Boston, MA – After she is seduced into a sexual “romance” by her 8th-grade teacher, it takes years for Liz Kinchen to understand–and even identify–her abuse, and seek healing for the emotional isolation that underpins her adult relationships. Now Kinchen debuts a candid, moving memoir about reckoning with and healing from childhood trauma, in hopes of helping others along their own paths of rediscovery and repair, “Light in Bandaged Places: Healing in the Wake of Young Betrayal” (September 5, 2023, She Writes Press).
“I cannot rewrite my inner child’s history, but I can provide the care, attention, parenting, love, and safety net she didn’t have back then. Because she lives in me still, my adult self can offer her all those things, so she no longer has to run my life out of her fear and isolation.” –from “Light in Bandaged Places”
As a lonely girl coming of age in the 1970s, Liz has every reason to believe her 8th-grade teacher is in love with her. Because the sex isn’t physically violent and is wrapped in a message of love, she learns to exchange sex for attention. It feels like love, after all. But years later, as an adult, emotional closeness eludes Liz. Even after marrying a sensitive, caring man, she is walled off. Struggling through confusing years, she believes something is deeply wrong with her.
Healing begins when an unexpected event takes Liz back to those formative years, and she sees for the first time that what happened to her was not love but abuse. As she begins to understand how her relationship with her former teacher destroyed her innocence and self-worth, she begins a spiritual and psychological journey that sets her free. Now a meditation teacher and Buddhist practitioner, Liz offers her story with the goal of helping readers understand and pursue their healing.
“Light in Bandaged Places”
Liz Kinchen | September 5, 2023 | She Writes Press | Memoir
Paperback | 978-1-64742-535-7 | $17.95
Liz Kinchen is a writer, meditation teacher, and Buddhist practitioner. With graduate degrees in computer science and counseling psychology, Kinchen worked in software development management for 21 years before moving into the nonprofit sector for seventeen years as the executive director of a small organization working with underserved children and families in Honduras. Her passions are her family, meditation, teaching mindfulness, spirituality, writing, talking with close friends, and walking in nature. She is a contributing author to the anthology Art in the Time of Unbearable Crisis, published by She Writes Press in 2022. She lives in the greater Boston area with her husband of over 30 years. Find out more about her and check out her blog about mediation teaching at lizkinchen.com.
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In an interview, Liz Kinchen can discuss:
- How she learned to identify her relationship with her teacher as sexual abuse–and why this identification took time
- How and why abuse is not always easily identifiable
- How the way a child is parented affects their later adult behavior
- How she learned to understand and care for her inner child
- What to do about the all-too-relatable feeling that “something is wrong with you”
- How she learned to renavigate her relationships with herself, and with others
- How her practice of Buddhism and meditation contributed to her healing
An Interview with
- What were the components that contributed to your healing from your teenage abuse?
There were many, although it took some time before I found them, or before they entered my life…
The event that really began my journey of healing was watching a video that showed a man gradually seducing a vulnerable teenage boy, and experiencing a visceral reaction that told me, for the first time, that what I experienced with my middle school teacher was not a loving relationship, as I had thought for many years, but one of his grooming me to meet his narcissistic needs. This opened my eyes because it took me abruptly from holding my past experience with him mainly in my head, to feeling it in my body.
That led to years of working intensively with a trauma therapist. Placing myself in the hands of a skilled and loving professional helped tremendously.
Although my marriage was strained by my difficulty being open and honest, my husband loved me and believed in me, nonetheless. His loyalty and commitment to me and our marriage provided a strong foundation to stand on while I learned how to heal.
A very powerful factor in my healing was becoming a mother. I had (and still have) such a strong bond of unconditional love with my children; it showed me what openness and honesty in a relationship felt like. I had it in me all along, but being a mother made it real to me.
Although I struggled with knowing what kind of spiritual path felt right for me, I always had a strong sense of something larger than myself. This provided comfort and an anchor in my confusion and despair. This spiritual searching led me to Buddhist teachings, which showed me how to navigate the challenges in my life.
2. Why did it take decades before you realized and understood the true impact of your childhood and teen trauma?
It is often the case that trauma leads to shutting down or compartmentalizing the emotional parts of us that were hurt. This is what I did. This made being open and loving in adult relationships difficult for me. I had blocked off access to feelings of trust and safety in a relationship. I didn’t even know I was doing this until my second husband persisted in asking me to trust him – thereby bringing to light how much I distrusted everyone. I thought feeling unsafe in the world and in a loving relationship was normal – was how everyone felt.
The emotional neglect I experienced in my childhood made me an easy target for being groomed because no one was paying much attention to me. Additionally, that early neglect taught me that my emotional needs were not important, so I learned to erase my needs.
