I Choose Elena: On Trauma, Memory & Survival (eBook)


Lucia Osborne-Crowley
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A beautiful, searing essay about trauma, recovery and literature

Aged 15 and on track to be an Olympic gymnast, Lucia Osborne-Crowley was violently raped 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. Eventually finding solace in writers like Elena Ferrante, this is a work 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 trauma, 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. Eloquent, defiant and honest, I Choose Elena is the story of how a young woman reclaimed her body.


‘Thank-you Lucia Osborne-Crowley for writing I Choose Elena, for your bold and precise testimony on the devastation of sexual violence, on the body’s extraordinary and destructive compulsion to contain its own trauma. Every one of the insights you share is extremely hard-won, and I am so grateful to you for putting them into this incredible book.’
—Rosie Price, author of What Red Was

‘Startlingly intelligent, disturbing, profound and moving, I Choose Elena shows us that the #MeToo movement has grown roots, and that for survivors of rape and sexual assault, the revolution is just beginning. Osborne-Crowley gives us darkness wrought in light and the hope she offers is as palpable as it is hard-won.’
—April Ayers Lawson, author of Virgin and Other Stories

‘This book burrowed deep under my skin. A searing, potent testament to the vital necessity of articulation in the struggle for women to own their bodies and find a language to talk about violence and trauma.’
—Jessica Andrews, author of Saltwater

‘A fierce, eloquent meditation on trauma, #MeToo, the body, pain and memory.’
—Sinéad Gleeson, author of Constellations

‘If you buy one book today let it be this one . . . it moved me to tears and to anger.’ 
—Daisy Johnson

‘Beautiful and sad and moving and too real in the finest way.’
—Una Mullally, columnist, The Irish Times

I Choose Elena

Growing up, I was a gymnast. The serious kind. By the time I was ten, I had represented New South Wales at the national championships and won. At age twelve, I represented Australia at the world championships. By fifteen, I was preparing for my second world championships. I trained relentlessly.

Every morning I drank raw eggs mixed with protein powder and milk. I was training so much that my body had started using my muscle mass for energy, which could result in my muscles atrophying. That’s what the raw eggs were for: I needed to be consuming as much protein as possible to keep my muscles intact.

Weakness was the one thing we were all taught to avoid. I took this lesson seriously. No amount of eggs, protein bars, crunches, toe-points, handstand push-ups or weightlifts could deter me. I would push my body right to its limits, then further.

The kind of gymnastics I was doing required immense mental precision. I needed to synchronize wholly with my body, to pick up on every signal it sent me. I needed to master a very particular kind of mindfulness in order to step onto a velvet floor on a world stage, with five international judges ready to pick apart my every movement. My mind had to be so still that it could communicate with every pointed toe, every carefully balanced leg, every finger.

I had to be perfect, and it had to seem effortless. I had to be strong and powerful and graceful and light, all at the same time. I had to smile. To do all these things at once takes a kind of mind–body alignment that I have been dreaming of regaining ever since I stepped off the floor for the last time. My body and my mind, it seemed then, belonged wholly to me.

I was obsessed with this feeling. When I wasn’t training, I took ballet classes to fill the time.

We called the gym our second home. For some of us, at times, it felt like a first home. Each year when we qualified for the national team, we would go on week-long training camps during which we would wake up at 5 a.m. to go for a long run, then do three training sessions throughout the day before crawling into sleeping bags placed atop crash mats on the gym floor. When we were slow to wake up, my coach would play Rihanna’s ‘Pon de Replay’ on the gymnasium’s enormous sound system.

I would be thrown in the air by another gymnast and do a double somersault and land perfectly. Sometimes the somersaults would be in the pike position, or the layout position, so you had to jump high and hard enough to rotate your stretched-out body twice before reaching the floor. Sometimes we did triple somersaults. Sometimes we did double layouts with a full twist in the first rotation.

We balanced our handstands on the hands of another gymnast and then morphed our bodies into overarch – a move in which you arch your back so much in the handstand that your feet touch your hands – while the gymnast holding us up slides into the splits. Sometimes we did the handstands with only one arm.

These manoeuvres are not just complicated but profoundly dangerous – gymnasts have died or been rendered paraplegic by a missed landing. We were all okay with danger; we were fearless. But the thing about staying safe as an athlete at that level is that your technique must be perfect. You need to know exactly how to jump; where your arms need to be at each point in a double somersault; how to hold your legs, your chest and your fingers so your handstand is unshakable.

I knew every inch of my body so well, could feel every tiny sensation, could always tell if something was even just a little bit off.

Katherine Angel  for Aeon, 23 April 2021: Shameful: Women who write about their pain suffer a double shaming: once for getting injured, twice for their act of self-exposure

Lucia Osborne-Crowley for Meanjin Quarterly, 8 February 2021: ‘What if We Never Recover’

Chronic by HuffPost Podcast, 30 December 2020: ‘Episode 10 – The Hidden Scandal In Women’s Healt‪h‬’ 

Little Bad Thing Podcast, 13 December 2020: ‘Do the right thing: Lucia did something that made thousands of people’s lives better, but sometimes she wishes she could take it all back.’

Alice Wickenden for Brixton Review of Books, Summer 2020 issue: ‘Is it messed up?’

Terri Apter for The TLS, 24 April 2020: ‘Frozen’

Papertrail Podcast, 9 December 2019: ‘Lucia Osborne-Crowley interviewed about her favourite books’

Imogen West Nights for New Statesman, 20 November 2019: ‘A Cure of One’s Own’

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett for the Guardian, 14 October 2019: ‘Two years on, the literature of #MeToo is coming of age’

Lucia Osborne-Crowley for Meanjin Quarterly, 7 October 2019: ‘The Paradox of Dependence’

BBC Woman’s Hour, 19 September 2019: ‘Interview with Lucia Obsorne-Crowley’ (from 23min)

Lucia Osborne- Crowley for Granta, 17 September 2019: ‘Love After Abuse’

Lucia Osborne- Crowley for  Bookanista.com, 16 September 2019: ‘Write what you want to forget’

Lucia Osborne- Crowley for The Sunday Times, 8 September 2019: ‘How Bibliotherapy Helped Me To Deal With Trauma’

Keira Brown for The Fountain, 8 September 2019: ‘Review: I Choose Elena by Lucia Osborne-Crowley’

Australian edition

Dutch edition

Spanish edition

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