Inside/Outside: One Woman’s Recover From Abuse And A Religious Cult, by Jenny Hayworth
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Author Blog Tours in exchange for an honest review.]
Until reaching nearly the end of this book, it seems as if the bleak and painfully honest tale of generational patterns of sexual abuse, alcoholism, broken families, and mental illness will continue without ceasing. For over 300 pages (out of about 340) there are brief chapters detailing family fights, harrowing tales of physical or sexual or emotional abuse, or bad decisions and their aftermaths, interspersed with a religious context that I can relate to all that well. The sheer amount of unpleasant material that this books deals with requires that readers be willing and able to handle the honest and upfront discussion of matters as diverse as spanking and oddball religious communities.
This book, along with many others  is a memoir of a dark childhood and its consequences. Jenny’s childhood was certainly a harrowing one, including alcoholic family members and a long chain of sexual abuse from her grandfather affecting her and her younger brother in the context of being isolated members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Australia and New Zealand. This is the sort of story, though, that can happen anywhere, a tale of an abused young woman who because a teasing and flirtatious teenager (teasing even her brother and acting out on her abuse with a vulnerable special needs friend and neighbor) being involved in relationships with much older men and ending up married to a man with a dark past of sexual abuse who struggles with violent anger and homosexuality.
Nor does the darkness stop there. Throughout the book, the author is candid both about her faults as well as what she judges to be the faults of those around her (and the reasons for those faults), examining patterns of abuse and violence and mental illness (like depression and post-traumatic stress disorder) and emotional withdrawal going back several generations, something I can relate to rather painfully. It is of little surprise that given her experience with suicide hotlines and catatonic depression and mental hospitals that she would seek to study social work and psychology, and given her experiences the fact that she has chosen to work among those who have survived sexual abuse is itself rather to be expected. It is a shame, though, that the happy ending of the book comes so abruptly after a lot of very grim writing, including her discussions of living with an alcoholic twice as well as having various other flings that she writes about somewhat approvingly.
As long as this book is read as an honest no-holds-barred account of an eventful and traumatic life rather than as advice on what kind of life someone should live, the moral failings of the author are not necessarily problematic. Fortunately, most of the book is more about personal exploration and confession about matters of pretense and poor judgment and what appears to be dissociative disorder (the author’s constant talking about personalizing authority figures as “Inside Mom” is somewhat alarming, but certainly sincere).
Where this book is at its weakest is at its critique of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, which is one element that will make this book somewhat popular among those who are critical of “fundamentalist” religions. While there are certainly aspects of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and other groups like them that are worthy of critique (and that I have critiqued myself) , the author appears to be unable to properly distinguish between those elements of Jehovah’s Witness culture that are cultish (like the systematic control of the lives of members by clergy, the lack of the acceptance of ambiguity and doubt) and those that are genuinely biblical if not very popular (the author is constantly complaining about pagan holidays and the fact that they are viewed negatively by Jehovah’s Witnesses). In the second half of the book, the exploration of the author of the Bahias and a generally irrational and mystical approach to faith, as well as emotional rather than intellectual issues with the behavior of many leaders in her former church remind me of writers in the post-WCG tradition . One never gets the sense that the author has a serious view of religion at all, but has rather been discouraged from her original belief system (without building a new one) because of hypocrisy and inclined to have a somewhat self-absorbed look at what love means. Nevertheless, this book is certainly a welcome reminder for those who are serious about their religious beliefs that showing love and compassion to others is a very serious matter, given that people will not generally respect doctrinal clarity if it does not come with practical morality and the outward expression of love and respect.
One quality this book always has in its favor, though, is the fact that it is so honest and transparent (the author, well into her adulthood, strikes one as behaving like a child or a teenager, which is both disarming and somewhat alarming as well) that many flaws can be indulgently handled because of the guilelessness in which the material is prevented. This book wrestles openly with difficult questions, like “How does one deal with being a victim and a victimizer at the same time.” [p. 57] and, even more painfully, “Physical injury, which is so easily seen, brings out the best in people. Benjamin was flooded with toys, get-well gifts, and genuine concern for his welfare. When his sexual abuse had been disclosed, it had been a different reaction. Nobody had talked about it openly, like they did when the car hit him. After the car hit him, Benjamin was able to tell his story over and over, and in the telling he found healing, comfort, support, and understanding. When he had been abused, there had been only silence. And in silence and avoidance came an innate sense that he had done something shameful, too bad to talk about, that had to be kept in the dark, not to be brought up in the light of day in “normal” conversation.” [p. 111] This book deserves credit for bringing that darkness into the light of day, so that it may be acknowledged, mourned, and dealt with by those who have suffered as she has, with the same desire to break the cycles of abuse so that later generations do not have to suffer as we have.
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