Positive self-talk We all have that voice in our head that tells us all the horrible things we dislike about our self. This internal dialogue can cause havoc to our self-esteem and self-worth. To help change this, every time you catch yourself using negative self-talk, change it to something positive. Examples: I am kind. I am enough. I am beautiful. I am powerful. I am worthy. I deserve the respect of others.
Have Compassion For Yourself It is so much easier to have compassion for others, but you are worth the same love and compassion you give to others. If you were to step back, and imagine someone else had lived the life you have, or been through the things you have, I bet you could find empathy, love, and understanding. This was a big Ah-ha moment for me. It allowed me to understand my situation with much more compassion. Instead of thinking I wasn’t strong enough, or it wasn’t “that bad,” I was able to understand how strong I had been. No one is perfect, don’t be so hard on yourself. Give yourself some compassion.
Get Out of Your Comfort Zone For people who have lived in trauma, self-love isn’t comfortable. Push yourself out of your comfort zone, and allow yourself to love YOU. If at first you don’t succeed, keep getting uncomfortable and try again. You are worth the uncomfortableness to realize how amazing you truly are.
Tell Yourself “I Love You.” Every time you walk by a mirror, stop and say, “I love you.” If that feels a little too weird at first, start with saying, “I am enough.” Every time you see your reflection, whether it is in a storefront window, on the side of a shiny car, or in the mirror, stop and say it. Look at yourself in the eyes and say the words you tell others. Say them, and then work on believing them.
Practice Makes Progress Practice your self-love practice everyday. The more you do it, the more you will start to believe it. At first, it might feel a little odd, but you are worth it. You are important. You matter. Now, get to work, and start loving your beautiful self.
The best way to seek revenge on all the people who hurt you, is to love yourself. If they taught you to believe you were unlovable, prove them wrong. When you love yourself, everything else falls into place. Self-love is the first step to taking back your power.
Be gentle on yourself. You’ve got this. You are worth it.
What is self-love? Doesn’t sound like a hard question, right?
When someone has lived in chaos and trauma, self-love is not something that is learned. In fact, it is furthest from reality.
You’re nothing without me.
You’re a waste of space.
Have you looked at yourself lately?
When you hear the same things over and over again, you begin to believe it. How could you not? Subliminal and not so subliminal messages are being fed to you on a daily basis. How can you stop the negative self-talk, when you do not have any other frame of reference. You use all the strength you have just to make it to the next day, there is nothing left to fight the thoughts that make up who you are. How can you love someone who seems unlovable?
When someone told me I had to love myself in order to love others my defense went up. I was angry at the thought. How dare they say that to me. How dare they tell me I have to love myself. In that moment it was an impossible ask. I was not in a place that I felt I deserved love. I thought it was my job to love and take care of others. I did not even make it on my list of priorities.
The next time someone said this to me, I took a step back. Maybe there was something to this. I watched others around me, and noticed our differences. I looked for small ways I could try to put myself first. The small steps pushed me to grad school, and that was where the real magic happened.
Each month I felt myself come a little more out of the haze of the illusions that surrounded me. The more steps I took out of the fog, the more I was able to see how I wanted to be treated by others. Before this, I didn’t think I had a choice. If someone wanted to take advantage of me, I didn’t say no. When I started to see my worth the people around me didn’t like it. It wasn’t as easy to push me around like they used to. I slowly learned how to say no.
Self-love was a long process for me. I had years of reprogramming. Years of clearing out the spaces that had been filled with violence and fear. The excuses poured in from every direction. The what if’s filled the air.
Some days I was able to push them under the surface, while other times I wasn’t as successful. The fear and doubt won. But, I didn’t give up. I kept trying to fight my way through the thick muck of self-loathing and self-doubt to the land of self-love.
Abusers use these weaknesses they see in us. They feed off of our self-doubt, and assure us we are all the bad things we can conger up in our minds. Self-love takes our power back. When we don’t believe the awful things we used to tell ourselves any longer, we won’t believe when they say them either. When they put their hands on us, we know we don’t deserve it. We know we are worth more. We are worthy of love; our love. We are worthy of safe love. We are worthy of happiness.
We. Are. Worthy.
