When I arrived at rehab in the midst of heroin withdrawal, sweating and shaking with bags under my eyes the same color as my greasy hair -- purple -- simultaneously wanting to curl up into a ball and sob quietly and scream from the pain, the first thing they did was strip search me and go through my clothes, taking away anything that didn't fit the dress code.
They told me I couldn't wear anything that might "distract the boys." This happens in schools all the time, but going through withdrawal makes a person even more sensitive to everything than they would be normally. Another factor is the fact that girls who have drug problems often have trauma that makes them even more vulnerable to feeling slut shamed. We put substances in our bodies because we are running from something.
We were "held accountable" and punished if we broke the dress code. A lot of the time it was the male staffers reinforcing the rules, which somehow felt like an even worse violation than when fellow male residents said creepy things. It made me feel like the people in the position of power were violating me. One particular staff member always made somewhat sexual comments about how I looked and called me his baby girl. Another girl told me he licked her ear and kissed it. We told other staff members about it and it was brushed off.
Once we got to the sober living section of the program they told us when we were in our houses (the boy's house and the girl's house were separate but within walking distance of each other), we still had to follow this code. It didn't make any sense to me so I looked through the rule book and found there was no rule about it. The staff member I brought it up with paused and said "Well look here. It says no sexual objects in the houses. It's right there." I can not even describe how infuriated I was. He blatantly called my body an object! I brought it up with the director of the whole program and again, nothing was done.
The way the boys talked about us and to us was also disgusting. There was this one girl who had some deep issues with needing to be validated by men. For this reason she was really flirtatious and sexual. When she wasn't around the boys would call her a slut and say things like "God I bet her pussy is so loose" or "I'm going to try to fuck her, I bet she's such an easy lay."
Yet again, the staff would be right there listening and apparently thought the behavior was okay, judging by their silence. More then anything I felt bad for the girl. I'm all for girls owning their sexuality and feeling confident expressing it, but it was obvious for her it came from a place of deep insecurity, which the boys there perpetuated. There was another instance where a boy put his arm around her (we weren't allowed to have relationships with fellow residents) and she got in trouble for it instead of him. It was always the woman’s fault no matter what.
There was this one guy who was always hitting on me. He would try to hold my hand and touch me. I told him in every single way I could imagine to stop. I tried ignoring him, but it got to the point where I just described how I would like to murder him in great detail. His response was to tell me that's what he liked about me, how "hard to get" I was.
He finally asked me if I wanted to see his dick and I was so fed up I told him if he showed it to me I would cut it off. Even that didn't shut him up. It was so fucking ridiculous. I told the therapists there about it multiple times and they had the audacity to tell me I needed to deal with "the issues that triggered you to feel so emotional about the things he said," as if I was overreacting and being silly.
A bit later I was in the sober living part of the program and I had to go to at least five AA meetings a week. This other guy was one of the only other people there who had a car. I didn't know him that well but he had a thing with one of my friends there and he seemed cool so I decided to go with him.
After the meeting he asked if I wanted to go get some food and I told him I was down but it didn't mean anything and it wasn't a date. He agreed to those terms. When we got there, we seemed to be having a nice conversation but he kept looking at me strangely and out of nowhere said "God, your intelligence is so sexy." It really bothered me because like I mentioned, he had a thing with my friend and I had already told him it wasn't a date.
Finally the bill came and I told him we should split it. He insisted on paying and for the third time I repeated what I said before about it not being a date. He drove back to rehab and started talking about how me, him, and my friend should have a threesome. When we got back, he tried to kiss me.
There were times when we had separate girls' groups and boys' groups. In girls group I would try even harder to bring up this issue. None of the staff did anything. They tried to make it about "inconsistencies with the staff about what the exact dress code rules are" and they said "boys will be boys." I heard from some of the boys that in their group they just talked about which girls there they wanted to fuck. I brought up that issue and a staff member said "Well they need some place to release that tension."
I could go on for hours about the rampant sexism in this institution and about being objectified by fellow intakes and staff alike. It would be terrible if these things had happened anywhere, but I found it especially disheartening at a place that is meant for people who are in desperate need of help, particularly with how often I reported these incidents.
There is a joke I heard once.
What do you get when you take alcohol away from a drunk horse thief?
A sober horse thief.
Rehab shouldn't just be about people quitting substances. Rehab should be about helping people deal with their issues and becoming better people. The inaction of the institution validated the behavior of the boys there. I watched it trigger girls and make them feel even worse about themselves. It didn't just make me angry. It hurt me to watch. It hurt me to experience. I felt completely helpless no matter how much I tried to change the situation.
Getting clean is incredibly difficult in and of itself. Why allow behavior that makes it even more painful?