First, I want to preface this by saying I wrote this originally as a part of therapy wrote this original, and decided to share this with other young military women (and men). I am sharing this because I want young military women to understand what they are about to embark on, and to look out for themselves. This is hard for me to write, and as I do this, I am struggling to hold back tears. Even after all this time, it’s been difficult to face my past. Here’s my story.
Eleven years ago I enlisted in the Army as a young seventeen year old. I was hopeful about my future and always pushed myself. I graduated from Basic Training as one of only three soldiers in my company who had “tabbed” my physical fitness test (ninety percent in each event). I went through my Advanced Individual Training (AIT) and continued to score high on physical fitness, finally earning the maximum score on my APFT (Army Physical Fitness Test). I never drank, didn’t party, and I had planned on waiting until I got married to have sex.
It wasn’t until I got to Germany that everything started to fall apart. I still did well physically and excelled in my unit. I was one of the top soldiers and pushed myself constantly. I was also pushed by my chain of command to excel because they knew I had a bright future ahead of me, and knew I was capable of doing well. I began taking college courses where I was close to a 4.0, even while working 12-18 hour days – sometimes staying until two a.m. to finish work that came up at the last minute. I took classes four nights a week after work, and sometimes added in online courses. I was serious about my future and wanted to take what I could from my situation.
It was not a surprise to anyone that I partied on the weekends. I kept my partying to Friday and Saturday nights when I didn’t have to show up for PT in the mornings. Unfortunately, while my partying didn’t affect my work life, it seriously affected my personal life. I had always struggled a bit with some depression. Something in my personality that made me push myself also made me extremely self-critical and too much of a thinker at times. I suppose the depression of being far away from home in a new country where I had a sudden level of freedom pushed me to do things that I later wished I had not done. Suddenly I went from being a good girl to someone who was promiscuous. At first I enjoyed the partying life. I was suddenly showered with attention that I had never gotten in high school. Minus a couple of times at home, I also never drank before going to Germany. I suppose this is normal at this age for many students in college; unfortunately, in the military, women already have a reputation for being promiscuous, or sleeping around to get ahead, and it’s a small world in the military. My first time was with someone in my unit. That night he asked about a ring I wore – my purity ring. His words were “So that’s for someone really special, huh?” He knew I was a virgin. I had a crush on him, and was starting to get curious about sex. We had some drinks, and later that night, I lost my virginity. I really liked him and actually didn’t feel bad about what happened. That next weekend he said it was the alcohol. I didn’t know how to react. I stayed calm. Who wants to be the girl who freaks out on a guy over sex? I certainly didn’t. I had to keep my cool. Wasn’t it normal for people to have casual sex nowadays? I didn’t realize at the time how wrong HE was for knowing my situation and taking advantage. He knew what he was doing. I took responsibility for my actions, though, and continued on with my job as usual.
Unfortunately for me, it was hard for me to keep myself as detached as I thought I would be able to do. I kept sleeping with people on the weekends when I had too much to drink. At first it was all fun and games. I wanted to be “free,” and I hated hearing how women weren’t allowed to enjoy sex. I hated hearing how it was okay for men to sleep around, but when a woman did it she was a “slut.” I used to get angry with guys for talking about women who slept around, while they were doing the same thing. How would a guy react if he was eighteen, just out of home, and surrounded by women throwing themselves at them? I am sure their number of partners would be a lot higher than mine. I only continued sleeping around by choice for a short period of time, but by then it was so easy – too easy. Drinking was one of the few ways I could deal with the depression of being alone, and while drinking, I let my inhibitions down and opened myself up to being taken advantage of. I kept pushing myself at work and partying on the weekends. I started looking for a relationship. When I was sober during the week, I hated the sleeping around and knew I would stop if I had someone who really loved me. I started bingeing and purging. It was the only release I had besides drinking on weekends. I remember one night I was SO upset because some guy who was married was coming onto me. He tried to fondle me outside behind a bar while his wife was there, and I ran away crying. I’m sure he probably told his wife I came onto him, and she probably believed him because of the image so many military women have. I was pretty drunk at this point, and I knew I wouldn’t make it home that night. I was close to blacked out when I was talking to a few guys. One of them was my friend who had a crush on me, and another was his friend. I went back with his friend who was supposedly a good guy so I wouldn’t have to walk home completely drunk (I lived about two miles from the club, and they lived in the barracks near the club). I remember very little of that night, but I remember a few things, and they’re still things that upset me. He took advantage of my state that night and the next morning while I was still asleep. The next morning I went to the restroom then left without saying a word. I was walking home the next morning in my clothes from the night before, which included a white skirt with stains from where I’d spilled my Jack and Coke the night before. A First Sergeant from another unit saw me walking home and took me back to my place. I’m sure he knew what had happened the night before. I would say this experience probably hurt me the most.
