How long should this take? Am I supposed to be moving on already?
These questions come up for my clients all the time, regardless of whether they’re grieving the end of a relationship, a big change in their circumstances, or the death of someone deeply important to them. “How long am I supposed to feel this way?” “Someone told me I had to wait a year – when am I allowed to make some big decisions?” “How do I know I’m ready to have a new relationship?” “People are telling me I need to be moving on already.” And for me, for a couple of months now, “Am I ready to welcome a new dog into my heart?” “Can I handle having to go through falling in love again, knowing I’ll just have to watch another friend die?”
Moving on doesn’t mean the end of the feelings.
A few months after our dog Audrey’s death, I had to acknowledge that sticking with my intention to keep going for a healthy walk by myself every morning wasn’t happening. I didn’t like being out there without company, I hated bumping into my feelings every time I passed landmarks like where we were when I first saw the symptoms of her cancer, and the ice-cream joint where we shared her last treat, and I was also frankly enjoying the freedom NOT to get up ridiculously early because an elderly doggy bladder needed me to. Yet as time went on, I began to identify another feeling upon waking up, sometimes even at 6 am – a tiny hint of an urge to get out there anyway, the desire to move. I mostly just watched that feeling, and didn’t act on it. I would go to considerable lengths to convince myself not to get up. “It’s too cold; it’s too dark; I need sleep/rest more than exercise; it’s probably dangerous out there without a dog.” I noticed the same messages would play even at a really good time for a walk on a warm sunny evening. “I should stay home and work this evening instead.”
After all, it’s always far easier to stay stuck…
…in a warm bed, or in patterns that feel safe, but really aren’t. By refusing to walk or have a more balanced life, I wasn’t even avoiding the feelings of sadness. Instead I was actually doubling my pain. No exercise, increasing stress, and a life tilting more towards “all work and no play” – all things I thought I’d already handled! Time for using the tools I had been ignoring, right? I have to thank my husband for a small off-hand comment on one walk that I did go on with him. He said something about how I was walking made him imagine that I was holding Audrey on a leash next to us. It was sweet and funny. It made tears come to my eyes, and suddenly it also made everything feel lighter.
I love how imagination let me see a new way through.
I thought: What if I did let myself play with the idea that she was here, and that she’d like me to get going? What if I said to myself, “I’m taking ‘Audrey’ for a walk because it’s good for both of us,” and then followed through? Would that feel different? Would I maybe get out there more? Lo and behold, what looked like a silly mental game has allowed me to listen better to my own inner desire to get moving at least once, and sometimes twice a day! Of course I haven’t completely silenced the sabotaging voices that tell me to stay in bed or cocooned at home! What has happened is that I’m gradually moving on out of that stuck place, and I’m less afraid to feel what I really feel, and know what I want. And one of those things is to have doggy company again when I walk. Even if it comes at the expense of sleeping-in time, and even if it means we have to walk past the ice-cream stand, and even if I have to experience strong and painful memories. I can also make some new memories with a new friend. I’m feeling excited, and more peaceful with the awkward combination of my sad and happy memories. I can imagine myself joyfully accepting a slobbery face-wash and seeing if the laser pointer is still as good a game as I remember.
You can assume you’ll see some news about my search for a new dog in the near future!