Archive for Book Review

The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die


The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die is Linda Stewardson’s story of the unimaginable horror she suffered as a child. Her mother chose alcoholic men, the worst of whom stabbed Linda in the chest multiple times and left her for dead in a garbage bag on a remote beach. Fortunately she was found and taken to hospital. Strangely, once in the hospital, nobody questioned how she’d ended up with six knife wounds in her chest, inside a green plastic garbage bag. Instead the adults around, including the doctor and the nurses, asked her asked her why she’d tried to kill herself! Indeed, until she met Dr. Harvey Armstrong, none of the professionals she worked with asked her about child sexual abuse.

As a teenager, Linda lived on the streets, rather than face physical, emotional and sexual abuse at home. This is when she met my husband, Dr. Harvey Armstrong, psychiatrist at Youthdale Treatment Centre in Toronto. Harvey recognized the goodness and the strength in this young person. If only she had stability and safety in her life, he thought, she’d have a chance at living a decent life. This was the start of taking Linda into our own home and fostering her for periods of time.

Not only did Linda recover from trauma and addiction, she went on to marry a good man and, with her husband, adopted two little boys. In her own community, she reaches out to troubled youth assuring them that they, too, can seek help and recover. And now, with the success of her book, Linda is educating a wider circle about the prevalence of child sexual abuse, our society’s best-kept secret.

This is a heart-rending story. The book will enthrall you with Linda’s hopeless attempts to save herself in those years when adults were not to be trusted: and your heart will fill with relief and joy as she finally learns to trust and change the course of her life – from dark and scary to light and love.

Wise Help for Parents with Anxious Children

Many people who follow my blogs have suffered abuse as children. Childhood trauma has left us with a tendency to be triggered easily into fear states. When it comes to our own children, we want to protect them from such discomfort. Presumably, they haven’t been abused. But how do we help our youngsters deal with normal fears and anxiety.

In her new book, The Fear Fix, psychologist Sarah Chana Radcliffe provides parents with a wise and practical guide for empowering children to deal with their own fears. From common fears to full-blown anxiety disorders, Radcliffe leads parents through detailed training. Emphasizing the importance of empathic listening and responding in such a way that the child feels heard, not dismissed or trivialized, she encourages parents to resist the temptation to negate the child’s fears

Here’s an example from the book of the wrong way to deal with fear.

Child: I don’t want to get a needle. It’s going to hurt.

Parent: I know you’re scared, but really, it’s not going to hurt that much.

This approach takes the child away from his fear too quickly. Fear is a wave, says Radcliffe. The child must be encouraged to feel all of his fear, to complete the movement of the wave. Here is an example of effective listening.

Child: I don’t way to get a needle. It’s going to hurt.

Parent: Of course you’re frightened. Pain is a scary thing.

This response gives the child an opening to experience and ride through his fear. The parent simply listens without trying to talk him out of feeling the way he feels.

Radcliffe realizes that wise parenting means helping parents to be calmer and more centered emotionally. The book offers parents a host of good ways to maintain the state of calm necessary for effective parenting.

Mindfulness, aware breathing and a host of other proven methods for maintaining a state of inner peace offer parents the opportunity to learn life skills that will make for a better life (with or without children.)  Bach floral remedies, Aromatherapy, Tapping (EFT) are some of the ways described for parents and anyone else wanting to go through life peacefully. This is a book anyone will benefit from reading.

You can visit the author on her website:

The Fear Fix: Solutions for Every Child’s Moments of Worry, Panic and Fear: Collins, an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, Ltd., Toronto, Canada, 2013.

Sexual Trauma – The Highest Predictor of Alcoholism

Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol by Ann Dowsett Johnston.

This is a solid, well-researched account of alcohol’s harmful effects on those of us who are vulnerable to substance abuse.

I remember hearing Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk, expert childhood trauma clinician, researcher and teacher, explain that when anyone presented for treatment with a history of child sexual abuse, he asked what they used to dull the intolerable pain of child sexual abuse: street drugs, prescription drugs, cigarettes, food binges, etc.? Those who have lived through childhood trauma need something, he explained. The pain is too great to bear without some substance to numb it.

Johnston described her interview with David Goldman, chief of the laboratory of human genetics at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, in the United States. Goldman told her that genes play a strong role in alcoholism, but “The strongest single predictor for both alcoholism and depression is having been sexually abused or traumatized in childhood. … Sexual abuse is the strongest predictor” (p. 81.)

Those of us who have histories of child abuse, especially child sexual abuse, would do well to take in Drink’s information. The author’s sharing of her own struggle with alcohol is heartfelt and honest. Growing up with an alcoholic mother, Johnston swore never to be like her mother, but ended up drinking heavily, beginning in university. By the time she was a superwoman editor, mother and successful public figure, she depended on wine to smooth over fatigue, anxiety and any other uncomfortable feeling.

I was in the large audience at this year’s Kingston Writers’ Fest when Johnston talked about her life and her book. She has a lovable vulnerability, an unusual characteristic in a trauma survivor. (Most of us hide any sign of struggle or pain.) Her book describes how she became more and more authentic as she healed: more and more Ann.

There is a disturbing increase in drinking among women in general, she tells us. Realizing this, wine makers and distillers have developed marketing strategies and products targeted exclusively to women. Girls’ Night Out wines, Mommy Juice and Mommy’s Time Out, berry flavoured vodkas and fruit coolers are all aimed at the female consumer.

Johnston describes the disturbing prevalence of heavy drinking on university campuses. (Such is not the case in community colleges.) Drunkenness is considered part of a rite of passage, normal behaviour for those who have left home, usually for the first time. Many vulnerable women begin their problem drinking in university. She urges academic communities to tackle this problem.

Realizing she had a problem, Ann Dowsett Johnston promised her then-boyfriend she wouldn’t drink alone when she moved to Montreal to be Vice President of McGill University. Loneliness and the stress of the new job soon had her finding sleep by drinking too much. At last, she tells us, she crashed and headed for a residential treatment centre to deal with her alcoholism.

I highly recommend this book to survivors of childhood trauma and to anyone wishing to better understand the damaging effects of alcohol on vulnerable populations.

Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol, Ann Dowsett Johnston, HarperCollins Publishers Ltd., Toronto, Canada, 2013.