Sometimes, I mentally feel a little bit how I felt at the time of something traumatic. Lately, I’ve been mentally feeling the sense of powerless and no control, and sadness, that came from having my hands tied together. I have spent the last year or so reeling from and focussing on the larger-scale traumatic events – extreme torture or rape, for example. I made the mistake of undermining the smaller details, the more subtle aspects of trauma. These more subtle, but just as horrendous, parts of the abuse are now leaving me reeling and crying. Recently, my mind has been stuck on the memories of my hands being tied up – irrespective of what else was going on at the time – apparently I need to process the effects of having my hands tied together.
For some of the time, my hands became my only company. As a method of coping, I would play games in my head, with my hands. I’d comfort myself that at least they were together – seeing as they were tied up – there was no hand left lonely. If I was sitting up – leaning against a wall, or sitting silently in the back of a travelling van – I would focus intently on the lines in my palms. I would write stories in my head about all the different lines – the possibilities were endless. If I flexed my hands, different lines appeared or softened. I came up with so many stories, mostly about escape and freedom when I look in hindsight, simply using the lines on my palms. It kept me focussed on something other than how frightened I was, and how much I missed my teddy bear. It’s only recently that I’ve allowed myself to feel the anger that this kind of memory should make me feel. What child should ever have to develop coping strategies to deal with being alone, with hands tied up?
If I wasn’t gagged, and it was safe to do so, I’d whisper into my hands. I’d share my stories with them, allow the stories to come alive somehow. Or, I’d comfort my hands. I suppose this was a roundabout way of comforting myself, but in a distanced and dissociated measure – my hands were the victims, not me. That’s how I played it in my head. Put all the fear into the hands. Put all the hurt into the hands. Pretend I’m okay and maybe I will be. I’d murmur into my hands ‘you’re going to be okay.’ Consciously, I was definitely saying this to my hands, to assure them that they’d be okay. But I guess, really, I was trying to reassure and comfort myself. Telling myself I’d be okay.
I’m still alive, so I guess I was right, on some level. I guess it depends on your definition of ‘okay.’
If I was able to, I’d bend my head and place my nose into my hands. A bit like nuzzling a baby, as a mother… or a teddy bear as a young child like I was. I was trying again to comfort my hands, but simultaneously in that respect, comforting myself. I’d focus on feeling my warm breath tickle my fingers, pretend it’s a nice breeze coming into my story-land hands, and if I dared cry – well, that simply became rain for the stories.
I hated being on my own, and generally if my hands were tied up, I was on my own. I’d think about the other children and wonder what was happening to them. Were they in a van too? Were they playing? We used to play stuck in the mud sometimes, in the boggy ground outside the place. We loved that game. It became a survival strategy too – learn who to save, and who it’s too risky to save. Learn to accept if someone doesn’t feel it’s safe to save you. Know that they were brave and cared anyway, and that it’s important they protected themselves first. I’d sit in the black van, hearing the murmur and laughter of the men sat in the front, and stare into my hands through the darkness, and try to pretend I was playing stuck in the mud with the other children.
The sense of overwhelming powerlessness that came from having my hands tied up was incredible. Even now, just imagining it causes a cold sinking feeling in my stomach, like my heart has dropped right into my abdomen somehow, and I have to desperately fight off tears, and search for some glimmer of hope. I don’t really understand why it affected me so, particularly as a child – it was hardly as though I had the strength or ability to fight back had my hands remained untied. But somehow, I was mentally okay and grounded, until they tied my hands together. If they tied my legs, I was okay. If they gagged me, I was okay – just uncomfortable, and irritated at the duct tape and my need to swallow that was mostly unfulfilled. But if they tied my hands up? Messy. Very messy.
And so they learned this fast. If they were transporting me anywhere, they’d tie my hands up. If they didn’t, I kicked off; I’d sit in the back of the van and wail, or scream. I’d tap rhythms out to comfort me. I’d try and talk to them – sometimes talking to the men seemed to disorientate them, as though it jolted them into remembering I was human and had feelings. But if they tied my hands up, I reduced to a small curled up, terrified and silent child.
