The other day I was walking around in downtown Abilene, and outside of one of the stores was a table of books. As any librarian and/or book lover would do, I paused to glance over the titles. Only one book really caught my eye:
I loved the simple design of the cover, light pink with varying sizes of red dots sprinkled all over it. It seemed like a no-brainer for me – I love memoirs, I love reading… I don’t love acne, but unfortunately it has had quite an impact on me and my story.
I scanned the book for a price, and suddenly saw a sign that said “Free books: Limit 1 per customer.” Free book??? Even better.
I had no idea what this book was really going to be like, but when I came to this paragraph on the second page, I knew I was going to like it:
“After genocide, nuclear war, famine, slavery, and child abuse, acne is the absolute worst thing that can happen to a person. Okay, fine, maybe cancer is worse, and probably a bunch of other stuff, but acne is bad, really bad, and if you haven’t lived though it then… honestly, go f*** yourself.”
— Laura Chinn (p. 2)
I laughed out loud when I read that last part! It was so honest and real. If you’ve never had bad acne, you will think these sentiments are crazy exaggerations. If you have struggled with bad acne, you’ll know that during your lowest points of dealing with red spots all over your face, you literally do feel like this sometimes.
My experience with acne is something that deeply affected me, more than I ever knew until I really started doing some reflecting upon the experience in my 30’s. It affected my body image (I stopped thinking I was pretty, and in fact, was convinced that because of acne scarring I could never be beautiful again), my idea of my own self-worth (I questioned why anyone would want to be friends with someone as ugly as me), and my mental and physical health (I had a few years of extreme dieting when I was trying to find the perfect diet to “cure” my acne, and instead ended up losing so much weight that my period stopped).
I’ve never written a series this long before, but I’m planning to wrap this series up in a 6th post to come soon. If you missed any of the other posts and you’d like to read them, just do a search at the top for “My Sister Rachel” and they should all pop up.
I’m going to try to keep it real in this post, and today’s topic is “challenging times.” Coincidentally this is also the longest post in the series, so bear with me if you attempt to read through it. I’m sure it’s no surprise that there were times with Rachel that were really difficult and stressful. Honestly, there were many times that just really sucked. I don’t say that to blame my sister or my family for how things were, it is just a true statement due to the circumstances we found ourselves in.
Rachel had limited abilities to communicate with us how she was feeling or what she was thinking, and I’m sure much of the time she felt frustrated that we didn’t understand her. She probably felt frustrated when things didn’t seem “right” to her and none of the rest of us were doing anything to fix it. She wasn’t aware of all the social rules that most of us follow (like giving others personal space, or knowing to stay quiet during a movie so as not to bother anyone) and so inevitably she would commit many social taboos that would draw attention, very often negative attention.
I was probably only in Kindergarten or elementary school, but by that time I had already learned to associate Rachel with negative feelings and outcomes. Without even realizing it at the time, I strategically began to avoid being around her or interacting with her. I had learned that I needed to keep myself and my things away from Rachel if I wanted them to be out of harm’s way. As I said in an earlier post, we really didn’t play together much anyway (due to being on different developmental levels), and so we each kind of did our own thing and had our own interests. We had our own rooms and our own toys, and my toys and belongings were very different from Rachel’s (again, due to our differences in abilities). I’m not sure if that was the reason Rachel seemed so intrigued with my room and my things, but there were many times that she would take something of mine, and essentially destroy it. Sometimes she might find a tag on one of my stuffed animals and rip it off (tearing a hole in it) or she’d crumple up a drawing I was really proud of. I don’t think it was done intentionally against me, but it made me so upset. (I’m sure older siblings have experienced similar situations where a younger brother or sister broke something of theirs.)
One time in particular when Rachel broke something of mine stands out to me. Earlier we had gone to a science museum, and I had gotten a wooden stegosaurus skeleton that you could put together piece by piece, kind of like a 3D puzzle. (It was so cool!) I had assembled it and had it on display in my room. I think the door to my room was open and I was in another part of the house, but I remember hearing a crash and running back to my room to find Rachel standing there and the stegosaurus smashed to pieces on the floor. I’m not sure why this event, out of all the times Rachel broke something of mine, sticks out in my memory, but I remember being devastated. That event might have been the catalyst to cause us to put a lock on my door.
I mentioned that I had learned to keep not only my things, but myself, away from Rachel in order to avoid harm. Another not-so-fun thing about Rachel was that around this same time (Kindergarten or elementary school) Rachel started having violent tendencies. If she got mad, her way to express it was through hurting herself or someone else. And if you were the person nearby, you might find yourself hurt. Rachel was always bigger and stronger than I was, despite us being the exact same age, so fighting back wasn’t a great strategy for me. I learned instead that I was much faster than her, so I could outrun her if she was trying to attack me. There were still plenty of times though when she would get me by surprise, and being the good girl I was, I knew I shouldn’t try to hurt her back. That was SO frustrating to me – it never felt like justice was served. (Probably was the start of a lot of repressed anger for me to be honest.)
On one occasion, however, I did retaliate back at Rachel, and I didn’t hold anything back. We were older, maybe junior high age, and Rachel had hit me or hurt me somehow. I remember being so mad, and I decided I was going to hit her as hard as I could. And I did. I slapped her on her back so hard that it left a hand print, and I remember Rachel started to cry. (Sorry Mom, I don’t think I ever told you that before!) Of course then I felt terrible, but it was a mixture of feelings – I knew I shouldn’t have done it, but at the same time it felt like I was standing up for myself. (I’m sure there could have been a better way to do that…)
Besides being fearful for my physical wellbeing sometimes (her violent outbursts did get better over time), I began to have a lot of fear about what other people would think – whether or not they were judging me or my family for how my sister behaved.
Earlier today I had a person speak very rudely to me at work – it was much more jarring than I expected it to be – by that I mean I was surprised by how much their words alone could hurt me. I walked away from that interaction extremely angry, wanting justice for the wrongs that I felt had been done to me.
I’m not the type of person who is particularly graceful at handling moments like these. I wish I could think faster on my feet and come up with the perfect response. But no, I’m that person who replays the event over and over in their head, crafting what would have been an ideal response in varying scenarios. I wish I didn’t get so flustered by my emotions. I tend to feel emotions hard and fast, and all I could think to say at the moment it was happening were things that I knew I shouldn’t. So instead, I didn’t say a lot, I just fumed inside.
As I reflected on the event, I remembered that Jesus went through countless encounters of people being rude to him, hating him, and obviously going so far as to eventually crucify him. How many times did Jesus desire “justice” for himself? How many times did emotions like anger overwhelm him? How many times could he have said, “Do you know who you’re talking to? God in the flesh!” Jesus could have used his power and status to put others in their place if he wanted to.
But he didn’t. He made himself lower. He prayed for his enemies. He forgave. He loved.