I was the victim of domestic abuse, and I wasn’t even aware of it at the time.

This is my side of a story. My side of a story of domestic psychological abuse through sleep deprivation, gaslighting, and other methods.

I’m writing this because I will defend any victim’s right to speak out to the fullest, but I was afraid to speak up myself lest I hurt my abuser and cause him any emotional turmoil or have him end up facing any backlash.
As soon as I realised that, I knew I should and want to lead by example.
I’m writing this because everyone should be aware that abuse doesn’t necessarily leave visible marks.
I’m writing this because I want people to know that if abuse happens to people like me, highly intelligent and what society considers pretty, it can happen to everyone.
I’m writing this because this weekend my abuser crossed a line, he insulted me directly about something very near and dear to my heart.
I’m writing this because I want you to know that what you can do for an abuse victim is listen. Just listen and be there. Don’t judge and don’t tell the victim to leave the abuser, simply listen. Let him or her know and feel you care for them and that he or she is cherished by you.
I was quite lucky to have a few very good friends who stuck with me through the worst of that relationship, and who were there to pick up the broken pieces that were left of me when I finally walked away.
Without these very special people I don’t know how I could have possibly coped.

From the moment our relationship started to falter up until now I have kept our private life completely out of the public eye. Yet here I am now, writing this, mostly because my abuser accused me of lying and of putting myself in a victim role.
(The latter is quite funny after he admitted to seeing me as weak and therefore tried everything in his power to protect me from anything physical or emotional in spite of my repeated requests not to spare me. He mentally put me in that position in his mind in the first place, well before our problems really started and he actually victimised me by abusing me)


This weekend…
he told me he didn’t believe something I stated, and I was just trying to gain (his?) sympathy, which — to me — is a huge insult.
he told me that now, just like always, I jumped right into a victim role.
That last bit made me realise something. 
I am done being a victim.
He may have turned me into one, but I am not a victim anymore.
Part of the reason I’m not is because I now understand the processes that were involved in getting me to accept his behaviour.


The story

My partner

Our relationship started under the premise that it would eventually be an open relationship. Before I would even consider dating him he promised that once there was some trust he would be totally fine with an open relationship. I brought the subject up after half a year and he stopped trusting me, convinced that I had people lined up to have sex with.

When it would come to seeing my friends or going out in my circles he would resist. Eventually he convinced me that I was at fault for making him feel insecure. He claimed I made him feel as if he wasn’t able to live up to them physically, intellectually, and sexually, and that I would want to cheat on him with them.

Fast forward a year…
A year in which I was very ill a few times and my partner started sparing me in every way, including to my great sadness in the bedroom…
A year in which I lost contact with most of my friends because he would always find ways to let me know my interaction with them made him uncomfortable. I ended up choosing his comfort over their self expression.
A year in which my partner booked a holiday before I could fully consent. I wasn’t sure I could fly because of health issues and I wasn’t sure if I could afford it.
He arranged everything anyway and paid for me and told me I could pay him back whenever I saw fit, but suddenly I was in debt to him.
During our relationship I have offered to start repaying for that trip on several occasions, but that was always met with a “don’t worry, no hurries” response.

And then it fell apart.
A few months after that holiday I had coffee with a good friend, and we awkwardly and accidentally ended up a little too close for my comfort.
A small part of me swooned. It was more of a physical response than anything else. Someone was getting close to me in the way I liked to be approached even if it was the wrong person and even if it was by accident. I couldn’t even remember the last time my partner approached me like that.
I told my friend to step back. I told him I didn’t want to feel the way his presence made me feel from him, but from my partner. And I told him that we needed to stop meeting each other face to face until I got my feelings sorted out.

The next evening I apparently repeated that exact conversation in my sleep while I was lying in bed next to my partner, who became even more convinced that I cheated on him.
As I laid there having a conversation with someone else he couldn’t figure out who I was talking to and asked me several questions to which apparently I replied in a sane fashion before he claims to have finally figured out that I was in fact asleep.

This is the point in time where he completely stopped being my partner and started being only my abuser.


The story

My abuser

I have always had periods where I had trouble sleeping, but after allegedly sleep-talking I became very afraid to be asleep, afraid I might say something that could be misconstrued. I was terrified to sleep while he was awake because he might try to interrogate me when I was sleeping.
My abuser convinced me that I was at fault by giving him the impression that I was cheating. I became convinced that accepting his behaviour (denying me almost all sleep for a month and interrogating me about said supposed cheating) was the only way for me to regain his trust.

Sleep deprivation can be used as a means of interrogation, which has resulted in court trials over whether or not the technique is a form of torture.
Under one interrogation technique, a subject might be kept awake for several days and when finally allowed to fall asleep, suddenly awakened and questioned.

