>>> TRIGGER WARNING <<<
My years of training with my tormentor have finally come back around to re-visit with a new wave of side effects. I’m slowly beginning to notice that my ability to function with limited impairment is being eroded into forgetfulness and diminished ability to concentrate, make decisions, and be present in my daily life. Was it really a badge of honor as so many implied or a sad commentary on a life that I was somehow able to function almost at a normal level day in and day out after years of severe lack of sleep? I always told myself, even as the injuries in my legs act up as the cold sets in, causing inability to walk in the winter, even as the migraines descend upon me in fierce torment stopping my life in its tracks while it pounded away in the two spots where my ex used to beat my head the most, even as the depression ebbed in and out in monstrous waves I couldn’t manage to keep my head above, even with the panic attacks that can render me useless and incoherent, that it could be worse.
While I always recognized the fortune I had that I never ended up paralyzed (or in a wheelchair like he threatened so many times) or comatose or dead, I failed to even allow myself for one second to consider the thought that this woman, this person who can replay conversations and events from childhood with the most miniscule detail in tact, this person who can see something in another language and immediately retain it, would come to a point that her mind would begin to fail her. Yet, just 2 years, 10 months, 1 day, and 5 hours after escaping the pressure cooker and the ravaging lion in the pit, it has become apparent that this is exactly where I am. My short-term memory is disappearing into the void, and it has become a new trigger. What am I if this fails me? A shell, a shadow, anyone and anything but myself.
Fall 2008 was the beginning of so many horrible things in the abuse I endured. The mountain that was my ex came crashing down on my head with furious noise, leaving an incredible damage path in his wake that just seemed to do nothing but continue to spread like cancer. It was the September that he began physically abusing me. This was the October that the financial abuse became oppressively severe. This was the November that he began sexually abusing me. And this was the time he began a carefully planned and skillfully executed agenda to rob me of my faculties by denying me sleep.
Every year that follows is a painful reminder of the danger I was in, and as each leaf falls and spreads across the dying ground in a carpet of red and gold, it stings with memories I often find myself begging to forget. Could I have brought that on myself? I wanted to forget, but it was not the present that I wanted to dissipate into the darkness as though it never existed. It was the past and all the horrific phantoms in my head that just won’t let me rest. Some things no matter what you do to escape them never truly go away, and in the early morning hours while everyone else is sleeping and resting peacefully, I toss and turn in frustration and annoyance until I fall asleep only to replay the horror in my sleep. Sometimes, I have to admit, to avoid them I do all I can to keep myself awake. Sometimes I can’t take one more night of waking up with blinding pain in the back of my head because I dreamed about being ambushed in my sleep by him. The monster. The demon that so many around me don’t want to talk about. Almost like he was the ogre in a fairy tale and some gallant man on a stallion came riding to my rescue and banished him from existence. Fairy tales are lies. He still lurks in the shadows waiting for me to fall.
Sleep deprivation was introduced into my ex’s arsenal of physical torture after – it’s still so hard for me to say this, because so many judge and assume that I knew, but we can only know what we are told and shown, and he chose to hide it from me until I was trapped. The one right before me was lucky, because she knew and still in the beginning attempted to pursue some kind of relationship with him – or at least inculcated in her heart the intent on building one. However, at the last minute, as the story goes, he had sent her a song and she had a pang of conscience and told him she couldn’t do it, and she vanished. He was married. Ever the skilled manipulator, like so many other things he adapted for his next victim, he lied to me and said he was single. However, the burdensome truth is as I later found out after he had moved in and had been physically abusing me, he was still married, and he probably still is. He was honest that he had been a bad father to his girls but was trying to correct it. For months after he moved in, he was consistent in his communication with his daughters and did things to show he was sincere in working on repairing the bonds he had shattered with his selfishness. Once he started physically abusing me, he stopped. It wasn’t that he slowly receded from their lives like the tide. He went AWOL overnight. That attempt at reconciling his damaged bonds with his daughters, too, was a lie he crafted and acted out for me, because he had no shortage of knowledge on how I feel about people who deliberately harm and abandon their children.
So as hard as it is for me say (even years later, I still feel ashamed that I did not know), I found out he was married after he began abusing me physically. His response was anger and indignant at my refusal to give to him what he claimed the relationship guaranteed as his due. When I reminded him that I wasn’t his wife, he became enraged and combative and began trying what he could to wear down my resolve when I said I couldn’t handle him trying to initiate intimacy with me. Really, my discomfort with that had already began with the physical abuse, because I could not understand how someone could pummel me in the head and face and legs and then turn around feigning romance and need of intimacy as though the battles I endured had been forgotten. My fear of him had already weakened the bond I had with him, and when it was finally revealed to me (in a sickening, nonchalant way) that he was married, I was enveloped by betrayal.
