Monthly Archives: June 2014

The Wrong Dog

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That dog I mentioned? The fluffy wondersnurfle? The one with the silky soft fur. Yah, turns out she wasn’t for me. Or I wasn’t for her. I had to break up with a rescue dog. Here’s the thing though, the thing that I keep turning over and over in my head. I wanted two dogs so much. I wanted to walk two dogs through the woods. I wanted to watch TV with two dogs and hang out outside with my two dogs. Until I had two dogs. And then.

Here’s the background: I was worried about how she, the new dog, would fit in at my small house. How the cats would adjust, how my current dog would adjust. But at the back of my mind, I was worried about how stressed I would be keeping a constant lookout for the new dog. Wondering if she would lose it and bite a cat, wondering if she would chew on something important, like a heel or a suit jacket or a report. I wasn’t thinking much about if I had to worry about whether she would pee and poop everywhere. Until she did. She peed and pooped in the house. She didn’t know commands. I kept her in a crate when I was gone, since she was peeing and pooping everywhere and she got increasingly unhappy with the crate. As in, started refusing to go in. And discipline didn’t work well because, as a rescue dog, she had been abused apparently, and would cower and try to get away from me, poor thing, whenever I raised my voice at her. And she didn’t respond to commands, because she sometimes entirely ignored me. There was no way to play to her desire to please me, because she didn’t have one. Training my current dog, I realize now, was easy because she loved making me happy. She’d bounce for joy when I told her “Good girl!” She still does. We just came back from a 5 mile walk that for an out of shape pup was apparently a little longer than she wanted, and each time she needed to rally, I’d just tell her “Good Girl! Almost there!” But not the new dog.

This is probably nothing new to people who’ve had rescue dogs before, and in reality, I should have done much more research into it. I did start researching house training adult dogs, and my shoulders just kept getting tighter and tighter: so much work, so much constant vigilance. No down time for me. And I was fraying at the edges. I was stressed at work. Stressed over what ended up being a break up. I had already had one totally lose it “Dirty Cry” session when something at work basically released me from a summer of stress (ok, it postponed it to a Fall of stress, but at least we have time to prepare for it). And the last time the new dog went on the carpet, Dirty Cry. Totally stomping my feet and crying until I couldn’t breathe kind of dirty cry. At that point, knowing myself as I do now, having worked so hard on not being perfect for everyone, not thinking I had to do everything right all the time, but most importantly, Letting the F Go of Goals, I called the rescue and said I was really having trouble. Later that day, the new dog was uncontrollable to the dog walker, which then told me that I really couldn’t handle the dog. I called the rescue again, told them it really wasn’t working out. Guilt, shame, worry, and stress about the dog. And we found her a new home and the tension eased. I had no regrets about her going to a new home. Sadness that I hadn’t been able to be her forever home and that she was sad when she was with me (or more like when I wasn’t home because she got lots of love and kisses when I was home). But the guilt and shame of not being the kind of person who can rescue a dog hit me hard.

I’m not who I thought I was. I rescued a kitten with a neurological birth defect. I had to teach her to walk and eat. She’s still not perfectly housebroken and I never resent cleaning up after her. She is my joy and my heart and she offers me endless hours of comfort when she snuggles up at night to sleep. She is one part my baby and one part my healer. I rescued a puppy bound for the local SPCA (which t the time was a kill shelter) and raised her the best I could. ¬†Even though she was a high stress/anxiety dog, she is my sunshine and my light.

So this dog, this wrong dog, taught me so much. About myself. That I am not in a place anymore where I lose myself to take care of something else so that I can be someone I think I’m supposed to be: A dog rescuing hero.

This dog, this wrong dog, also taught me a bigger lesson. That the things I thought I wanted, the goals I set and had in my mind about what I wanted from life, might not be true any more. I thought I wanted a house in the woods with two big dogs and a back yard. But when I think about it. It would mean doing less with my church and my family and my friends. Being less involved in my community because I would live further out, I would have more responsibility at home, and on and on.

But it’s so hard to let go of that idea that having the dogs and the yard. They were my goal, my dream, my inspiration.

I still want a house with a backyard that we can grill in and drink beer with my friends. I still want a front yard for flowers and trees that turn colors in the Fall. For pumpkins and mums and pretty candles on the steps at Hallowe’en. But I also want to be able to walk to town to get a coffee and meet up with my friends. And I want to decide at 8 pm that I don’t want to make dinner and stroll down to a little shop and grab a beer and a quick bite. And I want to live somewhere where other people want the same things. I still need the woods. I still need my current dog and my cats and trees. But I don’t know if I need the things I thought I did anymore.

