Codependency and Horses

This is part 3 of a series of contributions from Annette

This week’s Healing Through Christ meeting was on codependency, and I wondered how it could possibly apply to my horse situation.  I will begin by sharing a definition of codependency inserting “my horses for people.  “The prefix “co” in the word codependency refers to the connection between [me and my horses.] “Co” is attached to the word dependency to convey the understanding that [my] mental and emotion health are directly connected to and dependent upon what [my horses]….are or are not doing.”  I thought, if this is true I should feel different emotions depending on what my horses are or are not doing as they work with my horse trainer.

The next lesson for my horse Tomie was to learn to yield to the bit which means teaching a horse to put their head in a position where there is no pressure or pulling on the corners of their mouth by the bit.  It looks like this. 

Notice how loose the reins are; this is very comfortable for the horse. My trainer explained how we would teach this to Tomie.  First we bridle and saddle him, tie the reins to rings on each side of the saddle and then allow Tomie to freely wander around the corral as he figures out where to place his head.   My trainer told me in the beginning it might be frustrating for Tomie as he works to figure out where to place his head so the reins hang loose.  We then bridled and saddled Tomie, tied the reins to the rings and let him loose in the corral.  My job was to watch him as he wandered around the pen. As I watched I wasn’t prepared for the feelings I felt inside. Instead of lowering his head he raised it up high which created pressure on the bit in his mouth.  Tomie was uncomfortable as he fought against the bit instead of yielding. I didn’t like watching Tomie work to figure things out.  The longer I stood there watching the more upset I became.   I knew where his head needed to be and wanted to go and lower his head to speed up the learning process.  Even though it had only been a couple of minutes I could hardly stop myself from jumping through the fence to help him.  As I stood trying to work through my feelings a voice inside my head said, “Annette, you are acting codependently towards Tomie. You don’t like your feelings as you watch your horse discover and learn the lesson your trainer is teaching him.   You want to go in and force Tomie’s head to the correct position in order to stop your anxious feelings as you watch him learn on his own.”

I was shocked as I realized the truth of what the Spirit was teaching me.  My mental and emotional health was directly connected to what my horse was or was not doing.  I couldn’t feel happy until Tomie was “doing the right thing.” I wondered how many time I had interfered with lessons the Lord was trying to teach my children because I couldn’t stand my impatient feelings as I watched them work through the learning process.  Finally I had to walk away from Tomie and find someone else to watch him as he figured out where to put his head.  Within minutes I was called back to see that Tomie had discovered where his head should be and the reins were hanging loose.  My trainer was right, Tomie had figured it out on his own.

It was a day to celebrate Tomie’s progress but also a day to celebrate what I learned about myself.  I discovered my impatient and anxious feelings as I saw others go through the lessons God has arranged for them.  I realized my uncomfortable emotions often cause me to control and manipulate others instead of letting them learn by themselves. I hope in the future to choose to trust in my Heavenly Father’s lessons for others just as I am learning to trust my trainer’s lessons for my horses.

My Feelings About My Horses

In Healing Through Christ we learn that emotions are always a part of life’s trials. We are also taught the importance of really listening to our feelings as we work through recovery. My horses are currently a big trial in my life.  Could listening to my feelings about them make a difference?  I was surprised by what I learned as I had the courage to face my emotions and learn the lessons they could teach me.  I will list the 5 emotional stages I went through with my horses and what each stage taught me about myself and my relationship with them.

Shock and Denial

The situation really began about 6 weeks ago when my daughter discovered my horses had broken into a back pasture.  It was dark and nearly impossible to see the galloping horses as they circled around her. With added help from my husband, my daughter soon had the horses back safely where they belonged.  When my family told me later about the incident I was “shocked” the horses had broken through the back fence and certainly in “denial” as I convinced myself the actions of my horses was really no big deal, a problem that could be handled sometime in the future. 

