Monday, November 21, 2011

Most intense trigger since college

I just wanted to take a moment to write about the events that led up to my last post on venting. I have found that sometimes writing out my thoughts allows me to stop running them through my head. And I like having them written out so that I can return to the post when I re-experience a certain event/emotions and see how I handled it. So here goes…

I have been in San Diego, CA since Wednesday night for a speech and hearing sciences conference. The majority of my graduate school class attended, and we all packed into hotel rooms together. I thought I was in a place where this wouldn’t be overwhelming, but it proved to be an extremely difficult four days.

It didn’t help that I had a bout of insomnia for three days straight. It started before I got to California and continued through the first part of the trip. After not sleeping a second night, I tried taking 2 doses of my sleeping medication in an effort to sleep (Sonata, 10 mg), but it didn’t phase me. I almost felt like I had taken caffeine pills. The next night – and I know this isn’t something I should repeat – I just went for the red wine. All the medications I am currently taking caution that drinking can compound drowsiness effects, so I went for it. I have found that the less I sleep, the harder it is for me to sleep. And then, the more I crave sleep, the more anxious I become about getting sleep, and it’s a vicious cycle. Anyway, I include this blurb on insomnia given that my lack of sleep probably contributed to my instability.

Friday night consisted of several fun social events, and a group of us went out afterwards to have a few more drinks. We returned to the hotel lobby to continue the party because surprisingly San Diego shuts down really early. We befriended some girls in the lobby who were celebrating their friend’s bachelorette weekend. One of the girls was very intoxicated, and her friends asked if a friend and I would watch her for a little while, and they would quickly return for her. My friend and I agreed.

I’m not sure if I can remember the exact play-out of this situation, but I will give it a try. I was getting pretty tired, so I was considering heading up to my room for the night. I was telling this to a few of my friends and asking them if they would mind keeping an eye on the girl until her friends returned when the girl we were “babysitting” attempted to leave.

She got into the hotel elevator, and when I noticed I immediately went to the elevator to coax her back to where my friends and I were sitting. There was a man in the elevator heading to his room, probably a decent guy, but I am hypervigilant these days, and almost every man I encounter presents as a potential rapist. Needless to say, I couldn’t just watch her go off in the state she was in.

My friends thought it was funny that I chased after her to get her off the elevator. I get it. They are coming from a different place. I’m sure to them, I was drunk chasing after a drunk girl I just met and forcing her to awkwardly sit with us. But to me, I was keeping my word to this girl’s friends and steering her clear of any chance that she’d fall into the hands of the wrong person and encounter an experience that would alter her life forever. I was doing what I wished someone had done for me that night (not that I blame those who didn’t, not in the least bit – it appeared A was doing me a favor by walking me home).

The way she was walking reminded me too much of myself that night in college. I, too, got on an elevator that night. A blond-haired guy was in the elevator with me, too. The only difference is that I knew the guy. I was FRIENDS with the guy. He was clean-cut, well-educated, handsome (vomit). I guess the situation with this girl would have been fine had I not chased after her, but I couldn’t take any chances. To me, rapists aren’t scary people who jump out of the bushes with a gun. They are the kind of men you would encounter in the elevator of a nice hotel.

I realized when this happened that no one in our group would have chased after the girl. I felt like I needed to postpone going up to my room until the girl’s friends returned. After I got her back to the sitting area, I returned to my chair. A friend of mine, a guy in my program, commented that I should just go up to my room, that this girl “wasn’t my responsibility.” This guy – J – is a really nice guy (someone I think that I have referenced in one of my posts as he has been a source of support for me the past month or two), but his words stung. They struck a cord that resonated deep, deep within me.

I went from feeling annoyed and angry to extremely vulnerable in a matter of seconds. I commented that I couldn’t let her get in the elevator by herself in that state (I was fighting hard to contain the mounting emotional pressure in me because I could sense that the proverbial “lid” my therapist refers to was about to fly off). When my friend made another comment similar to the last, it was more than I could handle. The whole situation was more than I could handle. It was all too familiar. I looked at this girl and saw myself 9 years ago.

