I can't imagine my life without my rescue pitty now.
Samsung, as he was named when I adopted him -- so I've tweaked it to Sam (or Samsung AT&T Unlimited Minutes Verizon Wireless if you want to use the full proper name) -- is pure joy. I texted my friend Mark Ebner how much this dog's soothing comfort was blowing my mind, and Mark texted back, "That's unconditional love right there."
Indeed. I think the most fascinating part has been how much he is teaching me to love myself more. He is so excited to be near me, he has so much pure gratitude and appreciation and fascination with everything I do, it's helping me to be less hard on myself.
Related. I started seeing Dr. Henry Grayson for psychotherapy this week, and I was telling him about the dog, and I talked for almost an hour straight about my life and traumas I want to work out with him via EMDR. I said to him about identifying as an alcoholic, "I think perhaps my primary -ism is perfectionism or workaholism. This innate need to prove I'm enough." That was my explanation for having a pretty high bottom before getting sober. Still had a great job, never missed work or slacked because of partying. Pretty much just burned out my soul to a nub on the way down.
I say all this because I have this problem where I forget to enjoy life. I forget to be in the moment. I forget to appreciate the little things. I forget to appreciate myself. My dog is helping me do that more. He is making me take care of myself more -- although I have fallen asleep next to him more than once without washing my face at night, but hey, this perfectionist is totally okay with that, and my sexy zits are, too. But seriously, Sam is getting me outdoors, keeping me on a schedule, making me see that whatever demons might be chasing me, it's really important and really essential to life to get enough food and water and sunshine and, especially, to make time to rub the bellies of those you love.
One of the best practices that my ex-husband ever forced me to do was to get outside. I would just sit holed up on the couch, working and working and working, and he would force me to go take a walk with him around Chicago. It cleared my head. And from the point of view of my pathological ambition, it also helped my work. There's a wonderful book called "The Breakout Principle" that talks about the importance of giving your brain a freaking break. Like, if you just work it to a nub -- like the soul -- it suffers.
When I was a reporting intern at the Washington Post, I would stay there until 2 in the morning trying to find the perfect word, the perfect everything. Perfect, perfect, perfect. It doesn't exist. If you read my writing from that time, it reads that way. Super stressy, super overthought. It took me leaving life in newspapers to learn that the best writing comes from having fun and just letting yourself feel and being in the moment -- rather than trying to please someone else, or angling to be anything but the person that you actually are. At the New York Post, I used to have a note over my desk that read, "Have fun." And it showed in the work.
All of the science behind taking these breaks is explained in "The Breakout Principle." It's mainly that somehow your brain, when given a rest after good intense work, is then given a chance to put together connections and gives you those aha epiphanies that don't come if you just work until you pass out. It's also a great book for learning how to sever anxiety loops by simply taking another action: jumping in the shower, drawing, and yep, going outside.
While I'm on the topic, another wonderful thing my ex did for me (also related to writing and art and comedy, interestingly) was that when I first started doing stand-up and comedy writing, he took a look at what I had done. He told me to lose all the extraneous. All the shit I didn't need. All the apologies. All the justifications. All the unnecessary words. All the hesitation that manifested in words I didn't need. To commit. To believe in myself. To fucking get to it.
Of course, he also tore me down terribly when we were in I-will-fucking-destroy-you mode, but that note was spot the fuck on. Cut the fat. Get to the heart of it. Oh, and he once told me when I went to Taco Bell, "Well, it's good to know you can eat your own shit if you ever need to." That was kind of funny. I like funny people.
I sure do know how to write a neutering post and never mention neutering, eh? So here we go.
After nursing Sammy back to health over these past two weeks, tucking his doxy pills into treats, keeping him nice and warm, and watching as his kennel cough finally faded away, I was able to take him to the vet and got a full pass that he was safe now to go under anesthesia.
In preparation for the visit to the shelter, I booked a trip with Pet Chauffeur to take me there -- and loved the driver who told me about transporting De Niro's dog once, and in transit, just loved the hell out of Sam on the way there. When we arrived, he approached a pair of kittens in a cage, and just sniffed with sweet curiosity. I wish I could have taken a picture, but I was too focused on watching him like a hawk. It was one of the most gentle things I've ever seen. Then the staff took Sam away to get him ready for surgery, and I made sure like a million times that he would be okay, as it is a kill shelter -- he was on "Death Row" when I adopted him, hours away from being put to sleep -- and I left fretfully for the day.
When I returned, 11 very long hours later, and finally saw him coming out with the E-collar around his little puppy head, I nearly teared up. He looked very tired and sleepy, and he crawled right into my lap when we took Pet Chauffeur back home. I gave him a bone on my bed, and he tiredly chomped it. But mostly he wanted to cuddle and hold me, putting his paws around my arm.
I'm so grateful for this dog, and I'm so grateful for how wonderful the countless xoJane commenters and people who've emailed me with dog tips and information have been. Thanks to your advice, I've already trained out of Sam his jumping up on me (mostly -- we're at 90 percent I'd say) and lunging excitedly at others (95 percent), and it's giving me a lot of pride in myself to know that I can train a dog. When he's fully healed from the neutering surgery in a few weeks, I'm going to get an actual trainer to work with him so I can give him the best care possible.
It's only fair, I think.
That's what he's doing for me.
Find Mandy long-form at http://tinyurl.com/stadtmiller.