His father passed away, and I found out on the way down, as one of his friends drove, that not only was he married, she was coming to the memorial services and bringing their two teen-aged daughters. I would have preferred to be left at a bus station and return home, but there was no money, and there was no one willing to give me any. When we arrived at the hotel, I stood in a daze as they went to the front desk to check in. I felt ill, short of breath, almost separated from my body as I stood there trying my hardest to reconcile the abyss I found myself in. It wasn’t until we got upstairs that I learned his friend was staying in the same room. I felt violated and was reprimanded for speaking up against it. The next morning as his friend was in the shower – the wall of which was just a mere 24 inches from the bedside – my ex forced himself on me. Thus began the sexual abuse I endured for the next four years. At the memorial services, I sat further back with his friend. And at the reception, he walked me over to the table where his wife and daughters were sitting and left there with them for the rest of the night.
I wanted to stand up and scream. What was the matter with these people? Many of his family knew the situation, and some of the male relatives congratulated him quietly by throwing knowing glances at him and the four of us sitting there awkwardly at the table. He took delight as he could see her trying to work out who I was and pride in himself for so proficiently causing my distress. He devoured with ravenous appetite the shame and humiliation and sorrow that washed over me and permanently took hold. It was in this way, he announced silently to his family that I was his next victim.
When we returned back home, the battle of wills began. The arguments over my refusal and lack of interest in him escalated. The verbal assaults turned to blades being run through my heart as he attempted to use threats and emotional abuse to wear away my will. The longer my defiance continued, the more he heaped on me, the more angered he became as I continued to voice my conscience. He had been unfaithful to her for so long, he felt not one shred of guilt and was so outraged at what he considered to be my depriving him of his right to intimacy that he began keeping me awake at night arguing all night and then forcing me to stay awake the next day.
I’m not the most coherent person on earth when I get woken up suddenly. Unfortunately, he picks up on any pattern even if it’s imperceptible to others, perhaps because he is always on the ready to discover things to use against people for his advantage or purposes. He discovered quite accidentally that if I had been asleep for about a half hour to forty-five minutes and got woken up with some sort of jolt that I was unable to shake the fog away and would remain in a state of being half-asleep, sometimes for hours on end. The first time he noticed it was when he had a nightmare that he cut me up, and I awoke to the blinding ceiling light with him straddled over me as he furiously jerked around my arms, legs, and neck checking for blood. I was half asleep and could not understand what was happening. After he saw me in this state a few times, he had already figured out how to use it against me.
He would wait for me to fall asleep and leave me un-bothered for about a half hour. Then he would ambush me by coming up behind me as I slept and punching me like a jack hammer in the back of my head. Without waiting for me to wake up, he would unleash his shock and awe campaign on me, screaming and yelling in between his bouts of physical pummeling. Everything made him angry: my inability to wake up, when I answered him, when I didn’t speak, showing exhaustion, reacting to the physical blows he dealt, and withholding reaction to the pain. If I stayed in bed, he would get angry and push me out, and if I got up to get away from him, he would throw me back onto the bed. All the while, he would interrogate me about the last time I did this or that, who was I seeing, etc. This lasted all night long until I had to get ready for work the next morning. I would be up the entire day and then allowed to sleep that night for a half hour, only for the scene to replay over and over again every night for as long as it took me to relent. Generally, after about 10 – 12 days – although I had been pushed to 14 day on more than one occasion – I would give in because I was in so much pain and so exhausted my body would betray me and doze off to sleep standing up. I was routinely just short of being entirely unable to function or think, and I wanted it to stop. And after he got his way, he would mete out another physical punishment for my defiance.
There’s no way to explain the amount of shame I carried on my shoulders each time I relented from the pain and exhaustion. I cannot tell you how humiliated I felt and how disappointed I was in myself for giving in. He took no lasting joy in forcing me (or others) to do anything on the spot. My ex was only entirely satisfied when the compliance was handed over to him in hesitant resignation by my decision to do so. To be able to bend and warp and wear others to the point they could resist his will no longer gave him the payoff he craved: absolute power and the ego-boost of having been able to push someone to give in. It then was no longer his doing; his scapegoat was that it was my decision. He said to me many times that I didn’t “have” to do it, I “chose” to.
