When I was 17 years old, my parents mutilated my face.
They paid a world-class plastic surgeon, Dr. Anthony Terrasse, to make adjustments of a few millimetres to each side of my nose. I consented to it because I didn’t have a choice but to agree. My parents presumably provided medical consent on my behalf.
The fact that my parents forced me to have plastic surgery as a teenager is unconscionable. The fact that they did so in a quid pro quo for some weight loss (my body also required correction) should tell you everything you need to know about how I was raised.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
If I told you that my husband learned of my plastic surgery from my mom, because she revels in nothing more than the emotional heat generated from causing searing embarrassment right where it hurts the most, that might paint a fuller picture.
Or that I remember the approximate cost of the surgery because it was held over my head as another expense required to ensure my (material) success in this world. Another flaw I had to correct to bend myself to the mold of the perfect, dutiful daughter I was expected and required to be.
At all costs. Including the cost of having a relationship with me at all.
You see, if I pointed any of this out to my parents, they would deny that it happened, or find a way to justify it. They would tell you I wanted the surgery and agreed to it. They would say that they wanted the best for me and they thought they were providing that. That they spent so much money giving me the best opportunities. That they wanted me to be successful. That they love me, that “mistakes were made.”
I know this because I heard it with my own ears from my father, when I attempted to canvas the issue with him following my suicide attempt.
I will say no more because the point of this story isn’t to eviscerate my parents, even though I would be perfectly within my rights to do so. It's to prevent this kind of shit from happening to anyone else by telling people that shit like this happens to people like me.
The very short version of this part of my story is that my parents were emotionally abusive to me as a child (and adult) in ways that were so insidious and damaging that it has taken me a detour through decades of private torment, a misfit career, a failed suicide attempt, recovery from clinical depression, and months of therapy for me to begin to unpack some of the deeply disturbing things that happened to me. I want to go into some of this and I am strong enough, now, to begin to do it.
So why say anything about this at all? Why risk angering the gods, so to speak? Or let sleeping dogs lie, if you like that picture better?
(For context, my husband, on reading the first draft of this piece--I always send him a draft of anything I intend to share about our family online--burst into our kitchen wondering if we should consider an alarm system.)
Words are a beacon. If you are reading this and you are also a survivor of abuse, you know this. There is a relief that comes flooding in with the discovery of a common traveler.
But this story is also here because by disclosing this—by shining light on things which are messy and shameful and reprehensible—things that actually happened to me, were done to me by the people who were in a position of purported trust and nurturance—I am able to break free, to deflate the power of the illusion. I do that because, by disclosing this to you, you are now imbued with the necessary outrage to become an ally of mine, and the multiplication of my allies in truth, the countless new connections I’ve made or remade from my authentic self, has given me the strength to not put up with this kind of thing anymore and to maybe try to do something about it for other people.
Emotional abuse is a very real, very damaging thing. I spent the better part of 34 years being told that I was deficient and undesirable in my condition by my family of origin while going out into the world and trying to prove the unattainable opposite. Until recently, I actually believed that I was unlovable, dumb, and ugly on the inside and outside, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. As an adult, I remained convinced that the other shoe would drop and that someone would take away the true love I experienced with my husband and then my children- that I didn’t deserve it, that it wasn’t meant for people like me. So many shoes have dropped, but that love is stronger for it, because that is what happens to actual love stretched to its limits. It makes itself known more deeply.
It is not something which can be dispensed or withheld at will. That’s not love. That’s not safety. That’s not family.
What I have been lucky enough to build and to know with my chosen family stands in stark contrast.
I literally just figured this one out even though the realization was always there waiting for me, in the sting of maternal rejection characterized as omnipotent and benevolent. It never felt right. I never felt right.
I bet that if you are not yourself a survivor of some kind of abuse (or a practitioner attuned to the telltale signs), my disclosure has come as a shock to you. My parents provided me with countless material opportunities. Their life looks perfect (so did mine). That’s what they want you to see; I have since learned that this is quite common in my situation.
Who cares about what’s actually happening when everything looks OK, right?
Here’s how that one played out for me. As a result of a lifetime of emotional abuse, when I got into the workplace, I was very ill-equipped to deal with the kinds of difficult interpersonal situations that most people weather. A law firm was probably the worst work environment I could have picked, with its countless unwritten rules and the disregard for normal behaviour norms which seems to prevail whenever there’s a profit motive at stake. I was vulnerable to repeating the same patterns, and conditioned to behave in the same way. Unfortunately for me, I ended up trapped in the same kind of insidious emotionally abusive situation I had been brought up in, and convinced myself that it was normal, because I had to, to survive. At several key places along the way, my employer at the time legitimized this abusive person’s behaviour, which ultimately left me unable to truly confide in anyone who could have helped me. It was a living hell.
This person is so pathological that even now, they have ignored all polite requests to cease contact and they use means which meet the definition of criminal harassment to try to contact me. It would be pathetic if it wasn’t possibly scary. Because that’s what this person did; they terrorized me, and countless others before me, all of whom were smarter than I was and quit or managed to get themselves fired at this person’s capricious will.
Anyone who used to work with me will recognize the person I am speaking of, and that’s precisely the problem.
People’s words matter.
People’s bad behaviour matters.
Don’t let them get away with it.
I sure as hell won’t. I’m not afraid anymore.