Dumping My Albatross
A Story About Courage In Recovery
It was Week #2 in her 12-Week program at the STAT Ligonier Therapeutic Center - EQuine Affect (TM). She was the only one in the group of 3 that showed for the session. She started, "I am feeling sorry for the other two because they -" and Dr. Mel interrupted me saying "There is no sorry here! Carry on soldier!"
The EQuine Affect is a trademarked program developed by STAT to aid in personal growth, mindset, and emotional intelligence, with horses. Each week of the 12-week program, a topic is discussed prior to interaction with horses.
Today's topic: Self-Awareness which is "knowing yourself and how others view you". (Tasha Eurich, PhD - her TED Talk). In this Week #2, we discuss four self-awareness archetypes: Aware, Pleasers, Seekers and Introspectors.
We take approximately 20 minutes with the participant to discuss the specific topic to enhance the interaction and experience with the horses for the remaining 1 hour and 40 minutes.
The following is an excerpt of a transcript from a participant - who gave permission for use -
Even after years of AA discussion meetings and my Step #4 (Searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves) and then Step #5 (Admitting to God, to ourselves, and to other human beings the exact nature of our wrongs), I didn't realize I was a (people) Pleaser.
I was always seeking approval and validation. Prior to today, I've always considered myself a Seeker. And more so as a seeker of knowledge, truth... After the discussion, I learned and understand that I primarily fall into the Pleaser "category" - having a high external awareness and a low internal self-awareness.
At some point, I talked about my low level of believing that I will be able to stay sober past my usual 90-day cyclical regression that leads to relapse. I call it "my 3-month worry, my Albatross around my neck." I say "I always relapse at the 3-month mark".
After interaction with the horses, which I will get to in a minute, I realized as the day went on and as I pondered the interaction between me and the horse in my story..... I realized "it" was more, so much more, than the 3-month (thing).
I HATED my disease. I HATED the disease of alcoholism. There is a self-loathing that goes along with wasted years of drinking and not being able to stop!! The hatred and the self-loathing, the shame, and lost time equaled my fully embodied Albatross.
Cat (the owner of the Ligonier Therapeutic Center) and Dr. Mel (one of STAT's Psychologists) were there with me that day. We walked over to the horses, opened the gate and looked towards their shelter....and the magic begins! As we walked through the gate, Cat (with a rope over her shoulder), walked over to the largest horse to lead it out to the pasture so we could be in the open (not in the shelter where the horses were huddled). As she led the largest horse, she stopped, released the rope and just let the large horse stand there and said... "let's see what happens".
At that time another brown colored horse sauntered directly over to me!! Stopped for a short time, lifted his head to mine, seemed to look me in the eye, then moved over to do the same to Dr. Mel and then walked back into the shelter, he walked to the far back corner of the shelter, past the large horse standing and past all the other horses (probably 2 or 3 others, I wasn't pay attention to the other horses). The large horse stood, didn't move but was facing us as we were in a line; me, in the middle of Cat and Dr. Mel. Silent. Watching. The brown horse sauntered over to me again!! By now, I felt comfortable stroking him. He stayed a while this time as we had a 10 minute non-verbal conversation.
Dr. Mel then invited me to picture the brown horse and used some metaphors to connect myself, my Albatross, this brown horse, the large horse, and what I was thinking - to build a story. At that point I asked for this brown horse's name. "Rocky" Cat said. Dr. Mel asked me to ask Rocky "Rocky, please take my Albatross." Dr. Mel asked "If Rocky were to take your Albatross, what would that look like?" As we stood silent, thinking, visualizing, yearning for Rocky to somehow show me HOW he would do that and WHAT IN THE WORLD does this even look like?? (I asked myself).
Moments after I verbally asked Rocky to please take away my Albatross, he turned around and walked back to the shelter, further away to the back of the shelter again, where he stood a second time... and then - took a shit. Hmmmmm. Interesting.
