*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those who don’t deserve it.

A few months after officially moving to a new city, I fucked my way into the new year with a guy I met at a sleazy downtown club. I still don’t know how we got to the swanky hotel I woke up in completely naked with only a glitter “Happy New Year” headband on. I looked at the naked man lying next to me in bed. I had no idea who he was, where I had met him, or how I’d gotten there and what happened between us.

We exchanged ages before names. That’s how blatantly obvious the age gap was. He sighed of relief when he found out I was over 18. Later, I’d learn that he has a kid who’s closer to me in age than he is. We had sex again (without a condom, of course). Then I got dressed and called myself an Uber.

That was the one of many times I would be reckless with strangers in an attempt to forget what Chuck* did to me. I can’t count the number of times I tried to recreate that night with one significant difference: my partner listening to me if and when I wanted to stop. The only issue was that I would never remember everything that happened because of how much I’d been drinking or the drugs I was on.

Every morning after, whether I was waking up in my own bed or someone else’s, the first image in my head was my rape. I would lay there wondering why the night before hadn’t erased the moment I wanted so badly to forget from my memory. Every night I spent trying to forget what Chuck* did to me only solidified it further into my mind.

The first time was with a boy who had recently moved to the city I lived in. The second was the grown man I woke up next to on New Year’s Day. After that, the order gets less clear. There was the boy who was friends with a friend who lived in a different city. There was the older brother of one of my friends. There was someone I can’t even remember a detail about. There was the boy I’d been friends from college. There was the man I don’t remember at all, but whose number I only thought to look for on my phone because I found a used condom on my floor and knew nothing else.

I don’t consider any of those instances rape. Legally, they fit the definition because my level of incapacitation made me incapable of giving consent. But I knew what I was doing. I was being irresponsible and putting myself in dangerous situations because I didn’t care… about my safety, about my health, about being alive. My self-esteem was non-existent to the point that I let myself be treated like an object, willing to do whatever and whoever just to try and forget.

But after that last time, when the only evidence was a condom on my floor and a number in my phone, I told myself I couldn’t do it anymore. I had to stop being reckless. I had to stop not caring about whether I lived or died. I had to take care of myself and my body. That meant no more drinking and no more drugs and no more unprotected sex with men I knew or kind of knew. (I’m pretty sure the only reason the guy whose face I don’t know and I used a condom was because, as I would later find out by googling his phone number, he was married.) I had put myself in a situation that was far too dangerous, even by my standards at the time.

I told myself that it was finally time to learn how to come to terms with my rape because not coming to terms with it wasn’t an option anymore.

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