Anger

Then just 2 weeks ago when my horses started constantly breaking fence lines and going wherever they wanted I got really “angry.”  How could they do this to me; I feed and take care of them; I spend tons of money on them? I wanted to get rid of them. It was my horses’ fault I was feeling so angry. In Healing Through Christ we learn that getting angry “doesn’t solve anything…but it can destroy everything.” At the same time anger “can be a voice inside of us that says ‘Enough! Something has to change.’” I began to process my anger by talking about it with friends and writing in my journal.  I prayed for guidance from the Lord and He sent help and understanding through a horse trainer that “just happened to move into my church congregation.” As I started to work on the problem it also helped me continue to move through my angry feelings.

Sadness

Even as I started to take responsibility for my problems I felt deep sadness at the loss of my dream of perfect horses, a beautiful farm and the easy country life I had always imagine.  This life was hard and always would be.  I felt everything was hopeless and just wanted to give up.  But Healing Through Christ tells us to remember “feelings aren’t facts.”

Bargaining

Bargaining is when I think I can bribe my horses into cooperating with me.  I have learned there is no reward or special treat I can give my horses that will permanently keep them in fences that aren’t working right.  A bribe is only a temporary band-aid until they next time the horses decide to wander through “unhot” fences into better pastures.

Acceptance and Resolution

Finally I accepted the truth of the situation.  I could see things as they really were, not what I just hoped them to be.  Unlike denial, I see clearly what actions “I, Annette,” needed to take to change things.  I reorganized my pasture situation, I bought a new fence charger, cut down the brush under the fence lines, and worked hard to change the things I could.  There was a new kind of peace and serenity that grew in my heart as things slowly started to get better. I am happy now as things are changing for the better. 

Through this trial with my horses I am learning the lessons my emotions can teach me.  The Lord is bringing me to the right solutions as I listen to and process my feelings. As I have gone through the emotional stages I learned how to find peace with all my different feelings, even anger.  And I am learning that my emotions are a gift from God if I allow Him to use my feelings to teach me

The Answer to Unmanageable Horses

Over the next several weeks, Annette will be sharing her experience of applying the 12 Steps in an unexpected area of her life. The Twelve Steps of Healing Through Christ can help us meet and overcome many different challenges in our lives, including “unmanageable horses.”

On Tuesday I gave the prayer in my Healing Through Christ meeting and said, “Help us find something in our lives we can use the 12 step program to overcome, as we start again at the beginning of the steps.”  This plea was indeed inspired, though I certainly didn’t want the answer the Lord would personally give to me. 

 It came later that morning as I went out to feed my horse Ally and her two sons Dusky and Tomie.  I walked passed Ally eating peacefully in the lane and out to the pastures where I found Dusky and Tomie in a section that was fenced off to them.  I quickly realized they had broken the fence line and gone into a section of pasture they thought contained better grass.  I led them back out to where they belonged but then to my horror saw them just look around for another pasture with beautiful grass and break through another fence line.  I was so angry—so out of control angry.  There was nothing I could do to stop them.   They had learned the fences were not hot and with their immense horse strength they could do whatever they wanted with no respect for me.  In my anger I vowed right then and there to get rid of them both to the next Amish family that needed a buggy horse.  I was done with this life in the country.  I would sell my place and move to a condo where I would never have to do “outside” again. 

I stormed into my house to tell my daughter what had happened and my decision. I raged about my feelings toward my two horses until I finally calmed down enough for the Lord’s spirit to add some insight to my situation. The words of Step One from our group meeting ran through my mind with a little variation.  “Come to understand and accept that I am powerless over the actions, behavior and lack of control of my horses and that my life has become unmanageable.”  I was shocked as I realized the Lord had already answered the prayer I gave earlier in the 12 Step meeting.

I indeed had an unmanageable situation and was ready to give up on my farm, my land, my home, the horses I love and the country life that is in my blood. Could there be another answer? Did God want to teach me that He not only cares about each hair of my head and each sparrow that falls, but that He cares about me and my out-of-control horses? I’ve used the 12 Steps to overcome addictions, co-dependency, a troubled marriage and difficult relationship with friends and family. I realized the Lord now wants to teach me that these eternal principles can apply even to my horses and my relationship with them. Over the next weeks and months I have felt impressed to write about this journey to discover God is the healer of all things, even a broken relationship with my horses.

