The Sober Feminist is a community profile about staying sober via activism and Sisterhood! Located in Washington, DC this account is sure to have you laughing crying and everything in between!
Community Blog - @Thesoberfeminist
The word “alcoholic” carries so much weight. The word “rape” does too. An alcoholic rape victim. I used to shield myself from the shame of this identity. My favorite shield was wine. Wine let me push the truth as far away as possible, buried in the deepest corners of my closet, whispering that it would ease my anxiety and make it all go away. And I believed it. I believed it until I almost died.
I grew up around wine in a way that other people did not. My dad makes his own wine. I often joke that his blood is made of red wine. He’s as Italian as it comes and doesn’t understand the concept of not drinking. When I was young, I remember going down to the basement where he both made and stored his wine. The big bottles always smelled like rotting grapes, sour and putrid. I didn’t understand what made adults drink that stuff. My dad now has a whole set up in his new basement with plenty of wine being made and stored, as well as a whole room upstairs dedicated to wine. There are two fancy wine coolers, wine racks, and signs adoring the walls with cutesy wine quips, gifted by friends and relatives over the years. Everyone knows he loves wine, makes wine, and they love his wine too.
Wine, for both my parents, was a household staple (still is). I remember wine always being at the dinner table for my dad, and then a second glass at night for him while my mom would have her “one glass of wine” while she sat in her chair with her book on her lap with a pillow and her feet on the ottoman. I would watch her from my place on the couch with my own book, while she sipped. She always looked so relaxed, calm. My mom never really had more than one glass - coming from a family broken by alcohol, she cautioned us growing up. Since we were old enough to understand the concept of alcohol as an “adult drink” she also told us all about her dad, and how he had died from alcohol. So, throughout high school while my classmates raided their parent’s liquor cabinets every weekend, taking hidden swigs out of a plastic handle passed from hand to hand between whispers and hushed giggles, I could instead be found on the soccer field or curled up with my best friend watching tv. I was never drawn to alcohol in the early days of young adulthood, more focused on college acceptances and chasing after boys.
It wasn’t until college - my sophomore year at Mount Holyoke College that I really met wine for the first time, sipping bottle after bottle of Cabernet, Malbec, caring less the more I drank. Here at college, I had my first blackout. Waking up at 3 am, with only the last memory to piece together where you ended up. I was so sheltered, waking up after a bi-weekly Saturday night blackout to shrug off whatever we had said or done the night before, heading off carelessly in search of brunch. Mount Holyoke College, settled in the small town of South Hadley, in quiet Western Massachusetts, is an all-women’s college, just over 2,000 women from all over the world who gather and live in this Hogwarts-looking palace for 4 years, surrounded by brilliant women. Even when blacking out, I never woke up feeling unsafe, or wondering if any of the pieces that were missing, might be pieces that could be upsetting. Our parties consisted of wine in sweatpants with some a-Capella singing in a dorm room and sometimes some beer pong if the rugby or hockey teams were there. Surrounded by the familiar feminine softness, I became comfortable, and with comfort came a slow addiction - a liking to wine specifically. Wine allowed me to feel classy, adult, and responsible. It married so well into the Mount Holyoke culture of international intellectuals, and I loved thinking I was becoming wittier and smarter with each sip.
I headed off to Israel during my junior year. I remember the excitement fluttering in my stomach, tugging my suitcase down the loading ramp of the plane, stepping off into the blinding Middle-Eastern sun. Everything before me seemed bright and vibrant and I stepped into a new world full of hope and innocence. Thinking about the innocence of that girl sitting on that plane makes me so sad. Sitting on that plane is the last memory of my old self I can hang on to.
It was early May but the Middle Eastern sun was hot, and we headed to the beach in Tel Aviv, already tipsy from drinking at breakfast. Bringing along speakers, a frisbee, and a handle of vodka, 40 second from that blazing spring day changed me forever. I remember so much about that day on the beach. I remember laughing as I walked back to my friends from the water, a little drunk but not so drunk that I would go swimming, it was too cold. I remember the music from a group of men sitting nearby got louder as I walked closer, not focused on them but only thinking about my friends down the beach and if anyone had texted when I was in the water. And then they were there. And I couldn’t understand the language but the laughter was so familiar. The laughter of the men as I screamed words they couldn’t understand. I remember the feeling of one of the men’s fat, stumpy fingers shove their way past my pink bathing suit bottoms and up. And in. I remember the groping of the men in front of me, my kicking and screaming, the red anger that enveloped my entire vision as finally, my friends came running and it was over. And then it was just over. What do you want us to do, they haphazardly asked, and shrugged. Where are we going out tonight, they said next. Pouring me, and themselves another drink as they did so.
