An interview with Sergeant Major (Ret.) Tim Sixberry,
United States Army | July 3, 2022
After 31 years in the military, I really was not a very good husband, father, or friend. I lived in a bottle. I was at rock-bottom and drinking bourbon every night, even passing out at times. I would self-medicate the wounds and anger. That is all that ever came out of me: anger. My wife hated me, and I hated myself. Understandably, my marriage ended in divorce. Then, I was medically discharged from service. My life had turned to shit, until I found H.O.O.V.E.S.
Have you ever been in a constant state chasing something and it eludes you?
Well, that was me, Tim Sixberry. I just wanted validation, certainty, connection, and intimacy in my life.
Being a Sergeant Major in the military, you get to tell people what to do. There is no discussion of what needs to be done-I expected it to be done-no questions asked. I had the power, or so I thought.
I performed very well in the military. I believed that was the job where I performed best. I had the status and I also had a family, but I had always a family of my own outside of the military - specifically a wife and children.
Before I started my own family, I lost two of my soldiers. My life changed drastically and was incredibly devastating to me. I became disillusioned with everything, including the whole military training process. I blamed myself for my leadership, for all of the training. After all, I was responsible for them, so blaming myself led to deep-seeded shame and guilt.
After I lost my soldiers, conducting training exercises, giving orders, and delivering procedures became more difficult for me. When someone didn't follow through with what was instructed, I would lose it: yell, scream, and chew people out. I could barely stand myself. I was so ashamed of how I felt and behaved. That is when I would drink, trying to stop feeling what I felt. Then the anger would really come out. No one wanted to be around me. I was toxic as hell. Once the drunken haze would lift, I would constantly ask myself, “how do you end up this way?” I now realize that I was experiencing survivor’s guilt and PTSD. I had to ask myself, “who was I,” “Who did I want to be?” I KNEW I had to work on these feelings and emotions, or I would end up dead.
This is when I found H.O.O.V.E.S: Healing Of Our Veterans Equine Services. There, I met May, a feisty black and white mare that had been labeled as dangerous by others. I interacted with May during a H.O.O.V.E.S. session after my divorce. May and I bonded quickly. I began seeking someone of the opposite sex that I could talk with; someone that would really care about me, to be intimate with, and fulfilling that portion of my life that I felt was missing. I was craving the deep feeling of being wanted and needed, but didn’t know how to communicate that. Not what I expected, yet still the opposite sex nonetheless-a mare named May. May was sent to H.O.O.V.E.S. because, according to her owner Kirsten, “May was unable to be handled and had a tendency to intimidate both people and horses by throwing her weight and size around.”
Kirsten went on to say, “She's a big girl. You know, she has opinions and she's got a big personality and she's got her thoughts and she's very much a horse that you have to work with as a team, as opposed to you cannot dominate me. Or tell her that you are a boss. You must work with her, not against her.”
With May, when I was working with her during our session, she just started ignoring me and would straight-up not listen to me. She did not want anything to do with me. I felt the anger and frustration rise up, like when my wife and officers did not follow through with my orders. I was disappointed because she kept pulling away from me. I kept trying over and over to get her to listen, so I would repeatedly do the same thing. She continued to pull away from me. All I wanted was for her to listen and bond with me. I was trying to give her the same attention repeatedly, and that's not what she wanted.
And so finally, I just got frustrated enough just to ask her well, what do you want? You know what happened next? It absolutely blew my mind when I asked the question, “What do you want?”
You know when you get to that stage when you throw your arms in the air, (like to your wife in an argument) and walk away? It was like that! Once I changed my approach, she perked up and came towards me. It was almost like there was a new horse, so to speak. She looked directly at me. I became very present to what had just happened, and to what she was asking. I started scratching on her neck near her mane because she moved forward. When I had my hands along her jawline, she stayed. I started scratching her there, too. And that's when she kind of wrapped her head around me, like a head hug. It started creeping me out a little bit. I said to myself, “okay, what is happening?”- feeling that something totally different is being asked this time. She was acting differently; she even felt different. It really made me aware that she showed me what and how she wants it to be. Then the realization came to me: every person, horse, or living thing is NOT going to respond the same way to the same thing every time.
May taught me: Can I ask a question? Can I be present to another’s needs? Can I feel the unspoken language of connection? That is when it became clear to me-it was the question, NOT the telling! I had to let go of my Sergeant Major persona and find my true self. It was realizing that I can only get what I want by discovering what OTHER people want, and what is important to them by asking questions. We cannot enter any type of relationship without surrendering and dropping the façade of being ok, even when you are not. That is one of the things that I have been learning from May and the H.O.O.V.E.S. practice – being vulnerable with authenticity.
The horses illuminated this for me. They know when you are not being honest to yourself and hiding your true thoughts and feelings. After all, they only express through pure authenticity with vulnerability, but most of all without judgment!
Through all of this, sharing my story, being vulnerable with who I am, and being vulnerable with others, I am allowing myself to heal, and not just be the big ball of anger I once was. Being who I truly am, and allowing others to be who they truly are, I now know that it is possible to get the deep, trust-based intimate, relationships in every area of life, even with a so-called ‘dangerous’ horse named “May.”
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