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I Thought We'd Never Speak Again: The Road from Estrangement to Reconciliation


In her bestselling classic The Courage to Heal, Laura Davis helped millions heal from the pain of child sexual abuse. Now, in I Thought We'd Never Speak Again, she tackles another critical, emerging issue: reconciling relationships that have been damaged by betrayal, anger, and misunderstanding.

With clarity and compassion, Davis maps the reconciliation process through gripping first-person stories of people who have mended relationships in a wide variety of circumstances. In ...

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I Thought We'd Never Speak Again: The Road from Estrangement to Reconciliation

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In her bestselling classic The Courage to Heal, Laura Davis helped millions heal from the pain of child sexual abuse. Now, in I Thought We'd Never Speak Again, she tackles another critical, emerging issue: reconciling relationships that have been damaged by betrayal, anger, and misunderstanding.

With clarity and compassion, Davis maps the reconciliation process through gripping first-person stories of people who have mended relationships in a wide variety of circumstances. In these pages, parents reconcile with children, embittered siblings reconnect, angry friends reunite, and war veterans and crime victims meet with their enemies. Davis weaves these powerful accounts with her own experiences reconciling with her mother after a long, painful estrangement.

Making a crucial distinction between reconciliation and forgiveness, Davis explains how people can make peace in relationships without necessarily forgiving past hurts. In addition to a special section called "Ideas for Reflection and Discussion," she includes a self-assessment quiz, "Are You Ready for Reconciliation?"

Whether you want to reconcile a relationship that has ended, improve a relationship that is difficult or distant, or learn the skills you need for dealing with the inevitable conflicts we all face in life, this book will teach you to mend troubled relationships and find peace.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
If you are in deep conflict with someone -- whether it be a friend, family member, or colleague -- you know how much energy it takes to hold that pain and anger inside. There are neither shortcuts nor easy solutions to reaching reconciliation. However, there is hope for either a renewal of a relationship or for simply attaining a peaceful resolution within yourself.

In this book you will find the tools you need to decide what is right for you and how to go about achieving your goal. The personal stories included cover a variety of topics, such as: a family finding restitution with a drunk driver who killed a loved one; an alcoholic husband who abandons his family and then returns; victims of sexual abuse coming to terms with those who violated them; and arguments between friends that develop into decades-long rifts. Not all the endings are "happily-ever-after," but all concern people who discovered the courage and strength to move on to fulfilling lives with more depth and grace. (Jennifer Forman)

“Davis identifies a continuum of reconciliation, from the deep and transformative to the utilitarian... and distinguishes between reconciliation and forgiveness.”
“Davis identifies a continuum of reconciliation, from the deep and transformative to the utilitarian... and distinguishes between reconciliation and forgiveness.”
Esther Giller
This positive, yet realistic guide . . . is filled with the compelling stories of real people weighing the risks and benefits of reconnecting with estranged loved ones before it is too late. . . . I Thought We'd Never Speak Again inspires a deep understanding (Esther Giller, president and director, Sidran traumatic Stress Foundation)
Publishers Weekly
Families, partnerships and friendships can break up over what appear to be surmountable conflicts, and efforts at damage control are often unproductive. Davis (coauthor, The Courage to Heal), a counselor to survivors of childhood sexual abuse, does an excellent job of mapping out an effective reconciliation process. She explains how to rationally assess the possibility of success, recognize the value of partial reconciliation and establish the rules of engagement. Throughout the book are riveting first-person stories by a neglectful mother who made amends with her grown children, a man who organized a reconciliation workshop between children of Holocaust victims and children of Nazis, and many others that illustrate how compassion, honesty and the ability to listen are indispensable. Davis's book is most useful as a guide to reconciliation with intimates; when she extends the scope to include restorative justice initiatives, the issues become somewhat muddied. The needs of violent crime victims and offenders in mediation programs, for example, don't seem exactly the same as those of feuding families and friends. Without a discussion of those differences, the concepts of reconciliation and forgiveness can be confused with empowerment and revenge. In addition, for crime victims and discrimination victims, the social pressure to "get over it" can be fierce, something Davis touches on only briefly. Nonetheless, her insight, clear writing and especially the extensive personal anecdotes should be helpful to readers struggling with these issues. Agent, Charlotte Raymond. (Apr. 2) Forecast: As the publisher points out, attitudes toward forgiveness have changed since September 11, which could help sales. A pub date coinciding with National Reconciliation Day will facilitate media tie-ins. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Davis is coauthor of The Courage To Heal, a best-selling memoir about surviving childhood sexual abuse. Inspired by her reunion with her estranged family, this exploration of reconciliation features interviews with people who have made amends with others from crime victims and their perpetrators to Israeli and Palestinian girls. Before she sat down to write, Davis sifted through the narratives to see whether she could find the "right" or "best" way to reconcile, but she discovered instead that there are as many ways to do so as there are human beings. So that readers may see how people with deeply held, diametrically opposed beliefs can still come together, Davis also shares the story of her reconciliation with her mother, who continues to believe that her daughter is a victim of False Memory Syndrome. Recommended for all public libraries owing to the depth of the examples and Davis's optimism. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060957025
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/29/2003
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 730,479
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.83 (d)

