Eleanor Cowan


Review of my memoir on 'Not the Life We Chose' by Author Janet Mackie

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Honoring one Mother's courage to speak out: Comparing our stories with theirs, and discovering pathways to protect the next generation of children that we love

 A History of a Pedophile's Wife by Eleanor Cowan is that rare memoir written from the perspective of a wife and mother with courage to speak out. This memoir is well worth reading. (the link to Eleanor Cowan's  web page/ blog is http://www.eleanorcowan.ca/contact.

Eleanor Cowan's  memoir focuses on her traditional upbringing in a Catholic community in Canada. She recounts the lasting influence child sexual abuse had upon her early life, her choice of husband and, sadly, upon her children's fate. A History of a Pedophile's Wife is a personal story told with clarity and courage. It is a sadly familiar story many women on Not the Life, and perhaps making their own choice to  stay or go, will recognize:

"Bending his face to his knees, Stan wept. His shoulders shook. He told me I had stabbed him through the heart, that I was killing him, that I was merciless and vengeful. In the past, Stan's powerful emotional outbursts, especially his tears had convinced me that he was genuine. But this time I unraveled the bizarre twist that had confounded me for so long. I realized that Stan's feelings were, in fact, a hundred percent authentic, but they did not extend beyond himself. He wept with deep feeling only when his own safety was threatened.  Even as his tears fell, he blamed me. His predation was my fault. I dressed our daughter in flannelette nightgowns he found seductive. Mere seconds after I'd caught him molesting her, I was the guilty one. I should apologize," (pg 215 A History of a Pedophile's Wife) 

I found Eleanor Cowan's courageous memoir unique. It lights the path for many of us showing the steps she took in her own recovery from the effects of child sexual abuse inflicted first upon herself and subsequently inflicted by her husband, Stan, on Eleanor's daughter and son.

I highly recommend this insight-filled memoir to women, wives, and mothers like me, searching for shelter, solace and community here on Not the Life I Chose.  www.notthelifeIchose.com

Review by American Playwright Carolyn Gage

A History of a Pedophile's Wife: A Highly Personal Reaction by Carolyn Gage

 ‚Äč“How could a mother NOT know that her child was being sexually abused in the home?”

I’ve asked that. But it was never a real question. I was always sure I knew the answer: “She couldn’t.” In other words, guilty.  Because any mother who was so indifferent or oblivious to the signs and syndromes of her victimized children and/or the inevitable trail of clues from the perpetrating partner should be found guilty of criminal negligence… right?   And then, of course, if the mom did know… well, lock her up as an accomplice.

When I asked that question, what I was really saying was, “How could my mother not have known?”  As a child, I was a bundle of behaviors, from food refusal to self-mutilation. My father had a disgusting collection of pornography, which included torture pornography. He was compulsively adulterous, even taking a date to an office party when my mother (his wife) was in the hospital giving birth. He was violent, forcing sex on her immediately after an episiotomy. He was cruel to animals and a bully to children.

I was completely terrified of him. How could she not have known?

Self-righteousness is the pendulum swing to the far side of shame. Both emotions carry sweeping indictments. With shame it’s a personal indictment. With self-righteousness, someone else is guilty. Both engage black-and-white thinking. Both have a tendency to flash-freeze an experience and prevent growth or movement forward. Both are motivated by a desire to protect. In the case of shame, the desire to protect the perpetrator(s) has become internalized. This brainwashing has been part of the perpetration.  In the case of self-righteousness, we are protecting ourselves from blame.

For the first three decades of my life, I experienced a great deal of shame and confusion… from the trauma, but also from the complex PTSD that pervaded my young adult years. It was a great relief when I became politically aware of the oppression of women, because it enabled my swing over to self-righteousness. Still stuck, still rigid, but at least not at fault anymore.

 My new mantra became:  “How could a mother not know that her child was being sexually abused.”

 So, here comes this book that takes my question more literally than I ever did

A History of a Pedophile’s Wife is a page-turner memoir by Canadian feminist Eleanor Cowan, describing the toxic landscape of her family life in the twentieth century, surrounded by secrets and patriarchal theology and institutions.

Reading Cowan’s book, the question in my own mind began to morph into “How could my mother have known?” 

Unlike Pandora, my mother knew what was locked away. My own mother would never admit the truth about her first husband or about my experience.

At one time, when I was asking her about the nature of the pornography collection, she became uncharacteristically emotional and said,  “You don’t know what you’re asking me to do! You don’t know what you’re asking me to open the door on!”

Following Cowan’s journey, I had many occasions for remembering those words. The perpetration I experienced was probably the tip of an iceberg. My mother, a lifelong practicing alcoholic, had protected her marriage in so many arenas, hiding her drinking, hiding his philandering, standing by him in political scandals, making up excuses for her bruises, rationalizing the chronic emotional abuse … I really have no idea what was behind that door she was so afraid to open. And I have no idea what that avalanche of truth might do to her. She knew the answer to both when she begged me to drop the subject.
The author of A History of a Pedophile’s Wife has the courage my mother lacked.She does open the door, and there is an avalanche. And she shares it in compelling detail. 

New question: “Why are some mothers able to open that door, while others cannot?” 

One of the answers is “support.” Cowan’s journey led out of the 1950’s into the explosion of feminist consciousness characterized by the 1960’s and the 1970’s. Women were telling the truth, naming the real perpetrators instead of policing each other. Social services were being provided for battered women and rape victims. Birth control happened. Divorce began to lose its stigma. Health care providers began to break their silence. Mandatory reporting became law.  Cowan found something else: a group called Parents of Sexually Abused Children. The attrition rate was very high, but those who stayed learned how to shatter the silence about family secrets. In this group, the author lost her shame, found her voice, took ownership of her experience, became accountable to her children… and shared the story.

