Book review by Heather Herbert, Canberra Regional Meeting
Ritual Abuse and Other Acts of Love by Elspeth Liberty (2011) available from
Though only 260 pages, this is not a light read – not a walk in the park. The wild and exuberant seascape by Rebecca Arman that lights up the cover of the book also lights up Elspeth’s office wall, and serves her as an icon of her journey.
Each chapter is bracketed by her reflection on the picture, and on the many moods of Bass Strait, which borders (sometimes overwhelms) the beach she frequents. These two seascapes both encapsulate the tumult she is writing about, and serve to ground both Elspeth and the reader in the present moment and her life now – so we don’t drown in her journey. Tumult in the foreground, serenity on the horizon.
This is a very courageous book – the product of a very courageous life.
It begins with her attempt at eighteen or nineteen to drown out a confusing and despair-making childhood in the multifaceted
and over-stimulating world of Kings Cross, and the unsurprising attempt to find refuge in drugs and alcohol. There had been church and Sunday school connections among her childhood experiences, and ‘sometimes I sensed God in the midst of it all’.
That candle of hope, and Elspeth’s ingrained desire to help others upheld her ongoing attempts to detox, to do something fruitful with her life. Her story exemplifies the great damage that abuse wreaks on the self-image of the victim.
As she shares with us her tumultuous journey, and the enterprises, programs and counsellors she encountered along the way, we are invited into a very profound, agonising and productive adventure. She explores in retrospect the methods that were effective, and confirms Bruce Perry’s conclusion that ‘people, not programs, change people’.*
Along her way Elspeth has revelled in the processes of using and achieving credentials in Transactional Analysis, theology, counselling. Her evolving acquaintance with Godness will resonate with many. It was also the ultimate antidote to her intimate acquaintance with evil in her childhood and youth.
For me Ritual Abuse and Other Acts of Love requires us
- to acknowledge the presence of great evil among us;
- to have greater compassion for those many who have been traumatised by its various forms; to work on how we fit its reality into our cosmology;
- and to strengthen our efforts not to contribute to it. Elspeth’s closing words fill us with hope:
‘I have no idea what comes next but whatever it may be I have the strength to embrace it and live it to the full. No matter what life throws at me I have the courage and faith to survive it. I now have a life that is brimming with possibilities and sparkling with God’.
* Perry, B. and Szalavit, M. (2006)The Boy Who Was Raised As a Dog: And Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook: What Traumatized Children Can Teach Us About Loss, Love and Healing. New York: Basic Books, p.80