Meet the Author

Laura Davis is the author of The Courage to Heal Workbook, Allies in Healing, Becoming the Parent You Want to Be, and I Thought We'd Never Speak Again. She teaches writing and lives with her family in Santa Cruz, California.

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Read an Excerpt


The Path of Reconciliation

It is not impossibilities which fill us with the deepest despair,
but possibilities which we have failed to realize.

— Robert Mallett, Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of Commerce

When we lose a relationship that has been precious to us, the fabric of life is torn. Whether the end comes suddenly in an explosion, inevitably after a long, painful struggle, or by simply petering out, we feel a sense of loss. Even when our predominant feeling is relief at no longer being engaged in struggle, there is still an empty place where the other person used to be. As one woman put it, "When I was estranged from my father, it was like having a rotten tooth. It gnawed at me all the time."

This book is about relationships that have been torn apart — and the many paths to reconciling them. Whether we are dealing with a brother we no longer speak to, an adult child we wish we knew, a parent we long to make peace with, a friendship gone sour, or an enemy we have been taught to hate and fear, there is a path that we can use to repair — or make peace with — relationships that have been painfully estranged.

What Enables Reconciliation to Occur?

I began my research hoping to pinpoint the steps people need to take in order to transform blame, alienation, and bitterness into compassion, acceptance, and love. Early on, I discovered that there are no hard-and-fast rules about reconciliation. No matter how much I tried, I could notdelineate an orderly series of stages that would lead to rapprochement. In fact, every time I thought I had pinned down some essential truth about reconciliation, an exception would appear.

I began with several working assumptions. I believed that reconciliation necessitated taking things slowly, so people could gradually ease back into trusting. But then I talked to Linnie Smith, who, after a ten-minute phone call, reembraced her brother wholly and completely. I assumed that reconciliation could only occur when people talked openly about the differences that had torn them apart, only to find numerous examples of people who found their way back to each other not by discussing the past but by carefully avoiding potential minefields. In families where incest and other heinous crimes occurred, I presumed that reconciliation could only occur if the perpetrator took responsibility for what he or she had done. Then I talked to Kathleen Ryan, who made peace with parents who continue to deny that she was ever abused.

Again and again, my assumptions about reconciliation were shot down, to be replaced by a growing sense of respect and admiration for the diversity of strategies people use to make peace with relationships that once seemed irreconcilable. It became clear that there was no objective lens through which I could judge the progress of someone's reconciliation — that the only measure of success was the emotional integrity of the solution for the people involved.

What I consistently observed in people who had achieved satisfying levels of reconciliation was a particular constellation of inner qualities: it was the maturity, autonomy, discernment, courage, determination, honesty, compassion, humility, and accountability that one or both people brought to the table that determined the depth and quality of their reconciliation. These themes, which overlap and influence each other, manifest in an amazing variety — depending on the people and circumstances involved.