- source Wikipedia

I now understand that what was actually going on was him manipulating me. Or as he later referred to it himself:

“I factually hacked your brain”

During that month he continuously lied to me, telling me I had said more while talking in my sleep and that all I needed to do was to confess to what I had said then and all would be OK between us.

gaslight |ˈgaslʌɪt|
verb (gaslights, gaslighting, gaslighted) [ with obj. ]
manipulate (someone) by psychological means into doubting their own sanity: in the first episode, Karen Valentine is being gaslighted by her husband.[from the storyline of the film Gaslight (1944), in which a man psychologically manipulates his wife into believing that she is going insane.]

- source Oxford British & World English Dictionary

I didn’t know what I could have said and ended up confessing to my most private thoughts. Thoughts I would never have acted on, but thoughts nonetheless.
The little things you wonder about but would never ever do. For me amongst other things that was wondering what it would be like to kiss specific people, people I didn’t even know, people I saw while going out etc.
Needless to say this only fed his conviction that I had cheated on him and wanted to cheat on him some more.

From there things got even worse.
He broke into my phone on at least two occasions while I was out of the room to read entire (and very private) conversations. Those conversations were with the few very close friends I had left, many had nothing to do with my abuser and no conversations on that phone with anyone but him were meant for his eyes.

Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights … protects the right to respect for private life: “Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.”

- source Wikipedia

When I found out about his reading of my private correspondence I got paranoid.
I was afraid that he would unlock my phone or iPad while I was asleep. I was afraid to change my access codes because he might see that as evidence that I was hiding things. I became even more afraid to fall asleep at this point, and I would wake up from every little sound.
I tried to explain to him how violated I felt, and how this broke the trust other people had in my safekeeping of their privacy, giving the example that I went through the trouble of encrypting my phone and memory card just in case the device was ever lost.
The fact that I had encrypted my data only strengthened his convictions that I was hiding things from him.

Every night without fail when my head would hit the pillow to try to sleep he would (I now suspect pretend to) get emotional, needing comfort, feeling insecure, making me have the same conversations again and again to sooth his anxiety. Again and again: “No, I didn’t cheat, yes, I’m choosing to be with you, no, it’s not because no one else will have me, yes, I love you.”
Without fail these conversations would be carried on until well past sunrise. Him bending my words and flat out lying about what had happened… I still don’t know what would have satisfied him, but I tried everything.
Without fail these conversations would eventually turn into fights because I couldn’t give him what he wanted or needed to hear and I would get frustrated and confused.
I felt trapped by his expectations and didn’t know what to say or do to make it better. I was willing to do or say almost anything to make him trust me.
Without fail he would make me feel guilty for the whole ordeal, for making him feel insecure, for giving him the impression that I cheated, for instigating the eventual fights. 
And without fail I would end up apologising to him for doing all of that to him.

I felt so inadequate, as if I was letting him down, as if I was being a bad girlfriend, partner and even person for giving him reason to doubt me.

Between the all nighters when I tried to calm him down through the night, the paranoia about my phone and iPad, and the fear of talking in my sleep I didn’t sleep anymore. I simply couldn’t, but meanwhile, during the day I was jumping through hoops to prove to him that I wanted to make it work.
I made things for him and his family, spending literally well over a 100 hours in a couple of weeks trying to prove my dedication to him.

None of it worked.

Our last fight lasted from bedtime until 8 o’clock the next morning.
At that point I was willing to offer to completely stop having any and all contact with the friend I had had that coffee-and-awkward-moment with.
Before I was able to make that offer my abuser demanded I cut off all contact with that friend.
I suddenly realised how slippery of a slope that was.
It was this friend at that moment, but the next week it could be my co-worker that I liked talking to, or the next month someone I met with the same interests as I have.
Even though I was willing to offer the exact same thing, it was not his right to expect, let alone demand it.
The fact that he did was what caused me to pack my stuff and leave.

Saturday morning, 8AM, without any sleep, but with a car full of my stuff I drove back to the city in which I was born.
I was heartbroken, and at the same time I felt like he was better off without me because I was causing him to doubt my loyalty.
I felt as if I could never be good enough for him, or make him feel secure, and that would mean that I would perpetually fail him.


The Story

The aftermath

The aftermath is lengthy and complicated.

My abuser had had the keys to my house and could have easily made a copy.
I was still too scared to sleep, even in my own bed.
I didn’t want to change the locks, because that would mean letting him influence my life by changing something for him, but with the original locks I was afraid he would just barge in.

