Betty Duffy

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Book Discussion: My Peace I Give You by Dawn Eden

First of all, whether you have been a victim of sexual abuse or not, this book is fascinating. 

Eden, herself having been victimized as a child, sought an advocate in Heaven as a part of her own healing process. When she couldn't find a particular patron saint for victims of sexual abuse, she dug a little deeper into the lives of some Saints revered for their chastity, and found that she had plenty of advocates in unlikely places. In each chapter, Eden highlights a particular saint and shows how their lives can be a guide to conversion and healing. 

Hands down, this is the best book I've read on the lives of the saints. While she focuses mainly on each highlighted saint's quest for spiritual and physical purity and the times in their lives when they were most challenged in that area, she gives them all three dimensional lives and characteristics, makes their struggles so realistic, that they seem less like the cardboard prayer cards we're accustomed to seeing and more like flesh and blood friends in Heaven.

For me, this was the greatest strength of the book, understanding that sainthood has less to do with one's physical intactness, and more to do with the disposition of the soul. I learned about many saints of whom I had little or no knowledge: St. Josephine Bakhita, Blessed Laura Vicuna, Blessed Margaret of Castello, and St Bernard of Clairvaux, among others. And Eden's inclusion of Dorothy Day provided another perspective of hope for people who may not have suffered sexual abuse, but who nevertheless have sexual wounds that may have been self-inflicted during times in their lives when they lived away from God.

One quibble: I don't always agree with Eden's interpretation of certain events in the lives of the saints from which she extracts meaning for the purpose of healing sexual abuse. For instance, she describes Dorothy Day's parents as being cold and even neglectful because they discouraged signs of affection, and didn't allow the children much of a social life. 

Earlier in the book, Eden describes her own childhood as being sexually porous, in that the adults in her life didn't protect her from inappropriate situations or materials, and how that caused her to adopt a false self that acted out sexually in order to gain confidence. In this case, she suggests that Day's starvation from affection caused her to also adopt a false self and act out in a sexually inappropriate way. I'm not sure Day's parents are accurately described as neglectful (Is it possible they were trying to protect their children from inappropriate behavior?)--and I'm also not convinced that they are the reason for her earlier immoral lifestyle.

I guess this is a touch point for me, because most of the inappropriate sexual behavior/ contact I encountered as a child came from other children. As a parent, I probably therefore discourage situations and interactions in which children, who are naturally curious about bodies, push the limits of appropriate behavior. This takes the shape of discouraging certain friendships, and generally promoting hands and mouth-free interaction with each other, whether it be positive or negative. Parents and other adults are not always the bad guy. Kids are capable of coming up with some bad ideas on their own.

I also don't see anything wrong with parents giving their kids a rather austere kiss goodnight, which Eden interpreted as "OK I kissed you, now go away." I'm not sure what the alternative to that would be. Back rubs? A longer kiss? (No thanks.)

For one thing, after an entire day with five children, I do sort of want them to go away. If it's neglect to feel as much, lock me up. Secondly, I don't go kissy-face on my kids much, except when they're babies--it just doesn't come naturally to me, or them, for that matter. I try not to brush off hugs, or hand-holding, or the occasional perch on my lap. But I do sort of guard my personal space, because it's mine. Mothers of many children share their bodies in ways unimaginable to a single person. I empathize with parents who don't necessarily want to continue that level of physical connection beyond two or three years from the womb.

I realize I spent half of this post talking about my quibble with one chapter--mainly because that's where I'm at right now. But really, Eden's book is a worthy read for anyone, not just victims of sexual abuse. And I sincerely hope that Eden has plans in the works for another book highlighting the lives of the Saints--perhaps a book for teens struggling with purity. I'd love for the saints to come alive for my kids in the way they did for me in this book.


bearing said...