The Reconciliation Continuum

The reconciliation continuum presented here encompasses four possible outcomes. The first — the most coveted and the hardest to achieve — is reconciliation that is deep and transformative, in which intimacy is established (or reestablished), past hurts are resolved, and both people experience closeness, satisfaction, and renewed growth in the relationship. The second outcome, which is far more common, is a relationship in which one person changes his or her frame of reference and expectations, so that the perception of the relationship — and its possibilities — opens up whether or not the other person makes significant changes. In the third, much about the relationship remains unresolved and ambivalent feelings persist, yet both people "agree to disagree" and establish ground rules that enable them to have a limited but cordial relationship. The final outcome is realizing that no viable relationship is possible with the other person, and that our only option is to find resolution within ourselves. Although this alternative is not the one that most people would choose, it too can bring peace.

Reconciliation stories are always works-in-progress. Frequently when I asked people to review their stories, months after our initial interview, they informed me that the ending had already changed. We often achieve one level of reconciliation — figuring out how to have a limited, social relationship, for instance — only to have things shift later, enabling a deeper connection. Other times, there are reversals; a setback undermines the tentative trust that has been built, and relations drift back toward estrangement.

With human relationships, nothing is ever final. We cannot be sure how things will end until both people are dead. There are always surprises, unexpected twists, moments of grace, and at times, unfathomable tragedies. If we approach reconciliation with an intention to stay open and see what is possible, there are few limits to what might happen.

Big Reconciliations, Little Reconciliations

This book is filled with stories of everyday estrangements and reconciliations: friends who stopped speaking over a misunderstanding at the movies, siblings who fought over a will, children who made peace with parents they hadn't spoken to in years.

Mixed with these stories are more dramatic tales: victims of drunk drivers facing the people whose actions devastated their lives, children of Holocaust survivors meeting with children of Nazis, Palestinian and Israeli teenagers learning to get along. These stories are deeply inspiring and demonstrate that the principles of reconciliation are consistent whether we are dealing with family members or the larger world.

I have also included stories where attempts at reconciliation led to small, positive changes rather than major transformations. Wendy Richter, a woman I interviewed, had one such experience. When I sent her a copy of her story for her to review, she e-mailed back:

So many times it is the phenomenal recoveries, the great emotional stories, the magnificent changes that are told. But each of us can only make a few such breakthroughs in our lives. However, the rest of the time we shouldn't experience the failure to be miraculous as a failure. Even a few tiny steps forward represent progress.

Telling Both Sides of the Story

This is an extremely subjective book. I interviewed more than one hundred people about their experiences of estrangement and reconciliation, and in most cases, I spoke with only one of the people involved in the relationship.

I made no attempt to tell both sides of the story, to be fair, or to objectively portray reality. I chose not to question the veracity of people's stories, the accuracy of their memories, or the process they went through in seeking reconciliation. Yet despite the fact that each person was free to tell the story as he or she wanted it to be told, all of these stories reflect compassion, humility, and a sincere desire to make things right. No one I spoke to was looking for retribution or vengeance. On the contrary, people were extremely careful to ensure that sharing their stories would further the reconciliations in their lives. No one wanted to endanger fragile relationships they had worked so hard to rebuild. Nor did I.

How I Came to Write This Book

Fifteen years ago, when Ellen Bass and I began writing The Courage to Heal, I interviewed more than one hundred women who had been sexually abused. I sat with them for long hours in their living rooms as they poured out stories of humiliation, brutality, betrayal, and cruelty. I listened to their grief, anger, anguish, and incredible determination to fight back and survive. I cried with them. I raged with them. I understood them. For I was a survivor, too.

For ten years of my life, the fact that I had been sexually abused was the principle around which I organized my existence. It was as if my whole life hadsprung from that one bitter seed.

During this period I was alienated from my mother's side of the family. My rule was simple: if you believed me, you were in; if you didn't, you were out. In my polarized world, there were good people (mostly, those who had been hurt like me) and bad people (the pedophiles, nonprotective parents, and those who didn't believe me). I surrounded myself with people who supported me; I found safety in a culture of my peers.

