All six of my children experienced early childhood trauma before I adopted them. Three more significantly than their siblings – with two of the three diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Repeatedly over a three-year period, my oldest son was physically beaten.
Sometimes for punishment. Other times for no reason at all.
He was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time when his stepfather’s frustration turned to anger.
The lifelong damage had been done.
PTSD in the making
Then my oldest son brought his troubled past into my home. While he succeeded in overcoming many of his fears with my empathy and support, the deepest fears lie just below the surface.
Unfortunately, they recycled when he experienced ongoing stress. They quickly evaporated any sense of trust.
Each and every time, my son assumed the worst. Fight or flight the only options in his traumatized brain.
At that point, he felt compelled to defend himself at any cost.
- Displaying incredible strength
- Raging for one to two hours.
- Using his fist like a well-trained boxer
- Then abruptly ending the chaos.
- Without recalling the details.
Even with years of therapy, layers of trauma remained within my son.
Life has never been easy for him. Although highly intelligent in the gifted range, he could easily be backed into a corner. His fears take over.
Six years into a prison sentence for fist fight deemed aggravated assault, he’s spent countless hours reading about trauma and expressing his emotions through writing. Here’s one of his many poems with obvious sensitivity and intense imagery.
Inside looking out
Dark clouds flash
Lighting thundering rage
Driven by bleak winds of sorrow
Through endless night
Cloaked wanderer stumbles groping
Blindly seeking an angel to give him tomorrow
Inside looking in
Light streams all around
Pull back the curtain, open the window
Expel the demon of darkness
Beauty warms me
Newborn eye opens stretching illuminated wings
Grateful soul in wonder
Angel of tomorrow awakens
Heart on fire
All in one through love
Love is freedom
I bless myself through the grace I inspire
For years my son and I have corresponded monthly – allowing us both time to reflect. His insight into his past continues to grow.
Your last letter was full of good stuff. I really identity with what you said about emotions making situations appear bigger than they are – and about putting things in perspective. I found what you said to be so true in my experience.
Lately I realized that I actually need time to really a understand a situation. To process it fully.
Sometimes something happens and I immediately come under the grip of strong emotions. I can’t stop it from coming – even with emotional self-talk. I’ve tried. I have to disconnect or escape from the situation – then isolate myself where I can process everything that happened. Otherwise I react violently even when I know it’ll make things worse.
I don’t like it, but it’s my reality.
Last month I had an incident that was a result of this phenomenon.
I had been arguing with a correctional officer through my locked door. As he approached the door, he aggressively looked at me and told me, “I’ll shut you up.”
Since I’ve had experiences throughout my life where people in positions of authority have physically abused me off camera, my adrenaline immediately started pumping. I yelled at him, “Don’t open that door.”
He ignored me and yanked it open. As the threat became all too real, I reacted instinctively That’s when I struck him three or four times and knocked him unconscious. It was like I was on autopilot until he fell to the ground. I looked down at him numbly and felt sick. Although I had messed up again, the moment felt like a dream.
The Captain and Lieutenant didn’t want to hear my side of the story. They didn’t care when I mentioned my PTSD.
I know his truth. His pain. His reality.
From child with PTSD to adult with PTSD, my son is not alone. His experience is not unique for adults who spent time in foster care. His experience is not unique for adults who were adopted.
Hopefully his story will continue to educate and increase awareness. DCP
If moved by my son’s journey, you are welcome to write him. Letters only – no pictures or inserts. One author per letter. Return address must be printed on envelope – no labels.
Alexander Peterson #178999
Pendleton Correctional Facility
5124 West Reformatory Road
Pendleton, IN 46064
Craig Peterson publishes EACH Child every Tuesday. To subscribe, open this link and “Like” the page. EACH Child is Special: Working Smarter Not Harder to Raise Every ONE
To follow Craig’s journey in raising his six children with special needs, click here: Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love
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To watch Andrew’s amazing ESPN 14-minute documentary, click here. Andrew Peterson ESPN Documentary