In my book I publish an extract on binge drinking a friend of mine wrote a few years ago. She wrote it after a drinking incident that really scared her. I think it’s one of the most powerful pieces of writing I’ve ever read. Sadly, what Clare experienced is incredibly common; a drunken woman incapable of defending herself is coerced into having sex. She wrote the first segment in 2006 and when I approached her for permission to publish it in full, she asked to write an update, which I have included. Clare is a brilliant writer and I think she eloquently portrays an experience that many women have. This is a story everyone should read.
My name is Clare, and I am a binge drinker. I wouldn’t call myself an alcoholic; I’ve never craved a drink, never felt a compelling urge to drink on my own. But I do, and have, used alcohol to fuel my social life, take away shyness, and it has, at times, led me into trouble; there have been a few evenings over the years that I couldn’t remember properly, where I was embarrassed about what I’d said, when- and if – I could remember it. In this regard, I’m a lot like many British women; women who escape their busy working weeks through drink at weekends, who sometimes drink many times more the recommended limit for an evening’s drinking. I never really gave it much thought, until recently; because it was only recently, that my innocent pastime, my shyness releaser, my relaxant after a hard week, led me into trouble.
As I’ve got older, my alcohol tolerance has dropped. It takes less than it used to, to make me cross the line between being tipsy and being drunk. Between feeling slightly uninhibited and having my judgement completely destroyed. And sometimes, I forget that I can’t drink like I used to. Like the evening six months ago that is going to prey on my mind for a long time to come.
I started the evening at a party. It wasn’t very lively, a small gathering, and I was listening to some dull story someone was telling me. I tend to drink more when I’m listening, especially if the listening isn’t interesting. I had a few glasses of wine I guess; I can’t really remember. At about 11 pm two of my friends announced they were going on to another party. They invited me to join them. I declined.
Just one more drink….
At 11.30 I headed home. As I was walking, I thought, on the way back, that I might just look in to the other party. One of the friends who’d gone had texted me, urging me to come along; he seemed keen for me to join them. When I arrived, I was glad I had. It was a packed party, full of a wide mix of people, young, trendy, laughing, dancing. I remember someone filling up my glass with champagne. I remember someone else giving me a cocktail.
It’s after that that things become hazy. My memories are a series of interconnected chunks, not a continuum, but a jigsaw that doesn’t quite fit together. What I do remember is coming out of an upstairs bathroom, and my ‘friend’ was waiting for me. He put his arms round me and kissed me. I kissed him back. And then I stopped, and asked him what he was doing. He was married, and was coming up to his first wedding anniversary. He and I had dated briefly a few years previously, shortly before he met his wife. But nothing came of it, and we’d never slept together. I’d all but forgotten about it.
It seemed he hadn’t though. He suggested I came home with him. I reminded him he was married. He said that he and I had ‘unfinished business’- that we had never finished what we started all those years ago, so it wouldn’t count. I told him he was married – that it wasn’t on. Just unfinished business, he said. No, I said. Quite definitely, no. I kissed him again, and felt bad enough at doing that. I told him it wasn’t a good idea. I went back to the party, talked to some other people, and had another drink.
As the party was breaking up- and this must have been at about 4am- I realised I needed to get home. My friend came to find me, said I could take a taxi from his place. It seemed reasonable enough as an idea so I went back with him to his house. Quite what happened next I don’t know. My next memory is lying on his sofa, kissing him. Him undoing my bra. And at that time, I didn’t care. I’d forgotten my earlier objections and was only aware of being kissed by an attractive man. But I did raise my objections again, when he suggested we had sex. I remember saying no, saying again, ‘but you’re married’. And I can’t remember what he said, but it was something persuasive. He carried on kissing me. He took off the rest of my clothes. And somewhere, around about six am, he fucked me over one of his sofas.
Was it rape?
Does that sound coarse? But I can’t call it making love; no emotion was there. And I can’t call it sex, either, because it was hardly an interactive experience; a few seconds worth of him satisfying his ego. Now don’t get me wrong. It definitely wasn’t rape. At some point I had agreed to it, at some point, when he had argued away my protestations about him being married, I stopped protesting; but I was thinking with my body not my brain.
