It happened exactly two years ago. I was newly single, I had been arguing with my ex-boyfriend all day, and I just wanted a fun night out with my girlfriends. It was a freezing winter night in Chicago, but I convinced my friend Ellie* to go to a club downtown with me. I wanted an unforgettable night—drinks, dancing, and cute guys. I never anticipated losing consciousness.
An hour after being at the club, an older man in his mid-30s, slightly balding and with the worst dad bod, offered to pay for our second drinks. I had always accepted drinks from men before and never thought twice about it. I was a college student, drinks in Chicago are expensive, and if someone else wanted to pay for a stranger's drink, then I usually saw no harm. I said I'd have a vodka cranberry.
This guy was distinctly different though. After he handed the drinks to Ellie and me, Ellie said thanks and walked away. I felt badly ditching someone so quickly after they paid for my drink, so I thanked him, told him to have a good night, but that I should get back to my friends. Before I left, he said, "Well, whatever you do tonight, trust this," and he pointed to my stomach, touching it with the tip of his finger. "What?" I asked. He said, "Always trust your gut. I hope to see you later tonight." I thought he was just being a creepy dude at a bar trying to pick up girls and I walked away.
I only took a few sips of the drink before the room started spinning. I could no longer form coherent sentences. It was only my second drink of the night, and I hadn't pregamed before going downtown, so I should have been in complete control of my body, but I wasn't. I don't remember a single thing from the rest of the evening.
At 6:30 the next morning, I woke up completely naked and alone in my bed. I immediately knew something was wrong. I felt drunk, high, and as if I were experiencing consciousness for the first time in my life. I had to squint at my phone to get the screen to focus, I didn't know where my clothes were, and I felt completely disoriented in my own apartment. I felt fucked up. I called my friend Ellie to see if she was feeling the same way, and unfortunately, she was. I called my parents, and they urged me to go to the campus hospital, so I went to Ellie's apartment and we walked over together.
The hospital was only a five-minute walk from Ellie's apartment, but it was the longest and most insane walk I have ever been on. The square campus buildings appeared curved and moved in waves when I walked past. I broke out in laughter at the snow on the ground and two minutes later was crying uncontrollably about the sun. It felt like a lethal inebriation; I wasn't sure if I would ever feel normal again.
Ellie and I spent three hours in the campus hospital. We answered preliminary questions with a nurse, assuring her that no, we were not just twentysomethings who drank too much and didn't know how to handle our alcohol. After we told her we thought we had been drugged, we were put in separate rooms with IVs in our arms furiously pumping nutrients back into our blood. At this point, I was feeling confused, scared, and nauseous. The doctor insisted on giving us an IV because she said it would replenish some of the nutrients we'd lost due to alcohol and the drugs, and it would hopefully relieve our nausea and disorientation.
Later, the doctor came in with our test results and told me that whoever did this to us used a combination of multiple drugs that wouldn't leave our systems for 72 hours. She then said drugs typically used in cases of sexual assault leave the blood system in 24 hours at most. This meant that whoever drugged us was hoping we would be extremely unconscious and thus less likely to put up a fight. She left the room, I placed my jacket over my face to block the obnoxious fluorescent lighting, and I started crying alone on the hospital bed with the IV still in my arm.
Once we left the hospital, Ellie and I recalled as much as we could from the night before to try to figure out who could have done this to us. I remembered regaining consciousness in a cab back to my apartment, but there were three strangers in the car with me. Normally that would be frightening, but I recalled being doubled over the cab, trying and failing to form words to tell the driver my address, yet luckily these strangers lived in the same neighborhood and somehow made out my street name from my incoherent mumbling. Ellie said she got a cab home with another friend from school.
We racked our brains trying to figure out which creepy strangers we were mutually in contact with that could have done this. Then we remembered the man who'd bought us our second drinks. I guess I'll never know for certain that it was him. Luckily, after talking with friends, they assured me that they didn't see me with this guy the rest of the night and I know that when I got home I was alone because I briefly regained consciousness when I got out of the cab and opened my apartment door.
The next two days were miserable. It was the weekend before MLK Day, and I had never been happier that I didn't have to go to class. I had very little energy and zero appetite because I felt unbearably nauseous. I spent the entire day in bed, curled up in a ball in the dark, crying and wondering why this happened. I called my ex-boyfriend, and within 20 minutes he was at my apartment to take care of me. He called my parents to update them, he refilled my water bottle whenever it got low, and he was there for me, no questions asked. I slowly felt less disoriented and inebriated, but my emotions were swinging from one extreme to the other, and I would alternate between laughing and crying at a moment's notice. I eventually had to go to the library to get work done that Monday, but my body was so weak that I felt like a limp zombie trying to find the energy to move.
My parents had always warned me about this happening, but I thought I was an invincible twentysomething and that it could never happen to me. Getting drugged was the worst experience of my life, but knowing how horrible it was makes me never want to experience it again.
Even though this happened two years ago, I think about it every single time I got out to a club, or a bar, or really anywhere with alcohol and strangers. In a way, I'm thankful that I'm now more aware of my surroundings and the possibility of someone slipping a drug into my drink. I still accept drinks from strangers because I don't think accepting or denying drinks will affect the likelihood of this happening again. However, I make more mental notes of my surroundings and who I'm interacting with; I walk around with my hand on top of my drink to cover it; I check in more with friends and make sure we're always accounted for.
Just the other day, my ex called me and told me that a woman in his law program had been drugged at a bar the night before, which brought back a flood of unwanted, chilling memories. I used to be ashamed of what happened to me. At first, I questioned if I could have done something differently, if I could have been more observant. Hell, I even questioned if I brought it on myself because of what I was wearing. Now, two years later, it feels good to talk about it and to share my story in hopes that it won't happen to others.
Even if this has never happened to you, it's so important to be hyperaware of what's going on around you. I got lucky that I somehow made it home alone and relatively safely, but for many others, the outcome is much worse. You may feel silly walking around a bar with your hand on top of your drink, or making the person who bought your drink take a sip of it first, or asking a friend to cover your drink while you go to the bathroom, but these little precautions could make all the difference. I learned about it the hard way but I hope you'll never have to.
*Name has been changed.
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