3. What is the role secrecy played in your story – how did it help and/or hurt you?
My family of origin did not communicate much, particularly about things of importance. My father was an alcoholic, but the kind that drank quietly and was never loud or disruptive, so as a child, it was easy to not understand how this contributed to his emotional absence. No one in my family talked about it, yet even unspoken, it was in the air. It felt like a secret. Then, when I started my relationship with my middle school teacher, he taught me it was important to keep that a secret, that it was just our business. So, at an early age, I learned it was better and safer to keep secrets. I carried this inclination into my adult life, making it easy to have relationships with married men, believing it was alright to do as long as no one knew. Holding secrets became part of my identity. I guess it helped me in a false kind of way by providing a sense of safety by avoiding the judgments of others. But it mostly hurt me and hurt people I loved when I wasn’t truthful with them. It also hurt me because I wasn’t truthful with myself either, so I remained in delusion about my actions. Keeping secrets in relationships is corrosive.
4. How did you find Buddhism and spirituality as a means of healing?
I was always interested in spirituality and a relationship with a higher power. I was confused for many years about who and what God was, but I wanted there to be a God who was kind and not punishing. When I discovered Buddhism, I was struck by its invitational quality – that we should test ideas out for ourselves and not just believe them because someone said to. I was also drawn to Buddhism’s emphasis on compassion – for ourselves and others. This appealed to my sense of wanting to help people, which I’ve had my whole life. Applying it to myself was a new and healing idea for me. Buddhism teaches not to ignore what is painful but rather look deeply into it – this teaching has been vital to my healing, rather than hiding the truth from myself.
5. Do you think this is a story just for women, or are there messages for men also?
When I decided to publish my book, I was thinking of the girls and women who might have experiences like mine, and who might find hope that healing is possible. However, there are messages for all people in my story. There is something misguided and very harmful to women in today’s patriarchy. Boys should be taught from a young age to respect girls and not view them as less-than, and as they become men, to not exert power over them but treat them as equals – different but equal. This would help men not take advantage of girls and women of any age. Perhaps by reading how damaging it is for a man with greater power to prey on young girls, this can become better understood and no longer done. Men in partnership with women who have experienced similar abuse as mine might better understand the ways they struggle and become part of their healing. It is equally important for us all to remember that boys as well as girls are often the subjects of grooming, betrayal, and abuse at the hands of those more powerful than they, and are subject to its resulting trauma.
6. What do you hope both teenagers and older audiences will learn from your story?
I assume most of my audience will be adult women – particularly women who struggle with self-worth regardless of its origin- and seek greater peace and wholeness in their lives. Some women may have had abusive relationships like mine, maybe even be unaware of its damaging impact, as I was. So I think an older audience may benefit from my story of waking up to my hurt and seeing that healing is possible. I would love for my book to be found by teenage girls considering entering a relationship with an adult man with greater power – girls being groomed. It might give them insight into the long-lasting dangers of such a relationship, even though it can feel very exciting and affirming at the time. I believe many young girls are being groomed by their trusted teachers, coaches, family members, ministers, and others – more than we realize. I would love to help expose this insidious and very harmful practice. I would love to help expose all the cover-ups and colluding done by institutions that help keep this in the shadows.
7. How did the act of writing your story contribute to your healing?
My therapist suggested that writing might be a good way to help me remember events and feelings from the past. I had snapshots of scenes, but once I began writing about them, some gaps were filled in, and I was able to recall ambiance and feeling states from the past. Somehow the creative act of writing opened channels that otherwise might have remained closed. This helped my past come more alive to me, and I could better connect the past to my present. Naming our feelings is an important early step in facing and working with difficult emotions. I continue to find writing to be a powerful way for what lies deep inside me to emerge.
8. What was the most difficult aspect of writing about your teenage trauma?
I found writing the scenes with Mark, and later with Jason, to be the most difficult.
In Mark’s case, it was challenging to write the scenes in enough detail to convey exactly how the grooming took place, while not being overly graphic. Emotionally, writing these scenes required me to directly face what happened, and as I pictured the young girl I was then, it broke my heart.
In the case of Jason, it was difficult for me to relive the pain of the struggle we went through and for me to be honest about the ways I hurt him. I know how I acted with Jason resulted from my abuse and trauma, and at the same time, it saddens me that it played out in ways that hurt him – that hurt us.
9. Are there present-day triggers that can still activate your trauma? If so, how do you handle that?
Yes, absolutely! Most people with trauma histories (and even those without) will continue to be triggered by events in the present. The big difference, however, is in what happens after the trigger. As I described in the book, I used to respond to being triggered by entering a state of emotional paralysis, dissociation, and withdrawal, to the point of being unable to find words to speak and entering a downward spiral of self-contempt. Now, I can be triggered and see pretty quickly what is happening. I have many tools to help me. The primary one is the awareness I can bring to the moment and the recognition of the trigger. This allows me to breathe with it, sit with it, gently regulate myself, and then choose how I want to respond. Sometimes this process happens quickly after being triggered, and sometimes it takes a little while. Either way, I don’t descend into that downward spiral. Truly, my life is very different now, even in the face of inevitable triggers.
A former award-winning journalist with national exposure, Marissa now oversees the day-to-day operation of the Books Forward author branding and book marketing firm, along with our indie publishing support sister company Books Fluent.
Born and bred in Louisiana, currently living in New Orleans, she has lived and developed a strong base for our company and authors in Chicago and Nashville. Her journalism work has appeared in USA Today, National Geographic and other major publications. She is now interviewed by media on best practices for book marketing.