My Broken Toe

by Annette

Ten weeks ago I broke my toe, stopping all my ambitious plans for the summer.  When I returned to my doctor last week I was certain I would be cleared to go back to my normal activities and finally begin my “to do” list from June.  To my dismay my doctor handed me an x-ray of my foot with the break still clearly visible.   He told me to continue buddy taping my injured toe to its strong neighboring toe, wear a shoe to protect it from re-injury and to listen carefully to how my toe, foot and leg felt as I “slowly” began using my foot again. My doctor then informed me it would be a year before the bone would be completely healed. I was devastated.  This was not what I had hoped he would say.  Frustrated I went home, called into my 12 Step meeting and reluctantly wrapped my injured toe to one next to it.

God heals me toes

I sadly looked at my toes taped together as I listened to the people on the meeting.  The participates shared of people whose examples of faith, courage and determination had helped them in their early days, weeks and months of learning a new way of life.  They talked about the importance of paying attention to their feelings as they worked recovery to prevent relapse.  They shared how healing takes time and the importance of being patient as we come to understand that healing is a process that requires time to “regain, reclaim, and regroup all that was lost while we tried on our own to cope.”  Lastly they encouraged everyone on the meeting to stick with it because it’s worth it.

I stared at my injured toe and its buddy next to it.  I realized my broken toe was in recovery just like the people in this meeting.  It needed the strength of the neighboring toe to keep it straight and protected, just like the people starting the 12 Step journey.  Though frustrated by the x-ray my doctor gave me, it revealed the invisible break that was still there.  The truth was my toe was still in the beginning stages of healing.  I realized the wounds many of us in 12 Step meetings carry are also completely invisible to ourselves and others as we struggle to keep up appearances that all is well and normal in our lives. And now I understood healing my toe would take a full year just like the emotional and spiritually healing can take a long time for the people in our group meetings.  Healing does take time, a long time, sometimes a year or more.

But the most important thing I learned that day was though the doctor could show me pictures of my toe in recovery, give me advice on how to keep it protected and safe, and help me realize the length of time complete healing would take, my doctor could not heal it.  Only God can heal my toe through the amazing body He has given me.  Likewise, though I can attend 12 Step meetings, listen to stories that can encourage me to patiently walk the road of recovery, or work with a sponsor, I cannot heal myself.   Whether it’s the miraculous healing of the bone in my foo,t or of my mind, heart and spirit, it’s God who heals me.  “Christ is the healer of [my soul].” And Christ is also the healer of my broken toe.

Letting Go

Canva - Person Playing PianoWhat does it mean to surrender to God? I’ve asked myself this question many times over the past few years as I’ve worked to let go of the challenges in my life and let God help me. Just when I think I’ve got it figured out, I often realize that I’m still trying to manage everything myself. Other times, I hand over my problems to God for a moment, only to fearfully change my mind and take the control right back from him.

I had an experience a few months ago that helped me come closer to understanding what it means to surrender to God.

Read the rest of this post by Britney at her blog “Focused Light” 

Frozen 2: Journey Through the 12 Steps

FrozenRecovery is Letting Go and Allowing Growth

Anna’s song is familiar to me; I hear hope, despair, resolve, pain, and, most importantly, trust in that Tiny Voice that is the foundation of 12-Step recovery. She is willing to be willing. Each painful step forward moves Anna to a future beyond anything she (or the audience) can imagine. She makes amends for long-past wrongs, and in doing so, frees herself and others from the impact of those wrongs. This is a story of growth, of setting things right, of letting go of fear and allowing others to grow while they each choose to do the next right thing for themselves. The best part? This Disney movie, this fairy tale, is real. Not the talking snowman. But the courage, the progress, the hope when hope seems gone, the fellowship that supports each of them as they do their own work—it happens every day. I feel it when I attend or call into a 12 Step meeting. It is coming home.

Read the rest of this article at Meridian Magazine

Naughty or Nice

from Britney

A friend of mine shared an experience his wife had with their daughter a few Christmases ago. She sat down with the young child to help her write a letter to Santa. The mother began writing: “Dear Santa, this year I have been…”

She paused and turned to the little girl to ask whether she had been naughty or nice. At first, the child wasn’t sure how to respond. After thinking for a moment, she insightfully replied, “Just say that I was happy!”