I could tell from the environment in which my hands were tied up, what was coming next. If they tied my hands up on a bed, then I was about to go through extreme sexual abuse. If they tied my hands up in the cellar, then pretty soon other children would join me, and we’d blink at each other through the strange light, wondering if they’d just leave us there to starve. Wondering if it’d flood if it rained. Trying to ignore the tell-tale tickling sensations of spiders on our necks, or the sound of the occasional rat scurrying. We’d hum to each other. Looking back, it was haunting, but at the time, it was comforting. We’d hum, a low hum, barely audible. Create some form of song with it, a hum song, a grounding song. From humming we kept our breathing steady, and so we rarely fell into a pit of total panic. However, if we were alone, and nobody was there to hum to, then we did. I certainly did. If I was in a van with my hands tied up, then I had become a ‘job’ for the night, or day, or week, or however long, and was going to be in unfamiliar territory for a bit. The best thing to do in that situation is remain totally silent and submissive. I found I got home sooner if I did that, and despite everything, I wanted to be home. Occasionally I’d try and fight, or bite, but mostly if I was alone in somewhere unfamiliar and reduced to simply being a ‘job’, then the dehumanising effects and fear reduced me to a silent wide-eyed child, wondering when my hands would be free.
If it was rope, I hated it. I hated it because it looked so easy to untie, and yet it wasn’t. I’d frantically bite at it, tear at it with my teeth, pull my arms into strange positions in the hope of snapping it. But no. Rope is tougher than it looks, and it also hurts. Burns. Chains, I could deal with, strangely. Chains look as impossible as they are. Unless I have the key, I won’t get out, simple. So I didn’t try. I didn’t have that sense of unfulfilled desperation, of being a failure. I just accepted my fate as it stood. Chains were heavy though, and generally I’d let my hands rest on something (if possible) such as the ground by my legs if I was sitting up, or the edge of the bed, and just wait for whatever was going to happen next.
I could be in the dark van for a long time. And then they’d open the door, and the light would burn. I’d squish my eyes closed and bury my head into my lap, curled up tight and hoping if I was small enough, they wouldn’t see me. But then I’d feel the rough hands on my shoulder, or yanking my hair… or kicking me until I obediently stood up with shaky legs. Once, and I don’t know what drove me to say it because I knew it’d just aggravate them, I tearfully said I wanted my teddy bear. As I say, it aggravated them. A lot. But they also mocked me, and spent the remainder of my time with them frequently saying, in a mocking child-like sing song voice, ‘I want my teddy bearrrrr…’ It hurt me more than anything they did to me, and made me miss my little bear even more. When I was taken home, I ran straight to my bear and buried my face into it’s soft tummy, and cried silently. I told him I’d missed him, and that I hope he was okay whilst I was away. The things that bear saw – if only teddies could speak. I often wonder what became of that little thing. He held for me a symbol of consistent attachment that kept me going for many years.
I’d try not to think about what was coming next, if they tied my hands up. But I couldn’t help it. Inevitably something awful came next. But I’d think of the stories on my hand, and stare at something insignificant into the room, and silently speak to the part of the room. I’d internally beg the object (vase or lamp or whatever) to help me. I convinced myself I just wasn’t staring hard enough, or asking politely enough, and that was why nothing ever helped me.
The moment where they untied my hand was always one of relief and liberation. I felt like a huge weight had been lifted, and I felt less like a lost child almost instantly.
It’s funny how some things affected me so profoundly, such as tied up hands, and yet other things barely affected me at all, such as tied up legs – despite the fact having my legs tied up significantly affected my mobility, obviously.
Lately I’ve had that sense of powerless and no control that came with having my hands tied up. Nothing like as extreme at the time, of course, but still there. Still this sense of being lost and little, and wanting my hands to be free, and having zero control or power in the situation. The hopelessness is stirring too. I’m hoping that by talking about the memory now, it will help dampen the emotional memory, and I’ll start to feel stronger again.
Sorry for the heavy post 😦 But it helped me to write it, and maybe helped others who went through similar stuff, I dunno.
Take care all