I have a dog and two cats. My dog is an Australian Shepherd otherwise known as an Aussie. Her breeder gave her to us last April. Yep, she just gave us a purebred Aussie–for free. What’s the catch? Well, you have to know something about Aussies to understand her breeder’s decision. The Aussie is one of the most intelligent dog breeds and very energetic. Rally, our Aussie–officially registered as Gold Dust Playin’ To Win at Defiance (it sounds like a thoroughbred’s name, doesn’t it?)–is true to her breed. She’s extremely smart. For instance, we have to gate our kitchen off because she knows where all the boxed food is kept such as cookies and crackers and such. When I’m not looking, she’ll raid the cabinets, open the boxes and eat the contents, leaving nothing behind but empty bags. She’s also trained in agility, obedience, and tracking. This dog has had a tremendous amount of energy and training poured into her. Energetic? Well, have you seen cats get the “crazies”? Their eyes suddenly look maniacal, their ears go back, and they begin to rip around the house for no apparent reason? Imagine a 40-55 pound dog doing that, at midnight. Aussies are known to get the “crazies” just like felines.
Why was this dog given to us? Apparently, she didn’t play well with others. Her breeder called her “the fun police”. She’s a bit bossy particularly with other bitches. She’s one of those bitches that must be on top–an alpha female. In her breeder’s pack of Aussies, there was another alpha female that was more dominant than Rally, and Rally and Trivia were fighting all the time. The time came to place Rally with a family that understood the breed, had no other dogs, and would take good care of her. The catch? Rally was intact; in breeder speak that means that she wasn’t spayed. We would need to take care of that. The other catch? Rally was on a grain-free diet. Well, I have Celiac Disease so we’re on a grain-free diet, too. We were the perfect match. Oh, and we came highly recommended. That always helps.
I already stated that we have two cats. Our cats don’t mind dogs. They are both half-Siamese and are relatively at ease around their canine friends. Relatively. Ginger aka Cleophatra, our rather buxom cat, likes dogs. If the dog is friendly, she’ll rub against it and purr. Snowbell (I voted to name her Charlotte, but my daughters chose otherwise) feels differently. She loathes dogs and refuses to give up her territory for a lowly canine. Thus, a war has been declared and ongoing since the introduction of the Aussie. Snowbell aka Dragonclaw the Squishable Enforcer plots revenge on Rally on a daily basis.
Aussies have another notable quality–fierce loyalty. The day we brought her home, she chose me as her shepherd. Aussies are sheepdogs, hardworking stock dogs, and they require a leader. This dog decided that her leader would be me, and she sticks to me like velcro. Everywhere I go, she goes–even the bathroom. She would sleep on top of me if I permitted it; she is currently sitting on top of my feet. She could be sound asleep, but if I get up to go anywhere, she is up and following, waiting for a command or a direction. And, she absolutely hates it when my husband and I hug, kiss, cuddle, or, heaven forbid, make love. She cries, whines, barks, and growls. She’s convinced that he’s alpha rolling me, and she’ll have none of it. I must be protected at all costs. It might sound endearing, and, in a way, it is. At times, however, it is annoying. This dog never leaves me. I can’t get away from her! I close the door, she sits on the other side. I have to lock her out of the bathroom. She stares me down when I’m in the kitchen. She stares out the window for hours when I’m gone, waiting for my return. I now know exactly what it means “to be dogged”.
This is a very physical representation of a much less tangible reality that many of us experience. Many of us are dogged by depression, anxiety, melancholy, pain, disease processes…you name it. We try to get up and move forward, but we are dogged by it, whatever it might be. There’s no getting away from it because no matter where you go, there you are. And, wherever you are, there it is. How do we achieve a measure of happiness in our lives when we are dogged by the very things that we experience as detractors of our happiness and well-being? This is a question I’ve been asking. I wish I had an answer. What I have are experiences.
I have an anxiety disorder, PTSD. I will always have PTSD. I accept that. At this point, I treat it like a condition that goes into remission with recurring exacerbations. I can go for periods of time and feel quite well, but life is predictable in that there will always be something that will cause me to “flare up”. I will have a flashback or a panic attack, and I will suffer from these for a while. I have learned to use these events as an opportunity to pursue deeper healing when they occur. I don’t like them, but I view them as sign posts pointing to a deeper recovery. I am currently in the middle of an exacerbation. Anxiety is dogging me.
I experienced a PTSD exacerbation a few years ago about this time. It was caused by the radiator on the family Mystery Machine leaking. I went out one chilly November morning to run some errands, and I noticed that green liquid was pooling underneath the vehicle. My heart sank into my stomach, and I began to panic. No, no, no, no, no…we were not in a position to pay for a major car repair. Suddenly, I imagined myself without a vehicle, trapped in the house with four kids, unable to leave. One car. No way out. Days of staying indoors with no options, watching as my husband drove off to work while I was stranded, left behind, alone, with no resources. Let the panic begin!! I remember lying in my bedroom, under the covers, weeping, unable to breathe, feeling completely out of touch with all rational thought. I thought I might vomit. My husband quietly came into the bedroom and tried to reason with me. He suggested that I might need to find a therapist. I was offended. He didn’t understand that I was having a panic attack. Frankly, I wasn’t in my right mind. I never am when I’m fighting off feelings of impending death and doom. What stands out in my memory is that I prayed over and over again, “Please, God, please. I can’t do without a car. Please, I’ll be trapped. Please help us fix this car. Please…..Please…..Please don’t let anything happen to that car.”
