I Choose Elena…
About the Book:
Aged fifteen and on track to be an Olympic gymnast, Lucia Osborne-Crowley was violently raped in Sydney on a night out, sparking a series of events that left her devastatingly ill for more than ten years of her life. Her path to healing began a decade later, when she told someone about her rape for the very first time. Lucia eventually found solace in writers like Elena Ferrante, and her work is about rediscovering vulnerability and resilience in the face of formerly unbearable trauma.
The author explores what has been proved, but is not yet widely known, about how trauma affects the body, bringing to our attention its cyclical, intergenerational nature; how trauma intersects with deeply held beliefs about the credibility of women; and how trauma is played out again and again in the fabric of our cultures, governments, judicial systems and relationships.
‘By far the most dangerous element of my assault was the fact that I lived in a world where it was unspeakable. I knew, as soon as it happened, without ever being told, that I must say nothing. Indignity is painful but silence is a prison.’
I Choose Elena is one of the most honest and heartbreaking books I have ever read. The bravery that Lucia Osborne-Crowley has demonstrated in writing it just astounds me. But I want to clarify at the outset that this book is not a memoir. It’s more of a long-form medical essay with contextual personal reflections. Lucia writes about her own experiences of trauma and the effects this has had on her body, following this up with her battle for a diagnosis and subsequent surgeries and treatments. Rather than being driven by emotion, the content is presented in a logical manner and underscored by research. I honestly found the entire topic of trauma being stored in your body and manifesting itself physically in the form of illness utterly fascinating and compelling. So much of this book just made perfect sense.
‘What Levine figured out was that if you allowed yourself to be scared, to process the memory in its immediate aftermath, to let the body hurt until it doesn’t hurt any more, the memory no longer stays alive inside you.’
I felt split while reading this book. Part of me approached the book in a clinical manner, seeking information on the link between trauma and the body’s response to it. I have read recently a fair bit about the link between mental health and gut health, so this seemed to me an extension on this area of interest – hence my initial reasons for picking up this book. But the mother part of me, the one with a seventeen year old daughter, just wouldn’t go away. Because the thought of what Lucia endured when she was fifteen, and that she told no one, just splintered me into a thousand tiny pieces. It was harrowing to imagine a teenage girl bearing the weight of such a violent attack. Not just the injustice, but the trauma, and the burden of carrying it buried deep, and then all of the physical horrors she endured after as her body simply refused to live with such trauma imprinted within its cells.
‘But slowly I realised that getting better meant being brave enough to occupy my body again. To be brave enough to feel the pain of it, the weakness of it, to bear witness to how broken it had become. It was only once I started to do that that my body and I started to understand each other again.’
The reference to Elena Ferrante’s novels is related more to symbolism than content, an aspect of Lucia’s recovery that I appreciated and could relate to. This is a slim book, but its words are weighty. Anyone with an interest in trauma will find this book useful, and while Lucia’s trauma is related to sexual violence, sufferers of trauma stemming from other sources will still find this book illuminating. There is also commentary throughout that cannot be overlooked about the way in which women are treated differently to men when presenting at hospital with pain. As a sufferer of pain, the source of which is only just now being pieced together, there was a ring of truth to this for me. Recently I spent approximately five hours at the emergency department of my local hospital in extreme pain with physical evidence of swelling and lack of movement in both of my hands, only to be told that I should take Panadol and an antihistamine and come back again if it doesn’t improve. It did not improve. That a man might have received different treatment with the same symptoms is not something I’m equipped to comment on, but the research Lucia cites is eye opening and quite frankly, disturbing.
‘I thought of all the women writers who kept me company during the darkest moments of my recovery. The women whose strength pushed me ever on, convincing me that there was a world out there that was beautiful and kind and safe, and that it would be waiting for me when I was ready for it.’
I think it’s important to stress that this is not a depressing read. I think it might have been so if it had been structured as a memoir, but in its existing form, it’s far from being so. It is, above all, an extremely interesting read about trauma, and on its way to this, it’s also an incredible account of survival.
Thanks is extended to Allen & Unwin for providing me with a copy of I Choose Elena for review.
Read for #2020ReadNonFic hosted by Book’d Out
Category: Medical Issue
About the Author:
Lucia Osborne-Crowley is a journalist, essayist, writer, and legal researcher. Her news reporting has appeared in ABC News, Guardian, Huffington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and Women’s Agenda. Her long-form writing has appeared in The Lifted Brow and Meanjin.
I Choose Elena
Published by Allen & Unwin
Released 18th February 2020