Do you have a story of your self-love journey you would like to share? I’m looking to share stories of self-love this month. Send me a mesasage at email@example.com if you would like to share your self-love story. The best weapon against domestic violence is education and sharing our stories.
We will make a difference. One voice at a time.
Can you think of ways you practice self-love? I’d love to hear about them! I’ll share some ideas in the next blog.
Since awareness is key to helping end domestic violence, I want to share a story each month with a different focus. There can never be too many stories shared. Sharing replaces hopelessness with hopefulness.
Since this idea did not come to me until late into the month of January, I thought I would start with my story. I did share my story in October 2019, as well as in my memoir, The Monster That Ate My Mommy, but there is always room for more details and more insight. My hope is that sharing my story, even on repeat, it will reach the right people to make a difference. If one person is helped by my suffering, it was for something.
The first three years of my life I did not have contact with my father, and as far as I know, neither did my mom. She brought baby girl Aiken home to her mother’s house from the hospital with the father’s name on the birth certificate blank. From the start she knew she didn’t feel safe around my dad, and maybe for the first time in her life, she listened to her gut feeling. During those three years she kept him away from me, and because he was not named as my father, without a DNA test, he did not have any rights to me.
The plan had been to name my brother’s dad as my father, and I was going to be given his last name. He agreed to this plan, and as far as I knew, he was my dad. He was loving and kind, and fun to be with. Before this plan could be put into motion, he became very sick, and died. I am not sure if it was this alone that changed my mom’s mind about my dad, or her wish to give me a father, or the hope for a family, but he was welcomed into our lives. My birth certificate was changed to list him as my father, and my last name was hyphenated to include his.
Within days we were moving into a new place as a family, and the abuse came creeping back in. Some of the scariest, most traumatic moments of my life came from the three short years we lived together. I witnessed my brother’s beatings, so severe, I was not sure he would live. I watched as my parents had violent sex in the living room, and saw my dad inches away from ending my mom’s life.
I was a watcher. I watched and observed everything. I wanted to be prepared for what might happen. Every sound awoke my adrenaline as I waited for it to escalate, and spiral out of control. Even at four years old, I knew I had to think fast, and be ready for what might come. I knew I had to be strong and step in for my mom or brother when their beatings became too much. I’d cause some sort of distraction to take the focus off them, hoping the belt across my bare bottom would be enough for him. If they could have a break, maybe they would be strong enough for the next time.
I knew there would always be a next time. I knew that even when we were laughing and having fun, it would end as quickly as it started. My guard was never down, and it wasn’t until recently that I understood the impact this has had on me.
Some things are easy to see what they were caused by, while others take time to fully understand. My newest development came in a counseling session where EMDR therapy was used.
The goal of the session was to understand the reason I don’t feel at home anywhere. The last place that felt like home was my gram’s house, the same house I was brought home from the hospital. Even though I moved out of this home when I was three, every time I went back, I knew I was home. It wasn’t a big surprise to me. It made sense that my gram made it feel like home; she was home.
My problem was I have not been able to recreate that feeling since. It was not due to feeling unsafe or unloved. I didn’t understand what was the route of this lack of connection came from. In the past abuse and neglect made it was easy to see why I didn’t feel like I was home. My life is no longer filled with either and I wanted answers. I wanted to fix it. I wanted to find that feeling.
Some of the factors that lead to this decision were the boxes I have not unpacked for over ten years. They follow me, all the things I have carried with me throughout different moves, and do not find a permanent place inside the building I reside. I do not decorate or make an effort to make it feel like “home.” I thought it was because I was lazy…or busy…but lately, I knew there was more to it.
During my session I had to go back in time to a memory that may have caused this. Going down memory lane I counted 20 moves in my lifetime. Most all of them had a negative connotation. There were two that stuck out. One was when I was 14 and first in foster care, and the second, the one that I worked on, was when I was six and going with my dad for visitations.
Tears began to roll down my cheek as I thought back to thirty-two years ago, to my six-year old self with my rolled up brown paper bag full of my clothes gazing out the window, waiting for my dad’s car to arrive so I could slip out the door before my parents had a chance to interact. In those moments I dreaded these weekend visits. I wanted to go to my gram’s, but on his weekends, I couldn’t.
