The Horse That Got Away Part III: Working with a Core Wound

But Maybe this Loss Wasn’t So Bad

Last week, I talked about how not winning a coveted Shetland pony as a young girl was a core wound. As a grown woman, it seems ludicrous in some ways that this loss could have had such an impact. My rational brain argues that if I had really loved horses so much, I could have gotten a horse years ago. Instead I locked the loss tightly within my heart, almost forgotten, where it laid buried deep inside of me for decades.

 Comparing Losses

The loss of a pony pales next to other losses I have experienced. My best girlfriend died in a plane crash. Another girlfriend died in a car crash. My younger brother died a premature death due to the effects of alcoholism and homelessness. Both of my marriages to two Vietnam veterans ended in divorce, and the second divorce had a huge ripple effect on my children and stepchildren. I have been physically assaulted and experienced invasive surgeries. Surely, these would qualify as more important losses.

 Minimizing Our Pain

Comparing our losses is a way to minimize our pain. As humans, we especially minimize the losses of loved animal companions. Sometimes minimization can be helpful. When I was laid up from a ruptured Achilles tendon injury, I was relieved that my injury was not permanent when I saw an old man in a wheelchair. When I was taken aback by the long snakelike scar on my leg, I was grateful that I lived in a country and time where such surgery was possible.

 

Yet, comparing or minimizing our pain can also be a way to avoid feeling the uncomfortable feelings and thoughts that arise. For example, with my ruptured Achilles tendon, focusing on what I was grateful for kept me from feeling my anxiety about being unable to take care of my young children, and fears of vulnerability, disability and death. Minimization can be the key that locks the pain away into our psyche, and adults are very good at offering explanations to young children in their effort to help them.

 Working with My Loss: Brownie

One effective way to work with grief and loss is through making art, and using the imagination to heal. As I thought about my loss, my sadness was magnified by my guilt over remembering neither  the pony’s name nor its color. I laid down and closed my eyes, holding a horse figure on my heart. As I did, tears came. I also sensed the presence of a friendly chestnut Shetland pony with very kind eyes. I imagined saying to her, “I am so sorry, I don’t remember my pony’s name or its color.” She responded kindly and without blame that I could name her whatever I like, and that she would be my pony.

 Healing Artwork

I did a series of four drawings. In the first one, I drew Brownie first, and handed her an apple. Instead of being on the other side of the fence, I drew us on the same side of the fence. As I look at the drawing, I realized that I drew myself very far away from her, as if in fear of her. I drew Brownie bigger than me, perhaps because she seems so much more powerful. I tried again, and drew another picture.

 

One thing I learned as an art therapist is that the images we hold in our psyche are very powerful. If we change our images, our psyche changes, too.

 

In the second drawing, we are closer to the same size, and my features as a seven year-old are more defined. I hand the apple to Brownie, but she reaches for me, rather than the apple. I found myself thinking, “Oh, she likes me. I thought she just cared about the apple.” In the third drawing, I try to hug her, having difficulty figuring out how my hands should go. Pink rays emanate from us both to signify love. In this drawing, my feet are tilted, and I am not grounded. I look very unbalanced, like a brisk wind could knock me over. I have had this experience in love relationships!

 

In the last drawing in this series, I draw our heads together, surrounded by a big heart. We are equal and in balance. The fear in the first drawing has given way to a warm embrace. My eyes are closed in the drawing—in trust for this beautiful and loving being.

 Healing a Core Loss—A Start

I made a new beginning for myself by doing this artwork. Before losing “my” Shetland pony, I had imagined being able to experience freedom and companionship by being with a horse. These are core needs of my soul that have been compromised in human relationships, especially in my relationships with men. Brownie is real to me. Over time, through art, visualization, and writing techniques, I will continue to develop a relationship with her. I can practice relationship skills with Brownie that will serve me in my other relationships.

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