In the room

Carrie Tuke, Body-Mind Coordinator speaks of a client session.

Nothing feels safe to her. Her eyes fix on her own hand moving and she automatically sees the hand of the perpetrator. When her own hand rests on her leg as she sits, she automatically perceives the hand of the perpetrator, something that is not the reality, but, very real in her experience. Touching herself consciously seemed impossible; touching herself seemed intolerable. Nourishment seemed impossible.

We had built our relationship very slowly over time, and were now in the habit of exploring her experience of her body in movement in our sessions together. I asked her if she was willing to do some movement that day – she stood up. I looked around on the shelf looking for a ball that we had rolled along the ground before. Not seeing it, I found myself picking up a cuddly toy and a purple balloon. I stood there with them and she looked horrified casting her eyes back and forth between the two, her gaze settling on the cuddly toy. I put the balloon down and held the cuddly toy out to her. As she reached out to hold it, I noticed that her torso, shoulders and arms went rigid, her hands locked, as if hardly daring to be in contact with the little yellow bear as she held it at arms reach. Quickening breath and heart pounding, she held it, gazed through it looking panicked. ‘You are safe right now…here in this room, you’re safe’, I said.

Suddenly the sound of police and ambulance sirens filled the air from the street. Her attention was drawn elsewhere, as if in a trance. She could hardly breathe, I fed my observation back to her, starting to name the sounds I heard in the street, people’s voices, acknowledging that the outside sounds were there. I knew these sounds could trigger her, and encouraged her to bring her attention back into the room, with me, ‘It’s ok’ I said. She looked at me and nodded a scared ‘yes’ and looked at the toy again.

With squirming discomfort, she stayed with her attention on the toy. Her hands started working with it, but the rest of her body was recoiling. Her fingers relentlessly engaged in movements that precisely combed through every detail of the toy’s surface area, picking up information. I asked her what her hands were noticing. Shaking her head and with an expression on her face conveying the critical nature of these actions, I waited. It was as if the hands held much wisdom of past experiences. “It looks as if your hands know what they are doing”, I said. “Yes”, she replied, with tears in her eyes. Her hands worked through the toy systematically, then stopped at the left ear, which had attached to it the nylon thread, where a manufacturer’s tag had once been been. As she very delicately ran her fingers up the tag, I could see she was starting to become overwhelmed. She said, ‘It is the tag of a hand grenade’. ‘A hand grenade’, I stated.

Then part of her story began to unfold. Where she is from, hand grenades had been systematically sewn into children’s toys, and it had been her job to check toys in order to protect her own children – ‘an impossible job’ I acknowledged, she agreed. One had gone off in their house. That time, they were out. After a few moments I said, ‘This is a safe toy’. She looked at me, sighed deeply as her shoulders dropped and air came audibly from her chest, the fear leaving her face. She told me of her family in danger, how hand grenades had been planted in flowers, toys, anything enjoyable.

When she had finished talking, she looked like a weight had lifted. I looked at her hands and acknowledged ‘you feel it differently now, she nodded. She was stroking the fabric of the toy with great tenderness, over every square inch, taking the time to feel under her fingers. After some minutes her hands rested, looking at me she thanked me and gently handed over the toy, her eyes resting on it. There was the look of a young child longing for something, and sadness in her face. I received the toy, paused, and looking at her I offered it back. She looked in wonder, then smiled, paused and gave me a questioning look, then carefully taking the little yellow bear, fondling it and tucked it under her neck, cuddling it. Smiling, she thanked me. I felt gratitude for this time together. There is hope.