As I worked through these emotions and memories I realized what had been keeping me from feeling at home. It was the lack of fitting in, the lack of having a safe place, the lack of belonging, the lack of having a solid foundation.
How does this all relate to being a child witness to domestic violence?
All that fear, and waiting I experienced followed me. I’m ready at a moments notice to throw my belongings into paper bags, or garbage bags and throw them into my car to get to safety. I’m ready to make my escape, because to me, home was not safe. To me, home was where I went to be hurt and watch others be hurt. It was a place that held all the secrets and horrors that no one else was allowed to know. It was filled with loud voices, swears, insults, and bruises. It was the space between going to school, and my gram’s house, where safety wasn’t questioned.
Watching my dad hurt and threaten to kill my mom changed me. It instilled a fear in me I thought was part of my existence. It gave me an altered view of what home and love were supposed to look like. It ate away at my self-esteem. It robbed me of self-love.
It changed me.
As an adult, who found my way to my own house of horrors, it took me a while to realize it was not normal. I didn’t believe I deserved anything other than what I had always known. I recreated a “home” that mimicked the one I had grown up in. On guard for the next incident to happen, I never had time to get comfortable. I didn’t know what comfortable was.
Recently, I thought something was wrong with me because I can sleep through my husband’s alarm clock. I know now that there is nothing wrong with me. For the first time in my life I feel safe. Safe enough to sleep soundly. Safe enough to let my guard down. Safe enough to figure out what home is.
It’s time to start living. Existing is exhausting.
If you have exposed your children to domestic violence, please don’t feel guilty. We all do the best we can with the information we have at the time. Each day is a new day to make a change. Tomorrow is a clean slate. Don’t let the past keep you somewhere you never belonged.
I don’t share my story for pity, I share it for awareness. Awareness is the key to ending domestic violence.
In October of 2019, the Stand Up to Domestic Violence project helped over thirty survivors share their stories. Every day of the month a new story was shared to spread awareness. Awareness is key to helping end domestic violence. The more we talk and share, the more people know they are not alone. When the stigma is removed from domestic violence, more people may come forward for help. More friends and family members may spot abuse in relationships of their loved ones. More teens will be able to spot the signs of abuse sooner. More children may understand what happens at home is okay to be talked about; it will give them the power to share secrets they may otherwise carry with them for decades.
When these doors are opened, they shine a light on the abuse. With knowledge comes power, and safety. When we share our stories we learn that someone else may have been through what we went through. The words that were used to keep us prisoner may lose their power when we hear how many others were called the same names, told the same lies. When we talk, we grow, and when we grow, we see the world around us differently.
So many survivors I have talked to have told me, “I didn’t know it was abuse.” “I didn’t think it was domestic violence.” Time and time again, I heard stories of cruelty being brushed away because it was just how it was. Women were raped by their husbands, but they didn’t think they had a choice. Men and women lived in fear, because they just thought that was how it was supposed to be. Doesn’t every relationship include threats and violence?
It wasn’t that many years ago I didn’t think what I was living through every day was abuse. I questioned my sanity. I did not see my value, and I could have sworn I had no worth.
“It’s not that bad.”
“At least he doesn’t hit me…everyday.”
“It only happened a couple of times.”
“He said it was my fault…I know what buttons to push.”
“He’ll take my kids away…he’ll prove I’m crazy.”
These thoughts kept me stuck. I had no idea that the lies I was fed were verbatim the same words others were being told by their abuser.
Word. For. Word.
As soon as I was able to break free enough to get a glimpse of my value, I was able to see. I didn’t deserve to be talked to like that. I didn’t deserve to be raped. I didn’t deserve to have my money stolen from me, or my credit destroyed. I didn’t deserve to be physically assaulted. I didn’t deserve to hear death threats. I didn’t deserve to live in fear.
The power this knowledge gave me was paramount to my survival and escape. Had I not seen the glimmer of hope, I would still be stuck. It was as simple as knowing life didn’t have to be that way any longer. My goal is to help as many men, women, and children understand their worth. It starts with you.