My relationship with my mother was particularly affected. It had been rocky; now it was a shambles. She was devastated by my revelations, furious at my public exposure of our family, and rendered powerless by her inability to shift the course of events. I, on the other hand, felt betrayed, self-righteous, and angry. Although I longed to be close to her, I wanted to do so only on my terms. If she wasn't going to believe me, I wanted nothing to do with her.

There things stood — at an impasse — for years. I grieved for my mother and my lost relatives, certain we would never speak again.

Fortunately, that prognosis was wrong. Slowly, then with gathering momentum, the walls gave way. Not in a dramatic turn of events, where I recanted or my family believed me, but because I was able to change my perspective and so were they.

As the healing process began to bear fruit, sexual abuse stopped being the center of my life. In my midthirties, I met my life partner, helped raise a teenage stepson, and had two babies of my own. My life, once filled with angry rebellion, was softened by the daily routines of domestic life. I grew into a person my relatives could recognize, respond to, respect. I relaxed my expectations of them, accepted their limitations, and learned to appreciate their unique gifts. I stopped putting them on the spot and began swapping recipes instead. I sent out birth announcements and photographs; I made long-distance phone calls and small talk. With small, measured steps, and with conscious intent, we gradually wove our way back into each other's lives. And I couldn't help but ask myself, "How could such a reconciliation be possible?"

The Role of Memory in Reconciliation

Our potential for reconciliation is inextricably linked to the way we remember our lives. Yet no two people, sharing the same experience, will ever remember it in exactly the same way. Early in my research, I spoke with Rachel Thomas about her estrangement and reconciliation with her sister Vivian. Rachel related their story powerfully and with conviction, although she readily acknowledged that her grasp on dates and sequences was spotty. When I wrote up the story and showed it to her, Rachel assured me that it accurately represented the truth of her experience.

Several months later, Vivian came to town and agreed to meet me as well. When we sat down to talk, I asked her the same questions I had asked Rachel, and heard a completely different, often contradictory, story. Both Rachel and Vivian had strong emotional memories of the culminating event that had "been the last straw," yet each sister remembered an entirely different event. Although Rachel and Vivian agreed that the big rift between them had occurred in the wake of their mother's death, from that point on, their stories diverged completely. In fact, when they sat down later to compare notes about each other's versions of "the truth," neither Rachel nor Vivian had any memory of the central event her sister had recounted!

I was amazed at how few similarities their stories held, and how many erroneous (and often damaging) assumptions the sisters had made about each other. Yet beneath their conflicting accounts, the emotional reality of their stories resonated with a similar truth. As one of the sisters said later, "Even though the events are murky, the feelings we each had were real." Both sisters felt judged and criticized, and both acknowledged feeling judgmental and critical, yet neither had the skills necessary to bridge the divergent paths their lives were taking. These common threads wove their disparate stories together.

If I had the opportunity to interview the other "half" of each estranged pair in this book, I am convinced that many of the results would be similar. Each of us builds our life story around shared events that are experienced differently depending on who we were, how old we were, how much power we had when an event occurred, and manifold other factors.

Novelist Lynne Sharon Schwartz once wrote, "Memory is a story we make up from snatches of the past." Memory is not a photographic rendering of our history; it is a collage of images, feelings, perspectives, and fragments that we piece together to form a coherent perception of our past. We create stories about our lives, and as we tell those stories to ourselves — and to others — they become embedded in our sense of personal history. We claim that history and use it to make sense of our lives. Whether or not it corresponds to anyone else's version of the same events, it becomes an integral part of our own self-identity. As the poet Anne Sexton once said, "It doesn't matter who my father was; it matters who I remember he was."

Even within individuals, memory is not fixed. If you had asked me to tell you my life story when I was twenty or thirty or forty, you would have heard three different versions of "my life." With each new decade, I would have emphasized different themes, starred different players, and focused on different struggles.

It is this very phenomenon that enables many reconciliations to occur. Old hurts, which seemed huge and insurmountable at one time, often recede to the back burner after a number of years. As we gather new experiences in life, we frequently view the old ones from a different perspective. When we are open to the changing landscape, our lives can expand in ways that previously seemed impossible.