"For one thing, after an entire day with five children, I do sort of want them to go away. If it's neglect to feel as much, lock me up. Secondly, I don't go kissy-face on my kids much, except when they're babies--it just doesn't come naturally to me, or them, for that matter. I try not to brush off hugs, or hand-holding, or the occasional perch on my lap. But I do sort of guard my personal space, because it's mine."

Yeah, I am the same way. Maybe even worse. It is all I can do not to make "yuck!" faces when my littler kids kiss me because they're so slobbery...

BettyDuffy said...

Glad to know I'm not alone. And our kids seem to be surviving.

Lizzie said...

I only have one and I get that feeling too...aaargh!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post. A few Cathiolic woman friends of mine are trying to start a book club, I will suggest this book.
On another note, maybe it's becasue I work outside the home, but the only thing I want to do once I walk through the door is grab my little guy (3yo) and hold him close and smother him with kisses. I love that he runs into my arms, holds me as tight as he can and whispers into my ear, "I missed you today, Mommy". Then he kisses me and more hugs. Best part of my day!

Rebekka said...

Ugh. Baby tongue. Blech.

Julia said...

What's the youngest age you'd recommend this book for?

BettyDuffy said...

Good question. It's geared towards adults, because she discusses some uncomfortable situations that occurred in her childhood, and many of the saints she discussed had very tragic experiences in their lives. I'd say a level of sexual and emotional maturity is required. At least 16 and up.

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Margaret Mary Myers said...

Although I bought the book because of the subject of childhood sexual abuse, I also appreciated Dawn's inclusion of Dorothy Day. Because I could totally relate with Dawn's comment about the good night kiss, maybe you won't mind if I share my thoughts based on my personal experience.

Without telling my whole story here, there came a time in my life when I looked back and wondered how much my mom had ever loved me. I know now that she did love me, but I still don't know how much, although I think it was because of her own problems (whatever they may have been), not because I was unlovable. I think mostly she didn't know how to show it or have the energy.

Do you have to show it with sloppy kisses? No, and I don't think that was really what Dawn meant. In my case, it was more that when - as a teenager - I looked back at my childhood, I realized that my mom rarely touched me. But it's part of a whole picture, as she also made me stay in the car when she went in the store because "you talk too much" (this was a different era; I'm nearly 60). She didn't yell at me much and sometimes spoke kindly, but if I asked her for a favor that wasn't on the agenda, she sometimes spoke sarcastically.

It's hard to share these things because I do love my mom and I know she loved me (RIP), but what I'm trying to say is that, borne of whatever reason, there was a distance and often what felt to me as a child like coldness. The good night peck was just a part of a whole picture, and maybe that's what Dawn saw in reading about Dorothy Day. Maybe her mom didn't have the energy or had been abused, or maybe it was a cultural thing.

But some kids do thrive on appropriate physical touch, and where better to learn what's appropriate than from their parents? I knew the importance, and I craved it, yet I still found it difficult with my kids. So my hope would be for us parents to be open-minded to the idea that appropriate physical touch from parent to child is a good thing, but that it doesn't have to be a big sloppy kiss and it doesn't have to be at night when we're tired. Do you ever sit together to read? Do you ever put your arm around your child...or if you or they aren't comfortable, pat his arm? See, just easy stuff. :)

BettyDuffy said...

Margaret, I appreciate your reflections. I'm sure I'll meditate on them further.

Joanne said...

I'm looking forward to reading this, thanks. On touching: my oldest (of four) has autism and he is extremely touchy. He's a sensory seeker and he likes nothing better than to lie down on my back, on his belly. He craves physical touch and even though it bugs me sometimes, especially after a long day with the other three, I do it, because I know he doesn't understand how annoying it can be. It makes me more patient with the other kids, but I don't mind saying "you need to GET OFF MOMMY" after a while to the others. There are definitely times where I feel they need some cuddles or whatever but, like, when they go to bed, we just kiss them good night and that's it! Like you say, what else could we do? Anyway, you are not alone, is what I am saying.