After 10 years, Elizabeth Smart has written a book, simply entitled My Story. It is the story of her ordeal, which began June 5, 2002, when she was kidnapped as a 14-year-old from her bedroom at knifepoint by Brian David Mitchell, who considered himself a prophet of God named "Emmanuel." Over the next nine months, Elizabeth was brutalized by Mitchell and a woman identified as his wife, Wanda Barzee. On March 12, 2003, a worker at a Walmart store in Sandy, Utah, thought she recognized Mitchell and called 9-1-1. Elizabeth was rescued and returned to her family.
People across the country, me included, were amazed at her discovery. The statistics on childhood abductions by strangers are grim -- according to Parents.com, 74 percent of abducted children who are murdered are dead within three hours of being taken. Yet, nine months later, Elizabeth Smart was found alive. People wanted to know what happened to her, how and why she survived. When she was ready, Elizabeth began to tell her story, speaking out to groups and, now, she's written a book. In an interview I saw, she said the reason she wrote the book was because at every speaking event she's had, at least one person has come up to her and described surviving rape or kidnapping or another traumatic event. Her reason to tell her story now is to help others know "they can move forward, that they can be happy, that they can come back and have a wonderful life."
Elizabeth credits her mother, Lois, for giving her a singularly helpful piece of advice right after returning home. As Elizabeth recounts it, her mother said Mitchell had taken nine months of her life that she could never get back and the best revenge was to be happy, refusing to give over to him one more moment of her life. Yet, she has taken the time to recount, according to her in a complete way without holding anything back, what happened to her. How can both of those things be true? How can she live her life where, as she says, "he no longer exists" and yet write a book describing in excruciating detail what he did to her? I only imagine she accomplished this by retaining possession of her perspective. This is a 25-year-old woman, writing about how she persevered and triumphed as a 14-year-old girl. I can only believe that, through this book, she has found a way to reclaim what happened to her and is now telling it, on her terms.
In the interviews I've seen, Elizabeth is fiercely protective of her 14-year-old self, defending those who question why she didn't try to run away or ask for help during those nine months. To me, her message is don't judge what you don't know. There may be some who will doubt her capacity to put the past behind her. I think the same message would apply -- don't judge what you don't know. Elizabeth is quick to point out that every person's recovery from trauma is different and she is not asking people to judge others by herself.
I suspect Elizabeth's story will be difficult to read but how could I not? The story of her survival is one, deep down, I may not want to hear but it is one I need to hear. The lessons she learned on her journey back to herself are ones I need to know. Elizabeth wrote her story so the things she learned could help others. Yet, some aren't strong enough to read it for themselves and that's where I can come in as a therapist. I can learn her story and pass along her lessons.
Because of the book, Elizabeth Smart is coming into another season of notoriety. Before, it was as a 14-year-old victim. This time, it's as a 25-year-old, who is both victim and victor -- one who defeats an enemy or opponent.