I can’t remember the exact words he said as I was already triggered and losing grips on the present situation. All I know is that his words felt condescending and seemed to imply that my concern for this girl was silly. I know he didn’t say this or ever would say this, but what was screaming in my ear was something to the tune of:

Women are dispensable. If a female is sexually assaulted when extremely intoxicated, WHO CARES? After all, it's not that big of a deal - she had it coming. She deserved it. No one is to blame but the "victim."

These words do no justice in describing what I was experiencing emotionally, but I guess if I were to try, I would replace everywhere you see "women" with "I". 

Women are I am dispensable. If a female is I am sexually assaulted when extremely intoxicated, WHO CARES? After all, it's not that big of a deal - she I had it coming. She I deserved it. No one is to blame but ME, the "victim."

I don’t remember exactly what I said in response to my friend, but a different friend later confirmed that it was clear that I was pissed. I tried to fight the building emotions, but I couldn’t access any of the coping strategies I’ve been learning. I’m sure the alcohol didn’t help my inability to inhibit my emotions. I had to get out of there and fast.

The hotel had a restaurant that was closed. I slipped by the rope blocking it off and ducked into a closed off seating area and collapsed on the floor against the wall. I was uncontrollably crying for two hours straight. At times, I was crying so hard that I would have spells of dry heaving. I wanted to escape, but there was nowhere for me to go. I laid there alone in the darkness, and realizing I couldn’t contain my emotions, I stopped trying. They spewed forth.

During this emotional breakdown, I vacillated between two experiences. At one moment, I was a sophomore in college awaking and viewing the world through new eyes, discovering for the first time that the world was different – much darker and unsafe – than I once thought. I was longing for my innocent, happy-go-lucky, carefree former self instead of the mess I feel that I've become. And the next moment, I was experiencing the events leading up to my rape as a bystander. Seeing the drunk girl – me – stupidly setting up the night for A to succeed in getting what he wanted. That night from so long ago was here again, and I saw vivid plays of different paths that night could have taken. Seeing how fragile my stability was – seeing how susceptible I was to losing my footing – made me feel extremely vulnerable. I felt helpless and dumb. And what was hurting me the most was that I couldn’t get myself together enough to return to the group – I had abandoned the girl who I promised to look after until her friends returned.

I don’t know the exact timeline, but I think a few hours passed before the tears started to subside. I had left my purse, laptop, and phone in the lobby area, and I was becoming aware that my friends might be worrying. I found a restroom in the kitchen area of the restaurant to try to gather myself enough to leave. I looked like a mess, and my eyes were swollen and red so I tried to make myself a little more presentable. I tried to leave a few times, but would lapse back into crying. Finally, I felt grounded enough to venture out of the restaurant.

My purse wasn’t in the lobby, nor were my friends, so I realized that I would have to wake up the girls in my room. All I wanted was to sneak into bed and drift off to sleep. As I took the elevator up to the seventh floor, I literally murmured, “I can do this, I can do this,” over and over to myself.

I arrived to my hotel room, and one of my friends immediately came to the door. She had been worried when she returned to the room and didn’t find me there. She came into the hall and asked what happened. I immediately launched into another uncontrollable crying spell. 

My friend – E – was wonderful and so supportive. It seemed like it wasn’t her first time dealing with someone in my state. She knew exactly what to say, or more importantly, what not to say. She hugged and comforted me. I felt safe in her arms, making it more difficult for me to inhibit my emotions. Perhaps that was a good thing. I just let it go.

E got paper. At first, I could only write, “PTSD.” Between her asking just the right amount of questions while giving me enough space to not feel backed into a corner and her creating an environment where I felt safe and free of judgment, I succeeded in getting out the basic gist of my story. I am both mortified by our interaction in the hallway and thankful for it. I can see that I have a friend here to whom I can turn when the healing process is too much to bear.

