The moment I ceased denial and served anorexia notice
I don’t remember how many others were there. Between 10 and 15, maybe. All with years of experience of being around horses. A part of me was reprimanding me for being there. ‘You know nothing about horses’, she seethed. ‘You’re going to make a complete fool of yourself, and everyone will see you for the fake that you are. Don’t even bother. Make an excuse and leave now.’
I didn’t leave. I joined the circle of people as they introduced themselves and shared their reason for being there, for wanting to participate in this experiential workshop exploring how horses can connect with and help people heal from trauma. When my turn came to speak, I could have said that I was one of those people who needed help to heal, but I didn’t. I added my voice to the chorus saying that I was interested to see how this work could help me to help others. That wasn’t a lie. But it wasn’t the whole truth either.
Parts of me had a reputation to uphold, a facade to polish
I have wondered why I didn’t speak the complete truth that day. I could spend half a lifetime pulling on the many threads to that question, but the biggest reason was that I was in denial. I did not believe I had a problem. Any inkling that something was wrong within was quickly hushed and ushered away by parts of me that had a reputation to uphold and a facade to polish. Feeling safe in my life up until this point had depended on my being meticulous about the face I presented to the world, and I was expert at it. So expert, that I was unaware I was doing it. I was on autopilot.
I stepped off the cliff…and was lost in the wilderness
Six months earlier, as I stumbled along in a haze of malnutrition, ketoacidosis, chronic fatigue, and a severely misplaced sense of loyalty to my work leading and mentoring women, I had stepped off the cliff. When I came to, I had lost everything. My body was eating itself from the inside out, my mental health had plummeted under the pressure I had placed on myself to keep going and the responsibility I felt for the care of others, my business had defaulted, and I was declared bankrupt.
I felt spiritually abandoned, left alone in the wilderness with no compass and no understanding as to why I had failed everything and everyone so dismally when I had worked hard, and had, in fact, been intensely driven to do the opposite. Now, there was nothing. Not a fraction of anything I could dig my fingernails into to haul myself up. I was down and out for the count. I could barely stand.
Everyone was talking at once but not to each other
We were directed into the arena. A big roan horse with feathers on his feet and a small grey pony with a smoky dappled nose were standing quietly, a little way from one another. Neither wore a halter and they were both at liberty, able to wander anywhere in the arena at will. The arena had all the usual horse paraphernalia, bits of deconstructed jumps, poles, barrels, cones, and some chairs were piled up along one fence line. The facilitator instructed us to build an obstacle using any of the items in the arena. The obstacle was to represent why we were all here today and our ultimate goal was to lead the two horses, over, under or through the obstacle. The horses were to remain at liberty, that is, no ropes or halters could be employed to lead them.
As soon as the facilitator stopped speaking, people jumped to action. Several began building jumps and laying out poles, others measured out paces between cones. Others maneuvered barrels into position and the remaining few carried in chairs to include in the mix. Everyone was talking at once but not to one another. They were all throwing out their voices with the expectation that someone would catch it. Each explaining what their independently constructed bit meant and then grabbing another bit to link to the bit of someone else.
Considering the horses wasn’t a consideration
I stood back. Taking all this in. The busyness of it all. The lack of communication albeit with an abundance of words. I looked at the horses. They had moved closer together, heads towards one another, intermittently cocking an ear or an eye in one direction or another. Using the least amount of energy possible, the horses were totally aware of what was going on around them and monitoring everyone. The accelerated volume and activity didn’t seem to bother theml.
In stark contrast, not one person seemed to be aware of the horses. Our goal was to get the horses through this obstacle course and yet no one seemed to be taking that into consideration in the building of it. The horses, standing quietly, eluded attention. It appeared they were just some things that had to be maneuvered and didn’t need thinking about until the time came to do that. They were an afterthought. Like taking them into consideration wasn’t a consideration.
A childhood memory was triggered
I felt a part of me tugging at the edge of my awareness. Something here, or as it turned out everything here, had triggered a part of me to share a memory. I tapped in and was immediately taken back to my childhood.
I grew up in poverty. One of six children. My family, like others around us, had to work hard just to survive. Everyone was barely keeping their heads above water. This frantic energy, driven by fear, lack and struggle, kept everyone focused on what needed to be done to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table.
No one took much notice of the little girl who took everything in, reading between the lines, flying under the radar, taking on the responsibility of quietly anchoring everyone by threading the needle of connection and stitching everyone together. No one noticed her silent work. No one considered taking her into consideration. She was an afterthought. She was given time only when everyone’s everything else was done.
Everyone was trying to get the horses to move
Now everyone was standing around the horses, numerous voices overlapping and cutting into each other. They were trying to get the horses to move.
“Grab it by the mane and pull it.”
“Give it a slap on the behind.”
“Go grab a handful of grass and walk in front of it.”
“Some people get behind and some in front.”
There was a flurry of human activity, lots of clucking and clicking and slapping and pushing and pulling. The horses raised their heads high, they put their ears back, they swished their tails. But they didn’t move. More clicking and clucking, some positive encouragement, and now frustration was creeping in as the horses remained in place.
People were only seeing with their eyes
I watched from around six metres away. I didn’t know how to get the horses moving either. I had the least horse experience of anyone here. But as I watched, my little girl told me that no one had noticed the horses silently stitching everyone together earlier. She told me that if she were a horse, she wouldn’t feel safe with these people who seemed unaware of anything other than their own needs. She told me that she could see the threads that the horses had been weaving between everyone to help them to get this task done but they were invisible to the people, because the people were only seeing with their eyes.
‘Feel into the spaces in-between’
I let out a long slow breath as my body processed and deciphered her words. My eyes came to rest in the eyes of the big roan horse across the arena. We looked at each other for what seemed a long time. I don’t know what happened or what passed between us, but something shifted, and he began to walk towards me. The smaller pony followed.
Without thought, I turned and began to walk through the obstacles the group had put up. None of them mine. Both horses came along, accompanied by the group who were now all asking what had changed. We finished the course and both horses came to stand beside me. I stroked both their necks. My heart suddenly felt full of love for these beautiful beings.
I couldn’t risk this moment of self-awareness and affirmation
“How did you do that?”, someone asked. “I didn’t even see you in the group.”
“I don’t know.” I side-stepped. Part of me didn’t trust enough to share what I knew had happened. I had been ridiculed too many times before for believing what others didn’t or couldn’t. I had been continually humiliated for ‘imagining’ things or making up stories. I couldn’t risk this moment of self-awareness and affirmation by having it compromised by someone’s skepticism.
The facilitator came to join the group. She gave me a hug.
“My horses believe you are a strong and trustworthy leader. In the chaos your sure, embodied presence shone out. The horses believed they could trust you to lead them somewhere safer.”
I cried for the little girl who had been an afterthought
I cried. I cried for the little girl who had been an afterthought. For all the times she had run away to be by herself because she felt no one understood her. For all the nights she’d fretted that she was the problem in her family, and they would all be better off without her. For all the times she was laughed at, diminished, ignored, and shouted at for being too sensitive, making too much of things, crying too easily, attention seeking.
I cried compassionately for her as she skipped around inside me, plaits bobbing on her shoulders and a big smile on her face as she was finally given the recognition she deserved. Her feelings, her intuition, her gut sense, had been right all along.
This was the moment I served anorexia notice
That moment was the moment I made the connection that anorexia had been twisting the pain of this little girl to empower herself. This was the moment I served anorexia notice. This was the moment I began to get a taste of how powerful I was when I showed up as mySelf.
This was the moment I knew horses were my future and that with their help, I could help others to do the same. So, my work began.
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