Dawn Eden has a new book out called My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints.
We had a chat about the book and here’s an edited transcript of our conversation.
You wrote a book on chastity that got a lot of attention including negative attention from the Left. There are a lot of feminists who hate your guts and have viciously publicly attacked you. So being a public figure, it takes some guts at this late date to admit that you were sexually abused as a child. What made you do that?
Well, you’re right, John, that I did open myself up to attacks from certain quarters because of admitting to having been abused. At the same time I have to say that I invited some, not all but some of the attacks from feminists by going after feminists bloggers on my blog, The Dawn Patrol, where I wasn’t content to simply say that they’re wrong and here is why. There is nothing wrong with civil disagreement. But, in those days, I would go further and say that this blogger is not only wrong, but she’s probably doing this in her private life and that’s why she writes this. So I was really going out of my way to pick “blog fights” and just making uncharitable personal comments. When you do things like that, you certainly invite people to make uncharitable personal comments about you.
A lot of that personal anger came out of wanting, as a new Christian living a radically different life than I had in the past, to separate myself from ideologies that personally hurt me. The ideologies that fueled the sexual revolution personally hurt me and enabled my abuse. Then I as a teenager and young adult subscribing to those same ideologies engaged in behavior that also ended up causing me a lot of pain.
In My Peace I Give You I talk about why these feminist bloggers offended me. And I say that in their denial of the personhood of the unborn child, I saw the denial of the personhood of all children. And I say that in their praise for what they termed sexual freedom, I saw the elimination of sexual boundaries, the boundaries that had they been enforced in my childhood home would have protected me from harm.
I think it’s worthwhile having a serious conversation with feminists to try to help them to connect the dotted lines between their ideologies and abuse. Certainly there has been some research showing, actually a lot of research including government research, showing that children are least likely to be sexually abused if they live in a home with two married parents. It’s a fact. And they’re most likely to be sexually abused if they live with just one parent and if there are people in the household or coming in and out of the household who are sexual partners of the parent who are not the parent and this is particularly true with girls who have a single mother who has a boyfriend or boyfriends coming in and out. Now certainly my own experience of abuse is in that sort of environment.
I do think that feminists and those who are promoting the radical individualism that fueled this sexual revolution are willfully blinding themselves to these statistics. And at the same time I don’t think that it’s right for anyone, myself included, to disagree in a manner that involves calling names and making personal attacks and the usual sort of things that have sadly become routine on blogs and in comment sections.
You are really sweet, but that is pretty much the description of everything every blogger does. Now that a lot of non-Catholics will be reading this book, what do they get out of it if they just believe the Saints were nice people and they weren’t actually Saints?
Well, first is the question of what is a saint? A saint in the Catholic Church is someone whom the church believes is in Heaven. That alone should make their lives interesting to us. What does it take to get to heaven? If you don’t honor the Saints the way the Catholic Church does, then I think it’s worth just reading their stories because they’re amazing stories.
…Ultimately Saints even when they have their bad days are joyful because they experience through their love of God..a taste of the joy that is waiting us in Heaven. That’s the kind of story that all of us are supposed to be able to share in. But it can seem so inaccessible to people who have been abused. So in My Peace I Give You I seek to show people first of all that they’re not responsible for the abuse that was committed against them.
You know, John, it’s so sad that because children tend to blame themselves for what was done to them, there are many adults who believe that they are permanently stained because of having been sexually abused in childhood. It’s simply not true and contrary to myth, it’s not what the church believes. The church doesn’t believe that people are responsible for the abuse committed against them in childhood. When we offer these wounds to God …we can draw closer to the wounded and resurrected Christ. Jesus’ wounds are glorified now and they remain in Heaven. So the key is to discover what the Saints discovered, which is what is the meaning that our own wounds have in the light of Jesus.
In the book you say forgiveness does not mean foregoing justice. What do you believe the Christian approach is to someone who has abused a child?
A Christian approach to one who has abused the child is first of all to make sure that person does have justice served against him or her so that the abuser cannot abuse again. That’s the primary importance. But beyond that with regard to the duty towards the abuser, we are called in the Lord’s Prayer to forgive those who have trespassed against us.
For people who have been abused that can cause pain because if you think that forgiveness means reconciliation, then the idea of forgiving an abuser can be hopeless because how can you want to have any contact with someone who’s abused you?
So in My Peace I Give You, I explain the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. Forgiveness is interior, it’s making a personal decision that you’re making a personal decision that you’re no longer going to wish bad things for the person that hurt you. But rather, that you’re going to just ask for God’s best for that person, whatever God’s best is and pray for that person. Ideally forgiveness should lead to reconciliation but the command is fulfilled even if there is no reconciliation. If a person remains abusive, then the most loving and forgiving thing to do can be to not give that person an opportunity to abuse again…
If there are those reading this interview who have been sexually abused and they’re having a hard time with it, and given the numbers there most certainly will be, what would you say if you were talking to them directly?
I would say…you’re not responsible for what was done to you as a child. Children lack the judgment to properly discern what is good and this is particularly true when an adult shows a child something and says this is good, do this. …This goes back to the words of Jesus when He said…if anyone causes one of these little ones to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were placed around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. What I find very important is that Jesus says that it’s the abuser who gets the millstone, not the abused person. Jesus is on the side of the victim and of the person who’s misused or objectified.
God never positively wills evil. When evil happens it’s because God permitted it because He wanted a world where people could freely choose to love Him. He didn’t want to create robots. ..We can ultimately look back at the stretch of our lives and realize whatever happened to me, including all the bad stuff, now I know that God loved me and that God never wanted this to happen to me…
Last question: If you have someone you care about who’s been abused and you want to know what you can do to help that person, what advice would you give?
I would say first of all to really unconditionally be present for that person and to recognize that person may have all kinds of issues that he or she is working through. That person may be difficult at times and may lash out. That doesn’t mean to let the abuse victim abuse you. You have to draw proper boundaries. But it does mean letting the person know that if they get angry at you, you’re not going to take it personally. You’re not going to go away, that they can rely on you, and you are a rock for this person.
I would also say to try to learn what this person’s triggers are so that you can be careful not to trigger them — like, for example, that Time Magazine cover that people are talking about with the breastfeeding. That ad triggers me because I lived in a sexually porous household as a child where adult nudity was commonplace. So seeing a nude or semi-nude adult and a child is disturbing. Different people’s triggers will be varied. But if you love someone, it is good to know what their triggers are. Beyond that, try to help them to find things from their past that are happy memories, things from the past that they’re thankful about because the temptation for someone who suffered trauma is to try to just consign large swaths of the past to an area where the tendrils of memory can’t reach. But when you lose your past, you lose your identity and then the danger is that we try to find our identity in things that are unhealthy for us. So it’s very important to be able to remember happy things from the past and to be able to then properly integrate these memories into one’s identity. That’s an area where loved ones can help.
Dawn, thank you very much for your time. I really appreciate it.
Once again, Dawn Eden’s new book is My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints.