Questions for Reflection
In each episode, we offer you a few prompts to think about how that day's conversation applies to you. You might pause the podcast and answer them right then and there, but if you keep a journal (Steph and Beth both do), feel free to download and print a PDF of the Questions for Reflection we've made just for you:
Landscape or Portrait
Beth Demme (00:03):
Welcome to the Discovering Our Scars Podcast.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (00:06):
Where we share personal experiences so we can learn from each other. I'm Steph.
Beth Demme (00:09):
And I'm Beth.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (00:09):
I've been in recovery for 17 years and am the author of Discovering My Scars, my memoir about what's done in the darkness eventually comes to light.
Beth Demme (00:16):
I'm a lawyer turned pastor who's all about self-awareness and emotional health, because I know what it's like to have neither of those things.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (00:23):
Beth and I have been friends for years, have gone through a recovery program together. When I wanted to start a podcast, she was the only name that came to mind as co-host.
Beth Demme (00:30):
I didn't hesitate to say yes because I've learned a lot from sharing personal experiences with Steph over the years.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (00:35):
We value honest conversations and we hope you do too.
Beth Demme (00:38):
On today's show, we're going to have an honest conversation titled Discovering My Scars, Chapter Seven.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (00:43):
Then we'll share a slice of life and the show will close with Questions for Reflection, where we'll invite you to reflect on the conversation in your own life. All right, Beth, we're back.
Beth Demme (00:51):
We're back. We're going to do another chapter of your memoir.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (00:53):
Yes. Chapter seven, but we will basically play the book and we'll pause and talk a little bit during it and then give some recap and extra things about it.
Beth Demme (01:05):
Yes. I will just say that just before this, you were released from the mental hospital. We're diving in at a point where you've just gotten out of the mental hospital.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (01:16):
Yes. If you don't know what we're talking about, listen to the previous episodes first, or buy my book, get the audiobook. There's a lot of options. We will put links to those in the description as well. Part two, abuse. Chapter seven, aftermath. I was held in the system for 74 hours. That's 50 hours more than if I had been Baker Acted, involuntarily admitted. I trusted the people I thought were there to protect and help me. My parents raised me to look at police officers and medical professionals with respect.
This experience taught me a hard life lesson. Life isn't as simple as trust the safe people. The experience hardened me and made me fearful of new people, especially people meant to help me. I was fearful that they would judge me unfairly and make me feel like the crazy one. Because of this, I didn't see another doctor for five years, except for when I got my stitches removed right after my stay at Nicole's place. I had Googled a doctor that was covered by my insurance near UCF.
I hadn't bothered to get a local doctor yet as I had only lived in Orlando a few months. I found one right down the road and made an appointment to get my stitches removed. I walked in to the tiny white room with the standard cotton balls and tongue depressors on the counter and sat on the medical table. I waited. An older male doctor walked into the room, looked a little perturbed and asked to see the stitches. I showed him my arm. His eyes widened a little. Then he looked into my face.
I looked back and saw disdain, frustration, and apathy. He unhappily went to get his tools, then came back, and without a word, started removing the stitches. I was sitting up with my arm in my lap. His pulling and prodding my arm felt unusual. It upset me. The sensation made me lightheaded. I told him I didn't feel good. He continued and said, "Well, what do you expect? It's a lot of stitches." He must have finally looked at my face and saw it turning pale, so he told me to lie down on the table.
This helped, and he finished his task. He never asked me what happened. I can only imagine he looked at my arm as a failed suicide attempt. His pessimistic attitude made me feel like I was wasting the time he could be using to see real patients.
Beth Demme (03:41):
Okay. I want to stop you there because this really bothers me. Let's say he did think that it had been a failed suicide attempt. Why does that not engender more compassion? Why isn't he like, "Oh my gosh, she was in a really bad place. I will not be a jerk to her." Yeah, I don't get it.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (04:02):
Believe me, I don't get it either, but I can completely remember sitting in that room and just feeling just like I was going to be sick, because it's such an unnatural feeling. If you've never had stitches...
Beth Demme (04:15):
I haven't. I have never had stitches. Well, have I had stitches?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (04:17):
Well, you might've had for your...
Beth Demme (04:19):
I mean, I've had surgeries, so I guess I've had some stitches.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (04:22):
But you were probably sedated in a way that it's not something that you... And having them removed. A lot of times stitches are dissolvable too, but it's just the weirdest sensation and it's very off-putting and not natural. It's just like, yeah, it's very... I mean, it really does feel like if you ever sewed anything, my mom taught me to sew when I was a kid, it feels like you are that fabric. If you can visualize stitches on fabric and poking and prodding, and then when you use a seam ripper or a thing to remove the stitches, it's such a weird sensation on that. But then that on your skin, it's like whoa.
Beth Demme (05:10):
You shouldn't be feeling things moving through your skin in that way, moving through your body in that way. This has happened to me a few times in the book where I wanted to try to find a way to assign a different intent to the person who's being awful or even try to find a way to assign positive intent. The best I could come up with here was that he looked at the stitches and thought, whoever did that did a really bad job. And that it was not about you.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (05:39):
He was annoyed at the...
Beth Demme (05:39):
It was about the stitches. I don't think that's probably what happened. I think I would trust your intuition about the vibes he was putting, but that was the best I could come up with.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (05:50):
Well, I mean, that's an interesting take actually, because I do know from a couple of vet techs that I know, I know that stitches can be tricky to remove. There's different types of stitches. There's different... I can't even remember what they called them.
Beth Demme (06:05):
Patterns and things that they can do.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (06:06):
Different patterns and different widths also. The smaller widths can be harder to remove, and also how it heals. Sometimes it can be crusty and stuff. I mean, that's not a crazy thought. Even though if that was his thought, that doesn't excuse his behavior. He could have even said something like, "Oh no, these are a little challenging or something, but I'll get them. It might hurt a little bit more," even if it was done badly, which it probably was, I don't know.
And then right after I got the stitches, they put hydrogen peroxide at the mental hospital, which I later found out loosened stitches. It could have then ruined the integrity of them. That could be accurate that he was like... Or he felt annoyed that he's a doctor and he has to remove stitches. That could also be a thing where it's like, ugh, this is beneath me to have to remove stitches. I don't know. I don't know if that's something that doctors typically do or they have someone else do it. I don't know.
Beth Demme (07:17):
I'm remembering now a time I had stitches, and you're right, the doctor didn't want to remove them. They had either a medical assistant or a nurse come in and do it, because I guess it was like the way it gets billed or whatever, it's not worth their time to do it.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (07:33):
Or beneath them kind of feeling.
Beth Demme (07:35):
You're right, that could have been it too.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (07:38):
In that point, he might not have been even caring about me or what it was. He might've just been annoyed that it was beneath him. It wasn't even like he didn't care about me or what happened. He just wanted to get this done. But I had booked a doctor's appointment maybe and he had to do it or something. I don't know.
Beth Demme (07:56):
Right, right. But still, it could have been reflected in his bedside manner, but I also think it's good to remember that when we're interacting with people, the tendency is I'm going to think it's about me. Especially if someone's rude to me, I'm going to be like, oh, what did I do? Maybe it's about something completely different.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (08:14):
Maybe it's about him and his ego.
Beth Demme (08:16):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (08:17):
Beth Demme (08:18):
But still, he should have dug into his training there. I'm sure they train doctors in bedside manner. I'm sure they do.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (08:27):
Beth Demme (08:28):
Even though so often they don't seem to reflect that training in our interactions.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (08:32):
I'm confident. It would be interesting to hear a doctor's or nurse perspective on that section to see if they have different insight, because I never really actually thought more of it, like you were saying. Of course, it shouldn't be my responsibility to think, oh, are they upset with me? It's probably not me. It's probably they don't want to have to do stitches today. I'm so sorry. For me to have to like soothe them, but that's an interesting perspective. Thank you for making me think through that.
Beth Demme (09:06):
Yeah. All right, let's keep going.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (09:09):
In the days and weeks following my release from Nicole's place, I try to get back to normal. I returned to my classes, although I missed a test in my film class and my teacher wouldn't let me make it up.
Beth Demme (09:20):
Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, stop. Why would a teacher not let you make up a test when you had a medical reason why you were unavailable?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (09:30):
Your guess is as good as mine.
Beth Demme (09:32):
I need to be able to assign positive intent to these terrible people.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (09:36):
This happened on a Sunday and I was released on a Wednesday, so I went back to class on a Thursday. Again, it's been 17 years, so I can't say I remember exactly everything that happened. And also, as much as I was going through life and doing everything I needed to do, I was a hot mess without even realizing how much I was. That was a traumatic situation. I don't know exactly what I told my teachers. I probably had some kind of documentation, but also the doctors were treating me like trash and I did this to myself.
What do you expect my teachers to be doing as well? They probably were in the same like, ugh, another kid getting drunk and having something happen. They're probably tired of college kids come up with excuses being in the hospital because they partied too hard. It's probably one of those things, and I didn't want to get into the mental hospital of it all. I don't know exactly what was presented.
Beth Demme (10:35):
Well, keep going because this is a little bit later in the chapter, it's just about to come up, but the school knew what happened.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (10:40):
Yes. They knew.
Beth Demme (10:43):
I would hope that there's communication between the school and the professors, but maybe there's not.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (10:51):
But also to be fair, it was so fresh that I don't know if the test was on a Wednesday and then I had class the Thursday, or maybe the test was on a Tuesday. It was probably a Tuesday, Thursday class, so probably the test was a Tuesday. I got there Thursday and I told them. I don't even remember. Maybe I was able to make it up. What I do remember about this film class, first of all, I didn't want to take it, but that was the only thing that was available. I got a C in that class and I always got As, As or Bs, in everything.
Beth Demme (11:24):
You probably got a C because you missed a test.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (11:26):
Well, yes. Oh, 100%. I went through all of this trauma. And also, the film class was really hard because we had to watch these really graphic films. Those weren't the kind of films I ever watched. That wasn't my jam. There was abuse happening in movies and things that I'm like, this was traumatizing for me to just experience. I get film, okay, but it wasn't for me. My major was TV production and I just thought I'd minor in film. But then after I got a C in that class and just hated it, I changed my minor to religion.
Beth Demme (12:00):
Interesting. I never knew that.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (12:02):
I worked at a church, so job well done, used that minor. I also did audio and production at the church, so I also used my TV and production degree. I used both of my degrees working at a church. Check, check. I went back to my weekly Bible study and shared a surface level version of what happened, and I attended sorority events again. I felt shame for what I had done and put my family, friends, and roommates through. I never really talked about the nightmare Nicole's place was or showed anyone the writing I did there.
A few days after my release, the bill for my stay arrived in the mail. It led with, "Thank you for choosing Florida Hospital for your healthcare needs." Thank you, I thought. Really? Like I had a choice. The grand total came to $11,970.78 for the four days. Of course, this was the price they billed my insurance, but the bill made me furious to see how much money they charged and the lack of any helpful treatment showed me that it's a broken system. In the end, my parents' copay was about $600.
To this day, I'm upset they paid it. Along the same lines, UCF sent a note to my parents stating, "Stephanie was transported to the hospital after engaging in harmful behavior. Students need to assume responsibility for their actions. However, parents play a very important role in addressing consequences for their student's behavior." It was just an extra punch in the gut. After reading it, I thought, I guess UCF didn't get the memo that my parents were talking with me through the whole ordeal and that my mom spent time with me afterwards.
But if the kid already feels bad about herself, make sure the parents do too. I also received a letter from UCF eight days after I got back. The letter stated that my university records would be put on hold if I did not go and speak with the director of student conduct. Even without the threat, I would've complied. I did go. I did everything I was asked and told to do. I went to UCF mandatory counseling, but all the help I got was checking boxes off a list for the school. The final embarrassment and shame for me was having to go to required roommate mediation.
I don't remember much about it, but I remember AJ's face. She hated every minute of it and hated me. I think this goes without saying, but this did not help my relationship with AJ or Didi. The checklist UCF had me go through did nothing to help me work on my feelings, fear, and shock from those 74 hours. The more people treated me like a mental patient, the more I started to feel like one. And I hated myself for what I did to myself as I was always reminded. I needed real help, but I was too scared to ask for it. I was so afraid I would be sent back to Nicole's place.
Beth Demme (14:56):
Okay, I want to pause there. Remind us who AJ and Didi are.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (15:01):
AJ was the roommate that ate my food.
Beth Demme (15:04):
Oh, sorry. That's what caused all this.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (15:06):
That caused all this. Yeah.
Beth Demme (15:08):
That's sarcastic on my part. I know that's not what.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (15:09):
Yeah, and then Didi was the other roommate that was... She was just annoyed that she had to be involved with it. She wasn't super involved with the initial thing. And then Megan was my roommate that I did get along with and came to visit me in the mental hospital. Megan was fine with it. She understood this is what we have to do. She wasn't mad at me, but the other two were not obviously very happy.
Beth Demme (15:32):
It's interesting how the school created a checklist... So much about this is interesting. It's interesting to me that the school created a checklist that didn't actually help you, but was maybe just some sort of...
Stephanie Kostopoulos (15:45):
A legal sort. I think a legal thing.
Beth Demme (15:46):
Some sort of CYA on their part. It's interesting to understand the bill, the $12,000, $11,970.78, which I'm going to round to 12,000, and how that money got paid into the system, even though zero results. In fact, adverse results were created by what they billed you for. I mean, I bet that happens all the time in different ways in the medical system. We think about all these ways to reform the system and reform insurance. Maybe that's the root issue. Rather than who's paying for it, maybe the root issue is what we're paying for.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (16:33):
It's very complicated because I didn't choose to go there, yet they said I did because the police officer asked me, "Can I take you somewhere to help," and I said yes. All in that little tiny interaction from a couple chapters ago, that little interaction cost me $11,000. Because if I hadn't, they could have only sent me there legally if I had said no, which I had no understanding of what I was saying yes to also, by the way, which is a whole nother thing.
But if I had said no, their only legal action would've been to Baker Act me if they truly thought I was a harm to myself or others. If they thought I was going to continue to engage in self-injury, and I don't know how they would have been able to qualify it, I don't know what the process is, but still, they would've only been able to keep me 24 hours, which would've been way less of a bill. There was $11,000 bill that I never agreed to, that I never consented to. When you really think about that, how is that even possible?
Really, truly, the officer should have said, "I want to take you to a place called Central Receiving Center where we take all mental health patients in town and they will assess you and they will do this. It will be a price tag of probably $12,000 to your insurance company." If all of that had been laid out to me, I'd been like no. What?
Beth Demme (17:59):
Right. I don't need that.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (18:00):
No, not at all. And then he would say, "Well, I can legally Baker Act you. I'm going to get a lawyer. I'm going to get a judge involved." Okay, go for it. Do it. And also, I wonder if I was legally Baker Acted, would I pay insurance? If it's a legal thing, would the state have to pay for it or something? I don't know.
Beth Demme (18:23):
Yeah, I think your insurance would still have to pay.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (18:24):
I don't know. That's an interesting place too. Because I chose to go, I had to pay for it. When you're in jail, you don't pay for being in jail.
Beth Demme (18:39):
Right. If you need medical care while you're incarcerated, I would assume your health insurance probably gets canceled when you get incarcerated.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (18:46):
Yeah, I don't know. I don't know. It's just very interesting outcomes that could be based on me simply saying yes to something that I had no idea I was saying yes to, which doesn't even seem like it could legally be binding, but it was.
Beth Demme (19:00):
Right. And also, this happens all the time in the medical system because when's the last time that my doctor said, "You need to do this," and I said, "Uh, how much is that going to cost?'
Stephanie Kostopoulos (19:13):
Beth Demme (19:14):
I don't ask that question because when my doctor says I need it, I go, "Okay."
Stephanie Kostopoulos (19:20):
I mean, obviously he wouldn't have sat there and known the price and all of that. But to me, for me to consent to something, I really think I should have had to sign a form. I should have been told where I was being sent. But the fact that that was legally binding, him say, "Can I take you to a place that can help," and I said yes without having any clue where it was, you have to say Miranda Rights when you are arresting someone. When you pick up someone with a mental health issue, you don't have to tell them at all where they're going, you just have to have them say yes?
Beth Demme (19:50):
Right. And once you said yes, that was more binding than your request to leave.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (19:55):
Yeah. Once I was in, I couldn't leave.
Beth Demme (19:58):
You were giving up your right then to change your mind or to get more information and change your mind. I mean, that's really odd.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (20:07):
I mean, it's really strange the more I think about it. I mean, it's always been infuriating, but the more it's like, how can they just do that? I understand if they Baker Acted me and they got a judge to sign off on this, whatever, but that they didn't have to have anything more than me just say yes to some bogus question.
Beth Demme (20:29):
I don't think a judge has to sign off on a Baker Act provision.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (20:32):
There is a judge involved. I looked it up. It's been a while now, but I did look it up and it was involved to be Baker Acted. I was like, they would not have gotten this covered. When I read it, I was like, there was no grounds for this.
Beth Demme (20:43):
There's definitely something the police can do for a 24-hour mental health hold.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (20:48):
It's the Baker Act.
Beth Demme (20:51):
For that, I don't think they have to get a judge involved. Because it's come up recently in my pastoral ministry, I have become aware that sometimes people will use the Baker Act against each other. I have people who've been Baker Act-ing each other, and that's very sad.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (21:10):
But you're saying an individual Baker Acted somebody and didn't have a judge involved? They just said, "I want to Baker Act them."
Beth Demme (21:16):
They called the police and said, "This is the behavior that I see. I'm worried that they're a danger to themselves or others." The police came and said, "We did an assessment. We agree," and the person was taken away for 24 hours. Not to jail, but to behavioral health.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (21:31):
Yes. Maybe the police officers can just Baker Act someone. I don't know. Or maybe it's such a simple process. There is a judge involved, but it's a very automated process in some capacity. I'd have to look it up again. But anyways, if I had legally been sent, it would've only been 24 hours. It would not have been $12,000.
Beth Demme (21:56):
Right. And the fact that you were able to say yes, but then you couldn't say no is really upsetting.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (22:01):
Is a problem. One day I took a walk in the woods right outside my dorm room. It had beautiful paths of undeveloped land with amazing trees and natural life. Instantly I fell in love and didn't feel so afraid and alone anymore. I felt close to God, surrounded by his creations. With his help, I processed some of my feelings through frequent trips to the woods. Police Officer Mowen Facebook friended me when I left Nicole's place. He wanted a checkup on me and see how I was. I was friendly, but in the back of my mind, I always wondered, did you really think I was a danger to myself or others?
Did you think I was suicidal? Did you know anything about CRC? And did you honestly think I would get the right treatment? After seven years of being too afraid to ask the questions, I finally did. I know I'm getting a little ahead of the story, but this is what he said. To answer your questions, honestly, at the time, I did what I was required to do in the situation that was presented. I had a very basic explanation of what CRC was from a class I had attended. As far as treatment, I cannot speak to that as I never got that far in the process.
I was directed that if a person did or said certain things, this was the process we followed. I know this is not a good answer and doesn't even begin to explain the why of what occurred. I can imagine it was an ordeal for you and caused a major disruption in your life, and I'm sorry if it was the wrong decision in your case. But my hands were tied regarding how to handle the situation. I have remained in contact with you mainly because I wanted to be there for you as a resource if you needed anything. This was helpful closure for me.
Beth Demme (23:45):
I can understand why that was helpful closure for you. I can understand why having him acknowledge that he was following a procedure and that in hindsight he can see that he didn't fully understand what was going to happen. I can also understand where because he didn't fully understand what was going to happen, he couldn't fully explain to you what was going to happen because he didn't know.
It sounds like he was a genuinely caring person and that's why he followed up with you. And that he probably used your experience in subsequent interactions. When you know better, do better.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (24:22):
Yeah, I hope so. I will say it was a little weird to me that he Facebook friended me. He was probably in his 20s, and I was 20, 21. 20, I think, at the time. I did have an element of feeling like he was interested in more than just my well-being.
Beth Demme (24:43):
Oh, well, then okay, that's weird.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (24:44):
There was a feeling of that. He never did anything uncomfortable or anything, but there was a feeling of we are generally close in age.
Beth Demme (24:52):
You're not friends, so why be friends?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (24:55):
We're not friends. I do think there's an element to probably men specifically thinking if they help a woman in some way and show that they're caring, that that might mean something to that woman in a deeper way. I did kind of get a little bit of a vibe, but it was such a traumatic event that I didn't even super process any of that. He never did anything inappropriate, but just in the sense of that action alone felt inappropriate.
Beth Demme (25:30):
I will say even, I mean, back then Facebook was different. Even today, I will meet someone at an event or something and I'll get a Facebook friend request from them. Now I'm at a point where I go, no, we're not actually friends. I don't need to do that. But it may have been also just an aspect of social media at that time.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (25:49):
It wasn't. It was when Facebook was your friends. This was early Facebook. This was a year after Facebook came out. It was 2006 and Facebook came out in '05, like '04 or '05. This was fresh Facebook. This is when you had to have a college email address to join. Old people weren't on. It was just for young kids and friends. It was high school friends to keep up with their friends. That's what I mean is it felt a little like we're not friends, but you entered my life in this traumatic way and you seem to want...
He actually did help me. Probably he's in here, but he did help me with the roommate. I think he did talk to her or something. But he did things that, I don't know, someone that's more interested than just being helpful kind of thing. I do remember always having that in the back of my head, like, oh, there's more there. I never pursued anything or wanted to pursue anything. Of course, that was really weird. But I am glad that I did have that closure with him. Hopefully he learned from that experience.
When I began attending UCF, I decided to go through sorority rush week. I never, and I mean never wanted to be a sorority girl growing up. My mom was one when she was in college and loved it. She said it was like Girl Scouts, but better. She didn't ask or encourage me to join, but I knew it would make her happy if I was a member of her sorority. So, I went through the process and got accepted. All that happened before the 74 hours. I didn't tell anyone in the sorority about Nicole's place.
One month after my release from that facility, it was time to be initiated into the sorority. My mom came down for the November ceremony. I didn't know what to expect. Mom said it was no big deal and that I would be fine. Well, it would prove to be the stereotype of a sorority initiation. In the two-story sorority house, they blindfolded us and made us find our way to the rooms on the second floor. Then they left us three to a room with the lights out. There I was sitting on the floor facing a shut window with a desk in front of it.
They left us for hours, nothing to do, and strange noises were coming from the hallway. We were told to sit on the floor, stay, and shut up. As I sat for hours, I noticed a shirt on the desk in front of me. It was white with little black skulls printed in a pattern. Two other people sat behind me in the room, but I couldn't see them so I felt all alone. As I stared at the little black skulls, my mind and body reacted in pain and fear, but not because of the stupid sorority game. It was because I felt like I was back in the place where I was held captive for four days.
The tiny room I now sat in became the hospital, locked up against my will, not allowed to leave. The strange noises in the hallway became the hospital alarms and patients crying out in pain. My sorority sisters became the nurses. "Shut up and do what I say," they told me. I was drowning in the flashback of Nicole's place, not knowing what was happening, being told what to do, where to go, and with no power over my own life. I tried to stay calm and remind myself where I was, but it was no use.
As long as I stayed in that space, the flashback would swallow me whole. I couldn't take it anymore. I stood up with tears in my eyes. Girls told me to sit back down. I didn't listen. I left the room. This was not a game anymore, and those blonde Barbies were not going to control me. I told those outside the room to get my mom. They said she had already gone through the ritual and was in the ceremony room. I don't give a beep about this ritual game. I screamed, "Get her out." The shocked sorority girls complied, and my mom came out.
Through tears, I told her what happened, what they did, and the flashback I'd had. In time she calmed me. She realized that this was not the sorority she remembered. The years had turned it into something else, something less pure and not true to the founder's vision. "Steph, you don't have to go through initiation. I'm really fine if you don't," mom told me kindly. "I've come this far. I want to go through," I said. Ultimately, I did go through the ceremony. I knew everyone would've heard what I did by that time, but I was too wiped out from the experience to be embarrassed.
In the end, I finally got to learn the secret sorority handshake and password. Though I'd never had an interest in joining a sorority, for years I had wanted to see into the mysterious world. I'd wanted to know the secrets. If only I had done a quick Google search all those years ago, I would've found the full initiation instructions with secrets online. When I was younger, my parents would make me and my brother stay at least a year at something we had committed to. One year I wanted to quit Girl Scouts.
I don't remember why, but mom made me stay until the end of the year. Well, that year came to a close and I decided to continue with Scouts, and I'm so glad I did. This experience taught me that it was important to give the sorority at least a year. I continued to go to meetings and participate, but in my mind, I was done. I even produced the recruitment video for the next rush week. But by the end of the school year, I knew I couldn't do it anymore. I never set foot in the sorority house again.
