How To Survive
A Tale of Intergenerational Trauma and Healing
An excoriating enquiry into the reasons personal history repeats itself
One in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before the age of 18, most of them by male family members. Many mothers are aware but do nothing. This harrowing graphic novel, narrated using a collage technique and a cast of animals, monsters and real-life figures, explores how patterns of behaviour are passed down in families. Francine Oomen delves into the underlying reasons for the repeated failure of her romantic relationships and comes face to face with an inherited history of abuse.
When Oomen’s mother, an Alzheimer sufferer, loses her grip on the present, hallucinations and night terrors cause her to shout out: ‘Don’t tell! Help! Don’t do it! I don’t want to!’ Francine decides to dig deeper and learns from her father that her mother had been abused as a child. The prettiest of eight siblings in a Catholic family, her mother was preyed on by the local priest following her father’s early death.
Aided by a psychiatrist depicted as a mole, Oomen re-examines her own troubled relationship with her ‘cold, uncaring’ mother based on this new knowledge. Her mother’s damage was most likely what led the young Francine herself entering into a sexual relationship at a much too young age with a family acquaintance. The author revisits her own damaged self at the ages of 12, 13 and 16 and helps these children to heal, assisted by a kind mother hen and a three-headed dog.
Beyond the personal quest, this book isn’t only a heart wrenching memoir but also an enlightening guide to different types of developmental trauma, PTSS and survival strategies.