A few days later, turning to a guy I was seeing while abroad, I told him what happened, gauging his reaction as reality, a mark of how I should move forward.
Yeah, that sucks.
Yeah, it did suck. But his reaction shocked me to silence, a clear signal that what happened was not worth being concerned about. So, I packed the memory back up neatly and put it in a suitcase. There I could unwrap it, I told myself. There, I would unpack that day, try to untangle it, make sense of what happened on the beach. But months later, I grabbed the suitcase and rushed off to the airport, boarding a flight that would take me not home to my small town in Massachusetts, but down to Washington DC, where a prestigious internship awaited me, a mark of my hard academic work over the years.
I wanted to be the fun girl. Not the girl who was assaulted. I wanted to go back to the old Nina, the Nina who tossed back drinks laughing with her friends, the fun, bubbly, driven Nina. So I told myself I had no time to unpack the suitcase. The memories would stay packed up until I went home. I had things to do, people to meet, places to see.
The suitcase would stay in the basement apartment where I would live for the next 4 months.
It was a sticky night in July when we walked down to the restaurant near my place, awkwardly flirting, trying to make conversation. He was a friend of a friend, and not at all someone I would normally spend time with, but my body had started responding to trauma all on its own, and I had gained 20 pounds in the months following the assault on the beach. I felt a discomfort and disconnection with my body that I immediately hid under the happy hours that Washington DC offered, and took the small bits of attention and laughed at his jokes, agreed to dinner in my neighborhood one night. We walked back after dinner, enough wine to not have to be fully present but not so much that I blacked out. I remember what happened after like I was sober. I remember pushing at him as he unzipped his pants – the “No, I don’t want to do that” – the tears that streamed down my face as I lay there, still, wanting to be as far away from my body as I could be in that moment.
Why didn’t you tell anyone?
The next morning, I called my mother. *Side note: I love my mom, and I don’t hold this against her in the least *
When I told my mom what happened, she told me that I was just confused.
So that’s where I stayed. I stayed in the limbo of denial, of confusion, unable to say out loud what happened to me was rape, not able to fully come to terms with the truth in front of me. And this limbo is where I decided I would live for the next few years to come. I let the empty space left in my body be inhabited by any personality that fit that day, flipping through versions of myself while I mostly floated outside, staying just at the edge, ramping up my drinking to 3-4 times a week, blacking out mostly every other weekend. I slept until 2 on the weekends, sleeping away as much time as I could, not wanting to be present.
I wanted to completely detach. I echoed the words of others in my mind – how much were you drinking? Why were you drinking? Well, you were drinking, what did you expect? What were you wearing? A bikini? Well you brought him back to your apartment? Drunk slut. Sexually assaulted twice? Yeah right. You were just confused. My body and mind reeled the shame and self-hatred. I wanted to distance myself completely from the drunk slut. I floated outside my body, in and out, in and out, in, and out for as long as I could, staying up in corners, out in the clouds where I didn’t have to feel at all.
When I did feel, I googled things like “how to kill yourself and not upset your family” “most painless way to kill yourself”
I called the suicide hotlines, staying on the calls just sobbing, half-alive. I was a shell of the bubbly outgoing girl I left on the plane. I didn’t want to be here but I didn’t know how to leave.
That’s one thing I’ve found people who haven’t been raped don’t understand. If you are murdered, your life has been ended by someone else. They made a decision to take your life, taken that from you, from your family, your loved ones, your community. But being rape steals your soul. I was empty inside, devoid of feelings, disassociating with reality during the day and diving through the red waves of Malbec and Cabernet when memories surfaced. I can never get back that time, years I lost, a blank canvas just sitting in an empty studio. When you are raped you lose the ownership of your body. And if I couldn’t die, alcohol let me live without feeling.
I found comfort in the bottom of the wine bottles. Existing in this new world full of tragedy and shame, I quickly discovered that wine made it so much easier. Wine made it easy to numb the trauma, to push it further down with each glass, leaning over the bar and slurring my words as I asked for a 4th, 5th. I poured myself glass after glass, telling myself my wine would ease my anxiety.
Things went dark for so long, I lost myself entirely for years. Months blurred together, connected by the familiar empty glass on the side of my bed in the morning, the first thing my eyes would see in the morning, that empty glass, glancing over at the drops in the bottom, feeling the overwhelming wave of nausea start to grow as the anxiety woke up too. Glass after glass, some in bars, some at happy hours, most, however, home alone, on the bedside tables, only grabbing to clean them once they piled up to wash the wine stains out weeks later.