Do you have a story to tell? Do you know someone who does? Do you need more information? Knowledge is power. Help me take back our safety, our bodies, our minds, and our hearts. Share posts on social media, talk to whoever will listen. Have facts, or real life experience, and share…share…share! Together we can make a difference. Let our voices be heard, let them shake the ground under the abusers who use power and control to harm others. Leave them powerless over the ones they are so good at hurting.
The beginning of a new year brings lots of thoughts about the past 365 days. As I started to think back over the last year, I realized not only did January 1st bring a new year, it also brought a new decade. I tried to think back to the start of 2010, and where I was in my life, and I couldn’t believe the changes that had taken place. So many so that it is hard to remember who I was. A stranger in a strange land.
2010 brought with it the continued grueling, agonizing grief that came from the loss of my grandmother. It would bring the year anniversary of the most painful loss of my lifetime. It would also bring the push I needed to seek counseling when the pain became too much to bare. unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at what followed, the counseling did not help. It was the reminder I did not want that I could not trust counselors, and the reason I had not stepped foot in an office since the court order had ended when I was in foster care. By the end of the year I knew if I wanted help, I would have to learn the skills to help myself. I met with admissions counselor at Springfield College to talk about the Masters in Mental Health Counseling program…and applied.
2011 began with an acceptance letter into the graduate program, soon followed by a full-time caseload of classes, because my motto has always been “Go big or go home.” Chaos was what I was used to, and this sure helped fill that requirement. Receiving As in my first few classes gave me the reminder that I was good at something. The year also brought hell to my son as the bullying continued. He started to get physically sick when we took the road that led to our house. No one wanted to help. The way out was found with the loss of our home; taken by a fire that destroyed everything we owned. Life had to start over; there was no other option. The insurance company gave the option of rebuilding in the same spot or finding a house somewhere else. The choice was an easy one, and we found a house down the road (less than a half a mile) from where some of the worst physical abuse of my life occurred.
2012 brought strength. As the kids’ lives started to settle down in school, I began to find myself. For the first time in my life I was able to see how I had been treated. The fog from the gas lighting started to lift. I took the new found strength and purchased tickets to see Tom Petty live in concert in Orlando, Florida. My first time to see him and my first time on an airplane. I didn’t know it then, but this would be one of the major stepping stones of my healing journey. If a lifelong dream could come true, anything could. I held on to that belief as the journey continued. The year also included a shakeup in my career. As my degree was getting closer and I learned more about ethics, I knew I did not want to stay somewhere I felt like I was settling. I left a job I held and had loved for six years to pursue something more; more money, more responsibility, more chaos.
2013 changed my life, maybe even saved it. As I learned who I was and what I didn’t need to deal with I knew what and who I didn’t want in my life. The year brought another Tom Petty concert, this time in Saratoga Springs, New York. It brought new friends, courage, and more strength than I knew I could handle. Three days before graduation my now ex-husband was arrested and removed from the home for physically assaulting me. The arrest gave me the protection I needed to get the divorce papers started, and set the motion for a safe life for my kids, pets, and myself. Safety did not come right away, but I knew I never had to allow him to put his hands on me or the kids again.
2014 was the year I got my name back! The divorce was finalized on May 30th. My first time at Fenway Park happened on August 31, 2014 to see my third Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers concert. This was the year I also started writing my memoir. I wrote 25,000 words and had to stop. I knew I couldn’t write my truth while my mom was alive. It had always been my job to protect everyone else’s feelings…this was no different.
2015 changed my status from lifetime Vermonter. A move I never thought I would make moved me across the river to New Hampshire. This was the year I started on my healing journey. A friend told me I needed to clean my third eye…I didn’t know what she meant, but I knew who to ask. I met with Sali Crow, which started the process of uncovering years of my buried trauma. Through this process it made sense to meet with a therapist. There was way too much to leave unattended. This was also the year my world went black, crashed around me, when my youngest daughter told me her father had been molesting her. Suddenly, I was that seven year old girl who was being molested again. While I protected my child, the hurt, anger and rage seared my skin as I thought about my seven year old self, and how my mom blamed me for the abuse…how she watched the abuse happen right in front of her. This nightmare sent me into a deep depression, and brought back every unresolved issue I ever faced in life. This was the year I found out what I was made of.
