The following post is not something that was written lightly or without thought. The following post is a result of the mental wrestling I’ve been doing since November 8th, 2014, and likely just part of the start of my thoughts and feelings around this topic. It will likely be triggering for some, and I apologize for that, but I will steer clear of details. This post is about surviving a sociopath.
I should clarify before I start that I am not a medical doctor. I am not a psychiatrist. I cannot diagnose anyone with anything. I am simply using the term to not only summarize what I have been told by people who encountered my attacker in the justice system, as well as the experiences of myself and his other victims. If Daniel Drill-Mellum is not a sociopath, I don’t know who is.
I’ve been struggling with this for over 3 years now; the way that the world completely changes when you encounter someone who not only outwardly enjoyed harming you, but someone that you instantly knew would have no moral problem with killing you if you didn’t comply. I remember stammering at the hospital, after I had explained how I tried to negotiate with the man who attacked me. The detective had asked a follow up question: “why couldn’t you just say no?” This might seem like an obvious question to anyone who wasn’t in my shoes.
I can’t explain the feeling that instantly hits you when you realize that you’re in the presence of someone who doesn’t give two fucks about whether or not you’re scared or in pain. Your mind narrows very quickly into whatever choices appear for you; one of my first instincts was to try to physically get away. It didn’t work. My second instinct was to negotiate. I remembered something I heard once: if you cooperate with a kidnapper, they’re more likely to let you live. I realize now how likely untrue that is, but it was the first thing that popped into my head at the time.
I haven’t yet found a way to forget the reality of another human being gleefully laughing because you’re crying. I haven’t yet found a way to forget the reality of seeing a person’s face and demeanor completely change into something unrecognizable, even inhuman, within moments. I haven’t yet found a way to forget the reality of feeling that there was no escape, and that these were my last moments alive. I haven’t found a way to express that I don’t talk about this for pity; but because it’s just the reality. There’s something that became comforting about reading up on the history of other violent sociopaths; understanding their escalation, and feeling more grounded in my new reality. This new reality often comes with pessimism.
I’ve often heard in the context of bullying and interpersonal relationships that it takes five positive interactions to make up for one negative interaction. I try to apply that to my life now; I hope that with every positive and wonderful person that I meet, I will become one step closer to trusting humanity. I’ve realized over time, though, that this may not happen. I can’t count this as one negative interaction, but rather as seeing the black hole of sociopathy and evil that one human being can be. I’m sure that these words would feel very hurtful to someone who knew Dan personally, and that’s half of the problem. How do you know if someone in your life is a monster who tortures and rapes women behind closed doors? He purposefully chose women who were unlikely to report; women that were not known to him, women that were of a lower socioeconomic standing, women who were drugged and couldn’t identify him. He usually didn’t hurt the people in his life who found him to be a fun and positive presence. He purposefully sought out separate outlets for what was truly inside of him. He manipulated everyone around him into seeing him as the real victim. And it will eternally trouble me that I could have been one of those people. I could have trusted this man, I could have been his friend, I could have implicitly encouraged what he did by vouching for him to others.
The real question is how you just choose to go on living somewhat normally after this. I have a perspective now that I can’t shake; one that is conflicting for me when others confirm it. “You caught a future serial killer”, people will tell me. I feel validated and terrified at the same time. I’ve been told by multiple other victims of his that “he’ll definitely kill us or someone else when he gets out”. The fact that other women who encountered him have this same feeling is both reassuring to me that I’m not wrong, and also a reality that’s incompatible with any sort of genuine or continuing peace. I have an internal countdown to his release date ticking in my head, and I have to consider what my path will be when it happens.
There are no easy answers here. I often tell myself that I’m just being jaded; that lightning wouldn’t strike twice. That I’ve had enough misery and trauma for one lifetime; I can focus on happiness now and move on. The truth is, though, that I can’t completely do that. While I’m completely committed to finding happiness in my life, it will never be pure or without a healthy dose of skepticism again. I experience now what so many survivors do; I get nervous watching people I love go out in public, go running alone, go on blind dates, or brush off the idea of carrying some form of self defense. And, while not necessarily in the same context as this post (although it definitely has plenty of overlap), I know how dangerous the people we intimately trust can be as well. I could see this as simply a terrifying way to live, or I could continue channeling it into helping other people learn how to be active bystanders in a world that, for some in it, will be horrifically unsafe at some point. It’s really all I can do. I’m going to continue thinking of the people out there in the world who haven’t encountered their sociopath yet. I’m going to try to figure out ways to prevent them from experiencing what I do now. “A life lived in fear is a life half lived” is probably true, but I’m going to use that other half to fight like hell for something powerful.