For the longest time, I believed that no matter much pain I was in or how exhausted and incoherent I was, I really did have a choice and I caved in out of weakness. Perhaps some of you are even thinking now that if his being married mattered so much, I would have endured the pain and assault on my senses without giving in. I carried incredible amounts of shame for what I thought at the time was allowing myself to be worn down and weakened by him to the point of compromise, and that twinge of shame still tries to come creeping back in every now and then. But here is the truth, the truth that I would share with anyone who was in this very same situation: I was not the one in the wrong. I was trapped in a situation where my only REAL choices were to die trying to wait out his campaigns of shock and awe or eventually give in as an act of self-preservation so I had the hope of surviving. I had no good choices even in the fall of 2008, and as the abuse escalated over the next four years, I learned many things about him that would serve as proof as to how much I was in danger of losing my life. And at the time, I made the only choice I could that allowed me to live: I gave in so it would stop long enough for my body to heal and my brain functions to repair themselves to a minimally acceptable level. I challenge any of you who are reading this to judge me for this. Until you have been buried up to your neck in the desperation that I have been, you have no way to know how ashamed I was each time I gave in to his entitlement and allowed him to have his way with me to satisfy both a physical need and his addiction to causing torment. You have no way to comprehend the tears I shed at my betrayal of her, the selfishness I felt I had obliged just to save the poor, pathetic creature that often found herself contorted, reddened, bruised, and bleeding in the fetal position against the bedroom wall. You have no way to know the hate and loathing I felt for myself knowing the reality I was imprisoned in was impossible to escape myself. I was presented with an impossible choice: betray her or die. And for each of times I made that choice, I carry an emotional scar that randomly busts open and bleeds out from my eyes against my will. And with it comes that unwelcome feel of shame and humiliation.
This was not the only situation he used sleep deprivation against me. He did this for everything he wanted to make me give into him without having to outright admit to be forcing my compliance. He did it in an attempt to get me fired from a job. He did it to keep me from going to religious meetings. He did it to keep me from getting any ideas about going out and doing anything or inviting anyone in. He did it to damage my memory so he could gas light me. And many times, he did it just to punish me for a manufactured transgression he designed in order to justify his cruelty.
Sleep deprivation is a very common form of abuse used against a victim by their abuser. It counts as both physical and psychological, because it is used to deliberately manipulate and plunge into chaos your body’s physical rhythms in order to impair your thinking and ability to function in addition to causing confusion and emotional distress. Over time, when used as a regular method of abuse, the compounding effects are debilitating and cause huge disruptions in your life:
- Your short-term memory suffers.
- Your ability to be physically alert is eroded, and can put your life at risk when driving, etc.
- It negatively impacts your job performance by ruining your ability to concentrate.
- You develop “conditioned insomnia” or what is officially referred to as “psychophysiological insomnia.”
- Prolonged lack of sleep puts you are greater risk for heart disease.
- Prolonged lack of sleep causes your metabolism to plunge, which contributes to lethargy, weight gain, and onset of diabetes in adulthood.
- The lack of sleep can cause undesirable changes in mood and behavior patterns or intermittent irritability.
- You can develop depressive disorders.
- You can hallucinate (visual and auditory).
It’s strange to me how little sleep deprivation in domestic violence situations is acknowledged as abuse when it has been systematically employed as a method of torture for its effectiveness in wearing down the individual thereby getting them to admit to things or divulge information they would never have provided in their normal state of mind. Many people I’m sure have experienced this in their own abusive relationships and dismissed the lack of sleep as a side effect of the verbal abuse and incessant arguing or physical attacks that always “seem” to happen at night. However, in these instances, sleep deprivation is actually the main method of attack being used, and the physical and verbal abuse present are the vehicles to which this is accomplished.
If you have experienced this and now suffer from insomnia as a result, get in to see your doctor and tell them about how sleep deprivation was used against you. How it affected you then and how it continues to impact you now. Medical intervention can reverse many effects and lessen others enough to help you get ancillary medical conditions caused by this disruption to your body’s normal function. Raise awareness to this form of abuse by sharing it with others, whether it’s family and friends, other victims or survivors of abuse, domestic violence organizations and advocates, and the medical and legal communities. The more we share with each other and get it out into the open, the more information becomes readily available to others who are suffering silently, unaware that there is a name for what happened to them and that there is help.