Posted in Parenting on March 18, 2013
I was once a 17-year-old drunk girl, saved twice by the grace of God (and dear friends) from would-be, teenage (possibly first-time) rapists who, under any other circumstances, were considered to be “good” boys. They were friends of mine.
This story starts as a love letter to my parents. God blessed me with the most adoring, loving, and faithful parents any child could ever want. They taught me to be kind, to care for others, to work hard, to be loyal, and to be grateful. But, in retrospect, we didn’t talk about the big issues like drinking, drug use, smoking, and sex. It wasn’t because they didn’t care about me or that they thought I was too innocent to know about those things. I think that they loved and valued me so much that it never occurred to them that I didn’t understand how to value myself. I think they also assumed I knew that good Catholic girls just didn’t do those things. In their minds, those topics were things we just didn’t need to discuss.
What it comes down to is that the choices I made as a teen were my own. I don’t blame my parents for what happened to me or for what I did to myself. But because of my experiences, both good and bad, and what I’ve learned from them, I’ve vowed to be completely open and transparent with my own kids about these previously taboo topics. I can’t assume that they know better.
I grew up an Army brat, my family moving around every few years. I now credit that life with turning me into an adaptable extrovert but, truthfully, it was never easy. Like so many kids, I had low self-esteem. I was unsure of myself and who I was and, yet, I had to start over, make friends, adapt to a new school, and recreate my life more frequently than presidents are elected.
When I was a freshman in high school and just weeks away from yet another move–this time back to the United States from Germany–I discovered booze at an end-of-the-school-year party. One plastic cup of syrupy strawberry “champagne” and confidence suddenly started coursing through my veins. With each sip I took I grew louder and funnier. People wanted to talk to me. I fell down, laughing uncontrollably. I had no fear and I had never had more fun.
When I began my sophomore year in San Antonio, alcohol was the obvious answer to the question, “How do I make friends yet again?”
But when I drank, I didn’t stop. I had no way to gauge how much was too much. I was 17. I could barely be counted on to stick to an appropriate bedtime let alone a reasonable number of tequila shots. Blacking out or passing out was the inevitable result of many of my encounters with liquid courage. Still, I became a clever master of hiding my partying from my parents while maintaining my magna cum laude grades.
The first time it happened at a girlfriend’s house. Her parents were out of town and she told me to come over and to bring some people. Oh, and some rum.
Less than two hours and several drinks after getting to the party, I was already passed out in a back bedroom. Several of my friends hadn’t arrived yet. But one had. And he found me, lying unconscious on a bed.
I don’t remember much of what happened next but another friend, who was also my neighbor, did. He got to the party late and walked around the house, pushing through throngs of sweaty, drunk kids to find me. When he walked into the bedroom and saw the other boy on top of me, while I lay listless underneath, he began shouting. That part I do remember because it woke me up. I was still fully clothed, but if my neighbor hadn’t walked in, I’m sure I wouldn’t have been for long.
The second time was the same song, second verse. Another party, another boy, and my best girlfriend who ultimately saved me. I was a mess. But I didn’t deserve to be raped.
In both instances I was passed out, unable to consent. If those boys had followed through with their plans without my friends walking in and accidentally interrupting them, what would have happened to me next would have been rape, plain and simple.
Yes, I was drunk. I shouldn’t have been. But that doesn’t matter. Not even one little bit. Sex without consent is rape. Rape is wrong.
I’m not proud of my behavior. I foolishly put myself in that horrible, unsafe position not once, but twice. To this day I wish deeply that I could change my stupid teenage decisions. I can’t. But I learned from them and later sought sobriety and counseling for many years to understand and to deal with the motivation behind my unsafe choices.
If nothing else, my close calls taught me that it’s imperative to talk openly with my children about the big issues. One day my kids will read this. We’ll talk about my crucial failures in judgement. God willing they’ll use my grievous errors as cautionary tales to guide them so they make fewer, less severe mistakes themselves.
I will tell my son and daughter that if they choose to drink, they’re choosing to put themselves at risk for many dangerous situations. I’ll teach them that when it comes to sex, no always means no, and that if someone does not consent to sex, it is rape.
I will always provide my children with a safe haven to ask me anything, especially about difficult and embarrassing things, and I will remain free of judgement. My children will learn that when they need me, I’ll be there no matter what. They will always have my unconditional love.
I hope parents across America are having open and real conversations with their kids about drinking and sex and rape. The words are scary. But if our kids are uniformed and unprepared, the reality can be even worse. It’s up to us to open these tough conversations, to raise kids who are aware and who are prepared to handle themselves in a safe manner.