Washington-based writer Gayle Trotter spoke with Dawn Eden about her new book, “My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints, based on her experiences and how faith helped heer to recover..
Gayle Trotter: Why do you think that Catholics should learn about sexual abuse?
Dawn Eden: The problem of sexual abuse crosses all social groups, all religions. In the United States one out of four adult women and one out of six adult men report having been sexually abused in childhood. So the problem is quite wide.
GT: Is your book only for people who have suffered sexual abuse or for others as well?
DE: What I really wanted to do before writing “My Peace I Give You” was to write a book that would give us a theology of suffering. Only in the Catholic faith do we really have this deep understanding of what it means to be part of the mystical body of Christ. We are united to the passion of Christ in all our suffering. Our Savior is wounded and His wounds are now glorified.
Our Lord says He passes woe on those who would harm little ones. Our Lord says of the abuser it would be better if a millstone were fastened around his neck and he was thrown into the depths of the sea than if he should harm one of these little ones. Woe on the abuser, not on the abused.
But because children do blame themselves for their abuse and do carry around this terribly misplaced shame, it is very healing for victims of childhood sexual abuse to know that our wounds can become the cracks through which Christ’s light gets in.
Anyone who suffered any kind of trauma or pain, whether physical, emotional or spiritual, can benefit from this. But I chose to write for victims of childhood sexual abuse because there was no other book for such victims. “My Peace I Give You” is the first book on such healing ever to receive official approbation from the church.
GT: How did you decide to write about the saints in the context of sexual wounds?
DE: I myself am a victim of childhood sexual abuse. It occurred when I was growing up in a nominally Jewish home. I am a convert to Catholicism. As a convert to the Catholic faith, I knew that I was called to be a saint. At first, since I was still carrying around this misplaced self-blame from my abuse, I looked at the lives of saints and I thought, gosh, if I am called to be a saint, I am really in trouble because I have suffered this childhood sexual abuse. And I do not see any saints who went through anything like what I went through.
GT: You did a bit of investigative work about the saints. What were you looking for?
DE: When I was researching, I asked if there was any saint or blessed who had been violated. During the very early Christian era, we do know that there were virgin martyrs who were raped prior to martyrdom but we do not have their names.
I thought that for people who were violated it would be meaningful to have the name of someone who had been through precisely what they had experienced.
GT: Did you fear publicly disclosing your difficult childhood experiences?
DE: I did not fear disclosing what had happened to me. I did fear what my mother would say because most people who talk about these things do so after their parents have passed away, like Frank McCourt did with “Angela’s Ashes.” It is very rare for someone to go public about this when a parent who enabled their abuse or encouraged their abuse is still alive.
It was very difficult for me in my communications with my mother and in my attempt to bring in God’s healing as much as possible.
My mother’s actions were not entirely evil. Inasmuch as that I am alive today and able to do good things, this is in some way the result of the fact that my mother took care of me and tried in her way to instill some good things in me.
It is important to realize these things, because our memories form our identity, and if we shut out memory completely, we are also shutting out our identity.
What the saints did, the saints who had undergone trauma, whether it was sexual abuse or any kind of trauma, they learned how to integrate their memories with who they became.
GT: Did you hear stories of pain and also encouragement from others who had also suffered sexual abuse?
DE: Yes. Now that the book is out, I am hearing painful stories almost every day. Whenever I hear a story I think, thank God this person is reaching out. However painful the story is, it is so much better that the person is sharing it rather than keeping the pain inside.
That is the beginning of healing. If you can bring it to another person, then you can also bring these wounds before God, which is the most important thing, to be able to offer these wounds to God as your sacrifice up on the offertory with the Mass knowing that God wants this sacrifice.
GT: How would you recommend supporting someone who has been sexually abused?
DE: The first thing to say is, I am so sorry about what happened to you. The Bible tells us to weep with those who weep. That is an act of mercy. Second, definitely pray for the person who has revealed this to you.
Beyond that, find out how you can best be there, remembering that the person’s walk is his or her own. You cannot be everything to that person. You can be present as a friend, as a family member. There may be other ways that you can help such as helping find a good spiritual director, helping find a therapist, one who respects his or her faith.
Your presence and your prayer will help. For people who have been abused, one of the hardest things can be to realize that God was there loving her even in the most painful parts of her life.
God never positively wills that anyone should sin or that anyone should commit any kind of evil or have evil done to them. God only permits evil because He can bring about good that is greater than the evil. God permits evil because He wants us to be able to freely know and love Him. In a world where people have free will, there is evil. But the object in God’s eyes is always that this greater good be brought forth, and the greater good is our knowing and loving Him.
I will not know in this life how good came out of every single evil thing that happened to me. If I dwell on the particular evil events of my childhood and think, how could any good come from that, that is a dead end.
But the good is in the here and now because somehow through everything that I have done and everything that was done to me, God brought me to Him. For that I can be very thankful.
God is always calling us to reach out into the deep, go beyond our own suffering and reach out to others. That gift of healing is something that everyone who has ever been victimized can now bring to others who suffer, and that is something very beautiful.
Gayle Trotter is a Washington, D.C.-based tax and small business lawyer in private practice and a mother of six children. She blogs at http://www.gayletrotter.com and contributes to the Evangel blog at First Things