I went away to college.
I was a mess. I didn’t know why David stopped loving me. I didn’t know what I did wrong. I worried that I was a terrible person, flawed, messed up. Also, I’d had per-marital sex. A lot of it. With someone I wasn’t going to marry! I felt incredibly guilty about that. I’d let God down. I also felt betrayed by David, who knew how I felt about sex. Surely, if he wasn’t 100% sure that we were getting married, he wouldn’t have pushed to have sex. What happened? Maybe it was my fault; as he kept getting to know me, he saw that I was flawed, and so he changed his mind about marrying me. And now I was even more flawed, because of all this sex I’d had.
These are the thoughts of an eighteen year old in regards to sex with she had absolutely no concept of consent or her right to dictate what is done with her own body. All I had to go on, in terms of “right” and “wrong” were things I’d learned in the church. And according to the church, I’d done a whole bunch of wrong.
I was also moving away to college, and had that to grapple with. Being very much on my own, knowing no one, arranging everything for myself, in charge of feeding myself, laundry, paying my bills, buying school books, meeting people, cleaning my room, going to class on time, structuring my life…with both my mother and Elias hours away.
It was heady and confusing and scary. Ultimately, I landed in the mental hospital from the stress of it all.
Both Elias and my mother didn’t take well to being left behind. They both made rather ridiculous demands on my time. To call them, to email them, to keep in touch with them. The break up with David had me a mess. I acted out a lot my freshman year. I would be provocatively flirtatious then shut down and slap people away. I either did amazingly well in class or I skipped. I was either ecstatic and full of energy or so depressed I’d wake up with my pillow soaking wet from crying in my sleep.
In the end, my school thought I tried to kill myself (I didn’t. I honestly wasn’t thinking death. I was just trying to figure out a way to be normal and at the time, taking a bunch of sleeping pills with a lot of alcohol so that I could sleep until I felt normal made sense). I was put into the mental hospital. This was somewhat of a wake-up call to my mom, who seemed to realize that if she didn’t calm the fuck down and stop trying to control my life remotely, I might die, and that would definitely be a bad thing.
Meanwhile, I’d actually managed to become friends with a couple of really awesome people in college who got through to me that a lot of Elias’ behaviors weren’t healthy for me. Shortly before I went into the mental hospital, I gently, tentatively let him know over the phone that I really couldn’t be there for him as much as he wanted; I really needed a bit more time to look after myself. His reaction was to scream at me and accuse me of secretly hating him and trying to destroy him. He swore he’d never talk to me again and hung up on me. When he learned I’d been put in the mental hospital (my mom told him, hoping he’d at least be supportive of me) his response was something along the lines of “it’s probably from guilt for being so horrible to me”. That, coupled with his reaction to my very timid request for more time for myself, showed me that our relationship really did have some majorly unhealthy facets to it. I didn’t walk away from him (not yet), but I did start to question my devotion to him and the way he treated me.
At this time, one of my best friends with a young woman named Beth. She was two years ahead of me in college, and really took me under her wing. This wasn’t yet a time when boundaries were talked about the way they are, but Beth knew all about boundaries and was very good at having them, enforcing them, and teaching them.
The thing that really amazed me was how she handled disagreement. She did not give a shit about it. No, that’s not quite right, it wasn’t that she didn’t care. It was that she didn’t consider there to be anything wrong with disagreement. We could be friends and disagree about all sorts of subjects! Neither of us was wrong, or wrong, we just had different opinions. Aaaaaaaaaaaand there was absolutely no reason why her opinion should be more important or more worth following than mine!
This flew in the face of what I’d been taught for most of my life: Do what your parents tell you. Do what the church tells you. Do what your friend needs the most. Put yourself last. Putting yourself first is selfish. Don’t question what the people closest to you want; give it to them without complaint.
Beth’s philosophy was different. She questioned most things. She felt comfortable opting out of anything she wasn’t comfortable doing, and many things she simply didn’t feel like doing. She was a great support to her friends (she was an amazing support to me), but she was also clear about when she needed time to herself, and she took it. No apologies. No explaining. She just said “I need a night to myself. I’ll see you tomorrow” and did it.
Being friends with Beth gave me a role model for boundaries. My first one, really. It took a long time to really start to model my ability to set and maintain boundaries to be similar to hers, but she set the stage for me to understand that boundaries were actually healthy to have.
She also inadvertently caused a bit of a crisis in my post-mental hospital life.
After that episode, when I got out, I was fragile, mentally. Fragile, exhausted, scared, stressed and relieved. Relieved because I was out of the mental hospital. The thing I learned the most there was that I wanted to never go into another mental hospital – overall, it was a miserable experience. I wonderful if mental hospitals feel a few small steps below prison, in terms of control? You have to wear very specific clothes that have no drawstrings or cords. No shoes with shoelaces. No belts. People can (and do) tell you what to do at any time of the day or night. Sometimes you have to go to different areas or do things simply because you’re told to; asking questions is nearly always interpreted as belligerence and threatened with punishment. Not complying is nearly always interpreted as belligerence and threatened with punishment.
On that note, there was a specific incident that happened one night. I had insomnia. The person checking the rooms at night noticed I was awake, and asked what was up. I told her that I had insomnia. Her response was to (without asking) take me to kitchen area get me a glass of warm milk, and tell me to drink it. Although I’m not full-out lactose intolerant, and I am lactose sensitive and more, I really hate milks of all kinds. Cheese and ice cream are wonderful, but I stopped eating cereal with milk at a very young age because of my hatred for milk.
I told her I couldn’t drink the warm milk; milk makes me gag. She insisted and got very nasty about it, asking if I wanted to get moved to a stricter part of the hospital. She also kept being physically dominant, grabbing my wrist, trying to force the glass into my hand and to my mouth.
Luckily, before things went totally south, another night person came by, and told her to stop. And for whatever reason, actually believed me when I said I couldn’t do warm milk, and got the permission of a doctor to give me Benedryl to make me sleep instead. It turns out that getting Benedryl for insomnia was a perfectly acceptable substitute for warm milk, and one that should have been presented to me. But Ms. Controlfreak Asshole Night Lady seemed more interested in forcing things on me and escalating than actually solving my insomnia problem.
I wonder how many people got in trouble for being non-compliant on her watch?
Anyways, the mental hospital sucked for many reasons. I never wanted to go back. At the same time, I knew I was mentally fragile. I was trying to adjust to a bunch of medications for my depression and psychosis. And go to college. And manage my life. Meanwhile, my mom was sort of talking to me and my supposed best friend (Elias) was refusing to talk to me.
I struggled for some months. I kept up a strong front, and I might have fooled people into thinking I was more well and whole than I actually was. At any rate, Beth invited me to something that shattered my sense of control and caused a second (much shorter) stay in the mental hospital.
Beth invited me to a campus presentation on date rape.