Which is how that wrong dog is a blessing. How that week with the wrong dog turned my life totally upside down and showed me a different perspective on my needs.

I wouldn’t have had this perspective if I was still clinging to achievement. I wouldn’t be able to see this as a positive thing if I had that need.

Which isn’t to say that I am totally cosmically whacked by this recent development.

When I lost my dad, I had been trying to heal our relationship which, for about six or seven years had been rough. We’d had a fight at exactly the wrong time which made me feel abandoned by him and hold on to anger and resentment for so long it became uncomfortable to try and face it again. Face that I had played a part in the ongoing dis-ease between us. When I let go of that, and decided to focus on the present, what I had now, what I wanted now, our relationship went back to having a supportive dad that was rooting for me (I was trying to get back on my feet after a long haul of trying different job situations (yoga teacher + lawyer, nonprofit + lawyer, retail +nonprofit) and financially had been hit hard by the trying and failing and trying and learning). He was not necessarily only proud that I had gotten back to a stable good, financially solid place, but also relieved. More like he had been holding his breath a little bit. And then he was gone. With no warning.

I never got to say goodbye. And I never got to say I was sorry for all those years of holding on so tightly to my anger.

And instead of losing my shit over losing my Dad, which I did partly, don’t get me wrong, I threw myself into work. It was how I was going to stop hurting and feeling guilty and stop feeling like the world was going to swallow me whole if I didn’t hold on tightly to something. Someone.

And then, my beautiful close friend lost her struggle with cancer. Three weeks after my Dad died. Instead of seeing her for the last time in the hospital, I was working. I had said my goodbyes to her by visiting her in the hospital all during her illness. I had said my goodbyes to her by talking about letting go. By trying to find the words to comfort someone who knows that they are dying, but doesn’t know how. Doesn’t know how to not worry about her loved ones, not worry about the hurt and pain. My goodbyes to her were my constant efforts to just.be.there.

So I worked. And I dieted and exercised. And shopped, and worried and didn’t sleep. At one point it hurt to eat anything besides greek yogurt. so I lived on greek yogurt. And became increasingly more attached to work.

It makes sense then, how crazy the workaholism became. And it makes sense then, that the eating disorder took over. Right?

If I had tried to adopt a rescue dog back then, I would never have let go of that idea. I would have been too close. Too tight. Too desperate to not feel bad. To only feel good.

This is the year when I am, by not having goals, trying out new things. I tried taking a policy class, thinking I’d leave law and go back to politics and nonprofit land. Only the reality of that was that I wanted to die. It was boring as all get out and I couldn’t get myself to do my work. Instead I worked on law review articles about things I’m not all that interested in. Because I like legal research and writing, you know, a thing you can get paid to do as a lawyer.

Then I got a failing grade on a quiz where I didn’t actually get the answers wrong, but I wrote them in lawyer language (complex sentences, brief as can be, detail focused) instead of policy/grad student language. Sucks, right? Especially for someone who is used to getting A’s from top law schools and colleges. Cosmic Whack. Made me question what I wanted, how hard I wanted to work for something that I already wasn’t sure how much I wanted to live. Whack. I dropped the class, got most of my money back and never regretted it.

Just like giving the rescue dog back. I packed up the things I had bought for her, some food, some toys and sent her off. And felt immediate relief and ease.

Within 15 minutes I could feel the tension drain out of my shoulders. Within an hour I was looking at my dog in a new light. A grateful, even more loving light than before. A “you are the best thing ever and I love you forever and peanut butter snacks for days for you.” I looked at the cats, and was grateful for their soft, patient but easy way of setting their boundaries. I was grateful for the routine in my life I had built up that makes me happy. Yoga, Church, more Yoga, friends, More yoga. Walks with the dog. Knitting, More yoga.

And what I’m not writing about is the break up. I can’t. I can’t. I just can’t.

I just can’t let go. I can be smart and honest about giving up this cute little idea of what I wanted out of my life. And that it is turning out a lot different than I thought. Oh, I still want a big kitchen with a farm table so I can feed all my friends who stop by for dinner that I wanted when I was 26. And I still want to learn how to make cheese. And I want to have time to bake my own bread. But I am still a party girl. I want drinks in town with friends and making new friends. I want concerts and parties and wine with the girls. And balancing all that is the key, right? To balance that, I have to give up on the big house idea. To balance not working all the time, or not working in an environment that doesn’t allow for me to be a little eccentric and bohemian, I have to give up on the giant salary and live with a very nice one. One that will bring me a nice little house. Just like my car. I don’t have the salary for the swishy BMW, but I did get a very nice Subaru thanks.

