Walking with Aletheia: A Survivor’s Memoir
by Jean Wehner
Bhanu Joy Harrison, LCSW
This book is a wrenching, but necessary read for survivors of abuse, those working with survivors and those in power, especially in religious institutions, who may be still perpetuating such trauma.
Ms. Wehner poignantly reveals her decades long process of re-membering herself…..literally putting herself back together through deep exploration of memories, sensations and fragments of herself, until they eventually coelescated into the formation of a post-traumatic, empowered woman. She has withstood the tsunami of emotions and memories with such grace and grit, inspiring other survivors and encouraging them to continue their healing journey.
Ms. Wehner accurately describes the dissociation process or “freeze” response, an instinctual survival response, that helps survivors block out memories so that they can continue to live their lives, as best they can. As a trauma therapist, I have witnessed this process in so many of my clients. We protect ourselves from overwhelm by splitting off those parts that have experienced violation, horror and betrayal so that we can literally breathe and walk. However, the body does not lie, and often, the key to resolving trauma can often be found in listening to the somatic sensation cues the body offers. Ms. Wehner’s account of her years of deep processing serves as encouragement and hope to those whose trauma is locked in the recesses of their body-minds. Her ability to listen to those parts of herself, sharing their fear and terror takes great courage and her capacity to be compassionate towards and eventually embrace these younger selves demonstrates the depth of her heart and her healing.
Abuse from spiritual teachers, clergy and gurus unfortunately continues to be rampant and extremely destructive. Not only is there violation of a person’s body through sexual abuse, but the manipulation and mind games accompanying such abuse can literally destroy a person’s sense of self. I speak from experience as I was a member of a Hindu yoga ashram in my early adulthood. I came to the organization with a true desire to progress in my spiritual growth and eventually become ‘enlightened’ (the great promise). As in other spiritual or religious paths, I was fed a diet of beliefs that I needed to purify, that my mind and body was full of desire, a hindrance on the path, and that only the guru knew what was best for me. While I was not physically or sexually abused, it took me many years and much therapy to get the guru’s voice out of my head. And that guru did sexually abuse many of the women residents as I was later to find out.
Healing from sexual abuse, along with emotional and mental manipulation is really, really hard. Adding God, the clergy, and patriarchal power dynamics into that mix makes the process even more difficult. Not only does Ms. Wehner describe the betrayal she felt from the clergy who abused her, she felt the betrayal from the church and ultimately God himself, questioning the entire religious and power structures that allowed this tragedy to unfold and continue for so long. Add in the crushing, ongoing abuse and gaslighting by the legal professionals representing the church, and we can literally sense the burden of proof that Ms. Wehner had to cope with in her body, mind and heart.
Ms. Wehner is a strong, tenacious woman who believed in her own lived experience, rather than bowing to the outside forces trying to make her appear “crazy.” Her healing journey continues to be supported by many family members, therapists and a wide variety of modalities that can work to heal the body, open the heart and release the memories that can torment people for their lives. Every survivor deserves to be deeply heard and held with such support.
I am heartened and uplifted by her sharing of her journey, one that can serve to comfort and inspire those who have suffered at the hands of those in power. My wish is that we believe and honor the stories that children and survivors share with us…that we ask not “what’s wrong with you?”, but “what happened to you?”. And, as we shine the light of truth on those that perpetrate harm as Ms. Wehner has so eloquently done, may we begin to dismantle the power structures that have harmed so many.
Bhanu Joy Harrison, LCSW, Somatic Experiencing Trauma Practitioner, UCLA Trained Mindfulness Facilitator