THERE IS A WAY OUT OF A PAINFUL PAST
Addiction Treatment Magazine
Los Angeles, California
The title alone is enough to make you want to pick up the book, Little Madhouse on the Prairie: A True-Life Story of Overcoming Abuse and Healing the Spirit, by Marion Elizabeth Witte, and read it. But this is no charming story of a Laura Ingalls character. It is a heartfelt and often painful to read account of a childhood weighed down by abuse, alcoholism, incredible hardship and abandonment.
Having said that, the book is extraordinary in that it shows very clearly that it is possible to overcome such a dismal and unpromising past and go on to achieve a happy and normal life. No, it isn’t easy. Getting over such a horrific past couldn’t possibly be easy and, as Ms. Witte is the first to say, it takes some doing on a continual basis. Not the getting over it, but the getting beyond it.
You see, there are the reminders that come along when you least expect it. You see a mother chastising her child in the store and you’re immediately brought right back to that painfully dark place in your memory of the time when you were so abused by one of your parents. It could be a harsh word that you hear or a certain look on someone’s face that you wince at – because it makes you recall episodes where all you wanted to do was run and hide from an abusive parent or sibling.
Ms. Witte certainly takes the reader through those bleak days on the prairie, and her writing, while not overtly explicit in the painful details, is vivid enough that anyone can understand how difficult an upbringing she endured. How would any of us react to being locked in a dark and dirty cellar in the middle of winter, one crawling with mice and rats? Or being forced to sleep in our own urine-soaked bed when we’ve had an accident? Or forced to wear boy’s hand-me-down clothes (when we’re a girl)? How would we deal with an alcoholic father who abandoned us emotionally as well as physically? If he wasn’t there for us when we needed protecting, that’s abandonment, plain and simple. And Ms. Witte had to endure all of this. No wonder she couldn’t wait to escape, as so many children who are abused wind up doing.
But just getting out of the abusive household does nothing to eradicate the painful past. This is another lesson that Ms. Witte learned and passes along to readers. It seems that you carry the past right along with you, whether you like it or not. Of course, she tried to block out the memories, just as others who have suffered childhood abuse have done. But they are always there under the surface, ready to rise up and alter behavior today. That is, unless the individual goes into therapy, seeks the support and encouragement of others, and embarks on a journey of self-discovery and self-healing.
The funny thing about healing from childhood abuse, whether the abuse is physical, sexual, or psychological, is that it may seem to others that everything is fine. The individual may appear perfectly composed, capable, not at all troubled by the past, when what is really going on is that their emotions are in turmoil. They may be at a breaking point and not even know it. It may even turn out that, just like in Ms. Witte’s experience, their body will turn against them. If we ignore what is unhealed, we will continue to suffer. Worst of all, our lives will continue to remain unfulfilled. We will sabotage relationships with those we love and end promising careers, thwart our hopes for future happiness – if we even dare to believe that we could ever truly be happy.
Healing, then, is something that those who have suffered abuse must work at – but they cannot heal by themselves. They require assistance from professionals, those trained in helping individuals overcome past abuse and trauma, learn new coping skills and behaviors, and begin, most of all, to believe that they are worthwhile and worthy of love.
Whether you are yourself the victim of childhood abuse or you know someone who is, this book will help you realize that there is a way out of the painful past. There is hope and promise available. The first step is to acknowledge that hope does exist. The next step is to go after it by seeking professional help.
Why did Ms. Witte write this book? Why did she reveal so much about her past? Her words are very direct: “I offer my story as a confirmation of my belief that all events and circumstances in life have purpose. Sometimes we find out what the purpose is immediately. Sometimes we spend a lifetime trying to figure it out. And sometimes, I imagine, we never really do know…. I humbly offer myself as an example that the human spirit can rise above any obstacles presented to it. I know my life has been divinely guided. And if mine has been, then so has yours.”