I’ve never considered myself “brave”.
People throw that adjective at me all the time, especially once they’ve heard a bit of my story. I’ve heard it more often than I’m comfortable admitting. I’m shit at taking compliments (which I knew, but it took my boss pointing it out to me for me to really realize just how shit I was at it), but out of all the things I tend to protest, I’ve always protested this one the most.
Bravery isn’t natural to me. I’m not sure it’s truly natural to ANYONE, but some people are simply more apt to throw themselves into the madness than others. I am not one of those people. I am much happier standing on the sidewalk, my back pressed against the fence, spending too much time observing and waffling before taking a step forward. I have always been a cautious, timid creature. I have gotten quite good at pretending I’m not peeking out at the world from behind my hands, but I’ve never been able to find my brave on my own. It’s always been an act…and holy shit do I deserve an Oscar at this point in the game, because I’ve perfected the art.
My timidity has colored a lot in my life, but it definitely came to a head when horses came into the picture. Again, a lot of people tend to watch me ride, and label me a confident rider. I have to bite my tongue to keep from correcting them, because I’m anything but. I can handle a lot more now than I could when I was a teenager, but I still remember arriving to the barn and literally shaking with nerves over the idea of even tacking up. It took a long time and a lot of effort to get to where I am an outwardly confident rider, and it is something I still have to work at every time I am within touching distance of a horse. Even now, with a horse of my very own, it is a constant battle. Sirius is a good, honest soul, with more try and kindness in the tip of his ear than most horses have in their whole being, but he is not for the faint of heart. He needs a rider who is confident and collected to bring out his best, and I am not either of those things on a regular basis, especially these days. I am very much weighed down by my own anxiety and insecurity. It makes keeping my head above water on a good day a struggle, and on a bad day, near impossible. I don’t “do” giving up, but sometimes, the whispered negativities I’ve adopted as truth push me to a point where I wonder if maybe he’d be better off with someone who can do more for him.
Then I remember that I am, if nothing else, stubborn as fuck. I am still a seven year old little girl who is desperately in love with horses, who dreamed about having a very special horse all her own. I have a very special horse to call my own now, which is something I still find myself marveling over on a regular basis, because it was always a pipe dream of mine. I refuse to give up on this dream, and I refuse to give up on such a special horse. So, I find a way. I find a way to step into the stirrup even when the voices inside my head are telling me that I can’t be the person my horse needs me to be, that I’m not enough and I’ll never be enough, for him or anything else in this world. I find a way to circumvent the fear even though every fiber of my being is telling me how absolutely insane and stupid I am for even trying.
I find a way, because when I do get up there and gather those reins, everything else melts away. Quiet and calm stifle out the white static of anxiety, no matter how strong it may be at that point in time. Our worlds open up and things that feel insurmountable become trivial. For a little while, I get to be centered and whole and he gets to investigate the world around him with confidence. We are fiery and brash and bold and everything is laughable. I can handle life again.
I have felt comfortable with horses before, and I have felt connected with horses before, but none of them have given me a sense of fearlessness like this little grey horse does. We work together to elevate each other past our separate but similar anxieties, and it’s just a little bit magical. Bravery becomes something we can both embody. It becomes something we can both believe is possible for ourselves.
It becomes truth.
I try to drag that truth with me, kicking and screaming, when I leave his side and the calm induced by his presence is slowly lost to the tumultuous fray of my mind. I hold on to it as long as I can, because when I have his influence running through my veins, I can forge into battle and beat the sentient beings my anxiety and depression have become into submission. They aren’t allowed to spin tall tales about who I am and what I stand for. I am able to find my voice and reach out. I am able to take comfort in a hand on my shoulder, instead of letting it break me in half because I don’t feel entitled to any undue kindness. I can sidestep the emotional baggage I’m forced to face every day at work, instead of tripping over it and falling ass over teakettle into an anxiety driven, emotionally fragile state of hell. I am able to pin down the emotionally damaged five year old child that has taken up residence within me and keep her from running rampant. I am able to breathe.
It may not last long — I’m grateful for a day or two of clarity at this stage in the game — but when I am able to take what he gives me down the road, I can see a light at the end of a relentlessly long tunnel. The strength of that light waxes and wanes, but I know it’s there. Even when I don’t fully trust that I’ll ever be able to find where that light is stemming from, I know it’s there, because he gives me the courage to keep looking for it.
It’s taken twenty five years, but I have found a way to cultivate my own brave. It’s not traditional, and it’s not consistent, but this unsteady hold I have on what it means to be brave is more than I’ve ever had. My brave is 14.1 hands of powerhouse Paso Fino gelding with a heart of gold, and he is my tangible courage. He is the reason I am fighting for my next good day, in whatever form that takes. He gives me a safe place to face the storm inside of my own head. He shows me how to open my heart and let the light in. He reminds me that silence is not the answer, even when it feels like there is no way out of its oppressive, suffocating grasp.
He is proof that my brave is bigger than fear.
How big is your brave?
“And since your history of silence,
Won’t do you any good,
Did you think it would?
Let your words be anything but empty,
Why don’t you tell them the truth?
Say what you wanna say,
And let the words fall out.
Honestly, I wanna see you be brave.
With what you want to say,
And let the words fall out.
Honestly, I wanna see you be brave.”
Brave, Sara Bareilles