Singing with the Sirens. Overcoming the long-term effects of childhood sexual exploitation. Ellyn Roberts Bell & Stacey Ault Bell

A Book Review

How do I write about a book that exposed my sadness and shame – named my sorrow and repeatedly reminds me that I have worth?  I dove into the depths of darkness and returned with parts of my lost self.  I am still on a healing journey that started when I was about 25; it has taken longer than I ever could have imagined.  We live during an exciting era when science is showing us that we have many more opportunities to understand and to change our brains.  The book reminds me that it doesn’t matter how long it takes; it is possible – it is real -- and it is worth it.


I must tell you about this book because it is a love story for the wounded.  It is an honoring of those who are not given a second thought, who are dismissed as unimportant, who are left behind.  It is a shining light to all women – those of us trapped in current day slavery, those of us who have unconsciously conspired against ourselves.  It is for the onlookers who watch their sisters, lovers, wives and mothers struggle for dignity in a world where it is not a guarantee.

The book clearly acknowledges that there is no one size fits all solution; each woman has a particular story and an individual path forward.  There are no two alike.  Yet like snowflakes, that share coldness, whiteness and stratus, we share a common human response: loss of self-worth.  “There is no other event that makes the human mind as confused, painful and destructive as sexual abuse and traumatic sexual experiences.” states Dr. K. Elan Jung in his book, Sexual Trauma: A Challenge, Not Insanity*.  I have no way to validate this statement, however, I am certain that early abuse is confusing, painful and destructive.

My brother, who died at the age of 49 from a heroin overdose and undiagnosed heart disease said to me during his darkest days, “How do you do it?  How do you face life each day?”  He believed he could not face his demons.  His quick demise after more than 15 years of recovery back into addiction was shocking, heart breaking and eye-opening.  His death taught me that the suffering we feel in our bodies and souls and the thoughts we believe can lead us to despair.  Singing with the Sirens challenges us to make the deep dive into the darkness of our history.  Weaving tales of ancient mythology and voices of survivors of sexual violence in juvenile detention with social analysis and their own stories of recovery make Singing with the Sirens a moving and important book.

Becoming aware of the places of wreckage in our lives, and making choices about what we need to do to heal, address, or ignore these places, is up to each person to embrace.
— Singing with the Sirens, p 199

Why was I able to get out alive? Growing up in the emerging years of the women’s movement taught me that I had a voice, although early on, I hardly spoke.  These women were bold; they took umbrage at our culture’s attitudes towards women’s value, worth and place in society.  They wrote about racism and sexism and homophobia.  They challenged the status quo and privileged and exposed its darker side.  For me, they provided a larger context for my own life.  I wasn’t just a little girl who had a bad experience; I was one among many, who all suffered in silence, and who without intervention would continue to wreak havoc in our own lives.   Sirens is continuing these essential conversations with courage and insight.

In Sirens, the authors discuss an abundance of paths to recovery.  They also share one important and very simple process: a circle of sharing among women.  The creation of a safe place to speak aloud the unspeakable acts that were done to us and that we, in turn, may have done to others.  A safe place to take responsibility with courage, thus changing our futures in the present moment.  Moment by moment.  The authors have created a feminist love story that is filled with the roaring sea, deep scars and the breath of resurrection.  It speaks the truth and it includes you and me.

Today there is another movement afoot.  It has a spiritual bent and it includes all people and the creatures of the earth.    It is being spread by many women’s circles meeting all over the world.   Facing our demons, forgiving ourselves, supporting each other, uncovering inner peace and joy.  When we stop fighting ourselves, the fighting stops.   Find your circle.  Create your safe place.  Speak your truth.

Sirens is a loving reminder that though the path of healing and recovery is not easy, it is essential and we are worth it.

Ellyn Robert Bel & Stacey Ault Bel, Singing with the Sirens. Overcoming the long-term effects of childhood sexual exploitation.  (Berkeley: She Writes Press, 2015)

*K. Elan Jung, Sexual Trauma: A Challenge, Not Insanity (New York: Hudson Press, 2010), p 22

Have you found a safe place to tell your story?  Have you experienced connection and healing in your community?