This past week, I’ve taken on more than I can handle. This is a character defect of mine; one that likes to rear its ugly head when I’m under the illusion that I’m in control. It breeds on codependency, even when I think I’m doing something that’s good for self. It thrives on my overarching ambition and rides the coattails of my financial insecurity. It prevents me from dealing with boredom, reality, fear, and sitting in the stillness of the moment. The inevitable consequences are stress, anxiety, martyrdom and resentment, and worst of all- self care falls to the wayside.
I think many of us are guilty of slipping into this pattern, especially during the holiday season. For me, each Thanksgiving kicks off another round of juggling work and play. Making an appearance at the annual holiday work party (and avoiding you know who), finding the perfect gift for that special somebody (and that person who is impossible to buy for), making time to hit the gym to counteract the influx of sweets consumed, overspending and shorting yourself rent money or a proper grocery trip, and trying to do it all with a smile on your face- takes more than holiday spirit. Happiness is an inside job, even when you’ve got roasted chestnuts and 12 days of Christmas.
Holiday season or not, making self-care a priority is a real challenge for me. When I’m in self-will and am not turning things over regularly, I need to be reminded that my spirit needs replenishing. On occasion, my reminders come in the most obvious form of illness: a clear indication that I am not taking proper care of myself. Other times, becoming aware of my overactive lifestyle is triggered by loss, such as a missed opportunity or a failed relationship. Most often, my Higher Power works through other people, whose poor management skills put mine into focus. One of the most effective tools my Higher Power uses to get my attention is my dog...
Yes, I’m one of those crazy dog people. When normal people talk about their kids, I bring up my dog. I absolutely insist on showing you pictures of her and some friends have commented on the obscene amount of photos I post of her online. I brush her teeth, buy her expensive food, and she has more clothes than I know what to do with. She’s wonderful and smelly and high- maintenance and she barks like crazy, but that little creature has taught me the meaning of unconditional love. That dog- yes a dog, has taught me how to love myself.
There is no better example of my dog-the teacher, than when I was just barely hanging on to my sanity during the final funding stage of my relocation abroad. I was living in California, working full-time, picking up any and all side jobs, managing a long-distance relationship with my then-boyfriend (now husband), applying for job after job in Japan, and living with my future in-laws. To top it off, I had 5 sponsees, all of whom were simultaneously in crisis mode, and my sponsor was out of the country for two months. To say I had taken on too much was the understatement of the year, but boy- was I ambitious!
Introduce pet sitting job # 1. 4 huge bears of dogs (one dog was actually named "Bear") and little old me. The cat died the day before I arrived, so the dogs were sullen and panicked; vomit, barking, and whining ensued. No sleep for 3 days, but it’s more money in the bank!
Hello pet sitting job #2. The house was literally an animal house; it reeked of cat and dog urine. I sold myself out to live in this filth, where 2 gigantic Pitbulls, a sneaky Shihtzu, and the hairiest of hairy Persian cats took dominion over my sanity. I'm an animal lover, but getting shin splints from being whipped by dog tails, sharing a shower with a cat that thinks it is a litter box, and losing sleep over the sound of animals licking themselves is not my idea of a good time. The icing on the cake was that all three dogs escaped, not once- but twice. Once plowing through me and thrusting me into the mud, and another time initiating a game of chase in my boy shorts down the boulevard, this side job paid in dollars and bruises.
Believe it or not, I still thought I could manage another side job. But my brief return to my future in-laws’ house to check on my dog tipped my cup to empty. For reasons I could not summon or petition from God, my perfect dog defecated inside the house twice! You know how birds have some sort of radar when it comes to shitting on newly washed cars? That's how I felt about my dog and this house; this was not the place to have an accident. Feeling both powerless and completely to blame at the same time, I degenerated into a little girl who needed someone to tell her she wasn’t bad. Some boundary setting, a little shame, and some tears later, the weight of my responsibilities imploded inside me.
Thankfully, the solution to this problem (besides being practical about my time), was not found by feeling sorry for myself, becoming self-righteous, or resorting to boundless anger. I did not yell at my dog or shun her. I didn't blame her for jeopardizing my comfort at our temporary home, for making me late for work, or for bringing me to tears. Instead, I chose to love her. And I discovered that that was exactly what I also needed in that moment. Leave it to a dog to teach me how to be human.
And now again, as I busy myself with Christmas markets, getting gifts to the post in time, starting a new job, and skipping sleep and meetings to fit it all in- that slighted look from my dog has got me thinking… Will it take some shit for me to realize that I’m shitting on my happiness?