2016 put me in a position to learn Reiki, so I could continue on my healing journey, and help my children with theirs. It was the year I was able to see and acknowledge the abuse and trauma my mom caused me. I took a step back, and put some distance between us, so I could began healing old wounds. It was also the year I felt at peace with my gram’s death. On April 20th, ten days after the seventh anniversary of my gram’s death, my mom took her last breath. I was able to be by her side when she left this world. I was also able to tell her that I forgave her (and I meant it). The last words she spoke to me were, “I love you.” And for the first time in my life, I believed her. After my mom died, I sat at my computer and wrote, and wrote, and wrote. I finished the first draft of my memoir by June, submitted it to an editor and waited. When it returned I read through the corrections, but I didn’t have it in me to go back to those places I needed to go. I was emotionally exhausted. My reward for completing a life long dream was an overnight trip to New York City to see Mudcrutch. I was the closet I had ever been to Tom Petty, and the night was magical. A small venue with acoustic music, that was a trip I am grateful for.
2017 brought the time I needed to rewrite my memoir. It also brought a trip to Nashville, TN to see Tom Petty with some online friends I had been talking with for years, who understood my love of the band. It also brought four more concerts. Two of them with front row seats, and a few guitar picks from the band (and Dana), one tossed right from Tom’s hand after he finished playing Free Fallin’. My memoir was published in September, and my book launch party was scheduled for October 20th, Tom’s birthday…October 2nd brought heartache when we learned Tom passed away. I was not sure how I would get through the event, but I pressed on, and honored the man who help save my life so many times with his words. The year finished out with a proposal from the only man who had ever shown me love and respect.
2018 was stated off in an airplane headed to Los Angeles, California to appear on the Dr. Phil show. I had been lead to believe we were going to be talking about my memoir, but soon learned that not to be true. My sister, step-father and I talked about the sexual abuse we experience as children. He admitted the abuse he had done to my sister, although in a twisted, victim blaming way, but denied what he had done to me. This experience brought many things with it. Clarity, healing and understanding. It also brought a trip to Tennessee where I spent a week at Onsite in their Healing Trauma workshop. This would not have been something I ever would have been able to do for myself, and it gave me the understanding of how many people there are who know what it’s like to live a life of trauma. I understood that I am not alone. And for the first time in my life, I understood my strength.
2019 introduced me to EMDR therapy, and helped me process many of the traumas that left me with PTSD. Luckily, I responded well to this type of therapy and it helped mend many years of hurt and self doubt. I had many break through in my sessions. It was the year I married a man who has loved me and never hurt me emotionally or physically. It also helped inspire me to help others share their stories and bring awareness to domestic violence. The year ended with the loss of our sweet dog, Belvedere, who taught me that the love was worth the pain.
After going through the years and events, it is easy for me to see I am not the person I used to be. I have learned so much about myself and the world around me. The healing journey is one that does not end as life twists and turns. I look forward to the years ahead to see what adventures and lessons they have in store. Here is to the next ten years.
The thing about grief is that it is unpredictable. It sneaks up on you out of nowhere. It makes no sense, but then it does. It can turn one memory into hours worth of memories, which then turns into tears and pain. You think you’ve got it down. You think you understand how you feel about something, and then everything changes. And then nothing makes sense again.
This time of year has been hard for me since I lost my dad in 1992. A memory from the past settles in and the smile it brought is washed away by the longing for what will never be again. It can be triggered by something that doesn’t relate at all to the actual event, but has enough to bring a piece back. It can be the glimmer of a red Christmas light in the dark twinkling on a tree and I am six years old kneeling on my grandmother’s living room floor opening gifts with my dad. That is a memory that comes yearly, like clockwork. I spent the least amount of time with my dad and his mom at Christmas, and then only a handful of years, yet this moment in time is etched into my mind.
I long for the magic from that night. For just the three of us to sit around a Christmas tree on Christmas Eve and open gifts together. To have my dad’s undivided attention. To feel special and loved. To feel like I was the most important person in his life. To see the joy on my grandmother’s face as she watched her son watch his daughter. I don’t remember any of the gifts I received, but I remember the moments we spent together. I remember the magical feelings that filled me as I watched my dad open the gifts I carefully made for him, and wrapped with scraps of paper. I remember the love. I remember the safety that came, when it rarely was present.