Dr. Mel asked "What are you observing now?" ...as I think - well.... the horse just pooped. But what does that mean!? Thinking to myself: I told him to take my Albatross from me and he walks away and takes a dump. Dr. Mel offered the interpretation of Rocky doing just that. Rocky took my Albatross, away, and "pooped IT out!" releasing it from me and calling it for the "SHIT that's it has been in my life!" Wow. That feeling is difficult to describe as I cannot put it into words exactly...
Cat then asked, "Do you want to go get that (my Albatross) back?"
Rocky then walked over to the water trough, took a long drink, licked some salt from the salt block - taking in nourishment! He emptied himself and now filling himself with nourishment. That was calming.
Then! Rocky sauntered back over to me and bowed his head. I believe he was making a statement: "didja see what I've done for you - to help you?!" "I could see ya needed a little help doing that".... and my thoughts with the bowing of the head "Namaste, the Devine in me bows to the Devine in you". (and you're welcome.)
That was not the end of my experience!
We all remained quiet for some time, really taking in the moment and the experience that just took place.
"What are you observing now?" asked Dr. Mel. Rocky still standing in front of me. I notice fencing is behind me, Cat on my right, Dr. Mel on my left. I was feeling completely surrounded in support!! And the bigger horse was still standing tall but had notedly moved to stand in front of Rocky's poop (my Albatross), as if to be a protective/wall, not allowing me to come and pick it back up, even if I had to, to never again carry it around in my life!
The bigger metaphor of the Albatross (leaving my disease as the pile of shit that it is), is of my guilt for wasted years, my regrets of not being able to stop drinking, the self-loathing, the shame - - - the bigger horse standing guard helped me to visualize and understand the RELEASE! release of all of it - release - release - let it go!!
Wait till you hear this: As we were heading back to the gate and done with the session, I asked Cat "What's Rocky's story? You had said last week that all of the horses here (at STAT) have stories."
Cat shared some of Rocky's history: that he came from out West. He was assigned to a commissioned Ranger through the BLM (Bureau of Land Management). He was needed to find missing people (HE FOUND LOST PEOPLE.... think about that!!); he would search for fires, he'd search and rescue humans. He was later purchased at auction by a wonderful woman (it sounds) who cared for him until she passed a few years ago. This woman's family then gifted Rocky to Cat. She explained how Rocky is one of the few horses STAT uses for the handicapped riding program; he is calm and obedient, will be led to take very fragile individuals on his back; but that when he is in the pasture (as he was when I walked in today), he is free to interact or to not interact, without pressure.
Cat further explained that Rocky isn't a "friendly" horse. He won't be the one to walk up to a random person he doesn't know or spend so much time - so close, or to allow someone to pet him as I was able to; he's very particular about who he trusts or approaches. This was very interesting to me because he chose to walk up to ME - three times! Allowed me to pet his face, allowed me to spend time very close. "He likes me," I thought. We all want to be liked....
Later in the day, I was exercising and meditating.... "to allow" popped into my head.
Human BEING and not me being a human - Human DOING. I pondered... I always need to be doing, doing, doing - both mentally and physically. Going back to Cat, Dr. Mel and me - thinking about quietly, patiently, standing there and ALLOWING for the horses to do what the horses were inclined or energetically led to do was good for me to experience all in itself... what I learned about my SELF is engrained in my visual memory, an experience that was remarkable, yet difficult to describe.
It is all about "WHAT" instead of "WHY".
Rocky in a Hippotherapy Session at STAT Ligonier Therapeutic Center Photo Credit: Tiffani Photography
I hope you enjoyed this story. If you are seeking knowledge, help, self-awareness, please contact STAT at firstname.lastname@example.org for an appointment. The EQuine Affect program is open to individuals seeking personal growth and development, wanting to assess and improve their emotional intelligence, explore and define healthy relationships, develop better communication and social skills, and more. If you are an individual in recovery, STAT has State funding available through the Pennsylvania Commission for Crime and Delinquency to supplement the cost for the program.