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365 Sunrises and Sunsets

Life happens, diverting our attention for moments, days, weeks, and sometimes years. I started writing this piece months ago and am only now finishing it. The call to write has been strong over recent weeks, but life obligations, a second horse, my love of skiing, and Rudy the Rudster business claimed my attention.

July 2022 (See what I mean about my attention being elsewhere?) Intellectually, we know life can change instantly. When I say "change," I mean life as we know it can become unrecognizable. Yet our choices often reflect an unknowing of this truth.

Some people believe every second is an opportunity for rebirth, a new you, but we rarely approach our lives this way. We become entrenched in our past and what we think that means for our future.

But now and then, something punctuates our lives that makes us realize we can change our view of life, ourselves, and what we believe about the world.

Several times, I have written about my riding accident in June 2021. As I approached the first anniversary, I wasn't consciously thinking about that day or the opportunity it gave me.

Instead, it snuck up on me. I found myself powerfully reflecting on the past year. The first thing that struck me was that I was alive.

With this thought, I saw myself as I lay splayed out in the middle of a dirt road while the horse's hooves thumped on the ground around my head and neck, scarcely missing me. But disability or death was not mine that day. Instead, I was granted life in those seconds, another chance to do things differently, to see with new eyes, and to make alternate choices.

What did I do with the precious gift of life, another 365 sunrises and sunsets? Was I any different than I was a year ago?

In hindsight, the accident gave me a much-needed break from constant motion. It forced me to be still. I fought this initially, railing against the reality of my situation.

For the first several weeks, I spent most of my time in Vermont, where I drank in the natural beauty of the mountains and green fields. I sat in an Adirondack chair reading, napping, and soaking up the sun. As the days rolled by, the searing pain in my leg lessened, and I exhaled.

The accident gave Rudy and me quiet time to be in each other's presence. No expectations, just sharing space. The love I felt from him was as powerful as any love I have ever felt. His concern for me and desire to care for me were evident.

An example of this occurred in the first week I was back, still on crutches and unable to stand for long. Rudy had a massage. Rudy's therapist works with him in his stall, so he can stretch and communicate his desires. I set up a chair in the corner, planning to stay out fray and allow his therapist to work.

I didn't anticipate Rudy protecting me. Rudy positioned himself in front of me with his head low and almost in my lap. He stayed like this for his whole massage. His gesture of concern touched me deeply. I realized he cared for me as I have done for him through many physical ailments.

Rudy was steady and present during the months it took me to heal. His usual propensity for being spooky was nonexistent. He was careful when he moved, touched me frequently with his muzzle, and often stared deeply into my eyes. As if by magic, the day I felt 100% was the day Rudy returned to his usual self.

The accident allowed me to explore fear more deeply. I have a long history of disconnecting and disassociating from fear. I hid from it instead of facing it, but I could no longer do that. My body would not allow it.

I had to acknowledge the fear, feel it, thank it for its presence, and ultimately work through it to return to riding.

I turned to hypnosis, something I was unwilling to consider previously due to the perceived loss of control, but the truth was that I already had lost control. I could no longer push my fear down or away.

There were times when it rose in me powerfully, threatening to stop me from doing things I loved, like riding Rudy. Hypnosis provided me with a means to disengage from the physical sensations of fear and redirect to feelings of confidence and competence.

At 57, I felt intense gratitude for my body for bouncing back. I found profound joy in all of the firsts post-accident—my first hike to the top of Jay Peak in the fall. The first time on skis and the freedom of gliding effortlessly through the trees was sweeter than ever before.

One thing that was harder to reconcile was that, once again, I put my needs aside for another person in the aftermath of the accident. I decided it was easier to go without what I needed than to make the person angry or uncomfortable.

Again, I accepted someone not showing up for me. As the days passed, I felt seething rage, not at the person but at myself for allowing less than I deserved. I vowed never to tolerate this treatment again from someone close to me. I committed to not putting myself second to avoid inconveniencing another.

I've struggled with setting and holding boundaries. Rudy has helped me recognize when I'm inconsistent—the past year provided me with multiple opportunities to stand up for myself and enforce the limits I set. Doing so meant I invited more conflict into my life, something I used to avoid, but in the months post-accident, I recognized this as a sign of self-love.

Change doesn't happen overnight. It occurs over time and is often messy, with modest progress and setbacks. I suspect that circumstances will continue to challenge me and require that I put myself into the equation versus my long-established pattern of sacrificing myself, and my needs, for others.

My relationship with Rudy will continue to provide opportunities to work on me. The chance to set and hold boundaries and the choice to care for me when I'm exhausted instead of forcing myself to show up. The opportunity to ask him to participate instead of overcompensating for him. And to look for areas where I introduce resistance into our relationship and interactions.

Ru can frustrate me, but he is wise. He is patient and shows me what I need to work on to be the best version of myself. He is one of the greatest gifts of my life and I love him to pieces.

Picture: Celebrating Rudy's 18th birthday on April 10, 2023

Written by Diane Jones over months from mid-July 2022 to April 2023

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