I found myself today driving through Ohio’s country roads, along pastures with horses, cows, and sheep, on my way to see two young clients. I found myself thinking of the horse that changed my life in many ways, and began to become teary eyed.
In 2011/2012, I became the first participant of Serendipity Stable’s PTSD program. I remember sitting in my therapist’s office looking through the literature so many of them have, when I came across Michele’s flier. I grabbed it and took it into my therapists office and began to inquire about the program. I emailed or called in the same week, despite not being a survivor of combat but rather sexual assault.
I met Michele, who I believe is the epitome of compassion, kindness, and love. I remember being so nervous as I pulled up to the stables and her home, thinking about all the explaining I might have to do about my history as a sexual assault victim, like I’ve had to do so many times before. My anxiety was not needed as I felt immediately at ease and calm meeting this woman with the most kind eyes I have ever seen. We sat down and began to talk before my horse chose me. She explained that she had one in mind, but sometimes they surprise her. I briefly told her my diagnosis and struggles and there was not judgment. I explained that I was struggling through a divorce and my father was just diagnosed with cancer. It was obvious that I was hanging on by threads. There weren’t questions from Michele like I feared only let’s get down to business. That’s what we did.
I remember walking into the barn, in awe of the stables. I’d been around horses previously, but never knew much about them except an innate draw to their majestic presence. She opened the doors and there they were, all five waiting to meet their newest visitor and client, with Sere and Star already inside the stables. The horse made a beeline for the door, walking out majestically into the stables, gallant and proud under Sere’s watchful eye. This horse had surpassed everyone else and came to meet me, surprising Michele. This was not the one she thought would connect with me, but I was now his: his friend, his buddy, but never his “client.” It was simply his time with me to be shared and to teach me so many things about myself that had become lost, fragmented, or that I purposefully denied myself due to lack of self esteem and selfworth from the abuse. It was our time to begin healing.
Patches. His comical demeanor would make me laugh on the days where the tears just streamed down my face. He taught me what mutual respect was again. Most importantly, he taught me about trust and love. I remember so many times asking him, “What am I doing? How will I ever get through this? I’m so tired! I don’t want to struggle anymore!”
That’s when the nuzzles began. The nuzzles became licks when my days were at their worst. I would stare into those kind eyes and he gazed into mine, and during those times it felt like the world melted away. The world became safe at those times, free of pain, suffering, and the emptiness that had become to creep into every moment of my day.
I noticed throughout the weeks it was easier to get out of bed. It became easier to have interactions with strangers, and the inside of my head the thoughts about myself became more quiet. I became more confident and was able to hold my head, ever so slightly, higher. The fragments of the me that once was became calmer and more peaceful. I became more productive. The negativity began to slowly leave my thoughts whereas before it was a spiral down into darkness and a horrible, sickening depression that I never thought I could overcome. I stopped physically harming myself purposefully and my thinking began slowly changing from “I don’t deserve [good things],” to “I do deserve [good things].”
My favorite time with him was when I would rub the spot on his head, right under his tuft of hair between his ears. The softness had such a calming effect and it was my favorite way to start and end our time spent together. I would then brush his coat, letting him know how handsome he is while I laughed with him or cried into his coat. He helped me feel protected and safe again.
There was one day where I was particularly low. After Patches and I nuzzled and talked, I helped bring him back to the part of the barn that led to the pastures. Patches and the ladies gathered in a circle, surrounding me. That was the first time in years, maybe ever, that I felt unconditional love. I will never forget that moment. That moment I was their focus and they wanted nothing from me. They showed me that not every being expects something in return when an action is performed. I am honored to have had that experience to this day.
Patches taught me to love and trust again by allowing me to tell my secrets, every single secret that happened to me, to another living being. They weren’t secrets anymore, and they became easier to share with my therapist and to accept they had occurred. This was something that I’d never been able to do despite all of the help I had attempted to receive from various therapists, doctors, specialists, and clinicians.
But I can now. I can now share my story with others because of so much of what Patches shared with me. I began to function at a level that I didn’t know existed in life. He helped me heal in ways that I cannot even begin to explain, place into words, or verbalize.
I obtained employment toward the end of my time with Patches with a nonprofit agency that works children and families. Every day I wake up with compassion, hope, and empathy that Patches helped me find again inside myself to help someone rise out of their darkness. I have Patches picture on my desk, next to Emily Dickinson’s poem, “Hope.” At the end of this experience, Patches wasn’t “mine.” We were each others.
I do not know why I decided today was the day to share my story. Maybe I need to see him soon. Regardless, I wanted to let you know, Michele, or anyone else who may be considering the PTSD program, that there still is hope. I want to thank you for being the amazing woman you are. The words, “Thank You” don’t do justice to the changes that you and Patches assisted me with in my life: helping me find my way and life again.