The next day all of my roommates headed off for Thanksgiving break. I wasn’t flying out until today, so I arranged to stay with my friend J and two other friends. It was a rough day. My eyes felt bruised from all the crying, and my voice would come and go. All I wanted was to be alone, but there was nowhere for me to go. I told myself that I was being silly and needed to get a grip, but I felt painfully depressed, alone, anxious, and just down right RIDICULOUS. I wrote that last post right before I headed to meet up with my new roommates for the night.

Before going to the hotel where we were staying, my new roommates and I headed to the hotel of some of the girls in my program. Everyone hung out on the terrace, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I needed to be alone, or I was going to have a panic attack. I was miserable. Absolutely miserable. I felt more alone being around people. More hollow. And increasingly transparent.

I ended up just getting a room at that hotel for the night so I could be alone and avoid hanging out with everyone on the terrace. I felt uncomfortable and slightly embarrassed to never have made it back up to the terrace to hang out with my classmates, but I spoke to my husband, and he helped me realize that trying to present a happy facade wasn’t worth my mental health. Nor was saving money on a hotel room by staying with three other people. I definitely started to feel better when I was in the comfort and safety of my own hotel room. Free from having to pretend.

When I saw my friend J (the one who commented about the girl in the hotel not being my responsibility) for the first time since I ‘flipped my lid,” I noticed that I now feel really uneasy around him. It’s kind of like a feeling of being unsafe. That doesn’t accurately describe the reaction that I am having, but it’s the closest description I can come up with at the moment. It’s like I have associated the unpleasantness of that night with his presence. Like he no longer fits cleanly in my box of "nice guys." The one I use to fight off irrational feelings that all men think women are good for one thing only.

I’m not quite sure how to deal with this association, but I guess that’s a question for therapy. I also have noticed that I am slipping back into second guessing the intentions of everyone I encounter. In general, people just make me really nervous at the moment. I remember this was something I struggled with a lot during the first few years immediately following my rape. I will also talk to my therapist about ways to improve this.

For now, my take-home message from this experience is that going forward it’s important for me to remember to step aside when the emotions start to build. To make myself put myself first. I will try to be less judgmental of my needs as I continue the healing process. For example, if I need to be alone, I will try not to view myself as weak or running away from my problems; instead, I will try to acknowledge that I am being supportive of myself, which will allow me to garner the strength I need to tackle my past.


  1. No wonder you seemed so upset when you wrote the previous post. I am so sorry that you were so severely triggered. I agree with your husband, your mental heath is more important than the cost of a room or pretending to be happy.

    I am glad your friend "E" was so understanding.

    I am thinking about you and I will not try to give you any advice here. I really think you need to talk to your therapist about this.


    I do understand how you felt/feel.

  2. Thank you for the ongoing support, Jaime.

    I spoke with my husband more in depth tonight about what set me off. Even though I've been trying to tell myself that the guy in my program -J- is a nice guy, I have still felt angry, annoyed, confused, anxious, sad, blah blah blah, every time I've thought back to that night in the hotel lobby and how he responded to my concern for the "bachelorette lady". And I know this is extreme, but I started thinking about distancing myself from him since I feel uncomfortable around him now.

    My husband knows J pretty well and helped me see that his response was likely due to the fact that J is a nice, decent guy, meaning he responded the way he did because the risks of this girl leaving in her condition would not have crossed his mind since he would never in a million years coax a drunk girl back to his hotel room whom he came across on an elevator or roaming around the hallway.

    I think that makes a lot of sense, and I like how my husband reframed it. I still find J's way of handling it a little annoying (well, clearly an understatement given my crazy intense emotional response that night! haha), but that's okay.

    It's so easy to fall in a trap of lumping all men together as bad-intentioned, so I was very thankful to hear my husband's take on the situation. I might have to have him remind me again before classes start back after Thanksgiving :)

    Thanks again for your feedback, Jaime. As always, your comments were very helpful and encouraging. I want to respond to your other comments from the post before, but I might have to wait until tomorrow - sleeping medication just kicked in. xxxx

  3. What your husband said in regards to J makes sense to me. We see the potential danger that girl was in because we have been in a dangerous situation, but J never has nor has he knowingly put someone into a dangerous situation.

    You are welcome, but you don't need to feel obligated to respond.