Beth Demme (31:07):
That sounds really traumatizing.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (31:10):
Beth Demme (31:14):
It turned out that you didn't have to stay in that room because you got out, but then they still initiated you? I wasn't in a sorority, so I don't know how any of this works.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (31:24):
A big stereotype in sororities is they haze and hazing is where they force you to do something silly to kind of embarrass you. They justify it because they say, "Oh, everyone goes through it and it's fine."
Beth Demme (31:37):
It becomes like a bonding experience
Stephanie Kostopoulos (31:39):
Is what they say. But I don't know about you, but I don't feel good being made fun of or told to do things that I'm not comfortable with. I can bond over eating junk food and watching a movie. I'm fine with that too, but whatever. They justify that their hazing was not hazing because no one was dying. They do justify that they... But actually a lot of fraternities, there was a case of some people dying in some fraternities from the hazing that they do.
But anyways, it's hazing. Yes, you could leave because you are a person and this is a stupid sorority thing, and they really don't have any control of you. They're trying to intimidate you and scare you and make you think that this is something that matters.
Beth Demme (32:36):
But also I think they wanted you to think that you had to stay in order to be initiated and that wasn't true.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (32:42):
No, but they want you to go through this. They think this is a fun thing that we all do. That's what they've decided is fun. There's nothing fun or enjoyable about that aspect. They let me go through initiation, obviously.
Beth Demme (33:01):
I've never been in a sorority, but in my high school, we had a couple of co-ed. We had some groups that were women only and we did hazing. I'm familiar with the concept. I remember specifically being told, and then for the years after that telling other people that they had to drop to the floor in the school, like on the school floor, and they had to fry bacon. It's so funny to me, but it probably was really bad, but it's still funny. Yeah, sorry. That's my experience with hazing.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (33:38):
Well, and that's why hazing continues to go on, because when it happens to you, all I can do is assume. My assumption is it happens to you as a let's say freshmen and you don't really like it, but you're supposed to go through it. And then when you have the chance to do it to another freshman, you're like, "Of course, I had to go through it, so they have to go through it," and then it just continues the cycle of, well, I had to do it, so they have to do it, and this is just what we do, and then you just continue the cycle of haze.
Beth Demme (34:13):
But also maybe it's like after you've gone through it and then... Because you talked about how the years had turned it into something else, but also I think our memories will do that. Like, oh, it wasn't that bad.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (34:25):
Beth Demme (34:25):
It was fine.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (34:26):
Like childbirth, I assume, like the way women talk about it.
Beth Demme (34:28):
Right. I assume, because people say that.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (34:30):
It's like you give birth and you're like, this is the worst thing in the world, and then...
Beth Demme (34:35):
But then they go and do it again.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (34:35):
Yeah, and they're like, oh, I'm good. I have to assume it's the same thing, which is... That's an interesting concept to like... And that just continues. I personally never wanted to be involved with an organization that did hazing. The sorority, again, the only reason I did it was because my mom was in it and she said they didn't haze. And then when I explained to her what they did, she was appalled, obviously. She's still appalled by the organization and everything.
Beth Demme (35:05):
Girl Scouts was no hazing.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (35:06):
Not at all, and it's fun things. I don't know exactly the bacon thing. Maybe it was fun. You can do fun things, team building things, as long as everyone knows they have a choice and it's not like a force upon. If you're like, "Let's all do this together. If you don't want to though, you're welcome to sit," if that is presented, if it was presented to me like, "We're going to have a little fun silly thing upstairs where you're going to sit quietly.
But if you don't want to, you can opt out," if you have that opt-out option. But if you don't or if you feel like you don't, if that's not even presented to you, that's hazing and that's not okay to force someone to do something that they don't want to do.
Beth Demme (35:50):
I think there's also a time element to it, because I think that if this had been five, 10 minutes, that has a different psychological impact than hours. I think there's a time element to it too. Whatever point this happened, you were still very much in trauma recovery mode.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (36:12):
Well, and that was part of it too, is I had a flashback when I was sitting there. It became a whole bigger thing for me, which no one understood obviously because I started just crying and just couldn't handle it, which no one could understand. Obviously how could they understand? But it just was not okay what they put me through. I do want to say, like I said, I learned what the secret handshake and the word is. I wanted to just say it here and now what the secret word is. Okay? You're supposed to whisper it.
Beth Demme (36:42):
Well, but wait, because you said in the book...
Stephanie Kostopoulos (36:45):
You can Google it.
