It happened when we were away at a CME conference together. I remember waking up on the floor of a bathroom.
The room was spinning. What happened? Where am I?
A flash of a memory – me crying and locking the bathroom door while someone on the other side pleads with me to come out. Where. Am. I? I quietly unlock the door and peek around into the room, my heart sinks and my head spins as I recognize my SP asleep in the bed. I stumble out of his hotel room and down the hall into mine and promptly vomit. What the HELL happened last night?
I kissed him, he said. That doesn’t sound like me, I thought. Nope, you were the instigator, he said. But I’m happily married, I thought. I’ve never cheated on anyone in my life! You wanted it. You were practically begging for it. Another flash of a memory – saying no in the elevator. Saying no in front of his door. It’s not a big deal, he said. We both have wanted this for so long. No, I thought. You’re my boss. You’re my mentor. You’re my business partner. You’re my friend. I don’t even find you attractive. This isn’t making sense, I thought.
As hard as I tried to piece together what happened, it was like squeezing a handful of dry sand. Little flits of memories would surface, but slip through my fingers as quickly as they came. Me stumbling towards the door trying to leave his room. I don’t even remember drinking that much. It’s not like me to get so drunk where I barely remember anything. Him pinning me against the door, his thick arms on either side of my face, his body pressing against mine. It felt like he might crush me. I don’t remember how I got back to the hotel. Afraid. I remember being afraid. That can’t be right, I’ve never been afraid of him before. I can barely even call them memories. They’re just little flashes of information. He must be right. He remembers and I don’t. Not enough to make a timeline. Not enought to make sense of things. I have to trust what he’s telling me. I have no reason not to trust him.
You liked it, he said again. I think you’ve liked me for a long time. I admire him professionally. Could it be more? I guess it could be more. Don’t be embarrased, these things happen all the time. Do they? Maybe I’m just naive. When we get back home we will go back to normal. Like nothing ever happened. No one ever has to know. But I’ll know. I’ll always know.
And we get home and it does go back to normal, for him. He acts like nothing ever happened. But I’m being eaten alive inside with guilt. I cheated on my husband. I’m a cheater. I’m a liar. I’m disgusting. I start going to therapy. I tell her what happened. Sort of. I tell her I cheated, but I leave out the part that it was with my boss, my SP. Why does that detail matter? What if she tells someone who it was? She asks if I was drunk, I say no. Drunk or not, it was still my mistake. I did this, not alcohol. She asks if I ever tried to stop it from happening, I lie and say no. Who cares if I said no ten times but then eventually say yes? I still ended up saying yes. We talk about reasons people cheat. We talk about ways to improve myself. And ways to make sure it never happens again. Things I can change about me. Because this was all on me. I did this. I chose this. And eventually I think I start to heal. Sort of.
A few years later I’m reading a story on yahoo news about a young woman who accused a college athlete of raping her. She didn’t report it initially because he told her she had wanted it and she believed him. But she remembered saying no. He told her it was her choice. But she was so drunk she couldn’t consent. The jury found him guilty of sexual assault.
Chills ran down my spine and it was like the floor was falling out from under me. Was this why my situation felt so wrong for so long? Was this why I couldn’t heal?
I went back to therapy and told the real version of what happened. It took a long time for me to believe that he did take advantage of me. That I wasn’t a villian, cheater, and liar but rather a victim. That I couldn’t consent because I was so intoxicated. That that it does matter that I said no a bunch of times, even if eventually I said yes. That he used his position of power to persuade me into what happened that night and then to gaslight me into believing his version of what happened the next day.
But even now, I still hesitate to call it sexual assault. Because it didn’t look like what you see in the movies, with a masked man holding a woman at gunpoint and ripping her clothes off as she screams. It took me a long time to realize that sexual assault isn’t always violent. It isn’t always obvious. It isn’t always a stranger. Sometimes its a boss, a business partner, a mentor, a friend.
It’s been almost a decade since waking up on that bathroom floor. I’m proud to say that my life is so different now. I have new bosses, new mentors, new business partners. I’ve healed a lot and I’m a stronger woman now.
My experience has helped me be a better PA. When it’s warranted, I ask more probing questions to patients to ensure they haven’t experienced a non-consensual encounter. I’m more sensitive towards patients with a history of assault and recognize the lasting effects it can have on your mental and physical health. My experience has helped me be a better mom, as I’m determined to teach my kids about consent early and often. And hopefully by sharing my experience, it will help at least one of you to know that you are not alone, that you are not at fault, and that you can survive and thrive after sexual assault.