Jaycee Lee Dugard—Her Memoir as Survival Testimony

Video of Diane Sawyer and Jaycee Dugard
Millions watched as Jaycee Lee Dugard told her story to Diane Sawyer on national television. Diane, and perhaps most of the audience, seemed amazed and impressed at her composure, honesty and wisdom.

It seems clear that the eleven year old who had to endure isolation, imprisonment, and rape found some strong coping mechanisms that enabled her to survive—for eighteen years. To have children and raise them in captivity. She mentions a spider, kittens, and a journal that connected her to the small but important things she could find that gave her hope. When she gave birth at age 14, she finally had someone with her. “I wasn’t alone,” she said.

While we can watch the video version of Jaycee’s story, the real behind-the-scenes story is in her memoir A Stolen Life. Through her account, she wanted to support other victims and to give hope to others who have suffered abuse. Too often in the news we see children victimized by adults who use them for their own selfish needs.

Drawing upon my years of working with people who are healing trauma, in my book The Power of Memoir I discuss the importance for a victim of abuse and trauma to write down what really happened as a testimony to the injustices suffered. I quote Alice Miller’s work on how important it is to be witnessed with compassion and understanding for the injuries suffered. When we are witnessed, we are no longer alone. Writing offers us witnessing—as we tell the story of how we suffered and coped. As a writer-narrator, we are witnessing ourselves and healing the past.

The studies on writing as healing by psychologists and brain experts all underscore the need to write your stories, to search for and tell the truth. How healing it is to hear your own authentic voice! And when you’re ready, you can share your story so others can learn from your experiences.

One of the things that happened to Jaycee is that the Garridos took away her name—something most of us take for granted. It’s fitting that she begins the book with claiming her name once again, writing the book herself and naming all the things that were done to her, all the wrongs that were committed in nearly two decades of her life. Yet Jaycee is not bitter. Her face is full of light, and her goal is to live fully from now on. She is full of love—and is an amazing inspiration for everyone who’s trying to heal their past. Forgiveness, when we’re ready for it, opens up the pathways to the heart. People who’ve been abused need to find their way to themselves, to reclaim the parts that were lost in the past, and in so doing, they reclaim their lives.
I’m moved by her words, the video, and the calm authenticity she demonstrates. No doubt there is much more healing to do as she continues to discover freedom and the joys of living, but Jaycee shows us how it’s possible to live a new life in freedom and light. Through her story, we may find slivers of our own, and learn new pathways to our own healing.