The Night I Was Drugged

The exact details of the night that I was drugged elude me. From the timeline I was able to piece together through text messages, phone calls, and cab receipts, I arrived at Bar #1 around 12:15 a.m. The man I was seeing at the time, H, and I went to the bar, where he bought us a drink that he didn’t have the cash to pay for. While he made his way to the ATM, a very generic-looking man came up and started hitting on me. While he was talking to me, I quickly set my drink down to get something out of my bag. I believe that this is when he drugged me. H came back a few minutes after that, exchanged words with the stranger, and pulled me onto the dance floor.

Fifteen short minutes later, we left Bar #1 for Bar #2. Upon arrival at Bar #2, we got another drink almost as quickly as H picked a fight with me. I suggested we take the conversation outside and after 10 or so heated minutes of conversation with H, my memory goes black. When I regained consciousness at 6:30 a.m. the next day, I found myself alone in the emergency room, in agonizing pain.

From what H told me the following Monday, during our fight, I had begun to cry and informed him I was leaving, to which he responded, “Good,” and watched me walk away. I then called a car, whose driver saw almost immediately that something was very wrong with me. The driver, who I haven’t been able to speak to due to the car company's privacy policies, called 911 and an ambulance picked me up shortly thereafter. I was rushed to the ER and admitted to a local hospital at 2 a.m. There, I was given an IV and threw up the contents of my stomach until I passed out.

When I awoke the next morning, I was thrown discharge papers, with no explanation as to what happened to me, and sent home. I spent the next 24 hours curled up in bed, unable to move or eat, cloaked in shame. Fortunately, I have an incredible network of people in my life, one of whom included my friend C, who crawled into bed next to me, watching Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and, thankfully, not judging me. For this act of kindness, I am forever grateful. After the first emotionally, physically, and mentally painful 24 hours passed, I spent the following 48 hours putting together the puzzle pieces of what had happened to me that night.

At first, I thought maybe I had just overindulged at the bar, that it was my fault for having too many drinks. I cannot describe the incredible shame and embarrassment that comes with the assumption that I was in a hell of my own making. I felt as though my physical and emotional pain was a punishment for having had an excessively indulgent night out with some friends. It took time, two conversations with medical professionals, and one tear-filled confession to my one of my best friends to come to terms with the fact I actually had been drugged. That the pain I had gone through wasn’t my own fault. After that, I started telling anyone who would listen about what had happened to me.

At an event, if someone I didn't know casually asked, “Why aren’t you drinking tonight?” I’d instantly reply, “I was drugged and rushed to the ER two weeks ago.” As soon as I said the words, a wave of relief washed over me. I felt as if in that moment, I had transferred the weight of the assault from my shoulders to theirs. It was now their responsibility to deal with the horror of what had happened to me. They would always say, “You’re so strong,” or “I can’t believe that happened to you!”

Their shock reminded me that my pain was legitimate, that what had happened to me was horrifying and my feelings of anxiety and fear were justified. Once the conversation was over, the gravity of the situation sank back in and my pain came rushing back. I soon realized this was my way of asking the world to acknowledge my pain, so I didn’t have to. I spent days cowered away in one corner of my apartment, paralyzed with fear, unable to go outside, calling my mom sobbing for no other reason than that I was uncontrollably sad. I thought if I heard other people tell me I was strong, I would start to believe it myself — so I sought it out as often as I could bring myself into public situations.

Soon after the assault, I stopped sleeping. The crippling exhaustion would make me feel like I was on the brink of going insane, until I told someone why I wasn’t sleeping and they would respond, “Oh wow, of course you’re not sleeping! How scary!” Then suddenly, a surge of energy would rush through my body and I could make it through another hour of my life without collapsing (although I’d basically taken to napping anywhere semi-quiet and dark). I soon realized, though, this tactic was not only temporary but futile and I was still, weeks later, being torn apart by that night.

Having no memory of the night is the most terrifying part of the experience. I’ve always been able to recall college lectures, important meetings, and nights out with friends at the drop of a hat. My steel-trap mind has given me a competitive edge my whole life, making me seem far more impressive and informed than I actually am. But on that night, my memory is a black hole. Every time I try to conjure even a flash of recollection, I am met with an abyss of darkness.