Well, the radiator had to be replaced. I was without the car for a week, and it cost us a pretty penny. I recovered, but I was left with this nagging question, “What happened? Why did I freak out, and where was God?” What I have learned is that feelings of being trapped trigger me. The feeling of financial tightness which leads to feelings of being without options or having one’s back against the wall, for me, is almost identical to the feelings I had when I was trapped in captivity. This is actually a very helpful revelation albeit extremely unpleasant. Now, I can bring something to the therapeutic environment and gain some traction. In this way, the panic attack has been helpful. As David Schnarch said–the truth doesn’t always set you free, it just tells you where the fight is. Indeed.
Where was God when I was sinking to the bottom of the panic pit? What about my car? Our resources? Well, I whined about my situation to my then-therapist who was also a car mechanic. He was a very interesting therapist. I did my deepest and best work with this man. His response: “You say that you asked God to help you with your car, and because you had to replace the radiator you feel that he abandoned you? Hmmm…well, if your radiator hadn’t leaked for you, you would never have known it wasn’t functioning. You would have lost the whole engine. A radiator is a whole lot easier not to mention cheaper to replace than an entire engine. I’d say he helped you out. He didn’t leave you.” Instant reframe. My leaking radiator saved my engine. Well, shit.
This is the current question on my mind: Where do I need to reframe my circumstances or other aspects of my life or relationships? When we pray for help, we often assume this posture of passivity as if God is deciding whether or not to come through for us. How many things am I desiring currently in my own life? What is heavy on my own heart? When I’m still, what causes me to sigh? What is causing me pain or distress? All of those things matter to God, too. In fact, when I say, “God, help. I need you to intervene for me, on my behalf, and bring change because this cannot stand. These things can’t continue to go on like this. Help me.” Why would he say ‘no’ to that? Those prayers are ‘yes’ prayers. Oftentimes, however, it feels as if God is uninterested because we are in the throes of immediate pain, and we need immediate anesthetic. We need intervention–NOW! I’ve been there. In a way, I’m still there. What I am discovering is that the ‘yes’ lies in the process. Not an answer I like, but an answer I am finding to be true.
I compare it to this: What if my daughters came to me and said, “We want to go to Paris!” If I had abundant resources, I would say ‘yes’ to this. Paris is a wonderful city, full of diversions, educational opportunities, beauty, art, food, and endless fun. Why would I say ‘no’? The question remaining would be: What is the best way to get there? Yes, we could take the quickest way which would be to fly, but is there a better way? Could the girls benefit by traveling by sea? Traveling by sea will definitely take a long time, but, in the end, would they arrive in Paris better developed, prepared for the next steps of the adventure, if we journey by ship? Either way, the short or long way, there is still a process involved in arriving at the place we want to be. We simply can’t get around it. What I have come to realize is that most of my circumstances, be they perceived as positive or negative, are probably designed to move me along to the next place even if it doesn’t feel like it. If I feel like I’m stagnating or not getting anywhere? Perhaps I’m at a rest area. Everyone has to refuel. Perhaps I stopped engaging in the journey and camped out somewhere. I’ve done that before.
In the end, we can’t get there from here without hitting all the points in between. I love driving to the Pacific Northwest, but I hate driving through South Dakota. Truly. I think I’m driving through South Dakota right now. It feels endless, flat, boring, and my ass is starting to hurt. You need great company, fantastic music, and a wonderful sense of humor to make it through South Dakota. Catch my meaning? The good news is that South Dakota does have boundaries, and the glorious Rocky Mountains aren’t far off once you cross them.
I’m not trying to oversimplify the very complex human experience nor am I implying that God is the author of our suffering. I don’t believe that he is. I am trying to flesh out a very gossamer notion that is floating around in my mind. It’s hard to articulate, but at the center of it lies something encouraging. This idea that there is a ‘yes’ slowly permeating our lives, that we can ask for help and not be turned away, is bolstering me up. I understand that it takes time to get from one place to another, and I know all about long journeys. I’ve driven from the Midwest to the Pacific Northwest with four kids and a dog. Oh yeah, I drove through South Dakota…twice. I leave you with that notion. Whatever it is that is dogging you, I believe that there is a ‘yes’ for that. How that will look in your life? I have no idea.
As for Rally? Well, we haven’t gotten her spayed yet, and I discovered this morning that she’s just come “into season”. That explains why she’s been so bitchy lately. Apparently, female dogs get PMS, too. Who knew? So, tonight, as you lie down in your bed, pondering your day, be thankful, if you’re a woman, that you don’t have to wear Panties of Shame when you come “into season”. And, if you’re a guy, well, just be thankful that you’re not my husband. He had to put these Panties of Shame on Rally about an hour ago. His parting words? “Ugh..gross. I just got wet ass hair on my hand!”