The Power of Reconciliation

Throughout this book, you will meet ordinary people who responded to difficult relationships with resourcefulness and integrity. Time and time again, I have been moved by their courage and inspired by the loving intention with which they approached reconciliation. Hearing their stories has galvanized me to look deeply within. In the past year, I have explored my automatic reactions when faced with conflict, questioned my need to be right, and asked myself why it is so hard for me to apologize. I have become less defensive, more able to listen, more willing to acknowledge my part in a relationship gone awry. I have grown to appreciate more deeply than ever how precious close relationships are. I want to preserve them and repair them, and whenever possible, avoid throwing them away.

I am grateful to the women and men who so generously shared their pain, their struggles, and their triumphs. I hope that their voices touch you as they have touched me, inspiring you to undertake reconciliation journeys of your own.

I Thought We'd Never Speak Again. Copyright © by Laura Davis. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xv
A Special Preface to the First Edition xxi
Introduction: The Path of Reconciliation 1
Part 1 Preparing the Ground
Chapter 1 Growing Through the Pain: Estrangement, Time, and Maturity 11
The Pain of Estrangement
The Roots of Estrangement
One Disappointment at a Time
In Order to Reconcile, the Wound Can't Be Too Fresh
Growing Bitter, Growing Sweet
Life Shapes Us
Rachel Thomas: Flying to My Sister's Side
Death as a Teacher
The Lessons Children Bring
Maturity Allows Us to Embrace Paradox
To Everything, There Is a Season
Chapter 2 Building a Self: The Importance of Autonomy 29
The Importance of Boundaries
When Injuries Are Unforgivable
Dana Roper: Returning the Gift He Gave Me
When It's Time to Move On
Kathleen Ryan: When Memories Are Disputed
Establishing Terms of Engagement
The Difference Between Reconciliation and Capitulation
Chapter 3 Finding Clarity: The Task of Discernment 49
What's Happening Now?
What's My Role in This Estrangement?
What's the Bigger Picture?
Bridging the Generation Gap
What Is the Other Person Capable Of?
The Changes Were Going to Have to Happen Inside of Me
What Kind of Person Do I Want to Be?
Sharon Tobin: Choosing Compassion for a Dying Parent
Does This Relationship Warrant Reconciliation?
A Personal Decision
Sara and Tom Brown: Facing a Broken Marriage
Believing That People Can Change
Different Circumstances, Different Choices
How Close Do I Want to Be?
Am I Prepared to Deal with the Outcome?
Elizabeth Menkin: She Owes Us a Life
From Discernment to Action
Part 2 Marshaling Your Strength
Chapter 4 Taking the First Steps: Gathering Courage 93
Gary Geiger: Facing the Man Who Shot Me
The Courage to Face Uncertainty
Wendy Richter: Sometimes It's Enough for Things to Be Just a Little Bit Better
Fear Doesn't Have to Stop You
What Am I Afraid Of?
First Steps
Taking the First Step
Slow but Steady Wins the Race
Taking Risks Gradually
The Courage to Face Yourself
Kay Kessler: Growing a New Relationship
The Courage to Change
The Myth of the Cowardly Lion
Chapter 5 Persistence Over Time: The Importance of Determination 122
Being Resolute in Your Goals
Beth Tanzman: I Just Had to Find Him
Responses and Rejoinders
Miriam Gladys: Making Amends to My Children
Seeking Help Where You Can Find It
Don't Sweat the Small Stuff
Bruce Stevens: Creating Detente in the Family
Expecting the Process to Have Ups and Downs
Deciding to Let Go of the Past
Kate Gillen: Fighting over My Father's Will
Creating a New Future Together
Establishing New Ways to Connect
Bridging Distance, Getting Closer
Honoring Everybody Involved
Spiritual Strength Leads to Determination
Azim Khamisa and Ples Felix: Victims on Both Sides of the Gun
Reconciliation Is a Choice
Part 3 Opening the Heart
Chapter 6 Communication That Furthers Closeness: The Role of Listening and Honesty 165
