April 6, 2011
As a preface, I wanted to post this publicly for a couple of reasons:
- This experience has been incredibly scary for me and this sense of vulnerability has the ability to cause me to isolate myself, but I don’t want to allow myself to be silenced by the shame I very much feel about what happened to me and how the night unfolded.
- I want to be able to have some impact on the way my actions that night are interpreted. My fear is that people will think that I don’t know my limits when drinking and that I make bad choices about inappropriate behavior.
- I want to acknowledge how incredible it is to have a community who can spot red flags and take care of me when things are not ok. And for the compassion and understanding people have extended when checking in afterwards.
What I remember
On Saturday morning, I woke up and couldn’t remember how I got home. My first thought was that I must have biked home in one piece since nothing hurt. My wig was perched on my guitar case. There was a trash can next to my bed. Doing another body assessment, I started to wonder if I threw up the night before. I didn’t feel hungover at all, so it seemed a little strange that I didn’t remember the end of the night. I got out of bed to get a cup of water and was surprised that I was still wearing my outfit from the night before. When I turned on my computer, a google page was left open to search for the call-a-nurse line. Thats when things started to seem suspicious.
I had gone to Damn Gurl! the night before, the first of a monthly queer dance party in Denver. Some friends and I had been drinking while we got ready for the night and then biked over together. By the time we got there, I was definitely feeling the whiskey, but wasn’t feeling sloppy drunk. I remember the exact change I got when I paid. I brought a little bit of whiskey with me and remember taking a few sips, but didn’t finish what I had. I remember talking to some people, taking some pictures and dancing a little bit. And then nothing until I woke up.
What I found out
In the morning, I started getting calls and text messages from friends to check in to see if I was ok. I brushed off the first text message, with the thought, “Oh, I must have been pretty drunk last night to have someone reaching out in the morning.” When I got a call from someone who doesn’t call often, I answered and was shocked at what she told me. It was then repeated from the multiple people I talked to throughout the next few days. Folks had seen me running around, dancing and chatting with people. They could tell that I had been drinking, but that I seemed in control. A short period of time passed and suddenly, I was clearly not ok. Most people had seen Anna and Seth taking me to the bathroom and that was when most folks realized that something was wrong. In a short period of time, my legs weren’t working and I couldn’t hold my head up. Lisa and Ellen sat with me for a while before deciding to take me home. Jamie, Lynne, Erin, Ellen and Lisa all helped get me outside since I was unable to walk, and took care of me while I threw up outside. Lisa told me that I threw up in the dog bowl in her car and then Michelle told me about at least one more bout at home. Ellen and Lisa had to get me up several flights of stairs and into bed, then called the call-a-nurse line because they were so concerned about me. Michelle followed up with the call-a-nurse line and when patched through to poison control, they made it sound like it was likely something terrible was about to happen.
As I made phone calls, several people suggested the idea of being drugged, but no one had seen me with a cup in hand. I checked in with Chris, who was bartending with Benji, and found out that I had gotten two drinks. I started with a rum and coke. When I went back for another, Benji gave me a cup of coke with no alcohol in it. At first, I thought this explained it. My blood sugar must have spiked and caused me to black out and lose control of my body. For a day and a half, I was convinced that this was an issue of alcohol and blood sugar. The more I talked to people though, the more it didn’t seem to make sense. I still think this may have contributed to what happened, but after not feeling sick (at all) the next morning, it didn’t match up with consuming an enormous amount of alcohol. I’ve definitely had too much to drink and have blacked out before (not often), but I’ve always remembered snippets of the night. I’ve always sobered up enough at the end of the night to at least be aware of where I was and how I got there. I have friends who have been with me on those nights and they assured me that my behavior was drastically different this time.
Breaking trust and boundaries
One of the hardest things about that night is knowing that I broke trust and disrespected and disregarded several friends’ boundaries. When following up with them, I was amazed at the incredible amount of compassion that I felt as they were able to hold both their own experiences and recognize that something scary was also happening to me. I’ve been having a hard time letting go of my guilt and shame of these specific actions, even though those friends have been explicitly supportive to me.
I think one of the reasons is that it brings up a lot of fear of what I’m capable of doing, specifically around sexual coercion. This is in one-on-one settings as well as larger dynamics that might have been at play when Noah told me that there was a period of time that I was “walking around and touching people.”
As I think about this more, I keep coming back to the broken binary notion of victim/perpetrator. I don’t feel like I fit neatly into either category. On one hand, being drugged is terrifying and, for me, that reaction increased the more I discovered what I didn’t know about the night. While lots of people have assured me that I was not in control of my actions, my friends also experienced harm and don’t want to minimize that. What does accountability look like when someone is unable to control their actions, especially after non-consensually ingesting an unknown substance?
On Sunday night, I finally started to take the suggestions of being drugged seriously. It seemed to account for so many things that didn’t make sense. When I started putting that idea out to people, lots of folks seemed to agree. And then suddenly, everything felt like it changed. Previously, I had been able to take responsibility for my actions by acknowledging that I made a series of bad choices: drinking too much alcohol and then drinking soda. It’s something that I can change to avoid putting my friends in that situation in the future. I discovered a while back that if I drink wine and then whiskey (even minimal amounts of each), I black out. So I don’t so that anymore. Accepting that I was drugged on Friday night had led to an incredible sense of helplessness.
