In my last post, I promised a story or two re: the elevator shaft of it all…
As a warning, this story is kind of a dark one, but I think it’s an important story to tell.
Before I dig in, I want to just acknowledge the fact that I’ve gotten a lot of criticism over the past four years, as I’ve spoken publicly about the psychological abuse I survived in my childhood. And I’d like to reiterate that it feels really important to me to say these things “out loud.”
Shame thrives on secret-keeping, and it’s antithetical to my personal values to keep ugly things in the dark. As they say, “sunlight is the best disinfectant.”
But more importantly, as I’ve spoken about these things, I’ve realized how phenomenally common this type of childhood abuse is, how taboo it is, and therefore, how rarely it is spoken of. I know there are so many people who don’t know how to process or name these kinds of traumas, and it feels ethically pertinent for me to move this needle in whatever ways I can.
So. Here’s the thing…
You know I’ve been dealing with a really severe knee injury over these past few months.
What you probably don’t know, is that this is my SECOND severe knee injury.
When I was 17 years old (17 years ago – which feels kind of spooky, tbh), I tore my right ACL at a musical theater summer camp.
This recent knee injury has me flashing back HARDCORE to that time. And it’s got me seeing things in a whole new light (giving me some new…material…to work through in therapy). 😒
The 2005 injury happened on the first day of the Young Ambassador’s summer camp at BYU. It was the final “step” in the audition to see which group you’d be placed in for the rest of the week. I really wanted to give it my all, and on that final side leap (btw, I used to be a person with dance training #pastlife), I just felt my right knee keep moving as my body landed the jump.
I didn’t fall down, but just walked to the side of the room and sat still for a few minutes—ears ringing, blacking out, just trying to process what had happened.
I mentioned it to a few of the other kids I’d met earlier that day, but it didn’t even occur to me to ask an adult for help. At that time in my life, I had no sense that adults would be invested in me, or capable of offering me aid.
At the end of the day, we went back to the dorm rooms where we were staying. By this time, my knee was so swollen, I couldn’t pull my jeans on. I struggled to step over the little ledge into the dorm room shower. And I was in SO much pain.
I didn’t ask anyone for any pain medication. I didn’t ask to see a nurse. I just sat on the floor of that dorm bathroom and cried the whole night.
The next day, we got the audition results. I’d been cast in a heavy dance role in “Footloose,” and had to tell one of the counselors that I’d hurt my knee, and wouldn’t be able to do the kind of dancing required for the part. I must have downplayed the situation pretty intensely, because I still wasn’t sent to a nurse. Rather, they demoted me to a role in “Fiddler on the Roof,” and I finished the camp without mentioning much of anything else to anyone. Just walking around a heavily-sloped canvas all day every day for a full week.
When I got home to Arizona, I told my parents that something was really wrong with my knee. It was visibly swollen and bruised, so there was plenty of evidence that something had happened.
My parents refused to believe me. They made fun of me and called me dramatic for FIVE WEEKS, while I was in intense pain, and my knee was popping out of place several times per day.
After I’d spent those five weeks continuing to say I needed to see a doctor, my parents acquiesced, saying “there’d better be something really wrong with you, because this MRI is going to be expensive.”
And before you feel inclined to relate to them…they are/were very wealthy people. They had money to spend, they just didn’t want to spend it on ME (you know, ‘cause I was a huge burden to them literally always).
When then MRI showed a full ACL rupture and a few other more minor injuries (partial MCL tear, some injury to the meniscus), there was NO apology from my parents. Rather, they were put out because they had a cruise scheduled, and I’d need surgery the same week. Also…money.
So I had the surgery, and my parents left on a cruise the next morning.
The surgery I had this past December was quite a bit more intense than the surgery I had in 2005, but looking at it from my current perspective, it’s ABSOLUTELY insane that my parents felt fine leaving me after such a major surgery. I was literally a child, and I needed them so badly.
I missed two days of school (surgery on a Thursday), and was back in my four AP classes the following Monday, high off my gourd on Percocet. I distinctly remember sitting in Mr. Vogl’s calculus class. He—being the phenomenal teacher he was—was focusing on me and trying to make sure I didn’t fall behind. He kept asking me about limits, and all I could do was try to keep my eyes from going so out-of-focus that Mr. Vogl had two heads.
I received exactly zero support or tenderness from my parents during this time.
They called me “gimpy” until I left for college nine months later, teased me, got frustrated when I couldn’t keep up, etc.
You know…it’s funny. Since I started speaking about my childhood, SO so sooooo many people have come out of the woodwork to tell me I’m taking it too far, that my parents weren’t all that bad, that if I’d been a boy, I’d have been even-keeled enough not to interpret normal parent-child disagreements as “abuse.”
And when I was at the beginning of this dealing-with-PTSD process, I really struggled with these kinds of things. I often wondered if I WAS just being dramatic, or childish, or spoiled, somehow. I often worried that maybe I WAS wrong to use the word “abuse” to describe what I’d been through.
But man. This present-day knee injury has put this matter into such intensely clear focus for me. There was distinct emotional and psychological abuse here…and I’d also say this counts as some kind of covert/adjacent physical abuse, even though my parents didn’t [usually] hit me.
And there are, unfortunately, more stories like this one.
I didn’t need an inhaler until I was in the 8th grade. I have permanent lung damage because I had pneumonia for WEEKS and my parents refused to take me to the doctor. One morning, I was packing my lunch for school, and my mom’s running partner stopped in after they’d finished their workout. She said “Karen, Emily’s lips are blue – you have to take her to the urgent care.” And if that friend hadn’t seen me that morning, who knows what would have happened.
I had chronic feinting spells (in retrospect, severe panic attacks) all throughout high school. A pediatrician told me parents they needed to put me in therapy immediately, and they refused. We never spoke of it again.
I had terrible insomnia (2-5 hours of sleep/night for nearly all of my teenage years). My immune system was totally fucked (I got strep four time in six months during my junior year of high school). I had a very disordered and unhealthy relationship with food. I was depressed and anxious.
I was clearly in so much need, and I was shown time and time again that I wasn’t worth caring for, and that I was a burden to the people who were supposed to love me.
Does it make sense now why I didn’t ask any of those camp counselors for help?
So anyway. Here is one of those stories. “Owning my narrative” doesn’t mean convincing my extended family that my parents caused actual harm, but it DOES mean telling MYSELF that I deserved better, and demanding better from the people I allow in my life in the present.
And that is honestly radical for me.
I have one more lightbulb-y story I want to share with you, soon.
In the meantime, thank you for being here with me in this sacred little art space. I’m headed somewhere new, and I’m honored to bring you with me.