This is part one of a story about insomnia and surviving ritual abuse.
Sleepless: a story about surviving ritual abuse
It’s Saturday night. 3:30 in the morning and I can’t sleep. Again.
I’ve been sleeping badly all week. In fact, I’ve been sleeping badly my whole life. It’s not a biological problem. It’s because I was tortured as child.
It’s the grind that I find hardest. It’s waking up frightened and not able to fall asleep night after night, week after week, month after month. Year after year. It’s spending the day tired, too tired to do much, but awake and not able to sleep. It’s not knowing how I’ll feel in the morning, if I’ll be able to do what I want. Studies have linked insomnia with increased likelihood of strokes, heart disease, high blood pressure, anxiety and depression, among other health problems.
Two of the clearest childhood memories I have of trying to sleep as a child are of Tarantulas, and Mr. Wolf, a monster who lived under my bed.
In the first, I would close my eyes as I lay in bed to sleep and I would, against my will, see in my mind’s eye large, hairy tarantulas. It was a scary and upsetting image that would drive sleep away like a scream in the night. Mr. Wolf was part wolf, part human, and hunted me like the wolf in little red riding hood. As a young child, he waited under the bed to get me.
In a very real way my current battle with insomnia is a step forward. Until four years ago I drank heavily and used a psychiatric medication called Quetiapine to sleep. The combination meant that I would regularly pass out drunk, and then often sleep for ten to twelve hours. Compared to not sleeping it was golden, but it was far from good.
I’ve been sober for four and half years now, and I’ve been working at healing from the trauma and abuse I’ve experienced for six and a half years. As I’ve healed I’ve not only given up drinking and non-medicinal drug use, but I’ve been weening myself off of the psychiatric medication I was on.
I struggle to tell people what it means to be a ritual abuse survivor. It’s hard to write about being abused as a child, period. It’s hard to remember. It’s a subject people prefer to avoid.
I fight the feeling that no one cares, or understands, or even believes me. I procrastinate writing about it because the subject matter can be so horrific. It’s hard to know what to include and what to exclude: what is most significant, what can I handle making public, what is it best kept private.
It’s hard to capture the day in day out battle to heal: daily feelings of self-loathing; constantly feeling triggered because so many things (colours, words, facial hair, utensils, hand gestures, etc.) are triggering; being overwhelmed by memories of torture; fighting feelings of paranoia; being isolated.
And insomnia. Insomnia is a constant hurdle to living a happy life.
The reason I have such difficulty sleeping is that I was ritually abused as a child. Ritual abuse “is an extreme, sadistic form of abuse of children and non-consenting adults. It is methodical, systematic sexual, physical, emotional and spiritual abuse, which often includes mind control, torture and highly illegal activities such as murder, [and] child pornography.”
Ritual abuse works because it begins early in childhood when the abusers use torture to create dissociated identities which they can program to do their will. My parents would wake me up constantly as a child. It was a tactic they used to program me, as well as a punishment for misbehaviour. Of course, they wouldn’t just wake me, they would wake me and torture me: rape, extreme temperatures, being shit and pissed on, having dead animals and blood thrown on me. These are just a few examples of how they abused me.
And being deprived of sleep was a form of torture in itself. Humans need sleep like we need food. Today, years later the scars from the abuse still cause me anxiety, nightmares, and restlessness, making it hard, sometimes impossible, to fall and to stay asleep.