Laura Davis is no stranger to estranged relationships.
Her 1988 book The Courage to Heal, co-authored with Ellen Bass, was a first glimpse into a world of healing for many adult survivors of sexual abuse. A necessary part of that healing was facing what had happened and bringing the abuse into the open, which more often than not resulted in fracturing close family relationships.
Davis wrote the book based on the testimonies of adult survivors and wove in her own experiences with incest as well. Her grandfather molested her as a child.
Part of her healing process included telling her mother about the abuse, causing their relationship to become strained and ultimately estranged.
In rebuilding that relationship, Davis got the idea for her latest book, I Thought We'd Never Speak Again: The Road from Estrangement to Reconciliation. The book follows the same method as Courage in combining Davis' own experiences with those of others who've attempted reconciliation, though not always successfully. She explores estranged family relationships and much more — from small fights between friends to seeking healing through relationships with perpetrators of crimes.
CityBeat: How did you know when you were ready to reconcile with your mother?
Laura Davis: For me it wasn't a realization that happened all at once — it was a gradual process. A lot of it was doing my own healing work first. In a way, a lot of times you have to get to the point where you don't need the other person in order to be open to getting them back.
I became a mother and I think that really cracked me open in a certain way and made me feel a kinship with mothers everywhere, and that included my own mother. It gave me a much greater sense of compassion for how difficult it is to be a parent, and that really opened my heart to her. I also was motivated because I wanted a grandmother for my children and she wanted to be their grandmother.
CB: You talked with so many people and included so many stories in the book, did you find in doing that they were mostly similar or mostly different?
LD: There were certain common threads, and those were the themes that I wove the book around. There were certain elements that were common, but the specifics were quite different. The kind of inner process people have to come to when dealing with reconciliation is similar.
I found that the similarities outweighed the differences. I find that's true in all of the research I've ever done — some core human qualities are the same when you're healing or you're trying to resolve things.
CB: How long did it take to compile all of this?
LD: It took me two years.
CB: That's not too bad.
LD: I could say it took a lifetime, because I wouldn't have been ready to approach the subject or have a perspective on it or feel I had anything to share if I hadn't gone through all the years of anguish I did over the same topic. But in terms of starting to involve other people and interviewing them and actually writing the book, it took me two years.
CB: Do you think anything in particular about our society has created a rise in estranged relationships?
LD: I think the geographical distance, that people live so far apart from each other and people are often moving away from where they grew up, make it easier to leave people behind. Sort of out of sight, out of mind. So I think that's the major difference.
I think we live in a very fast-paced society where we're used to throwing things away and replacing them, and I think sometimes that attitude affects our relationships with people. We've begun to feel like people are interchangeable or replaceable. I think that's less true right now then it was a year ago. Because of Sept. 11, people are a little more keyed in to the importance of relationships and continuity.
CB: One of your previous books, The Courage to Heal, helped many victims of sexual abuse and also probably created many fractured family relationships. Do you see this book as being a follow-up to that one?
LD: I do. I think my work definitely tracks my own evolution as a human being, and I've definitely moved to see the possibility of reconciliation more. I think at the time I wrote The Courage to Heal I was more in a place of needing separation to do my own healing, so it reflected that point of view. So I think this is another step further in my own evolution and it's further down the healing path.
I don't think that everyone who's abused should try to reconcile with their families. Sometimes it's not practical or a wise decision, so it's not like I think it's the ultimate objective. You have to really look at someone's circumstance and what their family is like, and sometimes the healthiest thing is to walk away.
I wouldn't want to mislead people into thinking I think this is the ultimate destination for survivors of sexual abuse, but I certainly believe in reconciling as much as is practical in each situation.
CB: How do you respond to critics of your work who always point out that you have no background in psychology?
LD: We wrote The Courage to Heal based on the testimony of people who had the actual experience. Personally, I think they have more expertise than any psychologist.
CB: And this new book was written in a similar manner.
LD: I think any book, particularly a book that has a big impact and makes a strong stand, is going to have supporters and detractors. And I think anyone reading any book, my books or any others, has to take what works for them and what fits for their situation and leave the rest. So I think the reader has the responsibility to figure out what the value is for them and how it applies in their own life.
When I read books, I read them critically, and there may be a lot of things I agree with and some I don't. I leave the things I don't. I embrace the things that work for me. I hope people will do the same with what I write.
LAURA DAVIS offers more tips for reconciliation on her Web site (www.LauraDavis.net). She signs and discusses her book at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 11 at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Norwood.