On My Knees
Being an alcoholic woman can mean degradation; being a sober woman can mean dignity, with haunting memories.
After being hospitalized numerous times for my bipolar disorder, and still not properly medicated, I came up with the brilliant idea of working in a mental hospital because I thought I could relate to the patients.
Somehow I landed a job as a psych aide at Mt. Sinai. And after two months of training, yes, I could relate to the patients—the problem was, I related TOO much. It was hard to hang out with the nurses and other psych aides, who in private often judged and even made fun of the patients on the ward. I spent my time playing monopoly with the patients and really didn't fit in with the workers. And when some of the psych aides manhandled patients in crisis as I had been in some of my hospitalizations, I felt as afraid of the workers as I had when I was the one in four point restraints.
But there was one coworker who reached out to me—a handsome Jamaican man named Andrew. He asked me out to lunch one day and I suggested we go to a neighborhood pool hall, where we drank a couple of beers. I was so clueless about my alcoholism, I didn't even realize this was inappropriate. We returned to the hospital reeking of alcohol and some of the other psych aides plied us with chewing gum so the administrators and nurses wouldn't smell our “lunch.”
This was Andrew's and my first and last date. After the pool hall lunch he asked me for my number, but refused to give me his, claiming that he lived with his mother in Flatbush and she didn't allow him to get phone calls.
Obviously he was married, or lived with a woman, but I had such low self esteem when it came to men that I gave him my number anyway.
On the first booty call night, Andrew called me at 10:00 pm and asked to come over. We drank vodka and Hawaiian punch and watched Goodfellas, and then when we were good and drunk we went into my messy bedroom with the futon mattress on the floor and started to make out.
I knew he was probably married and was a player, so I was reluctant to have sex with him. I knew deep down that it didn't feel right, especially because he kept referring to my “big ass booty." He also didn't want to kiss me, making the act even more degrading for me.
When things got hot and heavy, I pulled back and said I wanted to stop.
He looked annoyed and said, "You are lucky I'm not the kind of guy to force you after you got me all worked up.” Then he slapped me on the ass.
I was so confused, and drunk, that I thought, “Maybe he's right.” And so I let him fuck me. Emotionless, mechanical, masturbatory sex, with nothing in it for me. I lay there hating myself, wishing it to be over.
And when it was over, Andrew slapped me on the ass again, put his pants on and went home to his “mother” in Brooklyn, leaving me with the sticky used condom on the floor next to my mattress.
I wish I could say that after this experience I stopped seeing Andrew, but, sadly, the booty calls lasted for several months—long after I quit the Mt. Sinai job.
My “affair” with Andrew, unfortunately, wasn't the only degrading experience I had as a young alcoholic woman.
When I was in college, I went to a party with some girlfriends and met some guys who invited us back to Brooklyn for an after-party. My friends, most of whom were younger than me and looked up to me, were hesitant to go. But I convinced them it would be fun, and off we went in their car.
Once we got to their apartment, they divvied us up between them: “You go with him; you go with him.” The guy I was paired with couldn't get it up, so not much happened between us. But my young freshman friend Jennifer was raped that night. And in the morning, when we realized we didn't have money to take the subway back to Manhattan, the guys threw change on the floor and laughed as we scurried around picking it up.
I've also done a lot of disgusting things in filthy bar bathrooms for drinks. I had many one night stands with gross men because they supplied me with drugs. I allowed drug addicts who said they only did it “bareback” to fuck me without a condom. Thank God I didn't get HIV or another STD.
It wasn't until I came into AA and experienced friendship and platonic love from men who weren't trying to get in my pants that I realized I could stop putting myself in these degrading situations.
In early sobriety I often went to the Midnight Madness meeting on Houston St. because it was dark, smoky, and sort of like a bar. At the midnight meeting there were often prostitutes who came in out of the cold in their wigs and skimpy outfits. My heart went out to them, and I was grateful I hadn't hit a bottom as low as theirs.
In time I realized that my experience was actually very similar. They got money for sex; I got drinks, maybe a couple of lines.
In AA I began to have some self-worth, and to listen to my gut and stay away from sleazoids. After only a few weeks sober, Andrew called me at midnight and said he was coming over.
“Who is this?” I said.
“Are you joking?” he said. “It's Andrew.”
“I'm sorry,” I told him, “ I don't know who you are.” It felt great to burst his egotistical, sadistic, misogynist bubble. He never called again.
Since getting sober, I have only had sex with men who I wanted to be with, and who had at least some interest in me as a person and not just a junkie vagina.
Sure, there have been some major heartbreaks. I dated some real jerks, including a sex addict who needed sex at least three times a day, and even that wasn't enough—he cheated on me after just a month into our relationship. And continued to cheat on me, as I stupidly stayed with him for six more months, blaming myself for not satisfying him.
It took time, and a lot of step work, to find out what I was worth and to demand better from my sexual partners. But none of these relationships compared to the degradation I experienced as an active alcoholic woman.
I have a close friend who was raped in sobriety. In fact, she wrote about it on The Fix. Of course rape can happen to any woman, drunk or sober. But my friend, whom I am so proud of, was able to stand up for herself, heal, and regain her dignity in a way I never could after similar experiences when I was drunk.
Today I am in a 12-year monogamous relationship with my best friend from AA. Yes, as I have written about before, he is a relapsing alcoholic, so of course our marriage has its problems. But he is kind, and loving, and faithful.
And I know now that I deserve no less.
Thanks to my sobriety, it's been a long time since I've been on my knees in a bar bathroom in exchange for a couple of drinks.
Sadie Long is a pseudonym for a regular contributor to The Fix.