TRIGGER WARNING: Extensive discussion of rape/Mental illness/Alcohol dependence/Drug use/ED/Suicidal ideation
It’s been several years (more than a few, less than many) since I was a problem drinker. I was 18 when it got really bad for me (and about 21 when it started to slow down). I don’t like to call my drinking problem alcoholism because I was able to avoid rehab (for better or worse). Additionally, drinking now doesn’t trigger an alcohol binge; the opposite, actually, is true.
Relevant note: I was eating over-the-counter speed (some folks call it “trucker speed”) in dizzying amounts to bolster the progress of an eating disorder and really just to get through my days as quickly as possible. I hated everything about the whole of myself; I found my mind morally repugnant and my body physically detestable. As I lost weight, rapidly, puckers and dug-out hollows appeared in my thighs and stomach. I worked out all the time, in secret, where no one could possibly see me. My thinking became confused, illogical. I believed that my body indicated my inherent baseness. It looked so terrible because I was so terrible.
Other drugs, harder drugs than diet pills and Yellow Jackets, were a regular part of my life. [I’m not counting marijuana in the laundry list of substances I’m making in my head, though it was a part of day-to-day life. Marijuana is not a hard drug. I never got so high that I stopped being conscious or was a threat to anything but a bag of barbecue pork rinds, har har har.] The hardest drug, at least in my life, was alcohol. I beat the shit out of myself with it. Over and over and over.
Almost everyone who was important to me–family as well as friends–watched it happen. (Those who didn’t, I ignored.) To me, that was further evidence that I was disgusting. No one even mentioned rehab. I knew that drinking could kill me, but I am sure now that I was waiting for it then. I wouldn’t be conscious for death when it came. Every birthday now is a surprise to me: not always a sweet one.
Cutting the habit took time, to say the least. Anyway, what I need to emphasize is that when I drink heavily I go into fugue states (identified as such not just my myself, but also by my mental healthcare providers). Or at least I used to: now, as a fairly well-medicated, diagnosed bipolar, I haven’t experienced anything like it in years. But I also don’t drink much. So, hard to say, really, if a fugue is still a possibility.
When I was a hard drinker, it was impossible to know what amount of alcohol would trigger a black out. It could have been just a few glasses of wine or 14 beers or 3 shots and 3 beers or 10 shots and no beer. In hindsight, I see that stress (particularly sexual advances) also spurred what seemed like a typical drunk into a fugue. Colloquially known as “blacking out,” during these interludes I can talk (though my speech pattern is slurred and any narrative is hard to follow at best), move around under my own power (again, not exactly well, but capably enough to slide down a flight of stairs), and generally seem like a really quite drunk person, but not a person who is no longer “in” her own mind.
But I wasn’t.
Here’s where it becomes problematic and pretty humiliating. From a huddled place on a bathroom floor, I’ve snarled at people approaching me so that they feared for their safety. I’ve been hit by a car, I’ve been found lying in the street in a state of undress by the police, I’ve yanked facial piercings out of myself in a rage, and I’ve said unbelievable things to family members and probably committed acts that bordered on domestic violence. These are all things I learned, of course, after the fact. I accept them as true because I have no other choice. It’s like reading the Bible. You see which parts seem verifiable by using another source, or seem like common threads, and you try to piecemeal a coherent narrative out of the thing.
I’ve struggled for a long time with all that. I’ve tried to make amends and make peace.
So, context established, now onto the point, I guess. I’m pussyfooting because I hate this part: I’ve had a whole mess of sex during these fugues. I can’t change that no matter how much shame I continue to dribble onto it.
I have “come to” in the morning to a person still having sex with me or performing some kind of sexual act on me. Had I actually been asleep, or was I just slipping into consciousness again? I’ll never really know. I’ve heard about it the next day, I’ve had people joke about it around me, and I’ve shouldered it as a part of my inescapable grossness. Occasionally I had sex with people who had no idea I had the tendency to black out, but, I think quite a bit more often, with people who were fully aware that I would have no memory of the sex (or the night) the next day. Sometimes, or so I’ve been told, I was aggressive and demanded sex.
Every person with whom I’ve had this kind of encounter (as far as I know) has been a man, and a particular type of man. I don’t mean to say that men should all be categorized differently, but that I mean a very specific segment of the population. I mean cis (at least as much as their behavior demonstrated), male-identified penis-bearers. Perhaps some of them weren’t actually cis. I’ll never know that, and I’m not really interested in taking a poll. Most of them, however, and definitely the ones I knew, were absolutely heterosexual.
Me, though. What the hell was I doing? Why did I repeat this process every other weekend? At 19, I didn’t have the requisite sophistication to identify myself as queer. As a kid and teenager, about 75 percent of my significant crushes were on other girls. There was occasional pawing, kissing, but never sex. I wanted to make them feel safe. Their boyfriends were usually insensitive and, on a few occasions, abusive. I loved my friends and I pretended to love them more than I did, maybe, because I wanted to be loved. Somebody was going to get loved, goddamnit.
