The new year got me thinking about the beauty and power of transformation. I’m a sucker for any narrative about deep-seated change—as author Anne Lamott writes, “Everyone loves a good resurrection story”—and my new incarnation as a mental health counselor is founded on the principle that all of us are capable of profound personal transformation.
I can’t help but summon up Mystic and his resurrection story as 2012 rolls in. I won’t rehash the details because they’re already threaded throughout my blog, but I will present graphic evidence of Mystic’s physical and emotional changes. Here he is below when I first started working with him in April 2011. Notice that, aside from being out of shape, he looks tentative and tuned out. He’s not focusing on James or me; instead he seems to be retreating inside himself. His ears point backward, showing discomfort and wariness. He is standing with one front and one hind leg forward, ready to run away or back up in the blink of an eye.
And here’s Mystic in October 2011, looking more like the athlete he was born to be. (I love watching his body change: his chest, shoulders, and rump are muscling up, and his topline is filling out.) He holds himself differently too, with pride and confidence. Standing squarely on all four feet, he is focused intently on me, his ears pointed forward in anticipation, showing full partnership and readiness to take on the next challenge.
I treasure transformations because I’ve been through some big ones. My most life-changing transformation happened 17 years ago, when I had a psychotic break and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I detailed this process of falling apart and then putting myself together again in a Newsweek essay that appeared in July 2002 (click here to read the essay). “Coming out” in a national magazine was an act of self-declaration and a call-out to others who might relate to my story. Letters and phone calls poured in from all over the country, and I felt like I’d finally done something meaningful with my life. Like Mystic, I carried myself with more pride and confidence once I began to peel off old layers and discover my core self.
As I was recovering from my breakdown—or “breakthrough,” as my therapist preferred to put it—I started smashing plates and creating mosaics out of the broken pieces. It was art as metaphor, reminding me again and again that destruction creates pathways for creation. With each piece I made from broken, cast-off objects, I understood more deeply that beauty comes from forming new patterns and not clinging to the concept of perfect wholeness.
Mystic was broken in some ways when I first met him. It’s been a joy to help him put the pieces back together, and to learn more about my own strengths and weaknesses in the process. Although I’ve worked with numerous human clients in my counseling internship, Mystic has in many ways been my most formative client. He’s taught me the profundity of body language, the importance of trust, and the power of a loving relationship. He’s taught me that progress is not linear, and that the quality of what I offer determines his response. He’s taught me horses can help people heal and vice versa—and that equine-assisted psychotherapy is truly the direction I want to pursue.
Am I telling Mystic’s transformation story or mine? They’re so wrapped together that it’s hard to say. All I know is that every change in my life—whether painful or joyful—has brought me to this moment, and I look forward to the transformations ahead, which happen not according to the annual calendar but in small and big ways every day.