My Sober Life, Chapter 17

Hello, my beautiful friends. Before we jump into this week’s chapter, I first need to address the post from last week. I am, once again, amazed and fortified by the responses I received. Texts, comments, shares, likes and private messages…it was an incredible display of humanity and beauty and authenticity. I actually had to stop reading them during the day because I was at work, and I wanted to give each one the time and consideration it deserves. I sent this text to my husband:

I’m practically in tears at work. I’ve received so many messages from people today. [It’s] Cracking my heart wide open.

This was the most feedback I have ever received. My heart is filled with so much joy over all of our shared connections and stories. And it bolsters my belief that telling our stories is the way we are empowered. Whether it is publicly or not, telling your story releases its power over you and gives that power back to you. It allows others to feel your empowerment and move toward their own. There are warrior writers who did this for me, and I am honored to pay it forward. I love you, dear readers, for your honesty, your gratitude, your integrity, your support. Thank you.

Because the second half of the story does dominate the narrative, the first part gets buried a little bit. I want to go further into it now, because like many people, I have had experiences where consent isn’t implicit, but there is no overt statement of dissent. Once you add in peer pressure, and not wanting to look weak or scared or god forbid, like a prude (the worst insult ever, amirite?!), it’s a convoluted mess. But by definition, it is still sexual assault. In light of the national conversation surrounding consent and rape culture, this seems like the next logical step in the story. It deviates from my normal style of writing, but hopefully, it will still provide insight.

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In which the ways men treat me further influence how I treat myself

The first time I remember being extremely uncomfortable with boys, I was at a girl’s house freshman year of high school. I didn’t know her all that well, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Her parents might have been home, but we were all in her basement. There were three girls and three or four boys, and somehow, strip poker came up. I was terrified. I had no experience with this. The most I’d done was an awkward french kiss with my best boy friend in 8th grade where I basically squeezed my eyes shut and opened my mouth while other people stared and counted down 10 seconds. Similar to then, in this situation, I did not want to participate, but I didn’t want to get made fun of either. I kept watching the clock, hoping upon hope my dad would come pick me up early. I finally stood up, put my sock and shoes back on, and said, “My dad should be here. Thanks, bye!” and sprinted up the stairs. I sat outside and waited until he arrived.

The next time was a little more serious. I was 16 years old. We were at a party, and he was kind of quiet and mysterious, but still handsome in a dark and brooding kind of way. I think I had a class or two with him, and I remember thinking he was cute. We ended up sitting on a couch together, in the middle of the living room portion of the open, main level. People were everywhere, sitting on the floor, going in and out the back door, hanging out in the kitchen. Everyone could see everyone. It was not a private place.

I don’t remember everything from that night. I wasn’t drinking because I was driving, so I can’t blame that. I would not be surprised if I blocked out a lot of it. Here is what I do remember:

  • I was wearing jeans and a cream-colored t-shirt with a picture of Mickey Mouse on the front
  • He never tried to kiss me; he only tried to touch me
  • He touched me on my stomach, over the shirt
  • I did not want him to touch me
  • When I moved his hand off me, I laughed, citing the public-ness of our location
  • He then pulled a blanket from somewhere and placed it over us, sheltering us from prying eyes
  • The blanket wasn’t soundproof and again, we weren’t anywhere private, so there was commentary and I could hear it
  • Then he tried again, this time putting his hand under my shirt, leaving it resting on my stomach
  • He moved his hand up slowly and deliberately, staring at me while he did
  • I was sick with fear and anxiety and a pure feeling of just, NO
  • BUT, I didn’t want to make a scene
  • BUT, I also didn’t want to get a reputation
  • BUT, I also didn’t want to be called a prude
  • He barely grazed my bra and I finally threw off the blanket and walked away

I had classes with him over the next three years; I would see him in the hall, and I would refrain from conversing with him. But, I also lowered my gaze. I would not meet his eyes, as though I was ashamed. Even at our 10 year high school reunion, with my husband by my side and my seven-month pregnant belly leading the way, I avoided him.

I honestly don’t know if I ever told anybody about it. If I did, I wonder if I mentioned how mortifying it was, how much I didn’t want it to be happening. Looking back, I am struck by the fact that he didn’t like me. He didn’t want to kiss me. He just wanted to put his hand up my shirt. As is normal for any human, I began to question myself. What was wrong with me? Was I sending out some signal? Why didn’t he just ask? The answer would have been no, but if he’d backed off then, I wouldn’t have been afraid of him. I might have respected him. Maybe even liked him. If he’d tried to get to know me, maybe I eventually would have been comfortable letting him go there. Instead, he scarred another human in the pursuit of second base. 

A year or so after that night, I was talking on the phone late into the night and was asked by a friend (who was maybe on the verge of becoming a boyfriend) if I was a virgin. He had just told me he wasn’t, and I didn’t know how to respond. I was silent for a long time, internally panicking about what telling the truth would do. So instead, I overcompensated by telling lies about my sexual know-how which, to the surprise of no one, backfired spectacularly. Which set me up for things like this…

A boy who was a year older than me came up to me at a party and whispered he wanted to talk to me in private. He was very cute and very popular, and when he led me to the side yard of the house, away from everyone, I was a little excited. But he didn’t want to talk to me or kiss me. He very much wanted to put his hand down my pants. I said no. He was a friend, and I like to think that had he been sober, he would have been more respectful, but he was drunk and insistent. He grabbed my hand and sat down in the grass, pulling me down as he did so. He said again what he wanted to do. Again, I said no. He set his beer down and began to negotiate with me. He did that drunken close-talker thing, rubbing his hand up and down my leg. My back was against a fence. I felt trapped. In an effort to save myself, I agreed to let him put his hand partially down the front of my pants in exchange for me getting to walk away. He agreed, did it with a grotesquely creepy moan, and I bolted. I felt like I won in that situation. 

What bothers me the most about this example is I was already brainwashed into thinking I needed to stay calm and do whatever it took to survive mostly unscathed. I was trained to be more concerned about his feelings. I didn’t want to be called the names. The ones reserved especially for women: crazy, hysterical, over-reactive, psycho, tease, maniac. Bitch. 

Conversely, a boyfriend who knew I was nervous about taking our relationship to the next level told me, “You are the brakes.” He was honest about what he wanted, but he let me lead. He always asked me, “Is this OK?” and waited for me to say yes or no. And if the answer was no, he respected me and would not do it. He never acted rejected or entitled. He never pressured me or tried to make me feel guilty for it. I always have felt that was a great gift. Not only did I experience a relationship of reciprocity, I then trusted him implicitly. I didn’t find it killed the mood when he asked my permission. In fact, it was the opposite. That willingness to let me guide us into that phase of the relationship, it not only emboldened me, it allowed us to grow together, enjoying those first experiences as a couple because we both knew they were consensual.

There are a lot of conversations surrounding what is and isn’t OK regarding intimate contact. Personally, I do not think it is simply black and white. Every person is different, every situation is different. However, I do think this could be a starting point for these conversations surrounding consent. Both partners should feel comfortable to say no – at any point in time – without consequence. 

I’m working on teaching this to my children. Whether it’s tickling or wrestling or play fighting, no is no is no is no, and if they say stop, you stop. End of discussion. Teaching them that picking on or hurting someone (pulling hair, snapping bras, etc.) is not how we show affection. I feel enormous responsibility to ensure my sons are not continuing the problem but an active part of the solution.

Sometimes, I pretend I had the confidence in myself on that phone call to either tell the truth or say, “It’s none of your business,” and not be concerned about what someone else might think about me. I pretend I could say no without fear of consequence. It took a couple of decades for me to get there.

And how liberating it is.

Cheers (with water with lemon).

—————————————————————————————————————

If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual assault, there is help. Contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1.800.656.HOPE (4673)

RAINN (Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network) has a plethora of resources on their website.

You are not alone. 


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