I can process all of that. All of that growth that is a freedom. All of that moving forward finally with my life. I can process that. But I can’t process giving up on him. Not because of my need for goals or to be successful – though that was a big part of our relationship – that I thought I had to get married and have kids one day to be “right” to be acceptable. And I had to think through what I wanted. Staying with him, no kids. Moving on, possibility of kids. Did I want them? I worked through what I wanted, separate from him. And I found that I wanted to be a foster mom. I want to be involved in youth programs at church. But small people living in my house on a regular basis, not as much. This isn’t about feeling like a failure because this relationship can’t go forward because we want different things. This is about not knowing how to go on without the person who held on tight when my Dad died. The person who knows how to kick my ass when I need it. Who knows what scares me and why. If he asked me to move to the moon to be back together with him right now I would, because I just can’t let go of him.

As soon as the wrong dog left, I knew I had done the right thing. As soon as he left, I knew I was lost.

Without goals, hitting bottom and being glad for every second of it.

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So whatever became of this little blog? What ever became of the plan to have no goals.

Well, first off, I have to say, there clearly is a difference between having discipline to do something because you like the results, it feels good or has some sort of tangible effect in your life and between doing things you think you are supposed to because it makes you special or noteworthy or gold star stickered. My plan to do yoga all the time – not a goal of daily yoga, or even so many classes per week – has persisted and found itself into getting involved in two new continuing ed teacher trainings. Which will hopefully rekindle the yoga in my life all the time. I managed to stick with that because I needed it. I needed to not have the stress of my POS job not take over my life and express itself as fatigue, IBS and generalized cranky-pantsness. I did not continue to do yoga because it would make me have great buns or arms or whatever. If that’s a goal of yours, awesome. But for me, I need to cut out obsessing about looking socially acceptable. I needed to start just feeling good. Being able to be me in my skin.

And without my friends diet and running, that became really hard. This isn’t the point where I tell you I gained all 50 pounds that I lost a year and a half ago back. I did get softer. Rounder. Fuller. I did find that I was more out of shape. Which was frustrating and upsetting and at one point about three weeks ago made me have a dark night of the soul wherein I literally couldn’t stand the shape I was in. Which was all of 8 pounds heavier than I’d been when I actually liked the shape I was in. Dark nights of the soul, while exhausting, are helpful in showing you either a) how ridiculous the shit you are obsessing about is, b) how crazy and lost and scared you are, how much you are on the express train to meltdownville, c) that it can’t keep going on like this or d) all of the above at various times. I know friends in 12 step programs will say when you get to this place with addiction to substances or dieting or exercise or whatever, you’ve hit bottom. Maybe some of us bounce on the bottom. Maybe I’ve been hidden quietly on the bottom, like a stingray in the sand. Maybe you have to surface a bit and see the sun through the surface of the water to figure out you’ve been hiding. ¬†Whatever it is, the dark place is where you find yourself when the shit you’ve been doing to get through just doesn’t get you through anymore.

And from there, believe it or not, I’ve had some of the best runs I’ve had in probably three years. Slow, lagging slagging, messy runs. No graceful loping gazelle like mastery. No 9:30 miles for miles and miles. But slow sweaty, not sure I can make it through mile 4 runs. And they are perfect. Perfect in running slowly. Perfect in feeling grateful that I can go out whenever I want. And perfect in no longer feeling like I am supposed to be doing something some way that makes me a Runner, capital R. I once made myself a little sign that says, you are a runner even if you only run 5Ks. No more holding myself up to some special place where to do the thing I like I have to do it perfectly, or well enough, or in a way that other people say is the right way.

After buying a new pair of running shoes (mine were beyond dead), I asked about the running store’s running club. I’d deliberately talked myself out of joining time and time again because I had assumed I was too slow. Not good enough. You know, the standard goopy negative crap you spread all over yourself in a way to camouflage the fact that you might want things that are hard or scary or important to you. I held myself back even though it would be a fun way to meet people in my awesome little fun town who might like the things I do. But I finally asked. And asked specifically my “I am flawed, and not perfect and shouldn’t pretend to have a hobby unless I’m awesome at it.” Me: “um, can I join the Thursday runs, even if I am only running at an 11 minute mile?” them: “oh absolutely! There are people who run all sorts of times. Everyone welcome; no one left behind.” Oh right, people don’t suck anywhere near as badly as the mean voice in my head does.

