I'm seeking to help readers who, like me, suffered
childhood sexual abuse. In My Peace I Give You, I
do this through the lives of saints who suffered abuse and found
healing. The saints showed us that God not only wants to heal our
wounds, but, if we let him, he will heal us through our
wounds, making everything we have endured serves to draw us nearer
to him in love.
I had the idea for the book in December 2010,
when, while looking at books at a friend's house, I happened upon a
book recounting the story of Blessed Laura Vicuña. I was stunned to
discover that there was a young girl who had been declared Blessed
by the Catholic Church who'd been sexually abused, over a period of
years, by her mother's live-in lover. Here was a saint-to-be who
had suffered what I had suffered, and had the heroic virtues I so
I don't give many details about my own abuse in the
book, or in my talks - not wanting to trigger painful
memories in others who have had similar experiences. To put it in
the most general terms, my first sexual victimisation was
perpetrated by an adult man outside the home when I was five years
old. Later on, after my parents' divorce, the abuse was perpetrated
at home, by one of my mother's boyfriends. One thing my mother does
acknowledge, and regrets, is that she permitted me to be exposed to
what's known as "non-contact sexual abuse" at home - adult nudity
and graphic sex-talk.
I was born into a Jewish family outside New York
City. My parents split up when I was five. I have an older
sister, who is a rabbi, and a brother by my father's second
marriage, who is a doctor. In 1999, at the age of 31, I received
the grace of Christian faith. The ball got rolling after a rock
musician recommended I read G. K. Chesterton. I entered into full
communion with the [Roman] Catholic Church in 2006.
I wrote my first book, The Thrill of the
Chaste: Finding fulfilment while keeping your clothes on, out
of a desire to help others escape the frustration I had experienced
when, as a recent convert to Christianity, I tried in vain to find
a book on chastity for people who are not virgins.
As a former rock journalist living in New York
City, I needed a lot more guidance getting chaste than
what the "teen purity" authors could offer. So, once I started to
learn how to walk the walk, I shared what I knew, and was happy to
find that it encouraged many people. The Thrill has sold
more than 15,000 copies in English, and several thousand more in
its various translations - Spanish, Polish, and Chinese.
I'm embarrassed to say that I first began writing about
music for small fan publications, because it gave me the
opportunity, as a teenager, to meet musicians upon whom I had
crushes. But I began writing professionally at the age of 18 for
rock-history publications, eventually becoming a regular
contributor to the British magazine Mojo.
I was fascinated by great, obscure, mid-1960s
acts, usually the more obscure the better, like Curt
Boettcher, though I made exceptions for brilliant Baroque popsters
like the Zombies, the Left Banke, and Village Green-era Kinks. It
was partly because I admired the fortitude and integrity of those
who would keep making music of high artistic value even when they
were ignored by the general public. And partly it was cathartic to
place myself inside the inner world of sensitive people who gave
their heart to projects doomed to failure.
Yes, I do still listen to that music, but not
much, because it takes me back to a time when I was suffering from
severe loneliness. I do miss dancing, which I can't do any more
because the only dances I know are the Sixties go-go moves - the
Frug, the Pony, etc. - which aren't very chaste. I still catch
myself doing them at home from time to time when a Dave Clark Five
song comes on to the internet radio.
To me, chastity means living out my faith with my entire
body, so that I am fully integrated, body and soul. If I
am united to Jesus in my heart, it does not make sense for me to
separate out my bodily actions so that I seek love or pleasure by
means that Jesus says are reserved for a man and woman who are
married to one another. Chastity is about much more than sex: it is
a way of life for every Christian.
My main work these days is as a full-time postgraduate
student in Washington, DC, completing a sacred-theology
licentiate, which is a prerequisite for obtaining a doctorate in
theology licensed by the Holy See. Once I have my doctorate, I hope
to teach university-level theology. In my spare time, I share the
message of My Peace I Give You in public talks, including
to inmates and people in addiction-treatment programmes.
The fallout from the sexual revolution in a certain way
forced the issue into the public. Children are safest when
both parents live at home; so, as the number of intact families
declined, the abuse rate went up. Now that the divorce rate is
lower, fewer cases are being reported; but I suspect that
government-sponsored sex education is inadvertently leading to less
reporting, as children are led to believe that being introduced to
sex at an early age is "normal".
If you have suffered abuse, the single most
healing thing is to learn that you were not responsible for it, and
it did not make you "dirty" or impure. Beyond that, it is extremely
healing for victims to discover that they are not alone. That is
why it is so important to get help - not only from a therapist, if
need be, but especially from speaking to a trusted family member or
friend. Victim-support groups can also be very helpful.
I know from male friends that, however
isolating sexual abuse may be for women, it is even more isolating
for men. Men tend to keep their painful memories to themselves.
Thomas Aquinas was not a young child when he was
victimised: he was about 17. His story resonates with many
survivors, because he was placed in a threatening situation by
members of his own family, in his own home. Ignatius of Loyola and
the Roman martyr Sebastian were two saints who, although not
sexually abused, suffered traumatic experiences.
I included other saints because they suffered childhood
trauma that affected them deeply, like Thérèse of Lisieux,
who lost her mother to breast cancer when she was very young. There
are other saints who, in addition to experiencing loss or trauma in
their youth, made decisions as adults that caused them pain, like
Dorothy Day, who had an abortion under pressure from a boyfriend,
who promptly dumped her.
Forgiveness is, at its core, not something you do for
the offender: it's something you do for yourself, to let
go of anger and resentment. If someone is still abusive, the most
forgiving thing to do may be to never give that person an
opportunity to abuse again - so reconciliation may be out of the
Another thing I emphasise is that forgiveness does not
mean forgoing the demands of justice. A great example is
Maria Goretti. From her deathbed she both forgave her attacker and
gave the policethe information that would convict him.
Back when I was a rock journalist, my favourite
place to take holidays was London, and I still love it. Nowadays I
like to make retreats at the Monastery of Our Lady of Mercy, which
is run by the Mercedarian friars in Philadelphia.
The most reassuring sound for me is the bell
that is rung at the consecration of the Host at mass.
Part of my healing has been finding positive ways that
my mother influenced me, despite the abuse I suffered as a
child in her home. For example, she always encouraged me to write,
and she taught me to project my voice - and both writing and
speaking are major parts of my life now.
Probably the most influential person on my life in
recent years is Fr Francis Canavan SJ, a mentor of mine
who died in 2009 at the age of 91, and who, I believe, is a saint.
If it weren't for him, I wouldn't be doing any of the things I am
doing now. He believed in my abilities more than I did, and his
Other than the Bible, the books that have
influenced and pleased me most are Lewis Carroll's Alice
books; G. K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday, which
led to my conversion; and St Thomas Aquinas's Summa
Apart from Jesus or our Lady, the person I
would choose as my companion if locked in a church for a few hours
would have to be Fr Edward Dowling SJ. He once said: "I don't think
we should despise the negative. I have a feeling that if I ever
find myself in heaven, it will be from backing away from hell."
Dawn Eden was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.
My Peace I Give You: Healing sexual wounds with
the help of the saints is published by Ave Maria
Press/Alban Books, £11.99 (CT Bookshop £10.80 - Use code CT487
). Dawn Eden has speaking engagements in Scotland from today
until 6 March. She is speaking in Newman House, Westminster, on 7
March, and the University of East London on 9