I think about how different life would have been if he had lived for more than ten years of my life. I wonder if he would have been a gentler grandfather, or what he would have done if he had found out about the people that hurt me. I wonder if he would have found his true love, or at least happiness. The small moments leave the most impact.
Thoughts about loss always stir up other losses. When I think about my dad’s death, I think about his mom. I think about my grandfather, and then my uncle, and my gram, and then my mom. I think about how many people I no longer have in my life. I think about the traditions we used to have, and the predictably that came from them. In a life filled with chaos, predictability is an unfamiliar, and much needed break.
As I tried to recall some of the good memories, few came. The harder I try to conjure them up, the deeper I fall into the memories that I have tried to put to rest. Memories so hideous, they make me not even want to remember. The joy quickly washed away by shame from an incident that happened more than thirty years ago. And then, I question everything. Every smile and every laugh. Every fleeting moment of safety. Was it all a lie?
Of course it was.
Of course it was never as it seemed. And that realization gets me every time. I reach for the giant pencil, the pink eraser intact and try my hardest to undo what was done. As I walk through the pink rubber shavings, I spin the pencil around to try to rewrite the story. I try to hang on to the sparks of joy that were not tainted by abuse, by molestation, by hate, by anger, by fear. I try to hang on to any little glimmer of happiness I can find in the darkness the memories have created.
And then it crashes down around me. It was that bad. It was. I can make my heart believe it wasn’t, or that I was making it up, or overrating, but my brain tells me I am wrong. Logic says I am lucky I survived. Lucky to be alive. Lucky to not fallen into the hands of addiction. Lucky to be able to force a smile when there was no reason to.
And that, that is why the Holidays will never be like they are on TV. That is why as hard as I try my joy this time of year will always be a little false. That is why I may disappear when everyone else comes together. Because the joy I try to hold onto is covered in thorns from the past. As many gloves I can protect myself with, there will always be one thorn that will reach my core.
I will not stop picking the roses, because even through the pain, and even through the darkness, there is enough light to keep me on my journey onward.
If you notice someone is a little quieter than usual, or choose to keep to themselves, know that there could be generations of painful memories swarming their thoughts. Something as simple as a candy cane can bring someone pain. Be gentle with them. Be gentle with yourself.
We cannot heal what we do not allow ourselves to feel.
For as long as I can remember, I have always had a dog, sometimes many. My childhood was not filled with happy memories; but it was filled with love and lots of fur. There were many times in my life where I didn’t have friends, well not the human kind, but I always had a friend in my dogs.
I was lucky to have dogs at home and at my gram’s house, and even at my dad’s house for much of my time there. Some of my earliest memories are of times spent outside playing with my four legged friends. My gram had a hound dog, Daisy, who she adopted when she failed to make a great hunting dog. She was tall and lean and brown spots covered her silky white coat. She was older when we met, and to escape from some of the other dogs my gram had, she would rest on the floor of my gram’s closet. She made the perfect companion when I needed to escape from the world with a book. I remember many days when we sat together under coat tails and slacks.
Another friend was Jake. He was a handsome red Golden Retriever. He was gentle and patient and made a great friend to lay on the floor under a comforter in front of the television while I colored. He was a calm old guy, who could always make me feel safe. When he went for rides with us he loved to sing. A favorite song of ours had lyrics that went sort of like this: We’re going for a ride, and we’re never coming back, and the train goes choo-choo. A little darker than I remember as a kid, but he loved it and howled along with us. I can still see his smile as he sat in the back seat between my brother and me.
A sleek black Doberman Pitbull mix was one of the many dogs that lived with us when we moved in with my dad. She was my guardian, and tried her hardest to keep me safe. This often resulted in her getting hit or kicked out of the way. When a neighbor boy broke into our home as a joke, she was the first to greet him with a fierce bite…he learned to never try that again. She came to Bob’s house with us when we left my dad, and her fine judge of character skills was sharp…he knew the easiest way to get away with being miserable was to get rid of Zuul. He pulled her tail and when she growled at him we had to find her a new home. That was one of the hardest goodbyes, because she didn’t understand why she couldn’t come home with us. I felt like I had let her down. In hindsight, she probably had a much better life without him in it.
