In late April, my now-husband and I adopted an elderly rescue dog from the local humane society. This was our second attempt at adopting a canine since our original rescue pup Buddy died in August of 2015. Our first attempt in November ended in us having to return the poor thing after only a week due to unforeseen circumstances (it turned out that she thought cats were chew toys and our cats disagreed).
We’ve had our 8-year old guy for a month now, and it has been an interesting road. We had him for a couple weeks before we realized that he had some… quirks that we needed some help with in order to make us all feel more comfortable. We enlisted the help of a dog trainer, who gave us some wonderful insights and ideas. Integrating her suggestions has been a slow but valuable practice. It has also made me reflect on larger lessons that might be applied to everyday life for all of us.
It’s good to have boundaries… and it’s also good to expand them.
Toby gets frightened if strange people come into his awareness. We see this most keenly in our daily walks and also whenever anyone comes to visit. Our trainer suggested that we keep him “below threshold” whenever we’re out walking. Meaning, we keep him at a distance from others where he feels safe. That distance can change depending on the day he is having.
Boundaries are necessary things for our survival and sanity. Having them is a good thing, as is protecting them. It is okay to stand up for yourself when they’ve been pushed too far. It is okay to say “this is not something I am comfortable with.” And it is okay to walk away from someone who insists on pushing you beyond those boundaries.
Boundaries can also, however, keep you from doing the things you want to do. It is good to check in on them from time to time. Are they still working? Do you feel safe, or do you feel stuck? Boundaries can be expanded when you are ready and it is time for growth. It is okay to have them, is it okay to expand them or keep them as they are if they work for you.
Even if they’re baby steps, you’re still moving.
A couple weeks ago, we went out for some soft serve and took Toby with us. In order for it to be a comfortable outing for all of us, we had to take him far back in the parking lot where no one went. As frustrating as it was to be apart from everything, the fact that we there at all and he was relatively calm was huge.
Sometimes when you are trying to change something, it can be easy to become frustrated because things aren’t moving the way you think they should. Maybe the weight isn’t coming off fast enough, or you still crave cigarettes. Take a moment to realize that even if you aren’t where you think you should be, you have still moved forward. Maybe you aren’t seeing that scale budge, but your clothes fit better and you have more energy. Maybe you still crave that cigarette, but you didn’t have one. Even inching forward, one can still go far.
When you’ve reached your limit, STOP
We have been very cognizant of pushing Toby too far. One of us will usually call it when we think he has reached his limit. Pushing him too far will only reinforce the behaviors we are trying to change, and make all of us unhappy.
Our society is very keen on pushing ourselves past our limits, past our breaking points. We ignore symptoms of exhaustion and burnout because we think we must keep doing more, keep pushing further. While we may get much accomplished in the short term, in the long run we open ourselves up to illness or injury. Never giving yourself any time to rest and recuperate means eventually your body will make you stop.
Recognizing you have reached your end point is key to maintaining a healthy balance in your life. You may not finish every task on your daily list, but you will have better enthusiasm, energy and dedication to apply to your tasks that need doing and be able to discern which can be sacrificed for peace of mind. You’ll be surprised at how many of those tasks fall into the latter category.
Sometimes letting go is your best course of action
It was heartbreaking to give Flynn back after only one week. The reality was, we rushed into the decision to adopt her, swayed by her cuteness and enthusiasm. We never stopped to consider her youth and breed would not fit within our family dynamic. We thought we could make it work. In the end, Flynn went to a place that could love and nurture her far better than we ever could. As much as it hurt to let her go, it was the best thing for everyone.
Letting go can often feel like failure; we haven’t tried hard enough to fix things, we’re running away, we’re giving up. Letting go of something that is not working is not failing; it is being honest with yourself and situation, and making the hard choice to move on to something that works better. Not to say that it is easy, but it is always the best choice.
Some fears are innate, and some are learned.
Toby hates the lawn mower. This keeps him safe and we are okay with it. Toby is also afraid of people who get closer than 20 feet… but not always. We think Toby learned to be afraid of people from his last owner. We will never know for sure, but we do know that we can teach him to be okay with passing them on walks.
We are born being afraid of certain things. These fears keep us safe and alive. However, we also pick up on the fears of our elders and incorporate them into our experience. Often we never question these fears and we go on believing they are true and necessary. Are they? Not all fears are necessary, and it is good to challenge the ones that keep you from doing the things you want to do. I will never sky dive, but for a long time one of my greatest fears was having a private practice. It took me years to challenge that fear, but I did and am happier for it.
We all need love
Looking at all of our pets – no matter how long they have been with us – and one thing becomes clear. This world is a harsh place, and harsher still when you deal with abandonment. Love, affection, and kindness can reach through the pain, fear, and sadness. Sometimes it seems like barely a pinprick of light gets through the darkness. But each small point of light adds to the brightness. Sometimes it seems as though all the love we give makes no difference. We give and give and give, and get nothing in return. Each little bit of love and kindness that we give out, we get back back. Love touches us, deeply. In ways we can’t begin to understand. When you can give nothing else, give Love.
This journey through life never promised to be easy. The challenges we face are meant to help us grow. If it seems sometimes like we keep facing the same issues again and again, it is because we haven’t yet learned our lesson. The ones that keep coming back are often the most painful to learn, and require slogging through muck we may or may not be ready or willing to slog through. But the other side of that deep, dark cave? Light. Light and love.
If I ever need proof of that, I just look into the faces of my four-legged friends.