The lesson this wise little one expressed through her response to a tough question is one that we learn in Healing Through Christ. Step Five reminds us that “even though we have made mistakes, we are still precious children of a loving Heavenly Father.”1 Because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, through repentance, we can overcome the sorrow of our errors, and we can feel happy.

Our failures in life are part of Heavenly Father’s plan for us. He sent us here to grow, and mistakes teach us powerful lessons. He doesn’t shame us when we make a wrong choice, and we don’t need to do that to ourselves. We are not bad people. Elder Boyd K. Packer taught: “You are a child of God. He is the Father of your spirit. Spiritually you are of noble birth, the offspring of the King of Heaven. Fix that truth in your mind and hold to it. However many generations in your ancestry, no matter what race or people you represent, the pedigree of your spirit can be written on a single line. You are a child of God!”2

Although Santa Claus might deny gifts to those who have been naughty, our Heavenly Father wants to give us many gifts. We only have to be willing to receive them. He does not require perfection. His gifts come when we choose to turn to Jesus Christ and invite His healing grace into our lives. His gifts bring joy and peace.

His gifts bring joy and peace. (1)

Instead of thinking about yourself in terms of “naughty or nice,” consider whether or not you are feeling the joy that comes from placing Christ at the center of your life. If not, you can ask Heavenly Father for help.  He wants you to be happy, and He will lead you there if you put your trust in Him and faithfully follow His guidance. If you make more mistakes along the way, just keep trying. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland reminded us, “God doesn’t care nearly as much about where you have been as He does about where you are, and with His help, where you are willing to go…every day ought to be the start of a new year and a new life. Such is the wonder of faith and repentance and the miracle of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”3

 

1 Healing Through Christ – Help, Hope, and Healing for those who have a loved one in addiction, 51

2 Boyd K. Packer, “To Young Women and Men,” Ensign, May 1989

3 Jeffrey R. Holland, “Remember Lot’s Wife,” BYU Devotional, Jan 2009

Give The Twelve Steps to Yourself This Year

The Christmas season can be both joyous and stressful as we celebrate our Savior’s birth, while trying to meet everyone’s expectations, including our own. Spending more time with family can be enjoyable or difficult, depending on the health of the relationships. How about giving yourself a gift that will keep on giving?

Christmas gift

The Healing Through Christ Family Support 12-Step meetings will be starting a new series beginning the week of Sunday, December 8th. While any time is the right time to start the 12 Steps, people often want to begin at the beginning—here’s your chance. And this time of year is the perfect time to provide an hour of peace for yourself, an oasis of self-care and reflection in the midst of a busy, giving time of year.

The Family Support group was originally designed for people with a loved one in addiction, but it is equally valuable for

  • People with strained relationships with loved ones
  • People with a history of trauma
  • Those who are mourning the loss of a loved one, whatever that loss may be—death, leaving the faith of their childhood, strained and unhappy relationships
  • Men and women struggling with their own attraction to an addiction
  • Those who are resisting the allure of perfectionism
  • People who simply feel overwhelmed by life and its demands
  • Those who are in pain, emotional or physical

As you can see, anyone can benefit from the Twelve Steps—they bring us to Christ and help us to be honest with Him and with ourselves about what is and what is not in our control. We develop the ability to recognize and release the things we cannot control and find strength to change the things—primarily within ourselves—that need to be set right.

Won’t you join us? Will you do this for yourself and join a supportive, loving, safe group of people who will walk with you on a path to greater peace in your life? Will you be with us each week as we celebrate the tidings of great joy, and find the peace which passeth understanding?

Call into a meeting today—you can just listen until you are ready to speak. There are meetings every day of the week, mornings, afternoons, and evenings. Meeting information is available at www.thearborkalamazoo.com/phone-in-meetings or you can message us for more information.

The Twelve Steps of Healing Through Christ will change your life. You will feel greater peace and happiness. Give yourself this gift and feel the power of the Redeemer of the World as He heals your soul.

