“Emotional aftermath”

“How getting my drink spiked made me rethink vulnerability”

The moment I can remember most clearly of that night is my fifteen-year-old sister laughing at me as I repeatedly fall in the sand. She loves making fun of me when I’ve had a bit too much to drink and I laugh with her, not thinking about the fact that my state is unusual for having only had half a gin and tonic. After I am helped up, I feel so nauseous that just moments later I am back in the sand again. My family gathers around me, forming a half circle as they look down at me, and more than anything I feel embarrassed. I am barely able to hear them over the static in my ears. A waiter hurries towards us and offers a cotton bud soaked in ammonia spirit. The beach was so crowded a few minutes ago, but after the last fireworks had gone off, the crowd streamed out of the village to their respective hotels.

The meaning of her words only dawned on me the next morning…

My stepbrother moans that he wants to go home, and I want to shout at him that “yes, I too want to go home, I just wish my legs would obey me”, but my tongue gets stuck in my throat. My mother insists that we should go to the hospital. I can think clearly enough to know that going to a hospital means needles and I protest vehemently, but after trying and failing to walk for the fourth time I give in.
At the hospital, I lie on a stretcher, irritated by the fluorescent lighting while a nurse pricks my finger repeatedly to draw blood. Though I feel relatively conscious, I am not able to properly speak – a very scary sensation.
“How many drinks did she have?” the nurse asks my mother.
“Just one.”
“Sometimes one is enough.” she says. The meaning of her words only dawned on me the next morning once the veil of nausea had lifted.
Back from the hospital, I spend the next few days in bed contemplating what happened. Could it, in that specific moment, have been prevented? Was it my fault? The answer to both questions is no. We are very quick to look for our own missteps in situations like this. It feels like a loss of control to admit that the incident couldn’t have been avoided. And even if it could have been prevented, why should the blame be on the victim rather than the perpetrator?
The apparent randomness of the event occupies me. The only time something could have slipped into the drink was at the busy bar where it was prepared, but I was sitting with my family on bean bags in the sand just a few yards away.
Of course, I’ve heard stories about drink spiking before, but I’ve always held the somewhat delusional belief that “these things happen, but not to me.”
After seeing countless PSAs, the message is clear: watch your drink at all times, and don’t accept drinks from strangers that you didn’t watch being prepared. That will surely prevent an incident, right? As long as I’m not careless, I’ll be fine.
At the hospital that night, it took me a long time to accept that it wasn’t a lack of hydration or low blood sugar that made me completely lose control over my body. The thought that a stranger might harm me has crossed my mind, but I’d never come quite this close. I’d always considered myself lucky in a way, only having to deal with the occasional catcall. Being 6 foot tall at the age of 17 contributed to my feeling of relative safety when walking home at night.

…life is incredibly unpredictable.

One time, at about five in the morning in London, a cab driver insisted on walking me to Victoria Coach Station, which he couldn’t access by car. After I told him that I was perfectly comfortable walking the few blocks to the station on my own, he said I was a “brave girl”. Following that well-meaning though patronising comment, the five-minute walk was drenched in uncomfortable silence.
Police statements had been issued prior to New Year’s Eve in both Yorkshire and Manchester. They warned to be ‘extra careful’ after COVID restrictions were fully lifted and had predicted an increase in spikings. Drink spiking has been titled an ‘epidemic’ since large gatherings and celebrations returned back to normal. Even with increased statistics, the numbers aren’t quite clear, as a lot of cases go unreported. It is common for victims to feel hopeless because of a lack of evidence. Feelings of embarrassment are also common, as well as not wanting to relive traumatic memories.
Still, I believe reporting these types of crimes is an important step as it may lead to the venue (clubs, pubs, etc.) implementing better safety measures. One incident being recorded may aid with prevention in the future. In 2021, a programme by National Pubwatch with Drinkaware was launched to prepare and give adequate training in hospitality venues. Programmes like these are incredibly important to make spaces safer on a larger and systemic scale.

…how do we cope with this violation of autonomy?

The most important takeaway I have from that night is a new awareness of my own vulnerability. Though of course an uncomfortable experience, I was very fortunate in a lot of ways: I was always with my family, a hospital was close by and I hadn’t even finished the drink containing the date rape drug. Considering the symptoms I’d experienced, having a larger dose could have been extremely dangerous.
Though there are precautions to be made to prevent drink spiking at clubs or other gatherings, life is incredibly unpredictable. Despite campaigns and awareness about the topic and the precautions we take, drink spiking remains a problem. There are ways to minimise the threat, but it is near impossible to eliminate completely. In my case, I’d been at a family-friendly New Year’s celebration on a beach in Koh Samui. As soon as my drink arrived it didn’t leave my sight.
The question remains: how do we cope with this violation of autonomy?
The first step to recover from the incident was acknowledging the rage and confusion I was feeling towards whoever had spiked me and sent me to the hospital at two in the morning. The fact that I didn’t have a clear image of them confused me. Someone completely unknown to me had done me harm! It made me consider my own safety, which I’d taken for granted. Self-reflection made me realise the somewhat uncomfortable thought that prior to this incident I’d felt a kind of superiority for never being too concerned with my own vulnerability in public spaces. I used to view friends’ insistences on, for example, texting if I got home safe after dark, as slightly overkill. Now I have a renewed appreciation for their concern.
The most useful word of advice I can give to anyone who might have experienced something similar is to practise self-compassion. Furthermore, you don’t need to deal with this experience all on your own. Speaking with people you trust or a counsellor about any fear, anger, paranoia, etc. can be incredibly valuable. I believe there is a balance to be found between being careful and being paranoid, but as with most traumas, that is a process which needs time.

Image credit: Blane Aitchison

Image description: glasses of alcohol in a line