I’ve learned a lot in my endeavors as an animal advocate, but the lessons I’ve learned from my rescued cow, Velvet, have taught me more about how to heal from emotional trauma than I ever thought possible.
The first time I saw Velvet she was posted for sale in a local livestock group on Facebook. Below two photos of a drastically emaciated black cow were hundreds of comments about her condition, but as I scrolled through I couldn’t find one offer to go get her. I messaged the poster and arranged a time to pick her up the following afternoon.
Like most things on the farm, Velvet wasn’t exactly a premeditated decision. When I saw her I knew there weren’t a lot of people that would step up to save an underweight meat cow. Velvet wasn’t just emaciated – she was covered in sores, filled with worms, had a severe back injury, and was 450 lbs underweight from where she had been when the poster had purchased her from his neighbor.
Today, we are 10 months into her rehabilitation and she still keeps an eye on me at all times. We continue to make slow progress, one sliver of trust at a time. That she’s been able to trust me at all after whatever she went through has been a remarkable lesson in forgiveness in itself, it’s also taught me a lot about healing from emotional trauma.
As soon as I brought Velvet home, I immediately focused on the best approach to get her healthy. It wasn’t until she had an episode where she panicked, knocked my vet off his feet, and threw me into her corral fencing that I truly understood how much emotional trauma she held behind her unsuspecting eyes.
What Velvet has taught me how to heal from emotional trauma:
- Healing comes from within.
When it comes to rescuing animals, we tend to give all the praise to the humans involved because they are the ones opening their hearts and homes to an animal in need. The reality is, that’s the easy part. In neglect cases, it’s the animal who is moving mountains. As humans, we have it a lot easier. We have therapists, people to talk to & lean on, support groups, medications, etc. to help us through our trauma. For animals, they’re working on all of that within.
I watch it happen first hand with Velvet. Shifts happen in her eyes as she sorts and sifts her way through new situations: fear when the vet comes, caution when she’s evaluating if she is safe in a situation, and excitement when she realizes there’s beet pulp mixed in with her grain ration.
Anyone that has survived a trauma knows how it feels to constantly assess whether they’re safe in a situation or not. We internalize our pain and sometimes forget that our growth and healing are also an internal job. Whether you lean on the support of others or seek professional help, knowing how to heal from emotional trauma means letting a change happen within, so be gentle with yourself.
- Not every day is a step forward – and that’s okay!
When it’s come to Velvet’s rehabilitation, not every day has been a step forward. In fact, there have been a handful of days that have knocked the wind out of my sails. And in those moments, I look back at where we started on this journey because healing is most evident in retrospect.
When Velvet was decompressing and settling into life on the farm, she was terrified of me. She wouldn’t come near me without a food bribe and even then, she would ram her head into me out of fear. Now, she rushes to the fence to greet me at mealtime and I can’t remember the last time she headbutted. In healing from her trauma, she has had to offer me her patience, compassion, and willingness as she’s worked with me. There is a Mumford & Sons lyrics that says, “Where you invest your love, you invest your life.” And I’m so thankful to have the opportunity to share mine with her.
- Slow progress is still progress.
We’re still making slow progress over here. And when I say slow, I mean that paint dries faster. In a society of instant results, I think we see so many impressive before and after transformations that it can be easy to forget that drastic impact takes time – and in Velvet’s case, it was never going to happen overnight.
I have to admit, it’s easy to lose sight of this, especially when you’re knee-deep in the middle of it and the ending is nowhere in sight. In those moments, remember that learning how to heal from emotional trauma means working through the thick of your story. When you’re feeling stuck, write it down. Someday, you’ll look back in retrospect and see all of the growth you’ve made from this moment forward. That’s not to say it’s always easy. It’s not. But it’s all part of the process, the ups – and the downs.