Spiritual Splinters

from Britney

I was cleaning the kitchen one afternoon when my six-year-old son came in from playing outside. He was clearly upset.

“Mom! I have a splinter in my hand!” he exclaimed.

“Can you show it to me?” I asked.

As he cautiously held out his hand, I could plainly see the splinter. As far as splinters go, I knew this one would be very easy to remove. It was sticking out quite far from his skin. “Let me get some tweezers, so I can pull that out for you,” I said.

“NO! It hurts SO bad!” he cried.

“It will be very easy to remove. It won’t hurt at all,” I calmly replied. “It’s going to be more painful if you leave it in.”

Refusing to allow anyone to touch his sore hand, he emphatically declined my offer to help. He went back to playing, troubled by the tiny foreign object sending pain through his little hand but not ready to face the fear of having it removed.

I have seen my young children make this choice before. In the past, there have been times when I’ve forced them to let me take out their splinters. I would struggle to hold them still while trying to grab onto those minuscule pieces of wood lodged in their skin. My kids always hated it. They would squirm and cry, and I never had much success helping them in those conditions. Over time, I’ve learned that, for a simple splinter, it’s better not to touch it until they’re willing to let me help them.

Sometimes I’m like a child with a splinter. I have painful emotions, weaknesses, or sins that I know are hurting me, but I’m afraid to let my Savior remove them. I feel scared that the process of allowing Him to heal me is going to hurt more than my current suffering. Just as my son protected his splinter from any aid I could give him, I also often guard the painful areas of my life from the Lord because I fear His help will cause more soreness for me. I would rather live with the familiar pain than risk any further discomfort.

pablo (9)

As I work the twelve steps of Healing Through Christ, I’m reminded that Jesus Christ is patient and kind. He feels empathy for my pain, even if it is self-inflicted. When I cling to unhealthy feelings and behaviors, He doesn’t abandon or condemn me. He wants me to turn to Him whether or not I’m completely ready to trust Him. He understands why I feel afraid, and He wants to help me release my fears and grow in faith. In Step Two, as we learn to surrender our fearful emotions, we realize that “because our Savior respects our agency, He will not take from us what we are not willing to give. We become ready to willingly give and completely surrender our fears to Him, then we prayerfully ask our Savior to take from us the fearful emotional burdens that are creating so much hopelessness and pain in our lives.”1

In Step Six, we become ready to let God help us. “When we truly desire to change, we will become willing to let go of our old ways of doing things and trust that the spirit of the Lord will teach us new ways. This desire is increased when we fully comprehend how this choice will bless our lives.”2 Working the twelve steps of Healing Through Christ helps us learn how to put more trust in our Savior. We learn to believe in His ability to calm our troubled hearts, strengthen our weaknesses, and lead us to change.

Richard G. Scott taught: “Many of you suffer needlessly from carrying heavy burdens because you do not open your hearts to the healing power of the Lord…lay the burden at the feet of the Savior. He has invited you to do that so that you can be free from pointless worry and depression.”3 We’re reminded in our support group meetings that “as we pray, seek the Lord’s guidance, read our scriptures and work the Steps on a daily basis…we will find hope, we will feel peace and we will experience joy again.”4 These spiritual habits keep us close to God. When we invite His spirit into our lives daily, we develop a more trusting relationship with Him. With this increased trust, it becomes easier to allow Him to remove our spiritual splinters before they become too painfully embedded in our lives. We will want to reach for Him when we feel broken and hurt. He will comfort us as He carefully, and often very gradually, takes our uncomfortable feelings, weaknesses, and sins away. If we let Him, He will gently unbury the hurt lodged in our spirits, and we will live free from fear and pain.

1 Healing Through Christ – Help, Hope, and Healing for those who have a loved one in       addiction, 23

2 Healing Through Christ – Help, Hope, and Healing for those who have a loved one in addiction, 61

3 Richard G. Scott, “To Be Free of Heavy Burdens,” Ensign, Nov 2002

4 Michigan Healing Through Christ, “Family Support Group Phone Meeting Format,” Closing section, para. 2

 

Before They Were Ours

from Britney

In Healing Through Christ, we learn to apply the spiritual adage, let go and let God. We put this principle into practice as we allow Him to do for our loved ones what we are not able to do. We recognize that “God manages things better than we do.”1 Several years ago, I learned the value of letting go and letting God when I faced a challenge with my oldest child.

