Book Review: Breathe by Nicole Braddock Bromley (Jul – Aug 2009)

By Matt Dabbs

Candice Lucey
July – August, 2009

Breathe by Nicole Braddock Bromley (Chicago:Moody, 2009)

The topic of childhood sexual abuse provokes our strongest emotions. Vast numbers of children are assaulted every year, leading to self-destruction, isolation, even repeating the cycle of abuse. As Nicole Braddock Bromley points out, however, victims who seek out supportive relationships become survivors. Where her previous book Hush urged people to speak about sexual abuse, Breathe: Finding freedom to thrive in relationships after childhood sexual abuse explores the challenges survivors face when deciding whom to entrust with their secret; to a friend or family member. The author employs wisdom from both sides and, most importantly, the Bible.

Breathe lays out a plan for forming a ‘circle of inspiration,’ using Bromley’s own experience as an abused child to explain why relationships can be so difficult in the aftermath of sexual abuse. Common pitfalls are illustrated clearly, without judgement, such as when a friend has said the wrong thing, or the abused person has used drugs to cope with his or her shame. She addresses the fact that some family members may deny what has happened to a child, yet without the language of blame. Instead she stresses the potential for healing. Most importantly, she sees a relationship with Jesus as crucial to recovery.

‘I sometimes picture Jesus walking up and down these paths we’ve created for ourselves. I see Him pursuing us in the most desolate areas and in the darkest streets. He is pursuing us because He wants us to have the life we always dreamed of.’ (p.171)

Bromley’s format emphasises the centrality of faith in the process of healing, pointing out that it is never too late to forgive an abuser or let go of guilt and shame. After each chapter is introduced, a section from the Bible illustrates the point of that chapter. For example, the story of the woman who had bled for twelve years, who ‘was afraid of what would happen if everyone knew that she had been unclean’ (p.18), segues into a discussion of the shame abuse survivors live with, causing them to hide their past from others. She tells her own story with unflinching honesty, considers the reasons for different coping mechanisms such as self-mutilation or overachieving, then talks about what a survivor needs to do to get healthy. Following this discussion, the Bible story is wrapped up, then a relevant letter or email from a survivor of childhood sexual abuse or someone from a ‘circle of inspiration’ is printed to finish the chapter.

Bromley often returns to images of inhaling, holding one’s breath, exhaling etc. Certain ideas are reinforced many times for the encouragement of the reader. For these reasons, Breathe sometimes reads more like the transcript from a speech than a book. The author also steers away from academic referencing, choosing instead to rely on the authority of real people and God, a wise move considering that support is more credible coming from real experience than from theory. The table of contents is not a useful tool for navigating this book, referring as it does obliquely to each chapter’s topic. This means that one must read the book from the first step, then progress sequentially to reach a positive conclusion.

This is a brave and enlightening book for survivors, their friends and relations, and anyone who never suspected the extent to which evil is committed against children. Critical to Bromley’s positive approach is the power men and women can find in Christ to beat the odds and be healthy in spite of the horrors they have faced.New Wineskins

Candice Lucey

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1583 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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