Sunday, September 07, 2008

Guest Post: author Beth Fehlbaum discusses "The Journey to My Book"

I first wrote about what it’s like to be sexually abused at the age of nine years old, when I confided in my diary about a family member fondling my just-developing breasts. I had to tell someone, but I was too filled with shame and embarrassment to speak it aloud.

Instead, I wrote the words in my diary and hid the book deep within a box in the back of my closet. I remember coming upon the diary when I was a teenager, and, horrified at seeing what seemed to me to be a confession of my guilt written in my childish handwriting, I burned the diary in our brick fireplace when no one else was home.

Terrified that a family member would return home and question why I used the fireplace in the middle of a sizzling Texas summer, I opened all the windows and rolled our sliding-glass door back-and-forth, back-and-forth on its track, telling myself that I was somehow hastening the clearing away of the evidence. I scooped the ashes out while they were still hot and dumped them in the flower bed, then swept the dust out of the hearth.

Just recalling the memory makes my heart race; I remember a deep sense of relief that the shame-filled words were destroyed. I had moved the diary, deep within that cardboard box, from the house I lived in when the abuse began, to the house I spent my teenage years in, always keeping it hidden in the back of my closet, out of view, as if that made what was happening to me less real.

I didn't write about the abuse again for nearly thirty years, when I entered therapy for recovery from that same family member sexually abusing me for the majority of my childhood, into my teen years. Then, like the Thompson River Flood in Estes Park, Colorado, an historic, notorious flood of such wide-ranging devastation that songs have been written about it-- the grief, pain, shame, and rage came pouring forth from the young child I had been when that flood occurred, in 1976. There was just no stopping it, any more than turning my diary to ashes could cause what had happened to me to NOT affect me for a lifetime.

During a therapy session one day, my psychologist suggested that I try writing a novel. It took me about four months of stopping-and-starting. Inevitably, it seemed, what started as a promising beginning kept dissolving into "Why did this happen to me?"-- and there is no satisfying answer to that question. I realized that if I was going to be able to write my way through the experience of being sexually abused, I needed to do it from the perspective of being an observer of someone else's experience.

When I gave myself permission to do that, Ashley Nicole Asher, age fifteen, came into being. Abused by her stepfather since the age of nine, Ashley is driven by rage to tell her mother what he has been doing to her. To her horror, Ashley's mother turns her back on her, and does not act on Ashley's report.

Ashley then confides in the only adult she can trust, a beloved teacher, who reports the abuse to Child Protective Services. CPS contacts her biological father, David, whom Ashley has had no contact with throughout her childhood. It is when David takes Ashley home with him to the tiny East Texas town of Patience that Ashley's life begins anew.

Courage in Patience is a story of hope. Initially, I wrote it for myself, to prove to myself that I was going to make it through the darkest days of recovery and come out stronger on the other side. I gave Ashley a circle of friends in her stepmother's summer school English class, and through knowing them, Ashley discovers that, as a good friend of mine says, "Nobody gets out of this life without a scratch."

With the publication of Courage in Patience, I hope that those who read it will find a story of what it means to face one's greatest fears and find out what one is made of.

~Beth Fehlbaum,
Author of Courage in Patience, a story of hope for those who have endured abuse

1 comment:

Debra Purdy Kong said...

Thanks for writing this post and sharing your story, Beth. It takes a lot of courage and yes, no one gets out of this life without a scratch. People near and dear to my heart have suffered the same type of thing.