September 14, 2010
Surviving a House Full of Whispers
Memoir Reveals How Childhood Abuse Requires Adulthood Coping
“Surviving a House Full of Whispers” is the second book in a proposed trilogy of memoirs by Sharon Wallace. Following “A House Full of Whispers,” the story picks up just minutes after where the last book left off—with sixteen-year old Sharon escaping through the woods where her stepfather chased her with the intent to rape and probably murder her for revealing the truth to the police and her family that he has frequently visited her at night and sexually abused her.
Sharon makes her way to Social Services, but she receives little help from them. They refuse to believe her stories of abuse, but they do find her work. Eventually, she learns how to support herself financially, but coping with her abuse, as this entire book proves, is a long-term lesson she will learn throughout her adulthood. Even when things in her life seem to be going well, she still finds herself tormented by the memory of her abuse and the frustration that her own brother, himself physically abused by her stepfather, will not believe her accusations of sexual abuse. Worst of all, her own mother deems her a liar despite having seen her stepfather coming out of Sharon’s room at night.
The result of such dysfunction makes it difficult for Sharon to love or trust; she inflicts abuse upon herself, scratching herself to release the toxins from the touch of her stepfather—the “night devil”—from her body, and also by making herself vomit after each meal, an eating disorder resulting largely from how her mother would starve her for days at a time.
Sharon continually doubts herself as new experiences come into her life. She has considerable difficulty trusting a man not to hurt her. As she says at one point, “It’s difficult to overcome and to believe anyone can love you if your own parents do not love you.” Yet she does get married and have children. When her first son is born, she is resolved to give him a better life than what she knew, promising, “I am not always going to get it right, but I promise no one will ever hurt you. I will stand by you for the rest of your life. I will give my life to protect you, and there will be no secrets between us and no pain.”
Just as things in Sharon’s life appear to be going better, another struggle and more dysfunction within her family always seems to arise. She finally locates her biological father, but the experience lacks the love she dreamed of experiencing. Her mother finally admits she knew about her stepfather’s behavior, but while Sharon wanted to be believed, she is also left wondering how her mother could have sided against her, preferring to be in denial. Sharon even finds herself caring for her brother’s children when he is accused of murder. And perhaps worst of all, she is forced to battle cancer. She is also continually restricted by the fears that still arise from her past, and when a doctor, against her orders, gives her a full hysterectomy while she is asleep, past emotions spring back to life as she feels the same sort of violation she experienced as a child at her stepfather’s hands—that a man did as he pleased with her body while she was unable to defend herself.
Through these and many other telling incidents, “Surviving a House Full of Whispers” proves itself an amazing survival story. It speaks to the power of the human spirit—that people can still be good and do the right thing in the face of dysfunction and repeated obstacles. At the end of the book, Sharon finds herself in a position of caring for her mother; when asked how she can do so after how her mother treated her, Sharon simply replies that being vindictive is not in her nature. What perhaps strikes one the most in both of Sharon Wallace’s books is that she never gives up hope, whether it is in searching for a relationship with her father, or simply doing what needs to be done for her family.
At times, the book’s writing and the events are a bit rough, but so was Sharon’s life, and that she has survived and is willing to tell her story to shed insight into dysfunction is a triumph in itself. Rather than play the victim, she has become an inspiration through her efforts to make life better for herself and her loved ones. “I watch my children with their children and know I ended the dysfunctional lineage that had been passed down through generations of abusers. My grandchildren are to be cherished and future generations after them.” Telling her story of how she broke the cycle of abuse and dysfunction provides hope to many others who have struggled like Sharon and are just trying to survive.
For more information about Sharon Wallace and “Surviving a House Full of Whispers,” visit http://sharonwallace.co.uk/
— Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D., and author of the award-winning Narrow Lives
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