Our supporter Alice tells the inspiring story of her recovery journey, and how her love of horses has helped her along the way...
In 2022, I took my third run at recovery. It was like trying to clamber up a wet skate ramp during monsoon season. With every small adjustment I made, I could feel myself threatening to slip and fall back down. I have learnt that recovery is not linear and can feel never-ending. I have also learnt that this is okay. These disorders have a skill in convincing sufferers that without it, they will have nothing left, nothing to return to. If they ever needed a career change, eating disorders would make very successful cult leaders.
The things that make us who we are, the ingredients to the wonderful concoction that is our personality, crumble away. A love of art, a riveting collection of gemstones or penchant for fixing motorbikes, disintegrate. In the deepest depths of this illness, even happiness sounds too tiring. My adoration for horses was sparked in my childhood. I will always be indebted to my father for that.
The first week of working with horses revealed to me how much physical and emotional strength I had lost to this illness
As many things do, it slipped to the wayside in my teenage years and might have stayed there, had it not been for a chance encounter with two police horses outside of a train station. I watched two 17hh Bays clop calmly past and the hazy memory of joy began to uncloud, and I resolved to chase it.
So, I did.
The first week of working on a yard with horses revealed to me how much physical and emotional strength I had lost to this illness. It is an illness, much as it tries to convince us that it is an irremovable part of us. It is not something that we chose or deserved and many of us need to be reminded of that.
I was astonished, and slightly embarrassed, by the ease with which everyone else swung hay nets and hefty leather saddles about whilst I was almost crawling across the yard by lunchtime. You would have been forgiven in thinking that I was wearing roller skates by the way the horses dragged me this way and that during my attempts to turn them out.
Whilst they can be the intelligent, strong, and majestic creatures everyone envisions, watching them have a standoff with an empty bin bag ruffled in a moderate breeze can be enlightening. The bin bag always wins.
If I could wish for one thing, it would be for these horses to understand the monumental impact they made on my life.
But there was a playful and lively spirit to each of the horses I worked with, and I wanted to see those qualities in myself again. Excitement. Enjoyment. Passion. There had been no room for any of these in my life that has been taken up by an eating disorder.
The barn quickly became my refuge, a place where my eating disorder could not reach me. I fell in love with each of the horses for different reasons, their playfulness, grumpiness, and capacity to empathise. They became, and continue to be, my reason to get stronger. To get well.
If I could wish for one thing, it would be for these horses to understand the monumental impact they made on my life. Sometimes, just by the way they look at me, I think they know. I will never forget the gift of strength that they gave to me. They saved my life.
Eating disorders, no matter what form they may take for you, are trick-sy. They convince you that it is safer to continue holding their hand and travelling down their road. But there is no return ticket for that journey. It will take time, and some trial and error, but you will find your sanctuary and it will be worth it. It is not overnight cure, nothing is, but finding these things are the first steps.
They become a place of refuge, a place to rest so you can gather your strength to continue fighting. Remember who you were, because you can always go back to that person.
Keep fighting, even if it is one hoof at a time.
-Contributed by Alice
If you've been affected by any of the issues raised in this story, or are concerned for yourself or a loved one, you can find support and guidance on the help pages of our website.
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