Holiday Craziness

Many of us get anxious at holidays. It’s hard for the holidays ever to live up to our expectations. And of course we carry with us all the old hurts and patterns.

Kids absorb the family’s craziness that comes out with special intensity at holidays. My father was snarly and temperamental at Christmas and we would tiptoe around his anger. Fifty years later, my mother told me some background. Father always put off buying presents until the last minute, a typical pattern of his. Then he never could find all the things he wanted to buy to make us happy. Because of that, he was angry at himself, so he grumped around the house and made everyone miserable!

As a kid, all I knew was the thickness of the tension. I tried to made it all right by being extra good. That’s still the temptation at Christmas, to try to make everyone happy.

This year I’m giving my poems as presents, along with donations to local charities. I’m trying to relax into the realities of life, family, and friends—loving and imperfect.

Miss America By Day, a memoir of sexual abuse and healing

Miss America By Day is a gutsy, revealing memoir by Marilyn van Derbur, the former Miss America. She begins with a description of a family that, from the outside, looked incredibly privileged and wonderful, but from the inside was hell. Marilyn divided herself into the day child and the night child, in order to survive. The day child wished desperately to please Daddy, while the night child was Daddy's sexual victim. Her mother refused to hear her cries for help.

We follow her through high school, college, marriage. The book's compendious view of the author's life is both a strength and a weakness. While giving us a sweeping view, it also means we don't stay in once place for long.

With incredible bravery, van Derber shows how very dysfunctional she was made by the aftermath of the abuse, at the same time that she managed to have a very public, very successful career. She was fortunate to marry a terrifically supportive man, and some of the scenes in which he responds to her odd behaviors with understanding and love moved me to tears. She goes on to show the ways in which she healed and how much hard work was involved. Finally she rounds out this hefty book with sections on how to prevent child abuse and how to talk with children.

It's an intense, gripping read and an important service van Derbur has done.

Paths to Healing from Childhood Sexual Abuse

  • Self-knowledge
  • Love
  • Creativity
--those were the paths I took after memories of sexual abuse came to me 13 years ago.

Self-knowledge means not only finding out "what happened." In fact I, like many others, only recovered fragments of memory. I don't need all the memories to come back. More important, I see how the oppression of the abuse reverberated through my life and relationships. With love and creativity, I see how to change those patterns.

Love is central to healing. My therapist showed me unconditional love and regard. She taught me how to love my wounded inner child and all aspects of myself. Every day I learn more about how to be loving to myself and thus to the world.

Creative expression through writing, art, and dance has been vital for me to get the feelings "out there" in ways that I could observe and integrate. Sometimes it's wild and jagged, sometimes calm and integrative. Creativity is a flowing river of soul.

My memoir Beyond Memory details the process of using these three paths to come to a profound healing. It is my hope to add this to the bookshelf of memoirs. Most of them detail the abuse itself, while mine shows the life beyond.

Inner Safety after Childhood Abuse

When we’re abused as children, we learn to feel that the world is not safe. Often it doesn’t take much for our fears to be triggered. As I begin to shop my memoir to agents, making my story known in the wider world, I meet rejection and dismissal. Sometimes my Inner Child gets scared.

Through years of intensive work in therapy and on my own, I’ve learned to find a safe place inside myself. Yesterday I sent out another round of query letters to agents. This morning I sat in my rocking chair, listening to the little girl inside me. She wanted to be held and safe, so I rocked her. I told her how brave she is and how loving. I told her that we’re writing this memoir for other scared little kids living inside brave grownups.

I’m so glad that I had the help I needed to find this inner safety. It makes all the difference.

A Memoir about Healing from Abuse

I met with an agent last Saturday at a local writers’ conference. She kept saying, “But incest has been done. What is new about this one?” I kept saying, “But this one is about the healing, not about the details of what happened long ago.”

Am I wrong that this is new? Of the two dozen abuse memoirs I know, most mention therapy and healing only on a few pages. The last third of I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You deals with recovery, with a few therapy scenes. The proportion in Martin Moran’s wonderful The Tricky Part is similar. The Obsidian Mirror does deal intensively with integrating multiple, wounded selves.

What I’m writing is the terrifying, painful, tender, and loving story of healing through a deep course of therapy and through my creative process. Much of this was through Inner Child work. I felt more vulnerable writing the tender good parts than the awful ones. Perhaps that’s why few other people have written such stories. I think there is a place for this story in the world.

Please let me know if there are other memoirs about healing that I’ve missed.

