Written By: Neil Newton
I am 57 and just recently, through talking to a child abuse survivor who runs a 5013c dedicated to
fighting child sexual abuse, I was finally outed as an abuse survivor and a PTSD victim. Or should I say I
outed myself. Part of the reason for this epic event was the expert ministrations of my friend the abuse
survivor. The other part I can only attribute to being sick of living the way I’ve lived for decades.
Over time I’ve come to see the public’s perception of PTSD, or lack of it, is found in what I like to call the
“suck it up” mentality that pervades our country. For me, It has been the bane of my existence and kept
me from moving forward; I too wanted to “suck it up” and saw it as my only way out. The “influencers”
who brought about this feeling in me are of the “bootstrapper” variety who accuse victims of trauma of
being week and self-indulgent. My American childhood as a male is full of certain brand of uneducated
commentary that takes the following form: “I had a crappy childhood. Everyone did. Suck it up.”
My contention is that as humans who are controlled, in a large part, by our biology, we can and do lose
our ability to “suck it up” based, not on anything even vaguely resembling choice, but on factors that are
beyond our control. We can start by describing the most fundamental period of our development as
humans. As infants we begin as totally clean slates that respond to forces around us without any choice
involved. The best example of this is something that hit the news shortly after the fall of the Soviet
Union. Romania, a fascist state up till that point, imploded after the murder of Ceausescus, the husband
and wife despots of Soviet era Romania. One of the results was an explosion of the number of orphans
and orphanages. One of the findings of various studies was the fact that many infants, unattended and
unloved actually showed signs of what is called “failure to thrive”. Despite the fact that all these baby’s
physical needs were taken care of and they were unharmed, the still displayed problems as they grew
up, experiencing substance abuse issues, a variety of health issues, anxiety, PTSD, baseless fear and, in
some cases, even the loss of their lives.
The same negative effects can be seen in children who are victims of various forms of child abuse. The
point is that infants and small children are not in a position to “decide” to be weak and to have their
minds and bodies deteriorate. It just happens based on a type of biological programming that is beyond
thought and will. And that is a flaw in human biology that the “bootstrappers” can’t understand or
And what about Adults who develop PTSD in later in later life based on unthinkable experiences and
extreme trauma. My passions for fighting ignorance regarding abuse and PTSD has two prongs. As a
victim of neglect I know the intractable glass half empty mentality that destroys opportunity and
relationships for abuse survivors. It also happens to be my misfortune to have been in a subway train on
911 as the Twin Towers went down. The details are unimportant. Suffice it to say that were were
trapped and had good reason to consider the possibility of our deaths. The denouement was spectacular
as our train violated years of subway protocol and actually moved backwards into the previous station,
Wall Street. The results have been signs of PTSD and respiratory problems. My sudden reactions to any
stimuli that remind me of certain aspects of my 911 experience is typical; it is not logical and comes on
me with no warning. A friend of mine who unfortunately experience the iconic 911 cloud as it bore
down on him and hundreds of other people, could not look into the setting sun without imagining that
something bad was going to happen.
As a survivor of 911 I’ve become concerned about the first responders who have fallen prey to bizarre
health problems and, of course, PTSD. Once particular case caught my attention; a policeman was
assigned to the office that kept the names of survivors of the tragedy and spent months telling most of
the people who came to him for help that their loved ones were most likely dead. Adding insult to
industry when all the survivors of 911 were finally tallied and the bereaved were notified, this particular
officer was sent to a stadium to pick through the twisted remains of the towers and look for body parts
of any kind. After months of this he finally began having panic attacks and was often unable to leave his
house. Other symptoms of PTSD followed.
The point of this story is that humans are built to take only so much horror and stress. Not everyone
reacts the same but we all share an intolerance to consistent trauma. Like the infants in Romania, we
don’t have the ability to override our biological limits. This is not by choice; it’s our nature.
The contention that we all need to be John Wayne at all times is not based on any fact or study but a
desire to live in a society where we all feel comfortable and powerful in our own skin, six gun bouncing
against our hips. As an American, I can see the appeal of that. But God and our bodies have other plans.
We have seen years of PTSD in returning soldiers for decades, much of which has been ignored. Can
dealing with the truth to help people who are in pain be a bad thing? Are we so in love with our “suck it
up” philosophy that we would ignore the demonstrations of repeated truth regarding PTSD?
My response to the “suck it up” crowd regarding the truth of PTSD: “Suck it up”!
Most articles that discuss the insidious process of PTSD, mention the brick wall of denial, the great
dragon that is your foe in ending the prison that is the aftermath of abuse and PTSD. As an American
and a male the “suck it up” mentality is rampant in my existence but I know that all of you have danced
with that snake in the form of denial, regardless of your gender or nationality.
The suck it up, bootsrap theory is based on the idea that we are not humans. A rather bold statement, I
agree. But what you’ll find if you read the literature on child hood development you’ll run across a term
called “failure to thrive”. The most recent spectacular example of this can be found in the numerous
descriptions of the orphans that filled orphanages after the fall of Romania. It seems that we are, in
many ways, clean slates as infants, small machines that react to external stimuli in pre-programmed
ways. One of the things that we as little machines require is nurturing. The point is, contrary to what the
“suck it up” theory would have us believel, infants can’t make a decisions to be weak and to react badly
to a lack of nurturing. It’s a reaction based on our biology.
My story is only one story, but it may be instructive to others because it doesn’t necessarily follw the
well worn pattern of many other PTSD vicitms. Starting from a non-spectacilar form abuse and coming
to the same sad PTSD conflict shows that tis is in our dna.