There are no “crash courses” to healing. Yet, our culture’s customary treatment for abuse is quick, drive-through therapy. Unfortunately, we haven’t come all that far in sexual assault recovery over the past few decades. Twenty years ago, I went through conventional therapy, and afterward, I was supposed to be fixed. Case closed.
Experiences like these were to be neatly filed away, where they would appropriately collect dust and be forgotten. Don’t get me wrong. Therapy did help me. Therapy is good. Therapy helped me work through the painful experiences, understand the mindset of my abuser, let go of self-blame, and see abuse as a serious crime. Therapy was a good starting treatment, but it wasn’t an ongoing, forever treatment.
Many sources recommend finding a trusted friend with whom you can speak for support, but those sources are a bit idealistic. Society isn’t all that inclined to discuss abuse. Some people would rather talk about the quality of tampons. In the words of Jack Nicholson, people “can’t handle the truth.” In my personal experience, an expectation of silence only bankrolled feelings of shame into feelings of betrayal. I became Eleanor Rigby, wearing a false face kept in a jar.
The world was the same, but I was different. I started spending more alone time at the local bookstore. I would drive there, get a coffee, pick up a classic work off of the discount table, and escape reality for hours. Classic literature was my medicine. Plato, Aristotle, Nietzsche, Descartes, Aurelius, Hobbes, and Locke–among others–became my instructors. They explained human nature to me, and they taught me how to think for myself.
I paved my own path of truth through literary works. Then, thirsty for more, I ditched my pre-dentistry college major for English Literature. I had no career plan. I was simply in survival mode, and I found kinship in the pages of Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley, Virginia Woolf, and Kate Chopin. From Hardy and Hawthorne, I learned that experiences like mine transcended time and culture. I was not alone after all, and my experience was no tragedy. It was unfortunate, but it was universal. Women had universally survived such experiences since early biblical times. I wasn’t alien, after all. I was among survivors, warriors.
Books gave me resilience and self-reliance. They illuminated truth–universal truths that connected people across cultures and time spans. I learned I could only find real-world truth by examining a situation from many angles. Like objects in a rear-view mirror, situations and people were not always as they first appeared. This altered perspective opened my mind. It gave me a listening ear, an observant eye, and a compassionate heart. Books transformed me. They shaped me into a warrior and gave me the courage to help others.
After college, and after teaching for a few years, I went on to get my Masters in Literacy. That was when I learned the term bibliotherapy. My professor called it “the right book for the right person at the right time.” My professor explained there was healing in books, but he didn’t have to convince me. I already knew. I was a living testimony.
Books may help you, too. Here’s a strategy. Try taking a paperback and making it own your healing diary. Write thoughts, jot quotes, sketch doodles in its margins. Dog ear your favorite pages, the passages with which your soul connects. Keep those special books near, and revisit them. Check out the links below. If you’re struggling with a lack of support, then know you’re not alone. There’s kinship in the pages.
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21 Titles To Get Started
1. So Long a Letter by Mariama Ba
2. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
3. Tess of the D’urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
4. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
5. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
6. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
7. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
8. Kindred by Octavia Butler
9. Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollstonecraft
10. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
11. The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts by Maxine Hong Kingston
12. Foxfire by Joyce Carol Oates
13. The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo by Stieg Larsson
14. Jane Doe January by Emily Winslow
15. Lucky by Alice Sebold
16. Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro
17. The Colour of Milk by Nell Leyshon
18. The Invisible Girls: A Memoir by Sarah Thebarge
19. She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb
20. Such a Pretty Girl by Laura Wiess
21. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson