Tag Archives: Child Abuse

Book Review: The Hospital by Barbara O’Hare

A few weeks ago, I heard about The Hospital by Barbara O’Hare in a foster care and inspirational memoir group on Facebook. I decided to check it out and it sounded great. Having been in a psychiatric hospital myself and having endured some controversial treatment there, somehow I was drawn to this book. Maybe it’s because I want to be reassured that it could’ve been worse. I don’t know.

Synopsis

“Nobody knew what was going on behind those doors. We were human toys. Just a piece of meat for someone to play with.”

Barbara O’Hare was just 12 when she was admitted to the psychiatric hospital, Aston Hall, in 1971. From a troubled home, she’d hoped she would find sanctuary there. But within hours, Barbara was tied down, drugged with sodium amytal – a truth-telling drug – and then abused by its head physician, Dr Kenneth Milner.

The terrifying drug experimentation and relentless abuse that lasted throughout her stay damaged her for life. But somehow, Barbara clung on to her inner strength and eventually found herself leading a campaign to demand answers for potentially hundreds of victims.

A shocking account of how vulnerable children were preyed upon by the doctor entrusted with their care, and why it must never happen again.

My Review

The story begins with Barbara’s early childhood memories of being abused by her Dad and step-Mom because of being a “dirty tinker”. The abuse unfortunately only continues oce Barbara is cared for by Edna, a woman renting her father’s house while he’s working off-shore. Barbara from there ends in a children’s home, where she tries to run away, so she’s placed in The Cedars, a locked children’s facility.

There, Dr. Milner meets her and tricks her into going into Aston Hall. Once there, she’s tied down, drugged and abused regularly throughout her eight-months-long stay. Barbara discovers that the other girls on her ward share two things with her: most come from The Cedars and all don’t know their biological mothers. What struck me as interesting was the dynamic between the girls while not in “treatment”. They were pretty typical girls, forming cliques and friendships and bullying one another.

When Barbara is on leave with her father and yet another of his girlfriends, she confides in them and they decide to get her out. They get Barbara into an approved boarding school, which is a lot better than the hospital but still very strict. Barbara yearns to meet her biological mother and tries to escape the school to find her. Her father than moves her to a girls’ hostel, where she is free to go as she pleases. She eventually goes on a search for her mother, which ends in disappointment.

I must say that it’s not too clear throughout the book how the hospital affects Barbara long-term. She does explain in a chapter about her ongoing PTSD symptoms and risk-taking behavior (possible dysregulation from complex PTSD).

Most people in the Facebook group said that they didn’t like the ending of the book. I had no problem with it though. I mean, I didn’t feel Barbara’s appreciation of her father was all that warranted given his early abuse of her, but then again he did get her to escape Aston Hall.

Overall, I really loved the book. It was a pretty fast-paced read and I finished it within a few days.

Rating: five out of five stars.

Book Details

Title: The Hospital: How I Survived the Secret Child Experiments at Aston Hall
Author: Barbara O’Hare
Publisher: Blink Publishing
Publication Date: Feburary 9, 2017

Book Review: Cruel to Be Kind by Cathy Glass

A few weeks ago, I found out about a new Cathy Glass book on an E-mail list I’m part of. Most of the members of the list are big Cathy Glass fans, but I’d never read a book by her. I badly wanted to. Cruel to Be Kind is Glass’ latest foster care memoir. I finished reading it on Saturday. Here is my review. It contains slight spoilers.

Synopsis

Cruel To Be Kind is the true story of Max, aged 6. He is fostered by Cathy while his mother is in hospital with complications from type 2 diabetes. Fostering Max gets off to a bad start when his mother, Caz, complains and threatens Cathy even before Max has moved in. Cathy and her family are shocked when they first meet Max. But his social worker isn’t the only one in denial; his whole family are too.

My Review

It wasn’t clear to me from the synopsis what it is that shocks Cathy about Max. I need to disclose it to make this review at all meaningful, hence my spoiler alert. The shocking fact is that Max is morbidly obese. Whether childhood obesity is a form of child abuse, is a controversial issue at least in the Netherlands. As an obese person myself, I was at first a little like “What’s the problem?”. Clearly this is me still not being fully accepting of the health risks of my own obesity. Max though is not just obese – he weighs twice as much as he should at his young age.

As is said in the synopsis, Max’s family and social worker are in denial. His mother and sisters are all morbidly obese too and, even though Max’s mother Caz has type 2 diabetes, she at first refuses to admit Max needs to lose weight.