Candy was a sensitive Husky that lived with my dad and his mom. She was white with grey course fur. She loved me as her own, even though we didn’t see each other that often. My dad could be cruel, but she loved him no matter what. After he died, she would sit at the end of her leash on the top of my grandmother’s lawn waiting for my dad to return. She eventually died of a broken heart. She was my savior when I visited my grandmother and dad. I didn’t speak unless I was hungry, thirsty, or wanted to go to the bathroom, but Candy didn’t care. She sat with me and let me pat her as anxiety and fear circulated my insides.
Lady, a slender Golden Retriever with long red hair came home with my mom one day she went to the grain store. She came to us with two names because her previous owners were in the middle of a custody battle over her and couldn’t even agree what to call her. My mom said the man said if she didn’t take her he was going to shoot her. My mom could never resit a new pet and Lady came to live with us.
Lady quickly became my best friend. There were many days she was my only friend. She was sweet and motherly, giving me the love and comfort I couldn’t find in my mom. She played hide and seek and tag with me. Some days when my sister and I were at school Lady would walk the half mile to see if she could find us. Teachers sent her home, but she was always looking for us. When I moved in with my gram, a scratch at the door would let us know Lady was there for a visit. She would sit on the couch with me or even lay on my bed with me while I listened to sad 90s music. She would stay with me until my mom yelled over for her to return for the night.
When I was seventeen Lady was at the end of her life. She had Cancer and we were told we had to say goodbye. I went to the vets with my mom and stayed with her as they administered the dose that would stop her sweet, gentle heart. I lost my best friend that day, and vowed to never let any other dog past my wall because I never wanted to feel that pain again.
Toby was an early Christmas gift the year my dad died. He was a long haired mix with big brown eyes. His brown, white and black fur never stayed neat, much like how I wore my hair. He was my first dog I could call my own. He loved me and helped me through my first real loss. He came with me when I went to stay at my gram’s house, and later, when I was in foster care, he was able to live with me too. He got me through many emotional days and nights. He knew all of my secrets and loved me just the same. After losing Lady, I still loved Toby, but I distanced myself enough to not feel the pain. I honestly do not remember now how or when Toby died.
Abbie and Scott are the dogs that came into my life as an adult. After a few years of not having any dogs in my life these two became part of the family. The vow to not get too close still stood, and even though their love and sweetness exuded from them, I did not want to let myself get hurt again. They have been through a lot as pets in a domestic violence household. They were both abused and still give as much love as they can. Abbie was depressed and Scott has anxiety due to the environment they were in for the first few years of their life.
When we were able to escape the domestic violence I started dating. I knew I didn’t want to be with someone like the man we escaped. I knew right away George was different. He had a best friend, Belvedere, a sweet, intelligent yellow lab. When I met Belvedere I was impressed with their relationship. George and Belvedere loved each other and I knew when I saw them together my initial thought was correct.
Belvedere’s love was strong. His big, brown eyes held so much love and he was eager to share it. Right away he let me share George with him, and as my love for George grew, so did my love for Belvedere. The wall I had built so many years ago when I lost Lady slowly began to crumble. Maybe it was because I was finally in a safe relationship, being loved for who I was, or maybe it was because Belvedere was so much like Lady. The same gentle spirit and enormous heart. It was impossible to keep his love out.
As my wall crumbled I was able to receive Abbie and Scott’s love. Now three dogs held my heart after so many years of closing it off. With great love comes great pain. That was something I knew, but chose to forget.
On my birthday this year we took Belvedere to the vets because he wasn’t acting right and it looked like he had gained a lot of weight. We were told he had a large mass in his belly area and the outcome was most likely poor. We scheduled the needed ultrasound for the next appointment, the day after the Holiday, and it was confirmed he had a mass on his spleen. Emergency surgery was the only option that we were given that could possibly save him. We were leaving for New York for our wedding just days away. An opening for the surgery was available the very next day, which would allow him to travel with us to be part of our big day.
