This wrenching memoir of child abuse provides a road map to emotional recovery.
Handy (The Gatehouse: Enhancing Resilience in Adults Manuals 1 to 3, 2003, etc.) grew up one of seven children in Ontario, Canada. Her father, “The King,” worked in a Ford plant before becoming an Anglican priest and ruled the household dictatorially. He hit the author and sexually abused her between ages 7 and 15. Handy herself was an Anglican priest for a time, but as a lesbian, she felt “there was no place for me.” She also believes that the church tacitly condoned the abuse she experienced. (Her father confessed while in a mental hospital, but doctors assumed he was reporting hallucinations.) Leaving the church placed Handy in “a mournful limbo of identity,” yet she was determined to maintain “spiritual fluidity…without the trappings of formal religion.” She refers to the divinity she first encountered in nature as a child and regained decades later by the lovely metaphor of “the god of the cherry tree hills.” Handy conveys the arc of her experience without dwelling on the details of her abuse. Her memories are brief and impressionistic, augmented by her striking woodcut-style black-and-white illustrations. Having worked with child abuse victims for 30 years, she recognizes patterns of behavior similar to her own and explicates them clearly in the almost academic format of numbered sections. Three essential survival skills, she writes, are a belief in something greater than oneself, humor, and intelligence; four markers of resilience are autonomy, self-care, community, and being one’s own advocate. Detaching from the body and keeping silent are common responses to abuse, but the author warns that these can lead to suicidal thoughts, lashing out at others, and emotional numbness. Instead, she offers steps in the direction of forgiveness. There are a handful of unfortunate typos (“Forward” not Foreword, “exits” for exists, and “lays bear” instead of bare), but the book as a whole is well-presented and will no doubt be a valuable resource.
Heartfelt advice for how abuse victims can “live above the pain of the past.”