After that experience, my bingeing and purging got worse. Sometimes I’d walk over to the Shopette across from my barracks room and buy food with the intention of vomiting it back up. It was awful… I would replay that night in my head and cry while I was purging into any toilet I could find. After that the partying slowed down, but it still occurred. It’s hard to stop something once you’ve started. I started saying “no” to guys and tried to use the “buddy system” to avoid doing something I might regret, but there were still rumors that weren’t true that I heard through other people. Suddenly I was the “stereotype.” It wasn’t because I wanted to be, or because I was sleeping around to get ahead like many male soldiers assume if a woman is doing well in her position. People didn’t understand. The more depressed I got, the easier it was to use food and sex to make it better. It was like a downward spiral. I was still smart. I wasn’t “just a slut.” I still worked hard, I still went to school. There were a few guys who saw past what was happening on the weekends, and I went out on a few dates, but for some reason, though I tried, I just wasn’t interested. I knew they would be better for me than what I was dealing with. The only guys I had real feelings for were people who would never work out. Only two people knew about my bingeing and purging. They didn’t know how frequent it was, but they knew I was doing it. They thought it was just to stay thin (I did struggle slightly with my weight, but I was only slightly above the Army’s weight standard – I think it was more self-loathing than anything)… They didn’t know how much I loathed what was happening outside of work because I was able to pretend like it was just for fun. I had one close girlfriend, but once she got involved with a guy who knew that we both used to party together, he basically forbade her from spending time with me because I was a “bad influence” (in reality she made choices herself as well, but he didn’t want to see that). She basically abandoned me. He was controlling, but that was another story. I was basically alone with a few guy friends who all wanted to sleep with me.
I had decided I wanted to be an officer, and started the process of applying to various programs. The partying slowed down as I started having other goals and something to look forward to, but I still heard things about women that I hated to hear. As I mentioned earlier, I think about things and criticize myself too much at times. When I heard what guys said about other women, I started applying them to myself – I blamed myself for everything –even if I realized they were the ones buying me drink after drink in order to take me home when I was too drunk to walk back to my place. I did fight back. I would get angry and ask them what they would do if they were in the same situation. One day I ran out of my office crying because I was surrounded by a bunch of other soldiers who started comparing women to cars. They said civilian women were like Corvettes and Army women were like Fords – everyone had ridden in one. They apologized to me and said, “We weren’t talking about you! You’re going to college and are going to be an officer!” It hit close to home, and I hated hearing how they talked about women. Each of these women – whether they were going to college or still trying to find their way – had their own struggles.
Things are better now, and have been for a while. I still struggled with the bingeing and purging in college, but the excessive partying mostly stopped. Whenever I heard people – both men and women – echoing their opinions of the stereotypical military female, I was more upset. I know some people didn’t like me because I was very opinionated. They didn’t understand WHY I was so opinionated, but it was because of what I had seen and done. They didn’t realize how much their words hurt.
I am doing better now. It has been awhile since my last bingeing and purging episode. I graduated college and am an officer. I’ve done well in my time as an officer, and I’ve started a Master’s program. I take care of myself now. I eat healthy and I exercise for health reasons – not to be skinny. I have finally started to accept myself and have a boyfriend who I adore. He has been the only one for quite some time. Sometimes I’m afraid that people under me will meet someone who knew about my past and suddenly I won’t have the respect I’ve worked so hard to earn. It’s wrong that I should to worry about such things, but it’s a reality. I guess I’m not completely over my past, but I’m working through it. My therapist wanted me to write this as a letter to my “18 year old self,” and I’ve cried the entire time I’ve written this. I told her I wish I could brush off the negative statements like some people are able to do, but she said it’s the people who can’t just brush things off that can have a positive influence. I hope my experiences can help at least a few people to avoid making decisions that will affect them later, and will help others realize that their words are hurtful.
I am also writing this because I want other people to understand the human beings behind the stereotypes before they judge. I do not want people to think I wrote this as a type of “excuse” for my own behavior, but I want to use this as a warning to young women who may find themselves in similar situations. I can’t say I REGRET my past because now I can write this and hopefully reach young women who may not understand their situations while they’re in them. I still haven’t figured out if it was the promiscuity itself that has caused these issues, or my awareness of the stereotypes that exist around promiscuous behavior that has caused problems with depression. Either way, I wish someone had warned me about what I would deal with as a result of promiscuous behavior. If you feel perfectly okay with your behavior, then that’s okay, but whether it’s wrong or not, it’s hard to deal with the knowledge that people will never look at you the same because of your sexual history. Especially in the military. If you find yourself sinking into the hole I found myself in, please talk to someone before you find yourself doing things you don’t want to be doing. I understand from personal experience that it is extremely difficult to face certain actions, whether they were entirely under your control or not, but talking to someone is better than letting yourself sink. It has taken me years to open up to anyone, and I wish I had seen someone when I first realized I was doing things I didn’t feel good about because of external or even internal pressures.
On the contrary, I also want the men and/or judgmental women who read/hear this to understand the “other side.” I have met my share of both who judge women based solely on their sexual history. I shared my successes along with my struggles as evidence that a woman who has had more than one partner (or whatever magical number somebody has decided upon) does not mean she is dumb or incapable of earning respect. While I look back and see that some of my decisions at the time were against my own personal beliefs, there are women who consciously make decisions to have several partners, and they are still valuable people rather than objects who have been “used.” There is more to these women than their past or current sexual behavior. Regardless of whether she has slept with one person or is still a virgin, she is still a person. Calling someone a “slut” devalues that person. Stating that a woman sleeps around only to get ahead is also wrong, and making jokes that an attractive woman has been successful only because of sleeping around also devalues a woman’s hard work. And women are just as guilty as men in perpetuating these stereotypes. It all needs to stop before we can make any type of progress.