I at first thought this would be a rather boring story, but it isn’t. In fact, it has many layers. I really got to know Max, Caz and Max’s sisters as they struggle with the generational curse of child abuse and domestic violence. I loved how Cathy attempts to portray most people she interacted with as humans with their strengths and weaknesses. For example, at first Caz was portrayed like a demanding, hostile feeder. In the end, she warms up to Cathy and discloses the dark secrets behind her overeating.

Overall, I really liked this book and it totally has me hungry for similar books. The only thing I really didn’t like about the book, is its title. Max at the end uses the phrase that you have to be cruel to be kind sometimes as an expression of gratitude for Cathy’s having put him on a diet. This phrase and the use of the words “tough love” in the same statement, did trigger me a bit.

Book Details

Title: Cruel to Be Kind: Saying No Can Save a Child’s Life
Author: Cathy Glass
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication Date: September 2017

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Writing Letters to the People Who Hurt You

One of the steps in changing maladaptive schemas, according to the authros of Reinventing Your Life, is to write letters to the people who contributed to the formation of these schemas. You obviously don’t need to send these letters, but the goal is to have your inner vulnerable child speak out.

I have told my story of the traumatic expeirence sin my life many times, but it is hard fo rme to actually write letters to the people who caused or didn’t protecct me against these experiences. I am not at this point in therapy yet, but one of the things that I think will hold me back is the need to address these people directly. Even if I’m not going to send or publish these letters, it still feels as though I’m telling these peole to their face that they abused, abandoned or failed to protect me.

Another thing which the authors acknowledge, is the fact that sometiems people who abuse or otherwise trumatize others, are well-intentioned. In my case, the people who hurt me didn’t know better, had the best of intentions, and/or didn’t realize what they did was causing me long-term trauma. I struggle with this big time. When I still had a DID ddiagnosis, I struggled with the connotation of severe, usually sadistic abuse. After my diagnosis was changed to BPD, I told some of the people who hurt me that I realize they aren’t sadists and that I had been struggling with this connotation in DID. Reading this chapter in Reinventig Your Life, I found for the first time someone acknowledging that well-intentioned treatment can still traumatize children (or adults). The authors say that, in writing the letters to the people who hurt you, you need to let go of excuses like this and let the vulnerable child in you speak freely and express her feelings.

Later in the process, the authors say, you may choose to forgive your parents (or others who hurt you, I suppose). I have often written aabout forgiveness, and I realize now that it’s required to feel your true feelings before you can come to forgive. Forgiving means accepting what happened, but also letting go of the need or want to be angry about it for the rest of your life. I have often tried to forgive the peeople who hurt me, without feeling the true extent of the hurt. That is stuffing feelings, not forgiving people.

Moving Beyond Blame in Abuse

A few days ago, Soaring Survivor wrote an interesting post on forgiving yourself in the process of healing from domestic violence. Forgiving yourself, she says, is harder than forgiving the abuser.

I always find myself thinking that my situation is almost unique, in that I myself was aggressive and my family responded with aggression to my behavior. Then I found out, I don’t remember where, that in most situations of intimate partner violence, there is not simply one person who is the perpetrator and the other who is the victim. Rather, there tend to be some form of abuse on both sides. I am not saying that this is the case for Soaring Survivor, as I don’t know her situation. What I mean to say is that my situation, involving sort of provoked aggression, is not as unique as I used to think.

This makes forgiving myself extra hard. I have forgiven my family, I think, but too often this comes down to trivializing what happened. I know that my parents weren’t sadists, and I often say this to justify their actions. They did what they thought was their best.

Then a few weeks ago I read a response in a women’s magazine from a person with borderline personality disorder to two parents who had complained about their children’s BPD being attributed to abuse. The borderline patient said that even very ordinary parents make mistakes, and this can set off BPD in vulnerable people. Does this mean they’re pitiful victims? No.

What I realize as I write this, is that maybe the hardest part of forgiving both yourself and the people who hurt you in your life, is shifting the focus away from the question of blame. Ordinary partners and parents (and children) act out violently, and accepting this is hard but necessary for both survivors/victims and the general public. Abuse happens, and the idea that only sadists perpetrate it, gets a whole lot of survivors/victims unnecessarily stuck in self-blame. Forgiveness may involve accepting what happened without letting it hold you back from living a fulfilling life. I’m still struggling with this.