Recently I read this article: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/former-team-usa-gymnasts-describe-doctors-alleged-sexual-abuse/
These women were my teammates, my gymnastics cohort, my friends. I attended many of the same competitions and training camps. I received care from the doctor, and I, too, performed for and followed the direction of the USAG officials, staff, coaches, and judges. I lived and breathed this environment.
For whatever reason, I was not subjected to the same “treatment” these women describe. My heart hurts for them. The environment we were in was terrible in many respects — as an adult, I see it was very emotionally abusive. I can’t imagine having sexual abuse layered on top. Damn.
I’ve struggled with reconciling this time in my life. Yes, there were bright spots and happy memories. However, on so many levels, it didn’t feel good. I somehow knew it didn’t feel good at the time — and yet I didn’t know how to articulate it or explain why. I didn’t have tangible evidence to point to, besides a gut feeling, but we were taught not to listen to feelings and “just do it”. Never mind the signs of things go awry, such as the beginnings of struggles with depression, body image, eating disorders, intimacy, and trust. Learning about the sexual abuse fits in a missing puzzle piece. The air felt toxic because there was poison — all around.
I can’t speak for any of the other girls/women. I can only speak for myself.
From what I did experience, I know I didn’t feel like a human for years. It was more like I had this body, which was a tool, and that while I was in charge of making it do what I wanted, I wasn’t really in charge. Coaches, judges, and USAG officials were in charge. And I needed to make my body do what they said it should do. And if I didn’t or couldn’t? It was my fault. I wasn’t trying hard enough.
Maybe after you hear that you’re not trying hard enough enough times, you start to think YOU aren’t enough. I know I did.
Perhaps a good analogy would be that I and the others were horses in a stable. We had to perform to earn our keep and be of value. If we didn’t, we were worthless, nothing, and could/would be cast aside for a “horse” that was performing better. It didn’t seem like we were looked at as individuals with thoughts and feeling.
I know my life was attached to being a gymnast. The sport was fun to do as a child, and I received a lot of praise and validation for being such a good gymnast (which felt good). It became a big part of my identity, and eventually I couldn’t imagine life without it. Who would I be? As pain became more prevalent in the day-to-day, I clung harder and harder to any bits of praise I did receive. It was kind of an addictive (and sick) cycle.
Anyway, I’m not sure what else to write right now — much is swirling around inside. I may write more another day.
To my teammates, my friends: I’m so, so sorry for what you experienced. I commend you for speaking up. You are brave, beautiful, worthy, and enough. I love you.