Sylvie realized this was happening to her, and to everyone around her, when she became a devotee of Alice Miller in the year 2000 at the age of 41. Miller, a Swiss psychologist, achieved worldwide renown in the 1980s and 1990s for her books about how the repressed emotions of childhood traumas can have a huge influence on the course of our lives, forcing people into a state of compulsive repetition that keeps them stuck in childhood without knowing it.
Miller’s writings intrigued Sylvie from the day she started reading them. And ultimately, Miller’s work became the only thing that could free Sylvie from her emotional prison and save her from an abusive relationship with a man named Marty. Marty was a Leonardo DiCaprio lookalike who Sylvie met when she was a topless dancer in the 1990s — a job she turned into a lucrative career that spanned nearly 18 years.
Unlike the typical guy who approached Sylvie at the strip club where she worked, Marty forced Sylvie to break all her rules. And he triggered all the painful feelings from her early years of being unwanted, emotionally abandoned and neglected by the people closest to her.
Sylvie did everything she could to win Marty’s love and affection, from forgiving his affairs and feeding his drug habits to buying him a $7,000 Honda VFR750F sport touringmotorcycle. She knew she was in a sick place, but Marty had gained complete control over her.
Sylvie turned to self-help books and a 12-step program for guidance, hoping to become the loving person who could get Marty to change. It was a reference in a book Sylvie was reading — Codependents’ Guide to the 12 Steps by Melody Beattie — that led Sylvie to Alice Miller’s Thou Shalt Not Be Aware: Society’s Betrayal of the Child. Sylvie knew just from the subtitle that she had found something important. Sylvie read the book and liked it, but set it aside because she was hoping to get a quick fix from her Al-Anon group.
Four or five years later, when Sylvie and Marty’s relationship was at its worst, Sylvie was brought to her knees — not to be taken to God as her 12-step program prescribed, but to finally confront the reality of the repressed child she once was. Sylvie returned to the works of Alice Miller, refusing to be distracted by groups that only gave the illusion of love and an empty promise of salvation. She read Thou Shalt Not Be Aware again, along with all of Alice Miller’s other books.
This time, Sylvie realized how she was unconsciously and compulsively reenacting her childhood drama — not only with Marty, but also with members of her 12-step group and just about everyone else she had relationships with. Alice Miller became Sylvie’s “enlightened witness,” — in the sense of truly knowing how to heal — and helped Sylvie truly feel the intense feelings of the repressed child she once was for the first time in her life.
I met Sylvie some five years ago on Facebook. She attracted my attention through comments about Alice Miller that she posted on her blog and on her Facebook page, Facing Childhood Traumas.
I first learned about Alice Miller in the 1980s, when I was a young university student of education in Hamburg, Germany. In Alice Miller’s books, I found for the first time — expressed so clearly and with great empathy by a professional — what, by means of intuition, I had always felt when I watched adults interacting with children. Something was going deeply wrong in those relationships!
Alice Miller’s deep insights into the human mind and heart have accompanied and supported me throughout my life as a mother and a teacher.
When I met Sylvie, I felt that she was one of the few other people who had not only read Alice Miller’s books, but also had really understood her teachings far beyond the intellectual level.
Like myself, Sylvie let Alice Miller into her heart and thus was able to heal from her traumatic experiences. I’d like to thank Sylvie for being brave and strong enough to share her life with us in this fascinating and inspiring book. I hope her words will make it around the world and into the hearts of many readers. A Dance to Freedom isn’t just another typical “self-help” book. It’s the story of an amazing woman who shows us how to break away and heal from severe childhood traumas.