Surviving Rape and Staying Sober

By Sloane McDermott 04/29/13

The tools of 12-step recovery can help me to recover from anything—even a sexual assault.

"No" is a full sentence. Photo via

I was raped on August 6, 2012. I was, and still am, sober. I felt disgusting, violated and extremely confused. "That didn't really happen. I'm sober. This doesn't happen to sober people," I thought afterwards. "He is a nice boy. Why did I do that if I didn't want to do that? No one would believe me, so that means it didn't happen. Wait. Oh my God. This really happened."

I couldn’t ride the subway for months. Every time a man would look at me, I was afraid he was going to rape me. I had panic attacks and couldn’t breathe. I fantasized about torturing my rapist, tying him up and making him feel pain like he'd never felt before. Those images of killing him slowly would invade me everywhere. I googled "rape" endlessly; I’m now a veritable encyclopedia of statistics, definitions, court cases, testimonials and psychological disorders. The clinical term for incessant googling is “explaining.” I just wanted to make sense of what happened to me. If anything, being a recovering alcoholic and addict made that even more important.

When I first got sober in 2008 I was exhausted by all the men in my life, so when other sober women suggested I stay away from romantic relationships for the first year, I took the advice with relief. I was so eager, in fact, that I stayed away from men for two years. I don’t know what it was, but relationships made me want to kill myself.

Learning how to date sober has been a long and slow recovery for me. My immediate defense in the face of any man who dares cross me (and by cross me, I mean saying "hi") is to turn into the Ice Queen. I’m leery of a lot of men in AA: There are many who are straight-up predators. Not all of them, but my Ice Queen veneer is justified. I’ve had one too many icky-feeling hugs from smiling AA men.

One side-effect of rape trauma is smelling the rapist for days, even after showering repeatedly. His smell took up residence in my nostrils for a week.

In the therapy session I had right before I was raped, we talked about practicing flirting. I immediately thought of Eddie because he seemed so nice and I knew he had a bit of a crush on me. Eddie wasn't in AA; we were in a class together. One night he invited me to a hip-hop show. I agreed, wanting to branch out. This was turning into great practice because I really wasn’t that into him. I thought, "No pressure! I can just be myself!"

The show didn’t start for another hour, so Eddie suggested we go up to his apartment. I didn't want to give him the wrong impression but I thought, "It’s not a big deal, this is what regular, flirting people do." We never made it to the hip-hop show.

He never turned the lights on. He said he didn’t really want to go to the show. He started coming onto me, rubbing my thigh. We started kissing, which I was okay with. Then he started saying he wanted to get me on his bed. I said I didn’t want to do that. He said I didn’t have to do anything. I said I wasn’t comfortable with it but he kept nagging me, saying how badly he wanted to go down on me. I said I definitely did not want him to do that, but he kept saying how much he wanted me on his bed, so finally we went there because I was tired of saying no.

I told him that I did not want to take off my underwear. I said that because I was wearing a dress and it would be easy access. He kept saying how he just wanted to go down on me, how I wouldn’t have to do anything. I kept saying, no. No. But he lifted up my dress. I held onto my underwear with both hands, thinking he wouldn’t be able to pull them off. Instead, he stuck his nose into the top of my underwear. I held on to them for a few more moments, but then I let go and fell back onto the bed. I kept my legs folded under me in hopes that my underwear wouldn’t come off completely, but he pulled them down.

I was so confused because he kept saying, “You don’t have to do anything,” and I kept saying, “But I don’t want to do this.” So I didn’t understand. But in my head I thought, "Well, I’m not doing anything, per se, so this must be okay?" Even though I didn’t want it, he kept saying that I didn’t have to do anything in this tone of voice that was telling me to shut up, so I shut up. He was down there a very long time and I was extremely uncomfortable the entire time.

He finally got up on top of me. I said I did not want to have sex with him. He said we were already kind of having sex. I said, “Fine.” That was my "yes"—a “fine.” I said it in the hope that he would come quickly and the whole thing would be over and I could go home. I said it hurt a couple times, so he’d change positions. Finally I got into a position where I could tell he was coming, so I kept doing that over and over so he’d come faster. After he finished, he fell off of me and we stared up at the ceiling, not touching. I felt really ugly.

He turned to me and said that I didn’t come. I told him it was hard for me to come. He said he was up for the challenge. At this point I thought he was going to go down on me again, so I said, "No, it’s okay, I’m fine. I don’t need to come. It’s no big deal." He said he wanted to meet the challenge. He got back on top of me and suddenly he was putting another condom on. Just as suddenly, he was inside of me again. He kept thrusting and thrusting. I was staring at the ceiling as he was on top of me and I started sticking my middle fingers up at that ceiling and waving them around. He couldn’t see because his face was down in the pillows. I started saying, “Eddie….Eddie…” He kept thrusting.

I finally pushed him off: “I’m done.”

“You’re done?” “Yeah.” “Okay. I’ll be fast.” “What?” “I’ll be fast.” “No. I don’t want to have sex.”

“But I’ll be fast...” Like he was telling a kid to eat their vegetables. That's when I started getting scared: Up until that point, I see now how my denial and my numbness helped me survive. But my fear broke when I heard how coldly he said, “I’ll be fast.” I said I wanted to go home. He said I should stay the night. I said no and started looking for my dress. I remember not being able to zip up my dress and not wanting to ask him for help. Zip finally zipped. I looked for my shoes. He took me downstairs to get a cab. 

“I had a great time,” he said, kissing me.

“I had a good time,” I replied. As the cab drove up 6th Avenue, I felt numb. I didn’t understand what had just happened. I just knew I hadn’t wanted to have sex and we'd had sex anyway. I looked at the cab’s dashboard: 2 am. I thought I should maybe go to a rape website just to see if what had happened was actually rape. That couldn’t be rape, just a bad date that went too far.

I walked into my apartment building. I could still feel him between my legs. I got into my apartment, locked the door and took off my dress. It was my favorite dress, this really pretty, white, frilly thing. It smelled like him. I showered like I have never showered before, washing myself three times, shampooing over and over. One side-effect of rape trauma is smelling the rapist for days, even after showering repeatedly. His smell took up residence in my nostrils for a week.

When I woke up the next morning, I went on RAINN’s website. They have an online chat service so you can talk to someone about your experience. I said I wasn’t sure what happened, but just wanted to see if it was actually rape or me just being a pushover. They hooked me up with a counselor at Safe Horizons, a rape and domestic violence crisis center.

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