(Veronica’s note: What happened to Clare is rape and is recognised as such in law. The victim offered countless protestations, but was not in charge of her faculties and was worn down by the perpetrator – her intoxication had rendered her incapable of making a choice. The reason that Clare herself says she doesn’t think she can call this rape is because, as you will see, she believes she should take responsibility for the intoxication which made her incapable of following through on her original decision to say ‘no’ firmly.)
I woke up the next day, covered in bruises and feeling sick. It took me a few minutes to remember what I’d done. I felt a pulsating pain in some of the bruises. I felt sore. And above all I felt dirty and disgusted with my self. My brain that had somehow felt disengaged from my body the night before, kicked into life, and I realised exactly what I’d done.
It took months for me to stop feeling that I was personally responsible for intruding into someone else’s marriage. It was only a few months later, when he tried all the same moves again – putting his arms around me as I left a bathroom at a party, would you believe- that I realised it was nothing to do with me. He told me he’d slept with another ex since me. He suggested to me that we make ‘the guilt worthwhile’ by having a better night than the one we’d had before.
But this time I wasn’t drunk. This time I said no, and I wasn’t open to persuasion, and I went home, saddened that what I thought was a friendship will never really be, and what I thought was a happy marriage, is heading for inevitable ruin.
But the relief that I’m not going to be ultimately responsible for the downfall of that marriage won’t take away the knowledge that I helped nudge it part of the way down that slope.
The question that still preys on my mind is why I did it. Whether or not I can really blame the drink. Whether or not my being so drunk means that I can blame him? I’ve read that in America that they’re sending out promos to students- in an anti-date-rape campaign- saying ‘if she’s drunk or she says no, don’t touch her’. In America, extreme drunkenness is taken as a sign that she can’t consent. In England, even women who were unconscious have failed to argue in court that they were sure they hadn’t consented to sex, and the cases have been thrown out.
For my part, I have to take responsibility for what I did. For whatever state I was in at 6 am that morning, I knew what I was doing when I kissed him. When I kissed my friend’s husband. When I let myself kiss him and enjoy it and convinced myself it was OK. I do blame him for the bruises he left me with, which took two months to heal. I do blame him for the lies he has told his wife- and continues to tell her. But it was me who got so drunk, me failed to follow my own limits, me who engaged in a drug that I know can change one’s state of mind and corrupt a person’s powers to decide, and therefore, that pointless, degrading moment of drunken intercourse is something for which I can only, in all fairness, blame myself.
I was in my thirties when that happened and I had only ever slept with four people prior to that point. Three relationships, one-night stand- but even he was an old friend. Casual sex wasn’t me.
So what happened next? I so, so, wish I could tell you I gave up drinking. But what actually happened was that for a long time it changed my view of sex. I viewed my body as rather seperate and sex as something rather more detached and less precious and something I should, could, ought to do to make people like me. I also felt incredibly guilty and a lot of self disgust. I wanted love and absolution from my guilt but I found men could – and did – bully me into bed. I drank on dates and this made it possible; it also led to some unsatisfying encounters and didn’t give me much by way of sexual or spiritual pleasure. Sober me is very reserved; drunk me learnt to view her body as a separate thing.
‘Not an alcoholic’ was a fair description of me in the original article. But ‘problem drinker’ was, and probably still is an accurate way to describe me.
Alcohol and dating
I’m still single, and to be honest I blame alcohol for a lot of that. There have been at least three occasions where I got dumped after the guy saw me drunk- which usually went hand in hand with my making myself sexually available in a way that went against my core instincts. My new resolution is now not to drink on a date. Not so very long ago – more recently than I’d like to admit- I found myself making a move on a truly lovely man when I was drunk. He pushed me away; in retrospect I was deeply thankful to that man and it taught me and – rather late – it taught me an important lesson.
So, if I could talk to my 25 year old – or even 30 year old – self, I would say this:
A man worthy of sharing your body with won’t want you drunk. He’ll want you awake and alert and sensuous and responsive. He will be repulsed by the idea of shagging a drunk woman and will turn down an offer from a woman who is too drunk to be sure of what she is doing. He will want you to be able to feel every touch and caress. He won’t have a ‘3-date’ rule that you have to get drunk to adhere to.
Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
I’m now looking for a man who cherishes reserved me, and also cherishes the passionate me – and who thinks that sex should be a joyous, special, intimate thing. To anyone reading this – especially a young girl – please value sex so much that you keep alcohol out of it.