I awoke slowly, almost as if I were in a dream, coming and going in a semi-conscious state.
As my senses began to slowly and painfully return, I realized the hotel room was not one I was familiar with. I had no idea where I was, only that I was lying in an unmade bed, covers strewn. To my shock and horror, I discovered I was completely naked from the waist down, my pants and underwear crumpled on the floor beside the bed.
I honestly cannot even recall exactly what it was my husband and I were arguing about as I slammed the door to our hotel room and stormed out into the street.
It was a Saturday night in Atlanta and we were staying downtown. I was looking to go anywhere, do anything, as long as I wasn’t stuck in a room arguing with him. At the time, I was struggling mightily — and losing the battle — with the disease of alcoholism and I knew that whatever I was going to do involved a bar.
Fortunately for me, or so I thought, the hotel directly across the street had a small bar and lounge that would be perfect to settle in, calm down and with some luck, watch my college alma mater reign victorious over our most hated rivals.
As I looked around at the small gathering of patrons, I chose to take a seat at the bar, one with a perfect view of the football game I had hoped to see, and for an alcoholic, an added bonus — it was adjacent to where the bartender took orders, pouring and mixing drinks upon demand.
As I settled in for the game, I ordered a double shot of bourbon, straight. I was an alcoholic and didn’t fool around, often drinking more than a liter of liquor a day.
As I drank, I made the acquaintance of some of the other patrons sitting near me, a mix of women and men. Not one person in the bar looked what I would term as “skeevy” or “creepy” and I was glad to learn that the bartender, a young and handsome man, was actually a police officer, off duty, who was helping his friend by filling in as bartender for a few hours.
I chatted amicably with the two women who sat to the right of me, two tourists from Germany who spoke English remarkably well. I helped explain the game of American football to them and why this particular game was so important for both my alma mater and the SEC conference in which both teams played.
I didn’t chat with any of the men sitting nearby, preferring instead to stick with my two new foreign friends and the policeman/substitute bartender.
With an officer of the peace serving me, I felt secure in the knowledge that if anything happened that made me feel uncomfortable, I could ask for help and be certain that I would be protected and safe. He surely and swiftly served up patrons’ drinks, including mine, and that is where my memory begins to falter.
Almost two decades later, I still can recall very little beyond taking that drink.
After waking alone in the strange hotel room, I struggled to put my clothes on and I remember having great difficulty keeping my balance and feeling incredibly ill.
Yes, I was a practicing alcoholic. I was all too familiar with what a hangover felt like, but this was unlike anything I had ever felt before. I felt as if everything I did, every move I made was in slow motion, my head spinning, pounding, and my stomach churning with a nausea that would wash over me in lagging, periodic waves.
I looked out of the window in my room, fearful of what I might find, where I might be. I was instantly relieved to see the hotel I was staying in with my husband directly across from me, no more than 100 yards away.
As I stumbled out into the nearly empty street, I glanced at my watch and couldn’t believe what I saw — the hands on my watch were at 5:15 a.m., literally almost seven hours from the time I had made my way into the bar. Seven hours that were just gone, missing, as dark in my mind as the pre-dawn sky above my head.
Back at my hotel room, I tried to enter as quietly as I could. After tiptoeing into the bathroom, I removed my clothing and looked at my naked body, my left arm darkening with blue and purple ovals. They looked like fingerprints, the kind that would be left if someone were holding me tightly by the arm.
As I wiped between my legs, I knew without a doubt that I had had sex. I just didn’t know with whom. I slipped into bed and curled into the fetal position, as far away from my husband as I could, filled with shame, remorse and mostly, an intense sense of total confusion.
The next morning, I awoke feeling more ill than I ever had from drinking before. My husband and I spoke little about what had happened. He asked where I had been and I told him as much of the truth I was willing to admit — I had been at the bar across the street, watching the football game.
Other than telling me I deserved the hangover I had, we never spoke of what happened, not ever again. That was how our dysfunctional relationship worked — ignore the ugly and bad if at all possible. And truthfully, I didn’t want him lecturing me and judging me any more harshly than he already did. I couldn’t bear the thought of him telling me I deserved whatever had happened to me.
In the days that followed, as I scheduled an appointment with my physician to check for STDs and life resumed its regular routine. I suffered in silence as I attempted to figure out what had happened. I had never been a blackout drunk, and the fact I had little to no memory really bothered me.
I began to have small memories resurface, just glimpses, really, of waking up with someone on top of me and then drifting back asleep.
These small memories, like fragments of a horrific dream, helped me piece together what had most likely happened: I was drugged by the police officer serving as the substitute bartender. It was his image that I was briefly glimpsing in those blurry pieces of memory.
I have never felt as ill as I did afterward, before or since. In the 12 plus years since I entered recovery, I have come to be sure that I was a victim of a drugging and rape.
At the rehab that my alcohol consumption eventually drove me into, a conversation with my counselor pretty much confirmed my suspicions. A former policeman, he admitted it would have been relatively easy for the bartender, as a police officer, to gain access to rohypnol or another drug that, when mixed with alcohol, would have rendered me unconscious; helpless to anything that was being done to me. And I wouldn’t remember a thing.
This, combined with the fact he was only substituting as bartender for a short time, would have given him the opportunity to be with me for an extended period of time without anyone noticing.
The confession to my counselor served as a catharsis for me. In the years that have followed, my recovery has allowed me to live a life better than what I probably deserve. I reflect on my choices, learn from my mistakes and make amends for my actions.
Though I have made many amends since then, it took some time for me to make an amends to myself, to decide that it was not my fault that I was drugged. Although the choice to go to the bar was mine, the choice to be raped was not.
I have also forgiven myself for the way I handled the entire situation, the shame and anger I felt toward myself. If this were to happen to me today, I would do things very differently. I would contact law enforcement immediately.
Back then, though, I was ill and vulnerable, a person who was most definitely not well. In the years since, I have used this experience as a catalyst for strength.
I am stronger, and although horrible, the experience, in part, has helped shape who I am today: a survivor.