The day of his surgery I waited for the call to let me know he was OK. I waited. And waited. And waited, until the phone finally rang. It was the vet telling me they had him in the operating room and found that the growth had spread to other parts of his body and asked if we wanted her to continue. I knew in my heart he would make it through surgery, and she had to continue. A few hours later we got the call that he did make it and we were allowed to bring him home to recover.
Four days after his surgery he took the six hour drive to New York with us and he was able to share the day with us. He even wore a matching bow tie. When we returned from our trip we had a message to call the vet, the results from the biopsy had came in. It was now George’s birthday. It was the day we learned Belvedere had cancer. It was the day the hope we held that he was going to be OK faded away. We made an appointment to talk about treatment options, and tried a few. Still the cancer was spreading, and we were told it was only a matter of time.
How do you live everyday knowing it might be the last day with one of your best friends? The first few months after his surgery he was like his old self. He wanted to play ball, he wanted treats, and he gave lots of love. His eyes sparkled and his tail wagged. As the days passed, his energy drifted away, but his appetite didn’t leave. He was changing, but he was still full of love.
A couple weeks ago we knew his days with us were limited. George’s one wish was for Belvedere to make it to Thanksgiving with us. It was his favorite Holiday, because he loved turkey so much. The Wednesday before Belvedere’s appetite had left and he was having a hard time walking. As he laid on the kitchen floor I sat with him and gave him Reiki. I sent the intention to take his pain away and let him enjoy his favorite day. When we went to bed he came with us, and early in the morning he got sick. A few hours later, after he took his medication, he became his old self for a few hours. He was in the kitchen with me as I cooked our Thanksgiving meal, and he napped by the oven as the aroma from the turkey circulated around him.
When it was time to eat, he was by George’s side, something he had stopped doing before. His happy eyes and smile returned as we gave him turkey and ate our meal. Thanksgiving was a good day, for him, and us.
On Saturday morning he stopped eating and started having a hard time walking. He didn’t come up to bed with us. His tail still wagged, and he used all of his energy to give as much love as he could. We knew the time we didn’t want to come had arrived. We hoped we were wrong, but on Monday morning, we knew we had to let him go.
Because Belvedere hated the car, the vet was able to make a home visit the following day. We spent as much time as we could with him. When I had to leave the house to get the kids, Abbie left the comfort of the couch to lay with Belvedere on the kitchen floor until we returned. Even Abbie loved Belvedere.
On Tuesday we all spent time with Belvedere to say our goodbyes. When I returned home that morning, he took the last of his energy to greet me for the last time as I returned home. The day was gloomy, cloudy and snowy. When the vet arrived the sun came out, and as we sat on the floor with Belvedere a rainbow danced on his back. As sad as I was, I knew he was going to be happy and free. He was going to play ball and eat as many treats as he wanted. He was going to be the early Christmas gift for my gram and George’s. The image of my gram’s loving smile was all I could picture as I gave him Reiki in his last moments.
The pain is raw, and much like the day I said goodbye to Lady. The thought of the love and happiness he took with him leave me with tears. The house is empty without him, even still full with the five of us and the two dogs. We are missing a huge part of our life. It always amazes me the amount of space one person, one dog took up energetically. While we have them, it is hard to see their true impact, but when they are gone, it is all you can see. I know he hasn’t left us. I know he will be with us, waiting by the treat bag. Today, the first day I returned home and wouldn’t see his wagging tail and happy eyes, I found a tuft of fur on the floor in the mudroom before I opened the front door. I know it was his way to let us know he hasn’t left, and bring us comfort. Because even when he was hurting, he still gave his everything to make sure we were OK. His love is endless. His heart was pure. He was one of the greatest losses of our family.
As the pain floods me, I can’t help remember the vow I took to never feel this pain again. I think about the times I pushed the love away, and then I think about what I missed out on. I am grateful he was part of my life, our life. I am grateful he taught me it was OK to love again. I am grateful that the love was worth the pain.
It’s hard to understand why creatures with such big hearts have such a short time in our lives. It’s hard to understand how people can be so cruel, and judging, and evil, where there are pets who love with all they have. It doesn’t make sense, but I am grateful for the lesson.
Until we meet again. Thank you for the love. Thank you for the lessons. Thank you for being you. As Tom Petty says, “You’ve Got A Heart So Big.”