We moved from Arkansas to Michigan for an employment opportunity right before my son started Kindergarten. I didn’t know much about Michigan before moving there, but I knew enough to expect bitterly cold winters. I couldn’t remember ever wearing a pair of snow pants as a child in the South, much less going to school (or anywhere) in winter weather. The idea of sending my very young little boy to school in several inches of snow wearing insulated pants, boots, hat, and mittens was completely foreign to me. He was so small. I didn’t know if he could handle it. In addition to the stresses of unfamiliar weather and wardrobe, I had other fears about sending my first baby out into the world. He was a homebody who had a lot of anxiety about facing anything new.

One day in November, the first snow started to fall. Before school the next morning, I had a very worried little boy who did not like the idea of adding layers of clothing to his routine. I couldn’t convince him to put on any of his snow gear. His fears came out in the form of tears. I tried to console him as we were running out of time to make it to the bus stop. He continued to sob. I assured him that he would have help at school to learn new procedures. I reminded him that other kids were learning too. I silently prayed for help followed by a prayer aloud with him. It didn’t seem to help. I knew I would have to drive him to school and hand-deliver him to his teacher. I gathered his two younger siblings, and we all headed to school. Still in our pajamas, we walked our sad boy through the halls to his classroom with the sound of swishing little snow pants all around us. I explained his worries to his teacher, reassured him, and turned to leave. It broke my heart to say goodbye. He was emotionally overwhelmed, and his teacher was busy tending to the chaos of a classroom of almost thirty little kindergartners. As I left, I wanted nothing more than to go back, scoop up my little boy, and bring him home with me where he really wanted to be, but I tried not to worry.

Later that morning, I received a call from a school specialist. She told me she had pulled my son out of class for an assessment, and she was calling me to report how it went. Before she shared the results with me, she said, “When I sat down with your son, he rested his head on my shoulder for a little while. It was very sweet.”

“He had a hard morning,” I replied.

After we ended our conversation, tears of gratitude filled my eyes. I knew at that moment that Heavenly Father was aware of my child. Even though he was in a class full of other students with only one teacher to care for them all, Heavenly Father provided a way. He sent another loving adult to sit with my little one and give him the attention and comfort he needed on that particularly difficult day. I not only recognized Heavenly Father’s love for my child, but I also felt His awareness of me. What if the school specialist had waited to call me, or what if she hadn’t even told me about the tender moment she had with my son? I believe she was prompted by the Spirit to contact me right away and share it all with me. I believe Heavenly Father knew my worries and heard my prayers. He wanted me to know that this child, who was so dear to me, was in good hands and that He had sent help. He wanted to comfort me.

Elder Orson F. Whitney taught that our children “were [God’s] before they were [ours]—long before he entrusted them to [our] care; and [we] cannot begin to love them as he loves them.”2 No matter the age of our children, whether they are small or grown, we can trust that Heavenly Father will work in their lives in ways that will touch them. Through their challenges, He will provide help and important lessons tailored to their needs. He knows them well, and He knows how to bless them. We can pray with them and for them. We can walk with them and support and encourage them, but the responsibility to care for our children is not entirely on us. When they’re out of our reach, He will send others to sit with them and help carry their burdens. When they’re alone and face overwhelming trials, He will wrap His loving arms around them.

pablo (8)

On that snowy November day in Michigan, I realized that I can place my fears as a parent in the hands of God and trust that He knows the best way to care for all of His children, including my children. I learned what it means to let go and let God

1Healing Through Christ: Help, Hope, and Healing for those who have a loved one in addiction, 26

2Orson F. Whitney, in Conference Report, April 1929, 110

Thanks to Britney for submitting this post. If you would like to submit a post that reflects your hope, faith, and experience with the Steps, please send it to thearborkalamazoo@gmail.com