I knew around 17 that I was “kind of bisexual,” and that I wanted women. I was paralyzed. However strong those feelings were, my problems with my body were stronger: it was an absolute necessity to gain approval from men. That was a decision I came to myself (not only because I was brought up in this patriarchal/body-negative culture but because I knew that it would be instantly gratifying to fuck). I know that being uncomfortable with and somewhat insistently ignorant of my sexual preferences lead, along with the drinking whose purpose was to kill my head, to those sexual encounters with men (those I barely knew and those who were “friends”). I had so many problems that I couldn’t stand that there might be one more thing about myself I would have to puzzle out. Pretty fucking lazy.
If men fucked me, something about me was normal. Even if I wasn’t “there.” My body might be damaged and too fat and too saggy, but someone–the kind of someone who I’d been told (via the media/church/significant people in my life)I should cater to–wanted it. I hated my body, so it was easy not to care about what happened to it. I didn’t care about consent. I never thought about it. If my body was present, that was consent.
As an aside here, I don’t claim that an enculturation that included problematic and harmful messages necessarily makes me a victim (even though it’s my belief that it sure as hell didin’t help), or otherwise a totally helpless little object that bad things happen to, but who is incapable of doing harm herself. I did damage to myself and damage to other people. I did it.
My desires never synced up with the sex I was having; I felt restless. I was in constant pursuit of approval; it was exhausting. Whatever was going on in my life, no matter who I was actually “in to,” I valued a cis man’s sexual attraction to me above everything else. I would do anything for him (and if he was man who would pay attention to me beyond sex I gave him so much power over me it’s painfully boggling to the mind).
I should probably also mention that my one long-term relationship during this period was a fucking higgity piggity ridiculous mess (shocking!). We had an off-and-on relationship, we fought constantly, we did a lot of drugs. I punished that person for being with someone like me. Neither of us was perfect, but being with an undiagnosed skyrocketingly manic bipolar with a serious eating disorder and just as serious problem with alcohol? Not much fun for little Harpo.
I have shed a lot of this baggage thanks in part to more and more exposure to resources about gender and rape culture through both formal education and the blogosphere. My obsession with cis male approval started to deteriorate as I distanced myself from alcohol and started to experience the full brunt of mental illness without a buffer. I started to realize that waking up with someone between my legs that I no memory of asking to be there might not be okay for me anymore. I learned about consent, and it scared the shit out me. What the shit had been going on in my life? Despite a sincere dislike for myself, I couldn’t let it happen anymore, and I couldn’t laugh it off. Even so, I would never really consider calling anyone out. I’ve never asked for an apology for being raped, although I’ve apologized so many times for what I “did” to them. I know I would get laughed at if I asked for that kind of consideration because these people have no idea that they raped me. I have a hard time writing it now.
My reliance on alcohol gradually turned into fear. About six years have passed and I can now have a drink if I care to — no pressure to avoid it all costs or to binge and kill my brain.
So, to sum up, I’m pretty far from the “perfect victim.” I mean, look at those facts. Those are some hard fucking facts. Maybe I’m not a victim at all.
I still have questions for myself that no one else can answer.
Were these sexual encounters–which occurred without the same kind of consent I could give while in a “normal” conscious state–instances of rape?
Could I be raped one weekend and be a rapist the next? Could I be a rapist if I couldn’t remember it? Have I actually raped anyone?
Could I be a victim if I knew what could happen when I drank, and yet I drank anyway?
Did my (at that time) undiagnosed severe mental illness play a part in those instances, and, if so, how much? Is that even measurable?
If the people I counted as “friends” purposely juxtaposed themselves next to me because they knew that sex was a possibility, were those instances of rape? If we had sex when I wasn’t in a fugue state, did they think that consent extended beyond that instance? Did they know how to read me when I was in a fugue? Could they tell when I wasn’t there anymore? Did they count on it?
I don’t know. To be honest, thinking of my experiences as they occurred within the framework of a culture that tacitly condones rape (and it does) doesn’t help me here as much as I wish it could. Possibly because I have to think of myself as both victim and perhaps also as a perpetrator.
When another person says, “I was raped. I was drunk and my intoxicated state negated my ability to give consent,” I nod my head along with many (hopefully all) of you. I concur with that statement unequivocally.
I’ve worked hard to come to any kind of peace with myself over those shitty few years, and I don’t think I’ve really found it yet. I don’t expect to find it. Those wasted drink years are long gone and seem mostly like nightmares rather than something as quantifiable as The Past. But that’s just the movement of the human mind which tries to comfort itself and heal its wounds by dulling their sharpness.
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