By the time I was 21, I had already completed two failed stints in rehab and was in and out of AA meeting rooms.I’m always hesitant to attach narratives to my past experiences because it’s so easy to package them neatly into little boxes and explain away my actions using the brain I have now.I will say my understanding of me at 21 is that I was, first of all, 21, so all the things that go along with being 21 applied. I hated myself, hated the way I looked, felt misunderstood, and less than all of my peers.
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At the time there weren’t a lot of young people in the meeting rooms, particularly women my age, so it was a new experience for me.
People, mostly men, paid attention to me and for the first time in my life I felt seen. I had a couple of gentleman who were incredibly patient with me and who spent a lot of time trying to help me see that I was worth recovery however one interaction has lingered in my memory since that time.
I attended a downtown meeting on a fairly regular basis in my hometown, and there was another regular attendee that everyone seemed to be friendly with, he seemed fairly innocuous and seemed to have friends in the rooms.
We would engage in small talk on occasion and one day he invited me out to have coffee with him in a park nearby.
I went with him in his truck and we headed to a somewhat secluded area of a park by the river and took a seat at a picnic table where he began asking me questions about my recovery.
It was so long ago I can’t remember the specifics of what we talked about but he definitely started asking about my relationships with men.
About five minutes into the conversation I noticed that he was masturbating under the table.
I was so shocked that I froze; I don’t remember what happened after other than I asked to be brought back downtown.
The intention of this article isn’t really to get into the nuances of sexual assault but I will say that in retrospect my reactions were pretty congruent with what is understood as a typical reaction to a violation.
I blamed myself; I thought I had done something to provoke it, so much so that I thought maybe I had agreed to the interaction somehow without actually saying so. For some reason, I haven’t shared this story with many people, I think because I was embarrassed because I felt so stupid for putting myself in the situation.
Like many stories in my past, there is a lot of shame attached to my actions, but in this case, my actions weren’t the same as “I stole something”, “I lied” “I hurt someone”.