Beth Demme (36:46):
You can Google it and it's all online. Now I want to Google all of them.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (36:50):
It's really silly, but the secret word is Arista.
Beth Demme (36:58):
But you didn't tell us which sorority.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (37:00):
Zeta Tau Alpha.
Beth Demme (37:02):
I mean, I knew it was Zeta, but I didn't want to be the one to say it.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (37:07):
I can't tell you verbally what the shake is because it's more something you just have to do. You shake with your pinky or something. I don't know. It's silly.
Beth Demme (37:17):
Is it possible that it's changed?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (37:19):
No, I think that's the whole part of the ritual is it's supposed to always be the same, unless they completely... Sororities, well, especially something like Zeta or the older ones, my understanding is they haven't changed. And that's the problem is they haven't changed and they need to change. They need to probably just dissolve because they are very harmful in a lot of ways. Maybe your sorority is great if you're listening and you're in a sorority and you love it.
Beth Demme (37:47):
It's not for everybody.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (37:47):
Maybe it was great.
Beth Demme (37:48):
It's not for everybody.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (37:49):
There are different kinds. There are different kinds and there's different chapters. Each school has a different chapter and they may be different. I am not saying all sororities are bad, but from my experience, having been in the system and from what I saw, it was not a healthy, good place. It was not something that we need to be promoting, and also this class system too, because it costs $2,000 a semester to be in it. There's definitely a class system to it too, which is not okay.
Beth Demme (38:22):
That was a big part of the reason that I didn't do it in college, but also I went through undergrad really fast, so I didn't have time to learn about all of that. I know a lot of people who had great experiences being in sororities. I think it's one of those things, it's not for everybody. Definitely it wasn't for you.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (38:39):
Well, it depends on what you're looking for too. If you enjoy partying a lot and drinking a lot and maybe doing some recreational drugs, you will love being a sorority. It's for you. 100%.
Beth Demme (38:50):
I think you just described a lot of people who are in that 19 to 21, 22 age range.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (38:55):
Exactly. That's what I'm saying. If that's what you enjoy, then join a sorority. You'll love it. Pay them the money. It'll be great.
Beth Demme (39:01):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (39:02):
That wasn't me. That was never me. I've just never been into that. Still not. It's fine. You do you. But not my jam. I really wanted to do the... They do a lot of service projects, and that was really why I wanted to be in it. I wanted to do service projects like we did in Girl Scouts. But what I quickly learned is they did those things because they had to, but they would roll their eyes, they would do the bare minimum and were not into it at all. That was not their jam, and afterwards they'd just go party all night. That's really what they were there for, and that's not what I was there for.
Beth Demme (39:35):
That's chapter seven, and there are a total of 15 chapters, and then the conclusion. We're not quite halfway.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (39:43):
Beth Demme (39:43):
But we're making progress.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (39:45):
Making progress. We will be doing a book episode a month. When will we be done? What's the math on that, Beth? You went to law school.
Beth Demme (39:56):
We'll finish in May or June, depending on how we handle the conclusion.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (40:01):
Okay, so next year.
Beth Demme (40:02):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (40:03):
Beth Demme (40:04):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (40:05):
Well, we'll see if lawyer Beth is right on that. If she's not right on that, you can tell her she will be right on the retainer and the money that she got for sure, or she has people for that.
Beth Demme (40:15):
That's right. I have people for that.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (40:17):
You probably have people for that. She had to do her own math.
Beth Demme (40:19):
Since I only do pro bono work now, my bills are real straightforward and that I don't have any.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (40:25):
But I bet you do the math on it too. You still do the math. At the end of each episode, we end with questions for reflection. These are questions based on today's show that Beth will read and leave a little pause between for you to answer to yourself or you can find a PDF on our website.
Beth Demme (40:41):
Number one, what was your take on the situation when Steph had her stitches removed? Have you ever had a similar situation? Number two, when Steph returned from the mental hospital, UCF gave her a checklist of things she was required to do that weren't really for her benefit.
Have you ever felt like you were punished for doing the right thing? Number three, have you ever received an uncomfortable Facebook friend request? What did you do? And number four, do you have any experience with hazing? What are your thoughts on it?
Stephanie Kostopoulos: This has been the Discovering Our Scars Podcast. Thank you for joining us.