It Was Better Not to Talk About It
Barbara Newman: E-Mailing My Brother After Thirty Years
The Relationship Between Honesty and Discernment
Choosing to Focus on What You Have Now
Mindfulness and Honesty
Paul Howerton: Deciding Not to Talk to My Father
Hearing My Mother's Story
We Needed to Talk About It
Kate Howard: Creating a New History
Learning to Listen
An Opening of Doors
Shawnee Undell: Receiving My Mother's Story
The Marriage of Authenticity and Kindness
Richard Hoffman: Half the House
Another Profound Truth
Melodye Feldman: Bringing Palestinian and Israeli Girls Together
When Honesty Changes the World
Chapter 7 Recognizing Our Shared Humanity: Finding Compassion 208
Discernment with Heart
Antonio de la Pena: Washing My Mother's Hair
Compassion Begins with Acceptance
Learning to Live with a Broken Heart
Facing Mistakes with Love
Compassion Comes from a Place of Wholeness
Sometimes Just a Little Is Enough
Compassion as a Choice
Marc Levy: Understanding "The Sorrow of War"
Bringing Together the Ultimate Enemies
Armand Volkas: Bringing Together Children of Holocaust Survivors and Children of Nazis
The Road from Revenge to Compassion: Six Steps That Can Change Enemies into Allies
This Work Is About the Future
Acts of Reconciliation: A Sharing of Poetry
Compassion Moves Out into the World
Part 4 Making Amends
Chapter 8 Taking Responsibility: The Role of Humility and Accountability 243
The Price of Pride
Acknowledging Your Own Weaknesses
Taking Stock, Looking Within
Celia Sommer: Letting Go of Being Wronged
Learning to Apologize
The Role of Remorse and Respect
From Apology to Action
Pete Salmansohn: Choosing to Get Close Again
The Accountability Continuum
The Courage to Admit a Wrong
Franklin Carter: A Violent Man Changes His Life
The Healing Power of Accountability
Accountability Leads to Self-Respect
Chapter 9 The Question of Forgiveness 265
Forgiveness as Something You Work At
Forgiveness as a Spiritual Gift
Forgiveness as Something That Requires Accountability
Rabbi Steven Fink: Responding Compassionately to Hate
Forgiveness as Something That Happens Unilaterally
The Trouble with Pseudo-Forgiveness
Resolution Is Possible Without Forgiveness
Vicki Malloy: Rebuilding a Relationship with My Perpetrator
Are Some Things Unforgivable?
A Personal Decision
Part 5 Finding Peace
Chapter 10 When Reconciliation Is Impossible: The Task of Letting Go 295
Accepting That the Relationship Is Over
Letting Go When You Don't Know Why the Relationship Ended
Peggy O'Neill: It's in Her Hands Now
Letting Go Is a Process
Helen Meyers: I Can't Force Him to Open the Door
Leaving the Porch Light On
Pam Leeds: Compassion from Afar
The Opposite of Estrangement
Chapter 11 When We Meet Again: The Benefits of Reconciliation 311
Enjoying the Pleasures of Recovered Love
Reweaving the Web of Community
Reconciliation Leads to Peace
Reconciliation Rekindles Optimism
A Deep Sense of Peace
Free Reconciliation Newsletter 318
Appendix A Are You Ready for Reconciliation? 319
Appendix B Ideas for Reflection and Discussion 323
Index 333
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 13, 2003

    a reader

    sometimes this book reads like a novel as you become acquainted with the personal accounts of others lives. i could identify with something in nearly every one. as with most self-help books i've read, i take the advice which seems helpful and leave that which does not. i don't remember any professional degrees being attributed to Ms. Davis and her book is written in easy to understand prose, not theory or doctor-speak.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 26, 2002

    Wonderful, Healing, and Honest.

    I just want to say, Laura, this book has hit home. It's like this book was written for me, at this point in my life!!!Thanks so much!!!I'v read most of your books, especially THE COURAGE TO HEAL, over and over again. Thanks

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