Once it set in, I felt like I had no agency in the situation. It’s not something I would have consented to doing, so there’s nothing I can change in the future about what happened that night. And the reality that unfolded over the next few days is that I disrespected the boundaries of a few of my friends. I keep searching for my responsibility in the situation and keep going to places of self-blame that are not only misplaced, but potentially harmful to me. It keeps coming back to making myself responsible for having been drugged.
Over the past several days, I’ve been reaching out to many people who fall into a few categories: 1. People who I know helped me out that night; 2. People with whom I remember talking or dancing; and 3. People who are suggested by someone in the first two categories as someone who might appreciate a check-in. The main goals of these calls have been to reconstruct what happened that night and to see if I did anything inappropriate. I’ve appreciated the honesty people have been able to offer me about my actions that night, even when the conversations felt hard. A fear moving forward had been that I would bump into someone with whom I don’t remember interacting, and not having any idea why (or that) they were triggered. I know I haven’t been able to speak to everyone at the event and am open to continuing these conversations with more people who witnessed or were affected by my actions.
Assumptions about safety
Another difficult thing about this experience is that it’s challenging my assumptions of safety in how I navigate the world. In many ways, I assumed that this dance party would be safer than many of the other social spaces in my life. The room seemed full of mostly people I knew to varying degrees, people I view as my community. I think this was the cause of my biggest resistance to the idea of being drugged. When surrounded by people who care for each other, that just wouldn’t make sense. When I found out Sunday night that there were a decent number of people there who we didn’t know, and some of whom were doing unrelated sketchy things in the space, that gave me enough of a window to let in the idea that I was drugged. I also want to be clear that this can happen in community and to not just limit “badness” to “others”. But, I did realize a significant shift in my reaction at that point.
My brain started running through what-if scenarios. What if I had been alone with people I didn’t know? What if I had been drugged so someone could take advantage of me physically/sexually? What if I had woken up somewhere strange and not known how I got there? I had to stop myself. While these are all possibilities, I’ve been reminded by friends that I generally navigate the world in a way that builds in some safety measures, some intentional, some not.
It made me question other spaces in my life, like Charlie’s (the gay country bar where I go dancing all the time). I often leave drinks unattended for extended periods of time. Knowing that I’m in a hyper-vigilant emotional space because of how recent this experience was, I’m not sure that I have the answer, but I wonder what the balance looks like between having a healthy awareness of risk without being constantly paranoid. This is a question that used to weave through my daily life when I worked at the Colorado Anti-Violence Program. After a little over a year has passed since I’ve been staff, I’m able to look back with some clarity of how I answered it for myself. Overall, I think I withdrew in some ways, surrounding myself with a close-knit community who I could trust, trying to minimize the risk of not knowing what to expect.
Gratitude for my community
The incredible thing that has come out of this experience has been the immense love and compassion I’ve felt from people over the past several days. While I know that I will probably not have the information to know what happened 100%, I’ve received so much validation around my experience and have been hearing things that have been keeping me grounded and connected.
For the most part, it seemed like my actions were seen as red flags, not as me being a jerk. Danny told me that the good thing about not being a d-bag is that you’re able to mess up sometimes. As people have been talking with each other, it seems like the most common reaction has been, “That doesn’t seem like something Kelly would do.” I appreciate the way people have recognized the way I try to live my life with intention and to be respectful of boundaries and value the trust I have from people.
I’m grateful for the willingness of my friends to step in when something was clearly not right and to take care of me physically in the moment and emotionally afterwards. I’m grateful that they’re willing to be with me in this process, offering an ear to listen, feedback, or sharing their own experiences.
What I want/need
I’ve been grateful for all of the offers of support I’ve been receiving and have been trying to think about what types of things would feel helpful, knowing that folks reading this may want to find ways to reach out as well. I’m not too good at asking for help when things feel hard, so having friends reach out has been incredibly helpful to me.
Overall, having company is much appreciated. It could be watching movies, having productive time or hanging out without a specific activity. Nighttime is especially difficult, so if folks are willing to stay over, that would be helpful for the next little bit. Unfortunately, my cat allergies (which continue to be a huge emotional stress in my life) limit my ability to go to other people’s houses.
It’s been helpful to chat with people who have been through similar experiences in the past. It has allowed me make sense of what happened and to feel less alone.
I’d love to connect with folks who are willing to cook with/for me. I’ve been making some unhealthy decisions about food and don’t want this to turn into a pattern. Because I’ve been having some trouble sleeping, I’ve been prioritizing sleep over food, which I’m sure is contributing to my overall yucky feeling. If you’re able to cook for me, I can buy the groceries.
I want to know that there are folks who are willing to talk, but also give me the space to not have to talk about it.
***Much love and many thanks to the people who have been so supportive the past few days, especially Anna, Seth, Ellen, Lisa, Michelle, Lynne, Erin, Jamie, EJ, Chris, Noah, Mark, Carl, Jordan, Elisabeth, Kyle, Steph and Danny.