Wide Open is harrowing, and the year's must-read memoir... D.M. Ditson is a rape survivor who suffered severe post-traumatic stress disorder caused by her attack. After years of therapy and treatment she’s doing well, but her experiences remain harrowing. In Wide Open she’s recorded them as she remembers them, directly and without artifice, in an unforgettable page-turner of a memoir.
It’s an important and, yes, brave story that could help a lot of other sexual assault survivors.
- Stephen Whitworth, Prairie Dog Magazine
Sure it’s a cliché, but I had a hard time putting this book down. Welcome to the literary world, D.M. Ditson, with your intimate, hard-hitting, and honest portrayal of matters that are not easy to share. First book? Could have fooled me.
Sexual abuse, Fundamentalist Christianity, mental health issues, black-out drinking, and a dysfunctional family are the collaborative demons in Ditson’s memoir, Wide Open, and though the subjects are difficult, Ditson’s fresh style, pacing, and example – of how to live through the pain – are the reasons I’m recommending this book both publicly and privately.
The former Regina journalist and government communications consultant is “obsessed with telling the truth”. She relays her story in the way you want someone to tell a story when it’s really interesting: the book moves. Like a pinball game. And I applaud the structure, with shifts in time (“Now,” “Youth,” “Childhood,” etc.) clearly indicated.
After a riveting prologue, the book swerves to Ditson’s return from Belize where she’d gone to let the jungle heal her. Back in Regina she meets Ian, whom she’s loathe to introduce to her parents: “It’s going to go badly the second one of them mentions God, science, TV, politics or practically anything else,” she writes. A few pages later she’s in a “Childhood” section, and the voice is convincing: “The butterflies dance like fancy figure-skater ladies in their sparkly dresses but don’t come close.”
Before meeting Ian, Ditson, at eighteen, was raped by a forty-year-old, and years later she makes it her mission to find this man and have him charged. But there are other perpetrators, too. I’ve read many books on sexual abuse and its lifelong repercussions, but Ditson’s is the first that opened my eyes to the apparently not uncommon practice of abused women who – after an initial, forced sexual act – try to be in a relationship with their attacker. The need to be loved is so profound.
The author provides numerous examples of her parents’ distorted beliefs, and to quote another cliché, my jaw dropped. Her sister says “Holy smoke,” while playing Barbies and has her mouth washed out with soap, because “Only God is holy”. The writer’s father is in Promise Keepers. The daughters wear chastity rings. On a mission trip to Timbuktu, Ditson befriends Raja. They share the same “twin fires burning for God,” but can’t hug for more than three seconds: “it’s against the rules.” Ditson’s mother believes there are pimps at the mall and kidnappers at the fireworks’ display. No books allowed unless they’re from a Christian bookstore. (“Rapture Survival Guides” abound.) Dad says he’s been “struggling with pornography” because he’s “been addicted to the Sears catalogue”.
And here’s the crux: these Christian parents frequently have audible sex when their family’s in the same tent or hotel room. Holy. Ditson begs her father to stop this.
Even into her thirties, Ditson’s still being told to “honour [her] father”. Thank god there’s an epiphany in this fascinating story: wait for it.
- Shelley A. Leedahl, SaskBooks Reviews
While stories can be both entertaining and educational, they can also be traps. Physician and meditation leader Deepak Chopra and Crown prosecutor/writer/trapper Harold Johnson, for example, both caution against becoming victims of our own narrative, the one that says we’re bad, or weak, or a victim of some kind.
This is the very conclusion at which D.M. Ditson arrives in her memoir of sexual assault and recovery, Wide Open. Employing a narrative tactic of beginning each chapter in Now, then going to some place in her past, from childhood to her teens and adulthood, she gives her story a strong momentum, grounding wherever she goes in the immediate present.
Ditson — she calls herself D throughout — was raised in a fundamentalist Christian home in Regina that, by her evidence, anyway, ill-prepared her for life in the world as most people seem to live it. Her parents often pointed out her duty to obey them unquestioningly, but were unwilling, even unable, to have a debate about the place of them noisily engaging in sex in a room, even a tent, full of their children, at least one of them awake. When D struggles with the place of pornography in her common-law relationship — if there is a place — her father contends that he’s unable to help as he’s struggling with his own porn addiction: the Sears catalogue.
With this kind of black and white approach, as she calls it, to a complicated life, it’s no surprise that D goes ill-equipped into a world that is nothing like Bible camp. She has no idea what to do when she attends a university party at which alcohol is present. She drinks, unable to say no — it’s not in her childhood lexicon to deny any request from a person in authority — and unused to liquor, she gets drunk. She is quickly preyed upon by bad men who see an opportunity.
When she ends up on a bus from Winnipeg with a pimp who offers her a place to stay in his apartment, her total lack of any street smarts renders her defenceless to his charms. She dodges that predator, and later finds her parents had seen what the man was, but didn’t warn her. “Why didn’t you tell me,” she asks. “We did everything we could,” they tell her, and say they prayed.
D ends up being raped and nearly strangled by a man twice her age at another party. She shuts down emotionally to such a point that the defences she should have used that night come out at inappropriate times, such as during intimate play with her boyfriend, a man who she says tries very hard to accommodate her peculiar needs. In fairness to her, though, he has some peculiar tastes of his own.
D enrols in every sort of therapy and meditation available and takes us through the incredible struggle she endures to figure out herself and her family. Her journey through a world of often wilfully blind parents and men who will not understand that no is a choice is soul-searing and alive, a conclusion she reaches about herself at the end of this well-written book.
- Bill Robertson, Saskatoon StarPhoenix