Autopilot or Strength?

In hindsight, I have no idea which choice is healthier. I still do not know if auto-pilot means strength.

Content warning: this article depicts sexual assault

On the morning of December 8, the day after same-sex marriage was legalised, a social worker gave me $4.60 to get home. The police had brought me to the hospital after finding me on the Story Bridge, drugged out of my mind, braless and not wearing any underwear or shoes. My drink had been spiked. I remember three boys in a club, an apartment and a carpark. I could not find a way out of the carpark, so I contemplated curling up on the cement. The next thing I remember is the Bridge.

The night began with four Brisbane school friends, catching up over cheese and champagne after a year apart. I came out as gay to them, and was persuaded to come out and celebrate. We took the same Uber and bought a booth. Splitting up or staying together was never part of the discussion. It should have been.

At the hospital, I am shaking in a plastic chair, concentrating on the mantra “Shoulders back!” to stay sane and maintain my dignity. My phone and wallet are still at the club, so I cannot call anyone or order a taxi. A social worker with smudged eye make-up appears and gives me a handful of silver coins, along with the names of two bus routes to get home. Then I am outside in the sun, muddied with tears and still wearing yesterday’s dress.

The sun is too bright and I am stunned to learn the time is 9am, not 4am. I start to cry again, because this means Mum will have left for work and noticed my bed is unslept in. I will have questions to answer, but right now I lack the energy to concoct an explanation and getting home is a mammoth task.

I live interstate, so I have no idea where I am. I ask strangers on their way to work for directions to the nearest station. A woman clocks my hospital bracelet and glazed eyes and asks if I am safe. Two wrong buses and an early stop later and I am shuffling up the homewards hill. The hospital’s donated sandals are too small for me, and I am still not wearing any underwear, so I tug down my dress under the stares of traffic controllers.

I slip into bed, tie back my hair and cry torrents. This is the last time I will cry in weeks. I tell no family members. I cancel work, steady myself and, in no fit state, drive to the club to collect my phone. My parents come home, I brush my dog’s teeth and we eat salmon for dinner. On Saturday, a friend drives me to the pharmacy for the morning-after pill. It costs $15.

On Sunday, I re-order my favourite leather boots—the ones I was wearing that night and never would have removed of my own accord. They arrive three days later. Wearing them when I return to the police station weeks later feels like a stupid, stamping victory.

It turns out that policemen all wear body-cameras these days. I sit in the Constable’s office and watch back footage of myself on the Bridge, halfway down a lane of oncoming traffic in a barefoot trance. A little black slip, bare feet, dark curls, and a freakishly calm stare.

I know few details about that night, but I know I do not want to feel weak. So it feels natural that my instinct is to appear strong.

I construe ‘strength’ as self-sufficiency, a ‘confront-it-but-ultimately-suck-it-up’ attitude that justifies not telling my mother. This ‘strong’ choice means that Mum instead finds out a month later, when a $1000 medical bill for life-threatening intoxication arrives in the mail (an administrative error—a story for another time). I am at Kings Cross Station when she calls. She chokes when I explain that I could have called her at the hospital and chose to take a bus instead. I have hurt her so much more than I needed to. Strangers avoid eye-contact with the girl crying by the Opal Card machine.

The hospital bracelet is now in my scrapbook. I consider putting it on display in my room as a visible reminder. It seems like something a strong, unaffected person would do.

I consider my other options.

If I call my friends, they will say the right things. Then I book a psychologist appointment.

Support network: 

I hate the idea of losing money from this, but I should take the day off work.

Time for myself: 

It will be traumatic to watch the police’s footage, but it is worth filling in the gaps from that night.


I did all the right things, I promise.

Generally, I avoid labels. But right now, I need a descriptor to process what happened and explain it to my friends. In a lecture months later, it strikes me that this “traumatic event” is better described as a “near-death experience” than an assault. “Near-death” sounds melodramatic. Am I exaggerating? I reassure myself that walking halfway down a bridge into a busy lane of oncoming traffic, without any bearing of where you are, is life-threatening. I really could have died that night. Where would I have been without the police, or the pedestrians who called them? Gratitude is a strong antidote.

As Semester continues, I continue to tick the boxes, though who knows when a resolution will transpire. My instinct was to reject the ‘distressed victim’ trope. Instead, I unwittingly mimicked the ‘stoic untouchable’ model so often lauded in television crime dramas. In hindsight, I have no idea which choice is healthier. I still do not know if auto-pilot means strength.

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