Spousal abuse: Truth stranger than fiction

Tuesday, May 3, 2005

This book is an example of the adage that truth is stranger than fiction.

The truth about Janice, in fact, is almost unbelievable. This autobiographical work is packed with violence, depression, irrationality, and conflicted faith, to the point that, if the reader did not know that the writer survived to write the book, one would expect Janice joined the thousands of other women who have died at the hands of their domestic partner.

Marketed as a spiritual book, the story is set in Mormon country, and some readers might be offended by the author's loyalty to the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints. Regardless of religious persuasion, her narrative portrays a society that is more concerned with appearance, male superiority and church finances, than with helping protect the lives of a woman and her six children.

Mormon ministers are not the only church leaders who may have that mindset, and the considerate reader can easily apply the scenarios to their own society.

The author pulls few, if any, punches about her life: the molestation she experienced as a five-year-old; her teenage flirtations and non-Mormon boys she saw on the sly against her parents wishes.

"I was attracted to bad relationships just as moths are attracted to a burning flame," she writes. "Moths are unable to fly once their wings are scorched. I, on the other hand, was only wounded with a broken heart and able to search for yet another unsatisfactory relationship in which I would ultimately find rejection."

At 19, she moved from Utah to Arizona where she worked at a home for unwed mothers. When her apartment was vandalized, she met a young police officer who she dated, only to be raped by him.

Learning she was pregnant, her feelings of being dirty were enhanced by the molestation she suffered as a child. She had an abortion, but she also kept quiet about the rape, just as she did about her childhood molestation.

It is easy to see how in her youth the stage was set for her to marry a monster who considered her his property, however unsatisfactory, and subjected her to countless beatings and abuse while fathering six children with her.

Janice's secretive, dirty-feeling inner child continued to haunt her, retarding her emotional and psychological maturity. Her angry inner-woman was closeted.

Interestingly, Janice's first husband, Bobby, was also abused as a child. Janice was his second wife, and he had always dreamed of, perhaps obsessed with, a Temple Wedding in the Mormon Temple with a perfect virgin wife.

Signs of his explosive temper were evident from the first date. Several months later he asked her to marry him, and she told him she needed to meet with her Bishop before she could agree to a wedding date.

That meeting was actually an official Church Court, and Janice revealed the secrets she had carried since childhood, including the abortion. Returning home, Bobby came by, somehow knowing what she had revealed to the court, and the verbal and physical abuse immediately and sharply accelerated.

Her lack of self-esteem was apparent as she rationalized that if they continued to get married, Bobby would get better. Of course, it got worse ---- much worse.

After 15 years and six children, she somehow, in spite of herself, effects an escape and begins a recovery process. That recovery includes "channeling," which includes the very writing of this book. Readers may take exception to the somewhat New Age approach to her recovery, but the basic steps of self-examination and forgiveness she describes are essential to the healing of her psyche, and are easily adaptable to most belief systems.

Both victims of domestic abuse, and ministers, particularly male ministers, owe it to themselves to learn about the very real and very baffling problems involved in domestic abuse. This book is one of the most powerful of its kind ---- and perhaps the most graphic.

Beneath Wings of an Angel: Healing the Child Within, A Spiritual Healing Journey to Recovery from Domestic Violence; by Janice Romney Farnsworth; non-fiction; 332 pages; hardbound; Synergy Books, $21.95.

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