I had planned on having a year of no goals, which meant no races because my competitive, brass ring grabbing self would plan and plot on times. And this did happen. I signed up for a charity 5K with the local bar association and instantly began planning how I would run it under a certain time. Even my fierce, take no prisoners work buddy thought I was insane. I didn’t run the race. I was mostly recovering from food poisoning, somewhat couldn’t get the registration to work, and 100% (does that add up to 200%?) took it as a sign from above to not run the race.

I am signed up for a 5 miler in my little town in about a week. I’m running about four miles now. Slowly, deliberately, mostly with joy and only when I want to. I left my registration in, even though its a hot ticket around here, because I wanted to be inspired to get back to running 5 miles. Which, at a relatively mild pace, ends up being about an hour. And my favorite runs have always been about that time. I focused on how it felt, and what it might do for me emotionally – release stress, help me sleep, make some friends and have fun, and exercise my slightly chubby dog – and I’ve managed to get back out there more often.

My one and only goal, as I had said, was to get a new job. So much that I wanted hinged on that goal. I really came close to just quitting and go into tending bar. With $100K in debt to my name. Yes, it was that bad. It was crying on the way home from work, waking up with panic attacks bad.

I had thought i would have to compromise to get out. I’d have to sacrifice something – time, money, independence. But I spent a lot of time thinking and writing and crying and writing some more. Of arguing with people and thinking things through, that I found, in the end, what I wanted.

When I sat down and started thinking about what I wanted, instead of trying to chase “success”, I made some progress. Guided by writings by fab life coaches like Andrea Owen and Molly Mahar, I made myself think through what I wanted. Literally, down to smell, touch and taste. What would feel like I’d “made it.” What would feel like I had hit every high spot in life?

The answer? A back yard with a porch and a fenced in big back yard where the dogs (plural, I only had one at the time) could play. A car big enough to carry both dogs out for hikes and time to do that. Friends to come over and eat and drink delicious things on a warm Saturday night. Comfy fun colorful things to wear. The end.

I know it sounds a bit fuzzy, but when I broke it down into “how in tarnation do I get these things?” it all started to work. In order to have a decent backyard, I’d need to make a relatively decent amount of money – but not chase gigantic amounts, or I wouldn’t have the Saturday nights and I wouldn’t have the friends. So I had to find a balance of reliable income and reasonable schedule. For me, as an attorney, that meant either a job at a firm with work-life balance and a good reputation (so that their workflow would be constant) or a higher up job with the government. In order to have two dogs, I would have to have a reasonably reliable schedule – which ruled out juggling multiple jobs too.

With that in mind, I refocused my search and applied only for those jobs and started getting some leads. I found a job that was right up my ally – had all the key points and I went for it with everything I had. I faced massive fear and self doubt and a mess of skeletons in my closet (going back into handling some corporate matters in which I had burned out earlier in my career). And I faced all of it because I knew exactly what I wanted. Beer. Dogs. Porch. Yard. Friends.

Yes. I got the job. And it paid more than the previous job only with less hours. And better management. And generalized goodness all around. Because I got the job, I could afford, when my car was about to go kaput, to get the slightly bigger car to fit two dogs. And in telling people why I got the bigger car, people told me about their beautiful, sweet rescue dogs that might fit into the rhythm of my life. And now, I have a gorgeous, though highly chewy, second dog who loves to give a mix between a snurfle and a kiss and is thinking seriously about sitting on the couch with myself and my older dog.

I didn’t write in this blog because I had started thinking about it as an obligation. I had started thinking of the end result. A book. A something. Shiny. With stars. I hadn’t thought about doing what feels good and right and true. Writing, just to write. Because I need to. Because someone reading this might use some portion of it and help make their life suck less. or unsuck. or something new that makes sense to them.

So even though I didn’t do what I thought I would do – without goals, I thought I wouldn’t have to face my massive obsession with weight and diet and exercise, I would just blissfully bounce around, and in reality, without goals I was stripped of a security blanket and couldn’t figure out how to feel good. I had to stare insecurity and lack of enough in the face and start to feel comfortable with it. I’m not one to say that I made friends with the demons. They are still there. I just finally accepted that the obsession wasn’t going to go away if I took some of its weapons away. In doing that, I accepted that I needed some help on that area and how deeply I had sunk into whatever we want to call it. Eating disorders. Disordered eating. Crazy mind-fuck games with food. But without goals, without being focused so hard on doing things “right” I did have to stare things in the face. And from there, made some progress.

I have a lot to learn and think about and write about in terms of discipline and getting myself to do things I want to do, like write articles and write in this blog. And about perfectionism and workaholism and being obsessed with achievement. So there’s definitely more to come.