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.

Slowly, I have been able to get out of denial. I was not being a pushover and the rape was not my fault. It had nothing to do with my awesomely adorable dress or the fact I went up to his apartment alone. It had to do with the fact that Eddie is a rapist.

My friend, Andrea, who has the same sober time as me, was raped in her first year of sobriety. She held my hand that first week, taking me to the crisis center and then to the health clinic to get tested for AIDS and STDs. She helped me as I took three types of antibiotics that made me want to barf. She kept reminding me that I was raped. Are you sure? Yes.

Even today, over seven months later, I can still fall into blaming myself.

The rape also lit up a relationship I had been in while drinking. They say the longer you stay sober, the lower your bottom becomes. At one point, I had a boyfriend who doubled as my coke dealer. Quite convenient. I'd chalked up our sex life to one big ball of discomfort and ugliness, but never called it rape. It was a small price to pay for free cocaine. But what I thought of as one bad date after another was rape. It is exasperating to have to spell this out, but: Sex without consent (as opposed to sex that is later regretted) can mean that you do not want to have sex with that person but they coerce you into it, pressuring you to do it after you have been very clear you do not want it.

I live day to day. I know that my experience will benefit another woman. I don’t have to drink at Eddie.

I have had sex that I later regretted, and that was not rape. The distinction is that I did not want to have sex with my coke-dealing boyfriend, but he threatened to break up with me, so I had sex with him to stay in the relationship. That is sexual coercion and that is rape. I wasn’t clear about it as I stuffed more coke up my nose and poured more whiskey down my throat. Alcohol sterilizes wounds, right? It certainly did for me at the time.

So now, I not only had to contend with this rape in sobriety, but to face a new truth: I had been raped before. I am still coming to terms with that, gingerly. One day at a time.

I wanted revenge, but I chose not to file charges. If you haven't been raped you might not understand that choice. The way the legal system works, you have to prove your case beyond a reasonable doubt, and given that I showered immediately, and didn't accept the rape until after the fact, I would be unable to do that effectively. Pressing charges has also caused friends of mine to relive the trauma. And according to RAINN, out of only 46 out of every 100 rapes that are reported, just 12 of those lead to an arrest, and nine get prosecuted, with five leading to a felony conviction. Three rapists out of every 100 will spend a day in prison. How do you like them apples?

It has been almost eight months since the rape. I talk to Andrea every now and again. She said the rape she experienced in her first year will always be with her, but now, instead of it being the first or second thought, it’s the third or fourth. Today the rape for me is the second thought—pretty good considering it’s been less than a year. I’m treating it as I treated my first year sober: I live day to day. I know this too shall pass. I also know that my experience will benefit another woman. I don’t have to drink at Eddie. I know that’s not going to help, but that leaves me feeling powerless. I just let that sit. I don’t know what to do with that yet.

The experience has also helped me become better friends with my drinking days. I didn't realize that what happened with my ex-boyfriend/coke dealer was considered rape until I started talking about it with my counselor. The rape in sobriety has helped strengthen my First Step: I feel like the word "unmanageable" doesn't begin to express the danger my addiction put me in. Suicide mission might fit better. I am powerless over alcohol and drugs and my life had become one big suicide mission. I am lucky to be alive.

It is my experience that I have been able to stay sober through anything, and that while being raped was way too much for me to handle, I've been able to handle it with the help of other people carrying me along. The beauty of sobriety is in the sharing of our experience, our strength and our hope—I have allowed others to share that with me during this crisis, which gives me the strength to be of service to other people who might benefit from my hope of living through this and surviving it sober.

Sloane McDermott is a pseudonym for an actress in New York. Her last piece for The Fix was about suicide-iation.

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