We grow up believing that love is all that matters. Countless songs and movies repeating the mantra that “Love is all you need” in all its variations. From the angst of being the first to say, “I love you” in a relationship, to the unbearable pain of unrequited love, or the overwhelming maternal love for our children, we are conditioned to feel that love is the answer to all things despite the pain that goes with it. Love is the panacea to all ills and the foundation of all relationships. Love conquers all things, and as long as we love our parents, siblings, spouses, children, friends, and neighbors, all will be right with the World.
I am probably the biggest romantic there is. My husband has learned to have tissues at the ready whenever we watch anything remotely “heartwarming.” I sobbed so hard at the end of Marley and Me on a flight to Vegas that he had to throw a blanket over my head so I wouldn’t disturb the other passengers. I cry every time I hear Luther Vandross on the radio singing “Dance with my Father,” and I cry every time I have to leave my dog, Alfie, at the kennels. For me, the sensation of Love at its most intense moment is the warmth that fills my heart when I feel connected to something or someone, quickly followed by the feeling of panic and fear of potentially losing that connection. But there are also degrees of Love that I feel which are less intense—moments of connection and contact that feel pleasant and not overwhelming.
As a therapist, I try to hold an attitude of openness towards my clients to allow them the space to step forward into a more connected relationship. I work hard to establish a non-judgmental environment where they can allow themselves to be as they are and feel validated. I would say that I do grow to love some of my clients, where I come away from the relationship knowing that I will hold them in my heart always.
But here’s the thing. Love is not enough. Contrary to popular belief, Love is not the foundation of relationships. Love is not the cure all for everything. Love alone cannot sustain the traumas that occur in relationships in all its various forms. Love is not the starting point.
If I think back to when ruptures have occurred in any of my relationships (family, friends, partners, and pets!), they generally pinpoint to the issue of trust. Arguments have escalated because I don’t feel that I’m being trusted, or I’m not trusting the other, or most often, when I haven’t trusted myself. For me, the whole concept and feeling of Trust is a huge minefield. When I think about my clients, it’s the same thing. I’m not teaching them or helping them if I am simply there to hold their hand. My aim is to enable them to trust themselves and the people around them so that they can make better choices in their lives. Love is not enough.
Enter my horse, Reba.
How do I learn to trust Reba or myself? The romantic in me has all kinds of fantasies about working in partnership with her so that we understand and communicate with each other as one. I have images of me riding Reba with soft hands and eyes, and a balanced seat whilst executing beautiful, fluid dressage movements through the most nuanced of aids. The idea of us being so connected that I merely have to think about a transition and she’ll respond accordingly is the ultimate dream. I cannot even begin to describe how far away we are from that fantasy.
The reality is that I find it extremely difficult to trust Reba or myself. There is a disconnection between mind and body for me where I don’t trust my body to do what I need to do to keep me safe. I find it hard to trust that I have enough skill to execute what I’m asking of her. My body has failed me on numerous occasions in the past (not just when riding), so why will it be any different now? It takes some serious concentration for me to feel into my body when I am in the saddle. This is why riding is so good for me, and also why it triggers so much. And it’s not just an internal process—it’s not just about me trusting myself, there’s also the need to trust Reba as my partner in this. Not to mention whether she trusts me or not. On a bad day, we end up co-creating something between us that is full of potential for misunderstandings and miscommunication. Forget my fantasy of mutual understanding—there’s barely any connection!
Now, don’t get me wrong. Reba and I have moments when we are in sync, and it feels like we are moving together and everything flows, and our connection is effortless. But these are precious moments, few and far between the reality of how hard it is to stay connected with myself and with her.
One of the most powerful experiences I had happened when I was living in Virginia and had just connected with the therapeutic riding facility where I would be working as an equine assisted therapist, bringing clients from the eating disorders clinic where I worked to the barn to run equine-assisted therapy sessions. Having only just met Dada, the Program Director, I remember thinking that I needed to prove myself to her in order for her to trust me with the horses that I would be working with. I was acutely aware of how much I had to learn and wasn’t feeling particularly confident around the horses. Could I trust them in the work I wanted to do with my clients? Could I trust myself? Dada, however, trusted the horses. She also believed in me and trusted my abilities. So when she allowed me free rein to work with horses and clients without supervision, I felt stunned. I didn’t know what she was basing this decision on. When I asked her, she simply said, “I trust you and the horses trust you.” Knowing that she trusted me, gave me the permission to trust myself. The fact that she trusted me before I could trust myself, allowed me to question and challenge the doubter in me. The connection that I had with those horses and with Dada felt so precious to me. Her trust in me in that moment felt like the biggest gift I’d ever received.
In working with Reba, I try and remind myself of that connection. I am forever grateful to Dada for teaching me that lesson, and it is a lesson that I keep having to revisit. My lack of confidence can be a negative cycle of fear and distrust. When I remember that others have confidence in me, it helps me to believe in myself. That’s what Trust can do.
So regardless of how much I love Reba, Love is not the foundation of our relationship. In order for us to move forward, the type of contact that we establish between us needs to be one of Trust. So in very small, painful steps we are beginning to build that trust. First, on the ground, then in the saddle. Sometimes we connect. Sometimes we don’t. What I hold in my heart is the hope that I can learn to trust both her and myself more consistently.
I guess I’m starting with trusting the process.
— Veronica Lac
Today’s guest contributor, Veronica Lac, MA, LPC, is studying for her PhD in psychology (Existential, Humanistic, and Transpersonal specialization) at Saybrook University. She is a British Chinese Gestalt psychotherapist currently living in Columbus, OH, and working as an equine-assisted therapist with clients suffering from eating disorders.