My sister was reminding me that dogs shouldn’t eat grapes. It immediately brings to mind the image of my old dog Toby being given a grape and, rather than eating it, rolling on it. This was just one of his inexplicable eccentric behaviours.
What I hadn’t realised back then was that looking after a dog, especially one with mental health issues, was probably not best taken on by an owner with mental health issues. Those first years of dog owning responsibility almost broke me. I assumed it was due to Toby’s erratic behaviour, but it was just as much my own, and an inability to cope with responsibility.
The winter which followed the autumn he arrived was bitter. The harsh weather accompanied by a rocketing interest rate, and the capitulation of the only source of gas heat I had, namely the leaky fire in the small front room. We sat watching TV in coats and went to bed in hats. The difficulty in dealing with the dog who rolled on grapes didn’t ease either. It felt like ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest’, only colder, and with dogs.
It’s easy, having taken responsibility, to want to give some of it back. I’ve noticed that I have a desperate urge to do so when I feel overwhelmed and when I am under estimating my own ability to cope.
I nearly drowned under too much in one go, and the strain it put on my already complicated relationship with my mother was the icing on a particularly unpalatable cake. It appeared to me that she felt no sympathy. But years after I could see that she offered empathy, which was much more useful if only I could have made use of it.
When we make decisions we are expressing the right to be individual, to chart our own course. It’s a fundamental aspect of being separate humans. But with those decisions comes accountability and responsibility. When we cannot tolerate the consequences of what we have chosen we tumble into a hole. One which deepens when we expect someone else to dig us out.
I, like all of my clients, have gone through periods of time where I am undermined by the vulnerable child within. It is as if there is a small frightened boy standing between me and the problem. Only when I have the wit to gently move him back behind me, so that he is protected from the difficulty while I sort it out, does anything change for the better.
In toxic relationships, destructive anger, an inability to express emotion, addiction, depression, anxiety or stress, the only person who can really take responsibility for the vulnerable part of you, is you.
Today, Daisy arrived. She is eight weeks old and we’re expecting a challenging ride. In the past few days my excitement at her arrival has been swamped by a powerful anxiety which is familiar. Triggering the trauma I experienced in those early days with Toby I have allowed the little boy to stand between me and the new fear. Nearly three decades ago I solved this by putting the grown up part of me in charge of Toby and protecting the little boy. Consequently, we spent seventeen precious years together. As long as I don’t give her grapes, and I take the same grown up responsibility with Daisy, I think we’ll be just fine.