Memoir "Beyond Memory" seeks agent

It begins with an unsolicited memory: I am three years old and it hurts to pee. Now a middle-aged scientist, I am incredulous. My family may have been eccentric but it was loving, surely not supportive of sexual abuse. But, as cracks in a levee precede a flood, the memories keep coming. My father’s affairs, his self-indulgence, his temper. My mother’s passivity. The signs are plain. A succession of body memories sends me into a fog of dissociation. In an eerie echo of the abuse, an anonymous harasser pesters me with obscene letters. My mother is dying and I must decide whether to confront her. In the end I transcend the past through an intense relationship with a gifted therapist and a dramatic reunion with split-off parts of self.

My completed memoir (83,000 words) reaches Beyond Memory to the sensations and revelations of child sexual abuse as they are uncovered, one by one, like clues in an unsolved mystery. It also goes beyond memories to healing integration.

Well, friends, I sent my query letter with this description to seven literary agents today. Wish me luck!


Blog Radio Broadcast with Jane on Child Sexual Abuse

On June 25, 2008, Cathy Holloway-Hill hosted a web-radio show on child sexual abuse, featuring me, Jane Rowan, as the interviewee.

As you may know, sexual abuse affects as many as 1 in 3 girls before the age of 18, and as many as 1 in 5 boys. Numbers are hard to collect, of course, because the vast majority of abuse never gets reported to authorities.

We need to learn about that epidemic and stop the abuse. We also need to respect those who have survived the nightmare and support their healing.

You may hear the show by visiting —the show was archived. Several callers phoned in with amazing and touching stories and insights. Co-host Tony Lamont made a surprising revelation.

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Beyond Memory — a memoir of healing from incest

I think I’ve finally found the right title for my memoir. “Beyond Memory” describes the way that the abuse was hidden from me, buried in fragments in my childhood memories. I had a glimpse from when I was three and it hurt between my legs. Then I had other pieces of body-memories that came to me later. Most of the explicit details remained “beyond memory.”

“Beyond Memory” also indicates that the healing process was much more than the recovery of memories. That’s what I thought I needed, at the beginning. But what I really needed was to trust in the feeling-memories that I had and to trust the inner child who gave me those memories. I needed to learn to love and trust my therapist and thus heal the wounds of the betrayal by my father and mother. I needed to own and express the grief, anger, confusion, and hurt—and finally, the love that still remained.

Beyond Memory is now in the polishing-up stage and I’m looking for an agent.

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A poem for my inner child

You Ask

Remember when you
were a child, what person
made you feel safe?

I cannot name a one.

There was no appearance of danger.
of fierce foxes approaching
but no knives pointed at me.
when things happened
not to be spoken at all.
not named but known.
So I could not speak
could not be safe.
My small soul wandered
alone in the gray fog

So I grew up successfully, but without my soul—
without my soul to rejoice with,
without my soul to cry,
without my soul to dance on the sand,
without my soul to reach for another’s hand,
without my soul to sit inside me and be glad.

It’s a long return to find
the soul that went away.
A long return
to speak her back
call her back
earn her trust
hold her lightly
caress her hair
feel her trembling now
as she speaks.

-- for all the little ones

The Inner Grownup

So often we talk about the Inner Child, the wounded little one who needs attention. But who’s going to give that unconditional love? It needs to be a strong and caring adult-figure inside of us.

For example—when a friend has said something that hurts me, and my inner child feels abandoned, I experience her feelings as panic and pain. Nobody will ever love me! I’m bad and wrong! Everything is awful! Sometimes those feelings just pass, but often I need to sit down and listen to the little girl whose heart was broken by early betrayal. As a compassionate adult I can tell her, “It’s not the same now. You really are loved. And even if everyone else in the world abandons you, I’m still here and I will always love you.”

It takes time and practice to develop that Inner Grownup—practice in identifying the old ways of responding, and practice in giving the Inner Child your undivided attention and love. I know I’ve needed to listen and identify many unhelpful voices (the Inner Bully, the Inner Critic, the Mean Parent) in order to find the pure love that the Child deserves.

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Making Memoir True and Vivid

A ruthless tenderness. That’s what it takes to write and revise an intimate memoir. I suppose there are people who keep themselves guarded from tenderness (I think of Running With Scissors). But I do want to write about the changes of my heart, which involves risk. Sometimes it’s harder to write the loving parts than the painful ones.

So now I’ve written the whole damned thing, the story of my discovery of memories of sexual abuse and of my recovery through love and therapy (Writing on the Water). My discovery of lost and wounded little girls inside me and my redemptive love for them. I wrote and cut and snipped and rewrote. Then I sent it off to an editor on the opposite coast, a stranger, and he’s shown me more work to do. After three more months of revising (but who’s counting?), I have revised most of it. I have come to be both tender and ruthless.

Ruthless in spotting the soggy places, the places where the prose is flabby or inert. Tender in keeping the heart-felt, lyrical parts. Ruthless in cutting down repetition. Tender in going even deeper into the emotional scenes, into imagery and bodily sensation. Damn! I feel I could spend years more in polishing it. My heart and craft are dancing together. I guess that’s good.

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