This time last year, I was drinking at work happy hours to blackout at least once a week. I was recklessly drinking. One happy hour, I got to the bar earlier than my coworkers, starting early with a ‘nice glass of Malbec’, feeling sophisticated as I drank in the bar alone and answered emails on my phone, professional, adult. The second glass hit and then the third, which is when my coworkers showed. That was one of the nights I have no idea how I got home, where my wallet ended up, or what I had said. The overwhelming shame that I felt in the morning, heading into work, reminded me exactly of that feeling on the beach, that feeling the morning after Nick had left, dirty material, irresponsible, slut, deserved it. I kept drinking, making the alcoholic’s promises – I’ll only drink once a week, I’ll have two glasses max, I’ll only drink with friends, shame building upon more shame each time I failed. I remember a thought that came into my head, a few weeks after that, as I walked, slightly tipsy, down the streets of DC around work, leaving yet another happy hour.
I could walk right in the street and get hit by a truck and die right now. I could die right now and I wouldn’t care at all.
Typing that out now makes my heart hurt for the addicted Nina. I want to grab her from the sidewalk and hug her and tell her everything is going to be okay. I want to tell her that her life is worth living, that she has to keep pushing. I want to tell her in the six months I’ve been sober, I’ve meet a new Nina, and that she would really love her. The new Nina is fierce and resilient. She is outspoken and courageous. She is genuine and compassionate. And it’s all because of her sobriety. Isn’t that amazing? I want to tell her she has to stay around to see.
I had my last drink on May 4th, 2019. There was nothing special about that day, I didn’t wake up with a searing hangover, or get blackout the night before. I had the same anxiety I always had waking up. Same wave of overwhelming nausea as I leaned over the toilet, clammy hands gripping the side of the toilet. I had the same cloud of depression hanging on my head, the same extra 15 pounds clinging onto my body. I woke up that day and distinctly remember examining my life, my loving fiancé, my wonderful family, my amazing new job, friends who cared so deeply about me, and a brimming potential I had been stifling for too long.
Sobriety was fucking brutal for me for the first 30 days. Along with the withdrawal symptoms, I found the anxiety connected to the memories bursting through the gaps, shedding tears while typing at work, crying silently on the ride home through traffic. It was as if I had begun to feel emptions for the first time in years, and they all came flooding in, pushing and shoving themselves through the doors like a dam had broken and I could not stop the tsunami of pain and anguish and sorrow and anger. Alcohol made it easy to be numb, made it so easy to not feel any feelings at all. For the first months, I was overwhelmed with feeling everything. But in those first months, even early sobriety nudged me to the doctors, walking away with a prescription for an anti-depressant that I would promise to actually take this time. Sobriety made me find a therapist, pay my unpaid bills, start to get my finances back on track. I started to open my eyes to the truth about alcohol and the role that it played in my life, through that day on the beach, cup in hand as I walked towards my friends, not noticing at first the group of men sitting nearby, playing music loudly – to that night in the dark basement in DC tasting the wine stained in my mouth as it mixed with the salty tears running down my face as he did something he knew he did not have permission to do.
While I did decide to drink, I never decided to have those things happen to me. Sexual assault is not a side effect of drinking. It is not the hangover in the morning nor the shakes at breakfast. The consumption of alcohol is not a crime. Raping someone is.
In one of my AA meetings, I made a dark joke about being raped and now I’m an alcoholic – and almost every single woman in the room started laughing and said they had been raped too and that it contributed directly to the way that they drank or used. Initially surprised, now I am inspired. Inspired to speak out about my truth, about having a problem with alcohol, about rape and sexual assault. Inspired to speak out, in hopes that some girl somewhere, will feel less alone. That she knows I believe her. And that she can see things can get better. They do get better. You just have to keep pushing.
Sobriety is the greatest gift I have ever been given. Sobriety has given me a chance to heal. I never stood a chance at unpacking my suitcase, stuffed to the brim with trauma and heavy, soaked in wine. I had no chance to heal when I was drowning in a red sea of depression, anxiety, hatred, and shame.
They say the opposite of addiction is connection and I’ve found that to be the truest statement. Each time I share my story, I find myself warmed with connection as someone else is able to open up to me about their own rape, about their own addictions, about child abuse, physical abuse, depression, suicide attempts. I see the healing happen for them too as the skin around their eyes crinkles as they laugh with me, cracking dark, sarcastic jokes about being raped. Through sobriety, I was able to find the silver lining that the foundation of my new life would be built upon.