Valerie Smith's 'On the Edge of Insanity' is a harrowing new memoir, which charts one woman's journey from abuse victim to abuse survivor. The book brings to light an unbelievable but all too common statistic - that 70% of parents who were sexually abused as children go on to abuse their own child.
In the midst of a divorce, Valerie suffered a nervous breakdown, during which time, demons from past surfaced and threatened to overwhelm her. Born into large family and abused by her father, uncle and neighbour, Valerie's biggest hurdle to overcome was the desire to abuse her own child.
The book is a frank and explicit autobiography that comes straight from the heart. I met with Valerie recently to discuss the book, the legacy of her childhood, and how therapy proved to be such a positive experience for her.
CM: Valerie, it's great to meet you. How are things following the launch of On the Edge of Insanity?
VS: The launch of my book has been very therapeutic. I have now finally put to bed the gremlins that have affected me for most of my life. I have been very surprised at the interest in my book both on a personal level (friends, work colleagues) and people in the publication world. I have had to overcome acceptance that I have practically achieved the impossible.
Only a mere 6% recover from the sex abuse therapy I had to endure. This and my confession that I could have carried this ordeal into the next generation is in itself amazing and I am so proud of myself that learnt behaviour didn't carry through. I am very excited post launch of the book to think that I could change the lives of people who had similar ordeals and I wish to speak publically about it, god willing not only to help those with same experiences but to inspire and motivate others from every walk of life.
CM: What has the response been so far to the book?
VS: Those who have read the book have given me positive feedback. They have said that they could not put it down and have laughed and cried throughout the read. Some can't wait for the next book and are amazed that I was able to put pen to paper with such erratic life experiences at all. To date I have not had a negative comment. Considering this has been my first attempt at writing I am shocked at such favourable comments.
CM: It's hard to find a place to start with a story as complex as yours - at what point in your life does On the Edge of Insanity start?
VS: It starts as a young child sitting at the bottom of a lane waiting for my (real parents) to pick me up. Life was so unbearable. I had to fantasize about my life even at such a young age in order to cope. I could not believe I had such a life with no emotional fortitude.
CM: It's a harrowing story - did you have any doubts about being so open about about your story?
VS: No. I never once considered what people would say about my book. I wrote from the heart keeping positive and always referring to my children for constructive criticism, whether about the parts they portrayed in the book or just for encouragement.
The ordeal with my son turned out to be positive showing that not always does learnt behaviour come to fruition. It was a healing process for me and I wanted to show others that there is life after sex abuse providing you are lucky to have such professional treatment to reach final stages of recovery.
CM: You were going through a divorce at the time of your breakdown - how had the scars of your childhood experience impacted on your adult relationships?
VS: The marriage was doomed from the beginning! I was unable to make right choices. I married beneath me due to me feeling not worthy of anyone with aspirations or goals like myself, which was a feeling I had because of the abuse. Emotionally I was very immature, therefore unable to form proper relationships with husbands or anyone else for that matter.
In spite of this I had a burning desire to achieve set goals, I would not consider my husband's feelings. I was always right and got my own way whether this was because I had been abused or simply the type of person I was. On reflection I always had to have control of my life as this never was the case as a child.
CM: Some readers may find your admission of a desire to abuse your own child shocking - how do you deal with reactions towards this, very honest, admission?
VS: To date, I have never been confronted by anyone who was shocked at my admission to sexually abuse my son. Comments have always been positive, quote "wow what a woman!" I have often considered what I would say if I was confronted. I have however, discussed this with a few friends and explained that I did have urges but did not action them. This did not have any adverse repercussions and they accepted my reasoning.
Thinking further- I think if confronted I would listen to their comments. I know I would be calm, there is no emotional trauma still in me and would comment accordingly.
CM: Do you think that the general attitude towards childhood abuse has changed in the wake of the Savile scandal? From your own experience, what can be done to protect children that find themselves in similar situations to yourself?
VS: I think that the Savile scandal made everyone sit up and question how this could have happened. During his sexual perpetration people did not discuss situations about sexual abuse and children had not been educated to become outspoken if they experience this brutal ordeal. Now, children have become more aware and outspoken.
The NSPCC child line has helped children to become more open and have been supported with their dilemma. Good parenting is a must, I know I have always been open with my children. I often wonder how life would have been if I had support with my childhood and received early intervention.
CM: You are devoted advocate of therapy - how would you perhaps deal with people who are dubious about that kind of intervention?
VS: Unless you have experienced professional therapy it is very difficult to understand the benefits and feelings you gain from such treatment. I recall talking to my brother about the sex abuse I endured with our father. He showed me no compassion and said "the psychiatrist had planted seeds in my head".
With such an attitude like this it is very difficult to convince them. Perhaps the situation was too close to home. For people, not family who do not feel comfortable with medical intervention, I would suggest they read my book.
CM: Finally, what would you like people to take away from On the Edge of Insanity?
VS: I feel very strongly that anyone who reads my story will review their own lives and personal situation and it will inspire and motivate them to achieve their own goals whether sexually abused or not. It covers not only mental health issues but normal family situations when tested to the limit. Lastly, goals can be achieved no matter how old you are.
On the Edge of Insanity by Valerie Smith (published by New Generation, RRP £5.99 paperback, RRP £2.99 eBook) is available online at retailers including Amazon.co.uk and can be ordered at all good bookstores