His Beautiful Death
I can vaguely remember the day I almost lost my mother. I didn’t sit at her side, hold her hand or bring her flowers.
The substances served their purpose, and I simply went home, drank, and tried not to feel. I was too scared of her pain, and too disconnected from my own, to show up for her in any real way. I wanted to be strong and not fall into the million pieces I knew I could never pick up or put back together.
For many, addiction morphs us into narcissists attempting to find ourselves in other people. I was cloaked in selfishness and could only access my own pain, even when attempting to support my mother. I couldn’t move out of my own way. It was as if my pain was all encompassing, the only feeling that existed or mattered. I would run and hide at the first scent of abandonment, so I wasn’t available. All I could feel was the fear of being left again. I mistook attachment for love.
The Power of Puppy Love
While my mother recovered in ICU, I brought her a photo of my puppy, a tiny pug named Maximus. I saw her face light up in a new way, her heart was opened and life flooded back into her body. It was apparent he would heal her better than any medicine, so I started down the path of unselfish behavior, and gave Maximus to my mother.
I should also admit I knew she had more time to spend with him, and that was something he desperately craved. I empathized with his constant desire for love and affection. I could also understand his crippling disappointment when he didn’t receive it.
The sadness in his wrinkled and innocent face was a constant reminder that I left people (and apparently animals) with the same feeling of despair that crippled me on a daily basis. My caretaking skills while drinking were marginal at best. I can honestly say I did try to be a good dog mommy, but addiction handicapped me from accessing any version of self-less or genuine love.
My heart goes out to all the mothers still trapped by their prison of substances. Life becomes a relentless cycle of shame and the only antidote is more drugs, shopping, sex etc. True healing requires much more than desire, it demands presence and a willingness to feel. I had neither at my disposal until I hit such a low that even alcohol couldn’t numb the pain. I had no choice but to seek out alternative sources of comfort, and for that reason, I am grateful my life unraveled into the huge pile of shit it had become.
As my mother recovered, with Maximus by her side, his love healed her mind, body and soul. They were inseparable and lived almost every breath of life together. He was her companion animal and trained seizure alert dog. He literally saved her life.
Maximus spent most of his days at our local airport, proudly sporting his “Pet Me” vest and consoling nervous passengers. Instead of drowning their fear of flying at the bar, he sat with them until his calm disposition became their own.
Something Precious, Something Else Precious
For many of us, he was the antidote to drinking. Incredibly, he took the sickness out of so many people. Tragically, it manifested in him as cancer. I sat with my mother, sober, as she made the unselfish decision to end his suffering. I felt all of it. I didn’t run. His death provided me the opportunity to show up for my mother in a very real way.
His passing revealed the beautiful truth that all things change and fade away. We can grasp ahold, kicking and screaming, wasting our lives in constant resistance. Or we can let go and allow something precious to turn into something else precious.
And that’s what we did. His name is Happy, the rescue pug. He is not a replacement, but a new opportunity to love and to heal.
Images Courtesy of Jo Harvey