Daisy was the dumbest dog I’ve ever fostered. Bar none. Hands down. Dumb. Est.
Don’t get me wrong; Daisy was also Top 3 for Sweetest Foster Ever. Never did you ever meet a more darling rug. Her eyes and smile could light up a room. But a genius she was not.
We had Daisy for five months because the poor baby needed surgery, and in those five months she never learned to use the dog door. Other dogs showed her how. My kids demonstrated. We used treats and pets and consistent training. We bribed and cajoled. And nothing. She wasn’t afraid. This wasn’t one of the weird hang-ups foster dogs sometimes have. She’d happily go through the hole if we held the flap for her, and she’d sit next to it all day long, cheerfully watching the others go in and out, delighted whenever they reappeared. She was functionally a small child without object permanence; if the flap was down, the outside and anything in it ceased to exist. Every once in a while—SURPRISE!—a friend would pop through like a magic trick, and she’d look at me, astonished and thrilled, like did you see that?! And every time, I’d say, “I did, Daisy!” matching her excitement because it was infectious.
Daisy ran into chairs, not because she couldn’t see. She’d navigate her surroundings perfectly, then turn around, forget the chair was there, and—boof!—hit it on her second go. Same with walls. Same with humans.
Did it matter that Daisy was dumb as a pile of bricks? Nope. Not a bit. Not one lick. When I looked through applications from prospective families, I just screened accordingly, because Daisy was dumb, and she was also perfect. The perfect companion. Perfectly loyal. Perfectly happy. Perfectly zen.
Now, I’ve been working for a number of years on being more compassionate toward myself instead of, well, a huge dick. I used to spend a lot of time telling myself I was stupid. Usually in threes, sometimes with a fourth for extra emphasis. “Stupid, stupid, stupid, Beth,” I’d say, “I can’t believe you [did/said] something so stupid.” I do that less often now. Years of practice makes it merely a regular occurrence rather than an endless mantra on repeat in my head. So that’s… progress. At least I can hear it now, recognize it as self-destructive, and choose to treat myself like I’d treat a friend. Eventually.
But lately, I realized I still have a tiny bit of work to do on the self-talk front, and I know this is a little departure from the Daisy story, but bear with me. We’ll get back to her, I swear.
We’re 11 months into the After Times, 14 months into 2020: the Extended Version with added coup attempt scenes, and 4 years into a real rude awakening about xenophobia, racism, exclusion, and power-mongering in our nation and our churches. So I suppose it’s no mystery why I’m tired. Spiritually. Emotionally. Intellectually. Socially. Physically. Psychologically. Mentally. All the -lys.
No, it’s no mystery why I’m tired. It’s no mystery why any of us are. And it makes sense, too, that stress will find a way out. It must. It’s meant to. If we don’t give it an escape-hatch, or, better yet, multiple emergency exits (white lights lead to red lights), it’ll dig its way to freedom, and our bodies will bear the pain.
That’s what my body’s been doing. It’s been telling me ALL about the stresses I’m feeling. And when my body communicates with me, I most often respond with anger, shame, and derision.
Weight gain? God, Beth, you have no discipline.
Insomnia? Fatigue? FFS, just calm down and SLEEP.
Pain? Aching? Swollen joints? You’d have none of those if you had a better exercise regimen, you lazy sack.
It’s a real treat to live here inside my head, in other words. I’m a DELIGHT, and I love being with me ALL THE TIME.
The thing is, I would never even think—much less say—unkind things like that to a friend. And I especially wouldn’t shower such cruelties on someone experiencing trauma. And yet, that’s what we’ve been enduring. A collective, extended trauma.
And I realized… I’ve literally been treating myself worse than a dog.
See, Daisy came from a traumatic situation. When I picked her up, she was filthy, matted, and injured. She made a mess of my tub when I bathed her. She pooped and peed on my floors. She ruined a pair of shoes because she didn’t have any inside manners yet. She was anxious at night. She was disoriented and scared. But did I call her a lazy sack? Sure didn’t. Did I tell her she sucks at discipline? Nope. Did I yell FFS, Daisy, just calm down and SLEEP when she cried? Of course not.
I petted her until she relaxed. I used a quiet, gentle voice. I told her she’d be OK, that she was safe now, that I was here to help. I moved slowly, and I backed off if she seemed nervous. I was careful about introducing her to new situations, and I told her it’s OK to be afraid. I snuggled her when she sought comfort. I let her have toys and treats that brought her joy. And I told her over and over, her is such a gud gurl. Yes, her is. Such a gud, gud gurl.
And look, I understand this is one of those Well, Duh epiphanies, but being kind and compassionate to yourself is more than just ceasing and desisting with the “stupid, stupid, stupids.”
Being kind and compassionate to yourself is recognizing the trauma you’ve endured, the stress you’re under, and treating yourself like the scared, fragile, valuable being you are. It’s whispering “there, there, sweet bunny” while you run a warm bath. It’s providing comfort when you’re scared. It’s allowing treats and toys with no atonement or suffering attached. It’s stretching that aching muscle. It’s reading a book without berating yourself for being lazy… it’s reading a book just because the book is delicious and you enjoy your time inside it.
At its core, being kind and compassionate toward yourself is just saying, you is such a gud human. Yes, you is. You is such a gud, gud human. And saying it over and over until it starts to sink in.
I know for sure that’s what Daisy would say if she could talk. Which I suppose makes her a very smart dog after all.
With love and waving in the dark,
P.S. A few Real Things I’m doing to treat myself as well as I’d treat a dog:
1. Reading AntiDiet by Christy Harrison, MPH, RD to detox from diet- and weight-based-culture. This book was a fast read and A REAL EYE OPENER. I had no idea—NO IDEA—I might not be the problem. I just thought my weight gain was because I a) was weak and/or b) didn’t know how to have a body. Turns out, I was wrong on both counts.
2. I’m putting myself to bed as if I’m a small child. I have an alarm set every night for 8pm as a reminder to get ready for bed. I brush my teeth, allow myself a glass of water, a trip to the potty, and a book. Lights out by 9:30pm. This has helped my mental health immeasurably.
3. I made doctors’ appointments to try to dial down some of my aching and joint swelling. I was trying to power through the pain. “It’s minor,” I said. “So many people have it worse,” I said. Turns out, I needed different drugs and they really helped.
4. I’m eating food when I’m hungry and not congratulating myself for skipping meals (i.e. “being disciplined”)—this is related to #1, obviously, but I didn’t realize I’VE BEEN HUNGRY FOR 25 YEARS. Eating when I’m hungry instead of trying to decide if “it’s time” or I “deserve/have earned” it has been good for my body and my brain.
5. Yoga. My sister-in-law swears by Yoga with Adrienne on YouTube so I finally searched for Adrienne’s beginner workouts, and WHAT DO YOU KNOW, KIM WAS RIGHT AS USUAL. Mostly, I love these because they’re truly gentle, kind movement and they’re reinforcing self-compassion. It’s a physical practice that feels good and soothing instead of hard and painful.
P.P.S. PRETTY PLEASE do not use that last P.S. to be mean to yourself or feel badly if you’re not doing those things. I only say this because that’s my reaction every time I read a list like it. As I said, I’m PRECIOUS. It took me an entire year to get those 5 things on board.