Speaking your truth

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I joke around that Oskar is my boyfriend (who could resist that face?). If I go upstairs, Oskar goes upstairs. If I go downstairs, Oskar goes downstairs. When he comes in from a walk that I haven’t taken him on, the first thing he does is run to find me. He’s very attached to me and that’s why I was so surprised that he went to bite me when I was wiping his paws after he was out in the snow, ice and salt that they put down to prevent people from falling, but if it is not dog friendly, can really hurt their paws.

Oskar didn’t actually bite me. He just went to bite me, but I scolded him more from being so startled that he would actually try to hurt me. He looked so sheepish afterward. Maybe it was from being misunderstood, I don’t know, but the way he looked got me thinking. I knew he didn’t want to hurt me and I realized that he must have been hurting and wanted me to stop and it was the only way he had to tell me.

Something similar happened on one of our walks. A small rock got in between his paw pads and he couldn’t walk without hurting. So I went to take it out but was only using one hand because it was so cold out I didn’t want to take off my other glove. I didn’t realize at the time that in only using one hand, I was rubbing the rock against his pads while trying to remove it. In a flash, he turned his head around and put his teeth on my hands.

This time, I didn’t scold him. This time, I apologized and said to him he must be hurting and I realized I needed two hands to make sure I didn’t cause him any more pain. He gave me a kiss.

I later thought to myself if I can be so understanding toward Oskar and why he might lash out at me, maybe I could be understanding with myself when I get angry with friends or family when I’m hurting. That happened to me the other idea. I felt rejected and instead of telling my friend I was feeling hurt, I got angry with him. And then I felt terrible for getting angry and putting him on the defensive and feeling rejected.

After the now infamous Oskar incident, I was able to be compassionate with myself and know that I was not a bad person for getting angry, my anger came from a genuine place of feeling hurt. That helped to let go of the shame I was feeling. What a relief! Afterward, I also felt more capable of being vulnerable and telling my friend straight-up the next time I was feeling hurt. It’s a lot easier that way.

Sara Bareilles song, Brave, captures the theme of this post beautifully and with a lot of flare.  I hope you enjoy dancing to this as much as I do.

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Asking for comfort

When an acorn shell cracks, the pieces form a little cup and can fit right underneath the pads on Dali’s and Oskar’s paws. When I see Dali or Oskar walking funny, I will look under their paws. Frequently, I will find one of these acorn fragments and will remove it with surgical expertise. Oskar is so thankful. He bestows upon me abundant kisses of gratitude. Dali, on the other hand, will walk away with an air about her that says “I really didn’t need your help. I would rather have walked in pain, thank you very much.”

Oskar is generally more at ease with receiving help. And he has ways of asking for help. If there is a piece of leaf or a twig that is bothering him that he can’t remove, he’ll stop walking and just stand there. It’s a signal to me that he would like me to remove this remnant of nature. When he’s been injured or not feeling well and we’re out on a walk, I might ask him, “Do you want me to carry you?” Dali and Oskar both know what this phrase means. If Oskar wants me to carry him, he’ll get in front of me and wiggle his tushy. If not, he’ll walk faster.

I relish what’s pretty much an effortless give-and-take between Oskar and me. Oskar has an easier time being vulnerable and sends clear messages of need. When he wants to cuddle on my lap, his face, body and actions speak volumes. And I love being a source of comfort for him.

Dali does ask for comfort and reassurance, but with a bit more restraint than Oskar. In this way, her life is a little harder than Oskar’s. She faces her discomfort alone more often than Oskar because she doesn’t always know how to send clear signals of need. I remember sensing Dali’s longing for my solace after she got a tooth extracted. I was happy to pay close attention and make my best guess as to what she might need. I carried outside so could go to the bathroom. We sat there together to enjoy the fresh air. I carried her back. I soothed her as best I could. I fell asleep with her on the downstairs couch so I could rush her to the Emergency Vets if need be. By the time my husband got home on Sunday evening from a weekend away, Dali was inseparable from me. She didn’t even get up to greet him.

I believe she will always remember how I was there for her. Not as an explicit memory, but in her being and in the essence of our relationship. I notice as I’m there for her consistently over time, that she feels more and more comfortable asking for her needs to be met. She has earned enough security with me to share her needs – her vulnerability.

People can earn security in their relationships too.

Of course, there will always be times that Dali is stubborn and independent-minded. That is who she is. And we love her for it.

Good morning kisses

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When I wake up, Dali is there to give me gentle, good-morning kisses. It’s like she’s re-establishing our connection after we’ve been apart while sleeping during the night. She reminds me of our in-born need to be securely attached. I coo at her and tell her good morning and how pretty she is. She turns over so I can rub her belly.

I treasure these moments because I know how important I am to her and I believe she knows how important she is to me.

It doesn’t matter if we were mad at each other the day before. Dali certainly has her way of letting me know she is not happy with me. And Dali can be so difficult at times; I get mad at her too. We always come back to the bond between us that trumps all else.

I’ve learned from Dali how important these kinds of rituals are in couple relationships. They help us to honor who we are to one another, particularly during our comings and goings. When I know my husband cares about me and he knows I care about him, we can get through the hardships of the day much easier and indulge more in the joys of life.

Simply Being There

“We see you’re hurting, Mommy.  And we care that you’re sad.  We’re here for you.”  That is the message I get when Dali and Oskar rush to lick my tears away whenever I’m crying.  Their concern is very comforting.  I do feel better receiving their caring contact.   They sense my distress even if they are in another room and before you know it, they are there by my side.

There are times when I need to remind my husband not to try to fix things for me when I’m feeling vulnerable about something.  I tell him I just need him to hold me and understand how I’m feeling.

And there are times I have to remind myself not to jump to solution-mode with other people.  It can be difficult sometimes to sit with someone and be with them in their pain.

I’m reminded of the story of the four-year old boy whose next door neighbor, an elderly gentleman, recently lost his wife.  When the young boy saw the man crying, he went over to him, climbed on his lap and sat there.   After he returned home, the little boy’s mother asked him what he had said to their neighbor.  Her son said, “Nothing.  I just helped him cry.”

It doesn’t always take language to soothe.  And in fact, sometimes words get in the way.  I’ve learned from Dali and Oskar the power of presence.  Putting my heart in to being there with someone’s experience is simple and pure and one of the best gifts I can give.

We all need support. Nervous Dogs sometimes just need to hold hands with their owners while riding in cars.