Child sexual abuse survivor Laura Davis is a courageous and generous woman.
In addition to having co-authored with Ellen Bass the landmark book, The Courage to Heal, she has faced her own pain and, over the course of three decades, moved from a place of utter estrangement to genuine reconciliation with her mother, who Davis felt strongly had been complicit in her father’s abuse of her.
Davis’ journey forms the narrative spine of I Thought We’d Never Speak Again, a book whose audience should extend far beyond the sexual abuse community and into the general public.
Davis drops in plenty of examples of people struggling with dropped connections between parents and children, siblings, and friends, among many other people. She takes the reader through the healing process, starting with the questions it is helpful to ask oneself before embarking on the journey.
She offers no false or easy comfort, noting both that the process is fitful, often moving in nonlinear directions, and has no certain conclusion. To give one example she writes about near the end of the book, a woman spent close to five years trying to understand and make peace with a sister who she could understand how she had offended.
At their mother’s funeral, the sister made overtures about being open to a reconciliation, but never followed through on those plans.
Yet Davis makes the point that even if the the reconciliation is not what one envisioned, the exercise can be useful on a number of levels. To begin, she recommends that the person examine oneself to understand what the estrangement “gives” her before proceeding to reach out to the estranged party.
She also talks about the potential for self-liberation that can come when the person is able to make some sort of inner resolution about what happened. She has a clear-eyed and thoughtful discussion about forgiveness that includes the notions both that some actions are indeed forgivable and that there is psychic freedom and inner peace through removing the power from the person who has inflicted harm.
Readers should be forewarned that, while written in a conversational tone, this book does not cover easy material. Each of the stories has its own pain, and, for me, there was sadness in thinking both about child sexual abuse’s devastating and long-term consequences and the amount of hurt and accompanying loss that can result from estrangements that can feel unnecessary.
Some may critique the work as being too facile and rooted in the self-help genre, and there may be some validity to those points.
Yet I took from the book and Davis’ experience gratitude for the reconciliations and resolution I have been able to forge in some previously difficult relationships and a renewed desire to savor my life’s many gifts.