I woke up at 3:30am yesterday morning, Veteran’s Day. I tried to get back to sleep, but my mind was wandering. I couldn’t shake what I can only describe as sorrow. I have to say that most of the time, sorrow follows me. It’s just kinda right there, right on the edge of consciousness. For days, maybe weeks, I have been thinking about our first dog, Peppermint, our adorable miniature dachshund. We had to say good-bye to her four years ago. What was not obvious to us back then was the amount of suffering Peppermint was experiencing due to arthritis and a sensitive back. She had become aggressive over the years, but I didn’t connect the dots. I’ll talk more about that later.
On the morning we said good-bye, Peppermint could no longer walk and wasn’t eating, though she seemed oriented. The day before, I knew she wasn’t well. My husband insisted “it was time.” I felt so helpless. Peppermint usually slept in her crate, but knowing it was difficult for her to move, I put her little dog bed right next to me so that I could check on her. I was worried sick and knew she was declining. At my husband’s urging, we took her to the veterinarian the next morning. My heart was so heavy. I tried desperately to keep my emotions in check to ease Peppermint’s anxiety. She always hated going to the vet.
We left the vet that morning without Peppermint. The days and weeks that followed were tortuous. It was the first time ever in my life that I couldn’t bear to listen to music. Peppermint loved music and used to lie on the back of the couch listening and sleeping while I played piano.
The clock just kept ticking, I checked the time. 4:30am. I remembered Peppermint, so many memories, and how much I missed her. There was no holding back the tears. In my grief, I began to sense strongly Pepper’s presence. She was comforting me. I could see her sweet face and tiny body. She gave me a message. Many will think it was my imagination, a means to self-soothe in the midst of grief. I think, however, that Pepper was communicating with me, letting me know she was okay and no longer suffering. It’s not the first time I’ve connected with beings that have passed, although such occurrences are rare and only come at certain times. We stayed like that till the morning light broke through. It suddenly dawned on me that Veteran’s Day, four years ago, was the day we said good-bye. Though my wake mind didn’t immediately recall this, my body did. And, It was as though Pepper was paying me a visit on the anniversary of her passing. Why this year and not last or even further back? More on that later. I told Pepper how sorry I was that I didn’t see the pain she suffered long before her last days, not only the physical pain, but emotional, too. She (like so many other dogs) experienced terrible separation anxiety that I’m afraid we failed to pay attention to. I told Pepper that I wish I’d known her suffering and done better so that she would have been better and happier. Guilt, an old friend, came a visiting, too. Pepper reassured me that it was okay.
Why does any of this matter? What I have learned in my healing journey, through therapy, meditation, and particularly through connecting with horses, is how very disconnected from my own body I have been for many, many years. Working with horses brought that to the light and into my awareness in the most profound way. Because I lacked attunement to self, it was rather difficult to be attuned to others, whether animal or human.
That lack of connection to self, shutting down of self, began early in my life, at the very beginning. Adoption, separation, emotional/psychological abuse (across my life), fear, rupture, all of it led to a disappearing of self, a disconnect. While growing up, I learned that it was not safe to speak up when I had a need, or I might get disciplined or worse, dismissed. Despair, fear, anxiety were not safe. Better to hide them. I believe that the despair I experienced as a young child was rooted in loss. Loss, too, is an old friend. I experience it acutely, the separation from a loved one (human and nonhuman) whether in real life, a movie, a book, etc., is intense. And I absolutely hate crying in front of others. Crying is a vulnerable behavior, and I realize now, feels unsafe, embarrassing, in the presence of others. When I was a little girl, I didn’t want to cry in front of my mother. She was not safe. So, when upset, I cried alone, despaired alone, coped alone.
Yesterday, I let myself be sorrowful. As I sat across from my therapist, sharing my sadness, I noticed tears welling up in her eyes, too. She said, “It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to cry; it’s good. There is healing, physiologically, when we cry. You’ve had so much sorrow and never grieved it. Instead, you buried it. It’s time to let yourself grieve…” Such sorrow and grief is heavy, but to grieve is also freeing. There are some sorrows that stay with us. They may become less vivid with time, but nevertheless remain a part of us.
I think that I was able to have that moment with Peppermint yesterday morning, to notice her presence, because I’m more connected and attuned to self than I’ve ever been, not that I’ve arrived. I learned so long ago to tune out self, to tune out intuition. She was insignificant, small, weak. Sometimes, in those moments when I feel insignificant, I take the hand of my younger self and say to her, “No! You are significant; you are resilient and strong. Don’t let any human trick you into feeling any different.” That strong, resilient, significant, and wise self is becoming more authentic by the day. Some days, I fight really hard for her and hang on tight.
So all of this has to do with connecting to self. Learning, growing, fucking it all up, healing, finding supportive others, and embracing self. But also finding peace in traveling your own journey, not someone else’s. It has taken me a very long time to know that I am good, what I believe is good, where I’m heading is good, what I want for myself is good. May you find (or continue to find) what is meaningful and good for you. And, to my dear, sweet Peppermint, thank you for sharing your unconditional love, wisdom, and care with me. You will be ever present in my heart.