image1

The author, age 46, and Jessie, the author's yellow Labrador retriever, 1990. At the South Carolina  Coast.

Interview

I want to be very clear about this. The Kate in your book A Still, Small Voice: Healing from Abuse is you, isn’t it? And you were the one who experienced the abuse?

Yes, I am Kate and I was abused.

Then why did you name the main character Kate?

My full name is Diane Kathryn Lavett. Deconstruct “Diane” to “Di-ane” and then to “Die-Ann.” My mother chose the name “Diane” but my father wanted me to be named Dianna. In other words, he wanted me to be named “Die Anna,” when his mother’s name was Anna. That is, my first name, which I have always hated without knowing why, is an explicit command for me to die and also expressed my father’s desires for his mother, my grandmother. Every time my parents said my name, they were telling me what they wanted of me. Kate is a lot nicer than that, isn’t it?

Yes. Is the story absolutely true?

The story is absolutely true, given that sometimes memory distorts or shades events to some extent. For instance, I wrote that my father was over six feet. In reality, he was somewhere around 5’8”. I kept the error in because I decided that my perception of his size as a child was more true than the reality of his size, which I did not even know until long after I finished the book. The book is definitely my truth, and I was extremely careful not to exaggerate or distort or report incorrectly. All events in my story happened as they are reported. Any power to my story exists in its truth.

Could you tell me the basic outline of A Still, Small Voice: Healing from Abuse?

I tell the true story of how it feels when being abused, how abuse left me feeling about myself as a child and an adult, the problems abuse caused me in my adult life, how repairing the effects of the abuse is done, and how the healing feels.


 Specifically, the story is about Kate, told by Kate in first-person-painful, who was physically, mentally, and sexually abused and was also terribly neglected, which itself is another form of abuse. Kate sets out on a journey to discover why she is in the midst of a divorce and what in herself helped result in her divorce. She finds out many family secrets and realizes that she was abused. The damage caused by the abuse is eventually repaired in therapy, to the extent that abuse damage can be repaired.

Do you think that all abuse damage can be repaired?

No. I am a different person than I would have been had I had good-enough parents. I have experienced traumatic damage, and the effect of that in my life cannot be erased. The abuse was a big factor in my divorce. The effects of that on my children and me still reverberate in their lives and mine right this minute. It affects how my daughter parents her children. My other daughter chose to leave my home for two years. That echoes still between us to some extent and always will. Who I am and how I think about myself is affected by that event. On and on, the abuse reverberates. All that repair does is to change my self attitudes, feelings, and the distortions of perceptions that can come from the experiences.

It seemed that I was reading a mystery story, almost, as I read your book.

Good. That is what I was aiming for while writing. Kate has no perception that her childhood was off, except that she was determined not to do to her children what was done to her as a child. She has no understanding of the forces that were acting on her. The mystery lies in Kate seeing what was going on in her life. Most abused children, by the way, think that the way they are treated is normal, that everyone else is being hit and thrown against walls. It never occurs to them to ask their friends about what happens to them when their parents get angry. Severe abuse also causes dissociation, from which Kate (and I, of course) suffered, that blocks the memories of abuse.

I found it a very compelling mystery story, by the way.

Thank you.

What is dissociation?

Dissociation is the immediate repression of an event if it is too traumatic. An example would be seeing someone having their foot cut off. The event is still in the memory, it still affects behavior and responses to other events. However, the person who has dissociated such an event may have no active memory of what happened, or may remember but not see the importance of the memory, and, much more importantly, does not remember how it felt while it was happening. Dissociation is the self-protection that the brain gives a person when they are about to be overwhelmed emotionally by an event. It’s an automatic process.


            Just recently I dislocated my left ring finger at the middle joint. Instead of being straight, my finger formed a right angle with itself at that joint. You would think it would be excruciatingly painful, but I felt nothing. I did not realize I was injured until I looked at my finger and saw the funny angle it made. Then I was puzzled for a moment, before I realized that I had hurt myself. My finger never did hurt. At the hospital, the doctor and nurses were looking at me as if I were strange, especially when I said no, it did not hurt at all. It was only the next day when my therapist called in response to an e-mail that I realized I was dissociating the pain. That is the power of dissociation. It kicks in so rapidly, when there is need, that it is amazing to me. I think I have never really felt acute pain because I learned to dissociate at such a young age. For instance, my stomach ruptured a couple of years ago, and that did not hurt at all.


            Dissociation is also the source of flashbacks. Flashbacks are actually symptoms of dissociation. They occur in or out of consciousness, just as an event that is dissociated can be remembered on some level or not. Flashbacks are always quick flashes of intense feelings that are triggered by some current event. Thus, a car backfire puts a combat survivor right back into a combat situation for a moment, with all the fear and anger and lashing out that would happen in combat.

If dissociation is an automatic process, is recovering the memory automatic?

No. Recovering the memory is a painfully difficult process. The mind resists it, at every point, raising a sign that says, “Here be dragons!” In the book, there are numerous instances of that with Renee and Kate going through a flashback of dissociated memories and feelings.

In your opinion, which is worse, abuse or neglect?

Almost all abused people who understand what they have experienced and every therapist who understands what both do to a person agree: neglect is worse than abuse. Neglect tells you that you are not pleasing to anyone. It tells you that you deserve nothing. It tells you that who you are is not worth cherishing. It tells you that you deserve nothing good. A child gains his self-image from the way he is treated. In contrast, abuse just hurts and scares, which is minor in comparison to being told every minute of your existence that you are worth nothing.

What is the “still, small voice?”

The still, small voice is the part inside me that kept pushing toward emotional health even when Renee, my therapist, wanted me to slow down, consolidate my gains, move to other topics or problems. I kept pushing toward the unknown inside me, urged on by the core sense of basic health and goodness, the part I trusted even when I could not sense it.


Renee has told me since then that she sometimes felt as if she were riding a tiger. She said she kept going to conferences and checking the literature, trying to find something that could help her help me. Remember, at the time we were working together, flashbacks and posttraumatic stress disorder were dismissed as neurotic symptoms and not recognized as coming from real events. Therapists were still being taught that reports of parental abuse were the product of neurotic thinking. Even today, the psychiatric mainstream does not recognize multiple personality disorder. Renee was out there on the edge of the unknown with a client who kept insisting on delving deeper and deeper into a horror show. She was incredibly brave.


I never had the sense that I was stressing Renee at all. I was positive that she had a plan, that she knew what she was doing, and that she knew how to help me. She was the first person in the world for whom I developed a complete and total sense of trust. I think that she literally saved my life.

Renee Rocklin at about the time I was working with her, 1976.

Renee Rocklin at about the time I was working with her, 1976.

Are you still in touch with Renee?

Oh, yes. Renee has become a dear friend and we talk fairly frequently by telephone. When she and her husband were in town recently for a family event, I spent some time with them. If someone has affected your life as strongly as Renee affected mine, they are a part of you forever.


 What is the “still, small voice?”