In this elegant and deceptively simple memoir by Jane Rowan, her River of Forgetting has filled a need within the context of healing from childhood sexual abuse. Most such books deal with specific, visual memories. Ms. Rowan, with her generous sharing, has courageously bridged the gap by not only writing about her fragmented body and feeling memories but doing so in an easy to understand manner, making muddy waters clear.
This is no small feat. Many people who suffer childhood trauma sometimes have only amorphous memories, and the added stress of believing themselves that the abuse actually occurred is compounded by a lack of clarity within and without. This brave book takes us through Jane’s process from the initial possibility that she was, indeed, a victim and through to the other side; a triumphant journey toward light and a new way of being, creatively. It is a deceptively simple narrative and illustration that many will benefit from.
The validation for others with fuzzy memories, “yucky” feelings and profound sadness, as well as the lack of depth in personal relationships, is a jumping off place for any survivor who would wish to deepen the journey to and through the mind-bending trauma caused by childhood sexual abuse.
The River of Forgetting is unlike other healing books on the subject such as, for instance, The Courage to Heal, in that it gives permission not to have concrete evidence of occurrences of abuse. The aforementioned book is groundbreaking, to be sure, but can be confusing and discouraging, in my opinion, for those who do not have specific memories to work with.
For anyone who has persistent body memories and strong feelings of, for example, revulsion in certain situations, it can be difficult to withstand the negative or confusing impact of others’ opinions that you cannot “just think” you were abused. The general public and many in law enforcement feel that way. They believe the very thing that made the “inner child” go deeply away in the first place is a story that’s “made up.” A study of the book Character and Cops by Edwin Delattre will show this misunderstanding clearly here (see The Therapeutic Vision). This is unfortunate and undoubtedly a compelling reason why many may not be able to make the journey out if they are faced with such detractors. The River of Forgetting is a validating map, defying an incredulous public’s mistaken idea that victims of sexual abuse make it up.
In chronicling her years of therapy (talk, authentic movement, and journalling) along with her quest to find connection after the isolation of the abuse left her stunted in many social areas, Jane, the science teacher, who continued to be high-functioning lets us follow her. The most telling thing about her journey is her steadfast refusal to demonize her abuser and his co-conspirator.
It is obvious that Jane goes through the traditional stages of the grief process in coming to her realizations and in going into and out of the traumatic events of her childhood, but she does not dwell on this. Hope and light infuse this memoir from beginning to end and lead the reader on with the attitude that there is a way out, and it is good work that we do to heal.
Another important point made in the book is the admonition to refrain from retraumatizing yourself. “It seems paradoxical to be more open and need more protection,” Jane says. Her therapist warns, gently, “But also, be careful with it and protect yourself. It’s not about being all open all the time (pp. 240, 242)”. It is paramount to find a gifted therapist to navigate this mental minefield, and Jane has not only done so, she’s found works a woman who is open to Jane’s evolving methods of discovering her own way. The interaction is very empowering. When Jane asks Sarah (her therapist) to join her in her movement therapy (just the two of them), it is a powerful testament to strength of spirit and support.
What could become a stuck and angry account of the abuse of innocence is instead transformed into redemption for Jane as she comes to know that her present is so vital and pregnant with possibility. This is accomplished through acceptance of the first half century of her life instead of resentment that healing has come this late in life. The insight she reveals as to how her experiences made her what she is, but in a positive light, will awe the reader and lead to joy.
To love her parents and not absolve them for their transgressions is a balancing act that takes the author some time to perfect. But this is a labor of love and she becomes strong in establishing the truth. Jane is comfortable with contradictions and teaches us how to avoid black and white assertions, thereby finding peace.
In defining, through her “Silent Girl” how one part of her never believed “Big Jane,” or anyone for that matter, she lets us in to an even darker part of the process and the need to integrate it without succumbing to it and to depression. Her therapist warns that she “can’t be with that…” completely. It would be dangerous. It bears repeating that one must find a very good therapist in order to safely traverse the parts of this work that could wound us even more.
The one thing that I would have liked to see in the book would be a resource section for Authentic Movement and Art Therapy. Of course, if we are diligent in our process we will be able to do a search ourselves, but it would be helpful to have a place to start.
My personal experiences with this subject closely follow Ms. Rowan’s in great part. Although I have not used authentic movement, I have utilized meditation to contact my “inner children.” I am also an artist who has evolved through my process from painting “scary pictures” to creating works of opening and hope. Accessing talk therapy helped to a point.
(But I found some who should never be practicing with abuse victims: for example, one man was screening for a group of survivors. Upon determining that I was not a good fit for his group, he then charged me for the interview process. When I took issue with the charges, saying that it was not therapy: it was an interview that I received no benefit from, he told me that it was up to me to ask if I would be charged! He also told an acquaintance that, yes, she had an inner child that needed nurturing, but she also had a “very bad” other inner child she had to guard against. Luckily for me, I was far enough along in my process to recognize that both of these encounters were not healthy. Not so for my acquaintance. This is why I pointed out how important it is to find a safe person to travel this road with.)
Another venue I have used and continue with is Polarity Therapy, a body-oriented therapy done fully clothed which is very nurturing and empowering.
Jane Rowan’s final chapter and beginning of her new life is a delight to read as it reflects joy: “I really get to have all this? Really?” She certainly deserves it and should be admired for her courage in writing the book. It contributes to us who have long wandered in the “fog” of forgetting and to the good people who support us in our quest for wholeness.
Psych Central's Recommendation: Worth Your Time! +++Your Recommendation (if you've read this book):
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Verrin, H. (2011). The River of Forgetting. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 11, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/the-river-of-forgetting/0007044
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
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