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One year ago, I got the phone call no horse owner wants. My horse, Josh, had fallen in turnout and broken his leg. There was nothing they could do, and since he was 4000miles away at my parent’s farm, I didn’t get to say goodbye. Josh had been my best friend and rock since high school but, had a few health issues that meant the journey to Alaska wasn’t in his best interest. Leaving him had been hard, but my plan had always been to have him with me once we moved back to the contiguous US. Loosing Josh so suddenly, and so tragically shook me to my core.
Like so many, 2020 hadn’t been the easiest year for me. It had meant canceled plans to see family and friends, canceled visitors coming to us in Alaska, and had made the 4000miles between Alaska and our families seem extra far. September had brought a long awaited, and twice canceled, diagnostic surgery for endometriosis. A surgery that ended up telling us my endo was much further progressed than I had hoped. Tom left shortly thereafter for 6 weeks with the Air Force, leaving me alone to finish healing from my surgery and processing it all. Add to that a few toxic work environment issues and Josh’s traumatic loss and I entered 2021 in a pretty dark place.
I spent about a month trying to pull myself together without any luck. I was feeling more and more stuck. Stuck in my grief, stuck without a career, stuck in more ways than I could count. Somedays the only thing that got me out of bed was knowing my dogs were hungry and needed to be fed, and that I needed to clean Wyatt’s stall. I needed more help than I could give myself. It took me a few weeks to get up the courage to tell Tom I needed to see a counselor, but I did it. For a while he was the only person who knew, I was scared of what other people might think. I figured after a few months I would be good as new. Somedays I would start to feel better, see a glimmer of hope of the person I once was, other days I cried a lot, and had to force myself out of bed.
I quickly realized that healing from my heartbreak and the trauma of the last year wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought. To be clear I didn’t think I would just get over my horse dying, but I also didn’t think that I wouldn’t know how to carry on either. I have always been good at working through the hard stuff that came my way, I thought of myself as strong and resilient, but all I felt was broken. As the months went on, I kept thinking “I’ll be done with counseling soon, I just have to work through *insert issue here* first”, but I would work through that challenge only to find another. It was a bit like peeling back layers of an onion to slowly heal many, many years of trauma, bullying and hurt to finally start to heal. I love horses, but this industry had been hard on my mental health. Add to it 10+ years of doctors telling me I wasn’t sick enough and there was nothing they could do for me and there was a lot to work through.
I have been going to counseling for 10, almost 11 months. Over that time, I had days where I thought this is it, I’m good now, only to be reminded a few hours later there was still a lot of work to be done. It has been a bumpy journey. The days leading up to the anniversary of Josh’s passing filled me with dread. I knew it was going to be a hard day, and I was terrified to fall apart. That morning I cried A LOT. I cried as I got my day started, I cried driving to the barn to do stalls and I cried driving home from the barn. But I let myself feel the hurt. Counseling had taught me to honor my feelings, and I made sure I took the time to do it. I had to be at work at 10:15am for a meeting and I was a little concerned I would be a mess all day, but I wasn’t. Was it the happiest day of my life, absolutely not. But I had the tools to work through it now. For the first time in a year, I felt strong, I felt a bit more like myself again.
It hasn’t been a quick journey, nor an easy one, but I am finding myself again. I wanted to badly to believe that once I started putting things back together, it would all fall into place, but healing is not a linear journey. I know a blog about grief and healing isn’t the most happy and seasonal, but the holidays are often not the easiest time for people. Just remember Herd, it is okay to take the time to honor your feelings and not be okay, the journey to healing is long, hard and uniquely yours.