Unfortunately, this is neither a groundbreaking nor a unique story. But I felt compelled to share it for many reasons. The first being I never thought this would happen to ME. I, naively, thought I was somehow immune to this kind of assault for several superficial reasons:

I am big. I stand a solid 5’11” and I’m almost always wearing heels, topping me off at a respectable 6’2”. Early this year, I ran a half marathon without training. I am athletic.

I am approachable. When I go to parties, I spend my time bouncing from person to person, making an effort to speak with everyone in attendance at some point in the night. Nobody has ever needed to trick me into giving them my attention.

I am street smart. I have, on many occasions, acted as the sober party monitor, making sure my drunken friends get home safely and forcibly removing overly aggressive men from parties and clubs.

I am old(er). I had always thought getting drugged was something that happened to college co-eds during spring break. Looking down the barrel of 29, I thought I had outgrown the crowd of people who would stoop to such measures.

I am (or was, at the time) with a guy. The night I was drugged, I was flanked by a 6’2” former Marine. I had an incredible false sense of security around H, because he had been trained by the U.S. government on how to protect people. How could anything bad happen to me when I was standing next to a man who had served three tours overseas? I’m an independent woman who stopped concerning herself with her own physical well-being because I was sleeping next to Captain America.

But none of these things mattered, because they are not what being drugged is about.

I thought if I could just erase that night from existence, everything would go back to normal. This exercise was, of course, fruitless, and I soon realized that, like the best days of your life, the worst days help shape who you are. I had to accept what happened to me and move on.

It was at this point my mother suggested I write down what I went through, as a cathartic exercise, but to also reflect on the experience and see if there was anything to be learned from it. I don’t want to say through this process I turned a “bad situation” into a “good one,” but I was able to draw some incredible insights from my experience that I otherwise would have never been exposed to.

We have to look out for one another. As brothers, sisters, friends, and lovers we have to take care of each other. If your friend is taking off from the bar early, watch her get into a cab and then text her to make sure she got home OK. If someone looks like they’re in bad shape, take them home. There will always be other nights to go out and have fun. I wish, with all my heart, that H would have taken care of me that night. I wish he would have noticed something was wrong and gone to the hospital with me, so that I wouldn’t have woken up alone and scared.

We need medical staff to be patient with us. I’ve always respected anyone who works in medicine — nurses, EMTs, doctors, and everyone in between have made the amazing decision to dedicate their lives to helping people; and as a result, they have seen some crazy sh*t. I know what must have looked like when I was admitted to the hospital — tall blonde girl, dressed to the nines, who had had an excessively good time out and was now paying for it. That must have been frustrating for the staff whom, undoubtedly, had more pressing issues to deal with. But I wish my nurses, EMTs and doctors had known how scared I was. Please, medical staff, do your best to be patient with people in my situation. But above all else, thank you for treating me and keeping me safe.

And to my fellow survivors: THIS IS NOT YOUR FAULT. I don’t care if you’re walking down Bourbon Street in a bikini wasted on spring break, or if you’re a 40-year-old woman sipping water at a wine bar — you DO NOT deserve to be treated like this. As a society, we need to shift the blame and the shame to the attacker, not the attacked. It’s insane that in this day and age, predators still stoop to such astounding lows to assault and humiliate people. My survivors, know that the light that you emit from your soul overwhelms the darkness those people cast on this earth. You made it through this — you can make it through anything.

I wouldn’t say coming to these realizations has resulted in me 100 percent moving on, but it definitely brought me a degree a peace and allowed me to seek out the treatment I needed to get my head back on straight. Then I realized that there are women out there who haven’t found peace, who need someone to tell them it’s not their fault and to acknowledge their pain, just as I asked for mine to be acknowledged. That led me decide to share my story. To tell the world what I had gone through, what I had learned, and that there is light at the end of the tunnel. I’m moving on. I’ve started dating and dancing again and I have confidence in the fact that I will never allow that night to define me again.

Images: Sasha Freemind/ Unsplash; Roberto Tumini/ Unsplash; Giphy