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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Anderson

Little Soldiers

Updated: Jun 4, 2023

The meeting

I have memories of quite a few different “planning meetings,” but basically, they were all similar to the example I am going to describe. As children we knew when shit was going to go down. You could feel it, and it followed a predictable pattern. Dad would start to get irritated about little things. He would start to be easily annoyed. Eventually, something would be the last straw, and off to the bar he would go. Now, one of the older children would take charge. These were basically strategy meeting for the upcoming battle. We were soldiers in a war. Assignments would be given, and eventually escape plans would be drawn up for our inevitable retreat. One of the older kids would take on dad, one of them would have to be back up, for when the first one went down. The twins were in charge of getting the guns. My job was to get the bullets. I was little and I could sneak around the fighting and separate the bullets from the guns if the twins failed. He could not kill us if he did not have bullets. The rest of us would scatter. The idea is, he cannot get us all. The older children would pull fire, so the little ones could get away.

I want to pause here to say that I do understand what I am saying, and I am deeply blessed to have been “the baby”. Every one of my sisters and brothers were willing to take on my dad to protect me.

In this memory, I don’t remember the details before, but I remember hearing the “key words” that moved me to action. My older yelled at me, “Now Debbie, GO!!” I watched my brother drive at my father. I watched my father’s fist hit my brother in the face. I watched my brothers eyes stat to unfocused as he started to slide down to the floor. Then he said, in a soft voice, “It’s too late. Just run.”

It was time for the scatter. Each of us was assigned a different neighbor to run to. I was the baby, so I got the closest one. The Lewis’s lived only a quarter mile away if you cut across the field. I slid on my snow boots and I started to run. The problem was, I was so little. It was so far, and the snow was so deep. It took so long. I had to stop and rest. The adrenaline was used up. I knew that I could not get to anyone in time to save anyone. By this time, what was done was done.

I tell people that I was born a Zen Master, and have been working back to neurotic mess. That usually gets me a laugh or a smile, but the reality is much darker. This is what happened to me. Instead of tears, a calm came over me. I noticed the moon, how it made the snow sparkle. I was no longer afraid. It was not that cold. My rest was over. There was nothing left to do but keep walking. I finished the last half of my hike in total acceptance. What I imagine a Zen Monk would be like, at total peace in the world. So I did. I enjoyed the night, and the moon, and I talked to it as if it was my friend.

Eventually, I arrived at the neighbor’s house. I knocked and knocked until I woke someone up. Disheveled and confused the woman looked down on me, and asked me what I was doing there at this time of night. With confidence, I gave her the lines that my siblings had me rehearse. I was there to use the phone to call the cops because my dad was trying to kill us again. Honestly, I still laugh at what a crazy thing this woman was experiencing. The old woman invited me in, woke up the husband, and her adult son. I told and retold the lines that my sisters had had me rehearse over and over again. I think I was young enough that I was just barley verbal, 2-3 years old. You know, the age that we start to talk, but half of it is not understandable. Eventually, it was decided that the men would take me and find out what was going on. While they heated up the truck, the woman fed me some cookies and juice, or something yummy like that.

When they took me home, no one was there. The men did not seem to know what to do. They talked a bit, then they decided to just leave me there, with the instructions to call them if anyone came home.

I remember looking at them in disgust. These grown men did not have the brains to figure out that if calling was an option, I would not have been at their house at 2 AM in the middle of winter to use their phone in my pajamas, now would I have. My dad ripped the phone off the wall more times than I could count, and you always got a beating for the effort. How stupid are you. I shrugged and went to bed. Again, not a bad night. No blood, no dead bodies. It was over, and I got cookies and juice out of the deal. But it was then that I realized that there was no help from other people. Those men, left me, a tiny child alone. Even if they did not believe me that my dad was on a rampage. They had to be smart enough to figure out that something scared me enough to send me out into the night in the middle of winter. Re-enforcing in me that old white men care about no one else but themselves. The woman at least gave me food. And I never asked for help again.

To this day asking for help is extremely hard for me. And if I do manage to humble myself to ask for help, and I am rejected, it makes it harder the next time. I am disgusted at best, at worse it continues to re-enforce to me my darkest parts, that I am all alone in the world. That I am unloved, unwanted, and uncared for. Nobody is going to help you. You are on your own. This is my battle, my mountain to climb. This is my trauma being projected onto other people. It effects my relationships, how I see and interact with the world. There could be a million very valid reasons that someone would not be able to help me. I must get past seeing the world as a hostile place, to seeing people as uncaring. It is not healthy for me to maintain this belief system. Isolation, separation is the worst punishment you can inflict on a person. It is the punishment that they use in prisons. It has been scientifically proven that it messes with our heads. It makes every mental health issue worse. And I, am doing this to myself. I know, I am doing it to protect myself, but it ultimately will make the situation worse.

So, every day I go to battle with myself, with the deep instinct to hide. I force myself to interact with people. To accept help, offer help, or ask for help if I need it. Nashville just two weeks ago is a good example of this. I am in down town Nashville, the concrete jungle that all cities are. I start having a panic attack. I start fighting it, looking for a safe place to ride it out. But, I am in a strange land, I don’t know were to go. And it hits. I start to shake. The tears start to blur my vision. My breathing starts to come in gasps. I must stop. Time is up. I sit down on the side walk and force myself to not roll into the fetal position, which is what my body is trying to do. I force myself to sit with my back against a building. One half of my brain is working on trying to steady my breathing. One side of my brain is freaking out. I am completely vulnerable. I can not move, I can not speak, I can not think. This is why people who have panic attacks begin to isolate, to not want to leave their homes. Because you never know when you are going to become a pile of goop and crazy.

So there I am losing my shit. People start to notice me. Most people walk on by, without looking at me. The first man who stops. He is clearly nervous. He tentatively asks if he can help me. Between gasps of breath and tears, I try to tell him that I am having a panic attack and that it will pass. I try my best to thank him for his concern, and let him know to just leave me alone. I know it did not come out well, but from my side. Just forcing myself to talk to him instead of running away, helped. Him stopping, just noticing me, helped me feel not so alone and scared. He did not know what to do, and eventually kind of wondered off. But, soon another man walked by. He just stated that I looked like I was having a hard time. He did not ask to help, he just stood there and talked to me. He told me he understood, and that he knew I was going to be alright. He did not really have any place to be and that he was just going to hang out with me for a little while. I wanted to send him on his way, to let me deal with this on my own. But I forced myself to accept his deep kindness and understanding. And he did. He just stood there and talked to me until he was sure I was better. And it helped. It helped in the moment, but it also helped me in the long term. His just staying with me as I went through it, made me feel supported, accepted. But it also changed the way that I felt about it. He changed a trauma into a learning and growing experience. Now, when ever I feel a panic attack coming on, instead of hiding, I turn to people. I force myself to go up to the next person I meet and start talking to them, ask for directions, a good place to get coffee. It does not matter, just interacting with them, helps. If I am alone, I will call or text a friend. And I will be honest with them, I will tell them that I am having a bad day and just need to vent, or someone to tell me that it is okay. Someone who will just talk to me until it passes.

Trauma creates distrust. Distrust creates isolation. Isolation creates messed up thinking, and increases mental health issues, which creates more isolation (maybe self imposed), which creates….you get the picture. Do you see why I keep preaching connection as the answer to healing trauma? Do you see why I keep chanting that healing comes only when we help each other. Division is making us sicker. Kindness, compassion, connection, that is the path to healing.

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