I had lost touch with almost all of my friends because of what I now realise was my abuser manipulating me into a bubble of social isolation.
I had virtually no one to call on for simple socialising, just the few good friends who knew all the ins and outs.
I had virtually no one to hang out with without my relationship taking center stage.

A month or so after I left my abuser I was sat at work, a co-worker needed some explanation and sat down at my desk. He moved my phone a bit to the side so he had room to put his arms down next to my keyboard.
I had a panic attack when he touched (not even picking it up) my phone for less than a second.
After that experience I wouldn’t let my phone out of sight or even away from my physical control, either holding it or carrying it on my body.

Between the insomnia, the psychological stress, the panic attacks at work, some residual physical health issues and a severe depression I couldn’t keep my job.
I contacted my ex, stating that I lost my job and that I couldn’t pay him back any time soon. He was fine with that.

By the time the anxiety and the depression subsided I finally went to visit a few trusted friends again, but I would often leave my phone at home (in spite of my phones having been an extension of me for years). I preferred the inconvenience of not carrying my phone to the thought that someone might gain access to it.
One close friend comes to mind, one I trusted with my life before this whole ordeal. I would have had no issues leaving my devices unlocked in his presence, I would have trusted him with every bit of information in the world. He never would even have thought about looking at my phone.
Months after leaving my abuser I visited this friend, and I was afraid to leave my phone in his presence while going to the bathroom. That is the moment I realised how much damage my abuser had done.
He had killed my trust in everyone, including the person whose integrity I hold above everyone else’s.


The story

Recovery

There have been a few very good friends that stood by me during my entire relationship and the aftermath. They never judged or told me to leave explicitly, but they were there, they listened, they were a sounding board for me, they reflected my misconceptions back at me so I could see them for what they were.
They hugged me and held me when I cried, they shared meals with me, they laughed with me, and they stuck with me without exerting any pressure.

Thanks to those friends I have realised a lot about that relationship in the past year.
I gained insight which helped me recognise what transpired between my abuser and me and put it in perspective.

I realise now that I gradually came to accept his manipulation of my world view and my self worth to the point where I saw his insecurities as my fault and my responsibility.
I was the victim of domestic abuse, and I wasn’t even aware of it at the time because it happened so gradually. He manipulated me until I felt like I was the one at fault.

My abuser was still texting me that he missed me and similar sweet things a few weeks before starting a relationship with someone else.
I realise now that his sweet talking me after I left him was even more manipulation from his side.
He contacted me to say he was moving in with her a few months later, using phrasing which implied that his moving on must be hard for me.
I realise now that his implication that I must still be hungry for his affection is a representation of how he portrays me.

I have tried through it all to keep being polite. I tried not to tell him what I really think about the way he treated me.
And most of all, because everybody’s privacy — including his — is sacrosanct to me, I tried to keep our private lives out of the public eye.
I realise now that this is only positive for him as an abuser and it grants him power.

I still think spending money on that holiday was his choice, but I agreed to pay him back for it, so honour dictates that I do, and I am honest enough to admit to that here.
Recently though he’s been asking for the money I owe him for that holiday.
He has a good job, he has prided himself in remitting debts, even repeatedly boasting about exempting a vague acquaintance of a loan many times the amount I owe him, but he has literally told me that letting me off is not an option for him.
I realise now that this is him still trying to exert power over me.

This weekend I told him about my current situation, about how I (still) don’t have a job and about how my dog is ill (kidney failure), and that both her care and my personal bills take priority over paying him back.
This is where he crossed the line.
He said he didn’t believe that my dog was ill because according to him he saw pictures of her happily bouncing around on social media.
(Said pictures don’t exist because she’s miserable, but I feel stalked nonetheless as he removed me from every social media platform I can think of.)
He also said that I was once again playing the victim.

I realise now that I am done being a victim.
I realise now that he may have turned me into one, but I am not a victim anymore.
Part of the reason I’m not is because I now understand the processes that were involved in getting me to accept his behaviour.


The story

Now

It took me well over half a year, but I eventually learned how to sleep without medication or sleeping aids again. Even now, months after that, nights are still short and sleep is easily interrupted, but I am no longer afraid to fall asleep.

After about a year I’m still paranoid when it comes to leaving my devices anywhere, but I’m practicing and it’s getting better.
I’m still depressed, and I can feel lonely every now and then, but at the end of the day I’m still a lot happier single than I was being manipulated by him.

I might owe my abuser some money, but I will lo longer let him actively hold that over me.
When I get my life back in shape and I have some reserves to take care of myself and my pets again, he’ll be the first to get money as I would do nothing rather than be rid of him, but in the mean time…

He holds no power over me anymore.

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