Putting the huge life change before the horse
‘I wanted to talk about being a rider. I did not want to out myself as a codependent’
Susan Conley: I could slip at any moment, reach for an old coping mechanism, tumble down the codependent rabbit hole... but I’ll do my best, and I’ll keep an open heart. Photograph: Eric Luke
I was talking to a pal the other day about a bunch of things that were going on for me and in conclusion I said, “Well, I’m keeping an open heart”.
The thing is, I know I was going to say that I was keeping an open mind, but… I didn’t. I mean, I could feel the word on my tongue. It almost made it all the way out, but then this other word slipped out of my mouth, and I realised that it was a good thing to say, and a good way to live.
I took up horse riding as a hobby hard on the heels of leaving my marriage. The decision was excruciatingly difficult, one that had been spinning around in my mind for months, if not years. Once taken, I had too much empty space in my head and I had to fill it with something, so I started riding horses and once begun, I began blogging about my experiences as a middle-aged divorcee who had gone horse mad. Even though there were any number of blogs and books written by horse trainers, horse whisperers, by women who’d recovered the joys of riding after a childhood spent in the saddle, I wasn’t remotely any of these things, and hadn’t found anything that spoke to my experiences.
As I got better, mentally and physically, I thought maybe I’d write a book, a light-hearted story about being a forty-something pony girl looking to buy her first horse. I started doing that, but as the proposal failed to get traction and I wrote myself into a corner, I realised I had to write about what had led to me taking my first lesson, the huge, heartbreaking life change that brought me to that pass.
As much as I wanted to talk about being a rider, I absolutely did not want to out myself as a codependent, someone whose very sense of safety in the world had been contingent upon the wellbeing of another. I was an enabler, whose life’s work was ensuring that the consequences of another’s behaviour wouldn’t impact on them, and by extension me. If my husband wasn’t happy, then by God I’d make sure he was happy, and started doing everything in my power, and more that wasn’t, to make him so. I didn’t, and the emotional toll finally became too much, and for the first time possibly in my whole life, I chose my own wellbeing.
I couldn’t imagine how I was going to take the sting out the concept of codependency, my reality as a codependent – but I did, by turning it into a hook in a book. That sounds facetious, but through such distancing, it was easier for me to hold the notion at a healthy remove, from which I gained perspective. It made it easier for me to look at my behaviour in my unsuccessful marriage, see how I could heal and move forward.
But was it unsuccessful? One Saturday, I woke up a bit tired; I’d had a lingering ligament injury and it was bothering me; by the time I got to the yard for my lesson, I had already reckoned on the kind of hour I was going to have. And I had it: less than stellar, it primarily featured inconsistent jumping on my school-horse-of-the-day, who wasn’t doing anything but giving back to me exactly what I was giving to him, which was low energy and lackadaisical direction. It was a lesson in which I went in and out of focus, in which I corrected something only to let something else go by the wayside. I was literally and figuratively unbalanced throughout.
I was not “successful” in that lesson, but I can look at it and see that it was useful in that I was fully aware of what was happening before and during. It helped me understand, completely and utterly, that I bring my entire self to this pursuit, that what goes on in the arena is a reflection of my state of being and of mind, and that it’s not up to the horse to “make” it go well.
In this way, I can look at my codependency, how it manifested in my former marriage, think about what I’ve learned and how I’ve used that knowledge, and how it has enabled me to sit here right now, a horsewoman-in-progress, pulling all the bits of my life together and bringing it all forward.
That’s the only kind of enabling I’ll be doing now, but even as to that, who knows? I could slip at any moment, reach for an old coping mechanism, tumble down the codependent rabbit hole... but I’ll do my best, and I’ll keep an open heart.
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