My own mother went to her grave with her secrets, and the best I could do was to manage a diffident wave “good-bye” across the enormous gulf of denial that separated us. No closure, I thought.

But actually I did get closure, and I got it from A History of a Pedophile’s Wife. I saw the parallel universe, the alternate reality, and I think that has healed me a little.

So, with that, I recommend this memoir to survivors, to mothers who failed to protect, to providers working with trauma patients, and to survivors of religious abuse… especially those whose trauma was perpetrated or enabled by Catholic teachings and institutions. Also a great read for anyone who appreciates a courageous and dramatic memoir!



There's No Other You!

There's No Other You!

In his book, Hauntings, Jungian scholar James Hollis writes about the most valuable of life savers that each of us owns – a personal endowment NOT subject to tradition, cultural mores or family history.

Imagination is a capacity born to each of us, completely unconnected to our birth history or inheritance. Each imagination is brand new! There's no other you!

In counseling those haunted about the past, Hollis presents the image of thousand pound mill horses, tethered to a restraining pole, trudging round and round, pounding down the same dirt path without cease – all of their horrible lives.  He likens the pole to our inherited histories – not our DNA, color, or race, but to our beliefs, prejudices, and most importantly of all, to our unresolved grief.

What happens when a bully refuses to acknowledge the horror he experienced as a vulnerable kid when his dad kicked him in the pants? Guess who’s the bully/pedophile/liar/thief now? What happens when a mother denies her child's declaration of abuse? Guess who remains dissociated until the truth is told? 

Today, my humanity is about picturing my own best life and taking baby steps towards living it.

The support group part, the healthy vegan diet and daily exercise part, the forever reading part and the daily volunteering part - greatly support my happiness. I have become what I imagined! 

Imagination is my life saver. I manifest happiness history one committed hour at a time!

Post Traumatic Living At It's Best

 I felt heavy as I awakened this morning. A toxic splash followed by a few dashes of self-recrimination that got tossed with sharp tuning forks.  It took two seconds: 

“No!” I told myself, and swung my legs out of bed and onto terra firma.

While I am NOT in charge of unbidden thoughts, I am responsible about the time I spend on them. And so, with a hot cuppa tea, my agenda book resting on a colorful pillow on my lap, I begin to plan today – not re-live yesterday ad nauseam.

Today, I’m mailing a special birthday card to a dear friend, and then I’ll prepare a tasty meal to share with a guest this evening. Carol loves my cooking, so I have an extra Tupperware dish set aside so she can enjoy a second helping at the office tomorrow.  There are a half dozen other objectives on my list, some for others, some for me, some that just need to get done.  

I may not feel distress as I obey my own orders, but so very, very often, a lovely little surprise occurs, a little unexpected event or a fresh idea that propels my energy forward to a better place. 

I recently learned that the word 'disciple' means: to follow your inner eye.

Once I told a psychiatrist that sometimes at night, just as I drift into sleep, I am rudely awaked by images of murder and mayhem - and sleep is chased away.  The doctor explained this phenomena to me:

“Your brain wants to protect you for the rest of your life. It's job is to make sure you're always secure.  Nodding off to sleep may leave you vulnerable...as you once were as a child. Maybe you could get hurt, just as happened in the past. And so your brain finds a clever way to wake you up so you can defend yourself if necessary.”  

The doctor said these distracting flashes of violence were meant to keep me awake - and vigilant. 

"They will never stop: A commitment on the part of the brain to protect you is life-long,” she added. 

“So what can I do? “ I asked

Without any hesitation, she spoke words I've treasured for years:

“Make sure that your creative life is passionate, that your day to day is well-lived.

Your violent images will still occur, but you’ll be so exhausted at the end of a well-lived day that they won’t last long – and your own happiness will soothe you as fall quickly to sleep. 

Now, images of murder and mayhem alert me that I'm slipping in my creative purposefulness. 

I remind myself : get busy on something that makes me happy. 

You Can Begin Now

I began my memoir at sixty years young! 

Often excruciating, it was worth every minute. 

Do you believe that an examined life is worth living? At sixty-six, my memoir complete, I understood so much more about where I'd been, what happened, and what I chose now.  

My life is so worth living!

This blog is dedicated to answering questions about my memoir, sharing insights about prevention, and examining positive pro-active measures against pedophilia. At the Calgary Sexual Health Center, and at most Sexual Health Centers around the world, remarkable supports are available for those who wish to deal with their own sexual abuse issues, those of their children or for their own disturbing inclinations towards children. Today, those finding themselves attracted to children are offered help too. Why not? Personally, I don’t blame or vilify anyone for their mental or emotional compulsions.

I do, however, hold everyone responsible to get the help needed before causing harm.

Many supports are an inside job, too. Your own mind and body will always support healing and betterment.

If, in your writing, you reveal one difficult truth and tackle it well, then your own mind will come to trust that you mean business. As a direct result, you’ll earn your next insight. Once you’ve challenged your dread and told the truth, your own mind will help you to delve to an even deeper level.  

If, on the other hand, you avoid truth, your mind will quietly close the door to further revelations. But you'll still suffer.

I found that one page at a time, deeper and deeper layers of my own history occurred to me. While I wept many times, I was never so overwhelmed that I couldn't continue. In fact, I couldn't stop. 

The major difference between truth-seeking and burying oneself in denial is that eventually, the person in denial succumbs to the toxic effects of their silencers.  Truth-seekers pay a high price too - but eventually, we experience a new kind of freedom, one that is truly triumphant and lasting. 




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