterson.

  1. Starr permalink

    Grace…your statement:

    "To protect myself from further hurt, I put an end to the hope of a loving mother and unlike so many who can accept a perfunctory relationship I chose the “nothing” in the all-or-nothing approach. I wasn’t going to continue to do things her way, polishing the veneer but refusing to open the lid and clean up the toxic mess inside, if this makes sense."

    …totally makes sense to me and in fact I could have written it about my choice in not continuing a relationship with my birth mother for the same reasons.

    It helps give me perspective that you feel this way despite the fact that she didn't relinquish you (well, not physically anyway but I suspect she did emotionally). Maybe our situations have more to do with simply having disfunctional mothers rather than being about a myriad of other factors.

    I am encouraged that we are breaking the cycles going forward with our own children by doing our best to "be there" for them in ways that our mothers were not "there" for us.

    Thank you for sharing and I look forward to reading your memoir!

  2. Hi Starr,

    Thank you for your comments. It's true isn't it? A person can only be yanked around so much before saying, enough! I believe taking a stand helps rid us of the "victim" mentality and puts us in the driver's seat. As much as I wanted the mother to be "MY" mother, she let it be known that it wasn't going to happen. Life can suck sometimes. I have a mother-void but I've got a good life.

    I hope my book speaks to you. Please feel free to tell me your thoughts. Thanks again.

  3. Rhonda permalink

    I can't wait to read Grace's memoir, Reaching.

    Her statement, "Then a horrific trip down memory lane sent me reeling over the edge," hits me with similar PTSD that I address with my memoir.

    PTSD is a huge issue and it seems that we, who seem more vulnerable, are taken advantage of is horrific ways.

    Religious abuse and post-adoption issues are something we all need to speak about.

    It would be an honor to receive a signed copy of this memoir!

    Thank you!

  4. Hi Rhonda,

    Thank you for your comments. Fortunately it seems that PTSD is more legitimized now and there is help available–legitimate help! :) Good luck with your memoir.

  5. Dear Laura and Grace,

    I just started reading REACHING and I have to say, I am riveted by the story and the haunting voice of this little girl who is craving attention and love. I'm so sorry for all you've had to endure, Grace. To see you as you are now is a remarkable testimony to the resilience of the human spirit and certainly keeps me turning those pages. I agree, referring to "the mother" is a very effective technique for showing the distance you felt from her. Thank you both for this excellent interview and for all you are both doing to increase awareness and hope for those dealing with abuse and PTSD.

  6. Hi Kathy,

    You are such an encouragement! The word "riveting" is exactly the kind of thing an author wants to hear. Thank you for your friendship. I agree with you that Laura's PTSD series has been very informative and so important. Kudos to you Laura. Have a great weekend.

  7. Grace, I have not read your book yet but want to soon. From this interview with Laura, I sense such pain and hurt in your life. For that I am so sorry. And I'm thankful that you met someone with whom you were able to build a loving and warm family life. I too felt neglected, first by a parent and then by my first husband, with the same types of verbal and emotional abuse. So, I know what finding that love of your life feels like. I am so happy that you've realized and began dealing with your PTSD. And I'm so anxious to meet you somewhere between Portland and Albany! Let's work on that.

    Laura, thank you, and others, for highlighting the devastation of PTSD and its symptoms and triggers. Often it is thought PTSD only affects those serving in the military, and we need to make the public aware this is not so. You are doing a great service.

  8. Hi Sherrey,

    Yes, we definitely need to meet. With memoir writing, gardening and living in Oregon in common we are kindred spirits. I'm sorry that we also have difficult childhoods in common. I'm glad you found love and are happy now. Everyone deserves this.

    I agree. Laura is doing a tremendous service by focusing on such a difficult subject. PTSD is hell. But there is help.

  9. I was excited to hear of this interview and I'm even more anxious, now, to read her book.

    Thank you for sharing!

  10. Thank you Mindy. I am anxious to hear what you think.

  11. Grace, thank you so much for sharing your story. I hope it brought you some healing, as mine did for me. It's not easy coming to that place of acceptance with a rotten childhood, but I found – as you did – that until we do, we are trapped by it. We are held prisoner by the pain. It's not fair that any child grows up without the loving arms of great parents, and I'm so sorry you went through that. But what a testimony, and a statement of strength and courage, to go on to live a great life. Stand tall and proud, my friend. Your courage will inspire many to start anew, finding what they are grateful for today, so that they can start writing a NEW life story. xo

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