Amy Peterson is Ashley Loeb Blassingame’s guest on Episode 11 of The Courage To Change: A Recovery Podcast. Sexually abused and trafficked from a young age, Amy has utilized ongoing therapy to start healing from this long-term abuse, along with the substance abuse she used to dull the pain of her trauma. Today, she shares her therapeutic journey on Instagram (link) as part of her own recovery and to help other people who have experienced the same things.

We’ve edited her story for a quick read, and encourage you to listen to her whole story here. 

Amy grew up in Tacoma, Washington. The city’s nickname is “Grit City,” which Amy thinks is “really perfect for my tale because it took a lot of grit to get where I am today.” Her parents left a religious group called The Group, when the group’s leaders told them they had to leave their family and no longer have contact with them. Ten years later they had Amy, which was a surprise. 

Staying With Her Grandmother Gave Her Uncle Easy Access 

As Amy says, her mother “wasn’t really prepared to have me, and one of the ways she dealt with her own mental health issues, and her incapacity to be a mother at the time, was to send me over to Grandma’s.” Her uncle lived at her Grandmother’s house, which became the setup for him to have access at all times to Amy as a young child.

Amy’s uncle made her watch pornography with him and “read” Hustler magazine. This became material that inspired her uncle’s demands on her, sexually abusing her from the time she was 3. Amy shares that, “The last time he did it was when I was 17. So I’ve got this very long history of complex trauma between the sexual abuse that was also pretty physically violent.” Amy was also sex trafficked by her uncle from about 6 years old.

The first time Amy’s uncle sold her to another man — a stranger — was at an amusement park. While Amy didn’t fight back often because she learned quickly “that any sort of no was only going to lead to violence,” Amy tried to resist having to go with this strange man. But, based on her uncle’s reaction, Amy shares that she  “knew it was going to be better for me if I went with this complete stranger than if I didn’t.” 

Amy is still working on the anger and grief she has about her uncle letting her go off with a stranger. “This man could have kidnapped me, he could have killed me in the park, he could have done anything.”

I had an image of sex trafficking being people being brought in from other countries. Sex Trafficking is defined as the selling of a human being against their will for sexual purposes. 

At 15 Amy finally told her parents that her uncle had been harassing her. She expected their full support, but was disappointed by their response: “That’s what men like him do, and we just keep our mouth shut, and we move on because there’s nothing we can do about it.”  And so the harassment continued. At 17, Amy was drugged and then raped by her uncle for the last time. 

Turning to Alcohol and Drugs To Cope

Amy started to drink at about 16 years old to cope with the verbal, physical and sexual abuse. While her parents didn’t drink, they had lots of alcohol in the house which Amy had full access to and started drinking the “booze to start numbing myself.” 

At 17 she dislocated her shoulder during swim team practice, which she received muscle relaxers and Vicodin as part of treatment for her injury. Amy “milked the injury for months and months and months” to keep getting the drugs. “I needed more drugs so I could be able to stay in this numb state of not wanting to deal with an abusive boyfriend, the trauma with my uncle,” and abuse she recalled after mentally burying it. “For me, the best option at the time, since I just wanted the pain to stop, was to numb out.”

Amy used alcohol and drugs for years. She was lucky enough to marry a wonderful man and get a great job, but she could never escape the trauma of her childhood and teenage years. At 31, she was diagnosed with a congenital life-long chronic illness that is painful daily.

“I’ve Had Enough”

In 2017, she decided that she had had enough. She “had never dealt with all this trauma,” that had defined her life. Ultimately she called her insurance company to ask for referrals to a therapist. She recalls saying, “I don’t know how to adult. I really need help. How do I get through this?” The insurance company was very helpful and provided a vetted list of therapists appropriate for Amy’s situation.

In the podcast interview, Amy goes into great detail about her therapy, and how transformative it has been for her. 

After initial therapeutic sessions to determine the best course of action, Amy’s therapist recommended EMDR (link) – eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy, which is conditionally recommended for the treatment of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). In addition to the weekly sessions, patients in EMDR therapy journal, which Amy shares on her instagram feed. 

Amy adds, “I think on one hand, the therapy in it of itself is phenomenal, and it’s a great two hours of my week. It’s the best investment I’ve ever made, but it’s only two hours of my week, and I have to be able to practice that in the other hours of the week, to be able to actually make a change for myself.”

“Ultimately it’s about me making the choice to change, and utilizing this wonderfully educated, talented, compassionate individual to help me learn how to implement that. Because there’s a lot of great resources that you can write about in journal prompts, but they aren’t geared towards you, and your situation, and your circumstances, and who you are as a human being.”

Amy shares her journey on her Instagram page to help other people not feel alone. 

“I just want to put my voice out there, one, a little bit to chronicle for myself to refer back to, but also if someone else on this planet, even just one person can read this, and feel less alone, I’m starting to get teary-eyed, it would serve a greater purpose.”

Amy openly documents her therapy and healing journey on Instagram. You can follow her at  @cptsdchronicles. 

Quotes edited for clarity.