(TW: mentions of sexual abuse, child abuse)
Rosie McMahan was brought up in Somerville, MA at a time when kids and dogs roamed the streets in unlawful packs, and the walk to a barroom or a Catholic church was less than a quarter of a mile away in any direction. She recounts her difficult childhood that left her with feelings of shame, guilt, and a need to reconcile for years to come in her new memoir ‘Fortunate Daughter’, out April 13 through She Writes Press.
Rosie takes us through her experience as she and her family attempt to move on from sexual abuse, and the emotional, spiritual and even cultural complexities that come along with forgiving her father, but never being able to forget the past. Her family’s open discussions after sexual abuse may not be conventional, but it helped all of their healing processes.
Rosie’s story is shattering beliefs about victims and abusers alike, showing that there is a path to reconciliation if the abuse is acknowledged and the abusers take responsibility. Rosie’s past experience has not changed with her decision to accept it and move on, but her approach has allowed her to continue with her life despite past trauma.
Her training as a counselor and educator is bolstered by what she experienced in her own healing process. Not as someone who experienced betrayal, abuse, and abandonment. Those things happened to her and they are important to acknowledge. What informs her today, and gives her courage, is her experience of healing. Read the interview below to learn more of Rosie’s story.
Many abused children survive and thrive, but few live without the trauma of their past within them. How has your experience and acceptance of what happened helped you with that?
‘The past is never the past’ – fully – for anyone. If you want to know me, really know me, you have to understand that I was injured as a child, but you also have to know about my healing experience. As a culture, we are more comfortable focusing on the harm than we are on the healing, for both the victims and the perpetrators. That needs to change. My healing journey allowed for me to move forward in my life for a few reasons, one of them being that my parents, the perpetrators, were invited to participate in a confrontation process that ultimately provided us to reconcile with one another. If this was a more available option, more people would be able to participate and more people would be able to heal in this way.
What advice would you give to people searching for a way to “put things right”, and forgive?
This, too, is a complicated process. You have to be able to access good (trauma informed) care. You have to be willing to do the work of healing. You have to acknowledge what happened and not downplay or dismiss your feelings about it. You have to be brave. You have to reject some of the early lessons you learned that did not promote mental health and well being. You have to decide what you need independent of what others may offer you. You have to risk the potential loss of family members from your life.
How has your life changed since you accepted your past as part of who you are?
My life is influenced by many things. When I was a child and well into my teens, I didn’t have many examples of people who’d gone through what I endured and had been able to succeed. I thought – even if I healed – I was doomed to a life that would be more tragic and unfulfilling. It took me a long time to embrace the notion that I wasn’t just ‘damaged goods’. That is why I wrote this story. That is why I want to share it. Many people are injured and a lot of them heal. I don’t know anyone else who was permitted the experience of reconciliation that I was. That is what has made a huge difference.
What do you think needs to change regarding the way people and the media in general acknowledge sexual abuse? Do you think there needs to be a system in place that helps families talk through their trauma?
First, we need to acknowledge that sexual abuse and the epidemic of sexual abuse is real. Then we need to help families in such a way that affords them the option my family had. Systems – child protective services – have been realizing for some time that the decision to remove children from their parents when there is real concern of harm – while it might be essential at times – is not necessarily a long term solution for many families.
What do you want readers to learn from your life experience?
So many things. What it is like to experience childhood sexual abuse in the context of one’s family. The difficult journey of healing.The multifaceted process of going through reconciliation with one’s parents, the main perpetrators of abuse. The need for people in helping positions to deepen their understanding of what it means to enter a child’s life with the intention to prevent abuse and promote healing. Healing practices must recognize the possibility of healing – even when it’s not clear that it’s an option.
Click HERE to purchase a copy of ‘Fortunate Daughter’ today!