Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Animal Magnetism

Here’s something I’ve noticed lately. Since I’ve been in recovery, my pets like me better.

I’m not kidding.

My husband has always been the runaway favorite with both of our pets. He got the dog as a puppy before we were married, so there was always that.

But the cat, which was his mother’s, came to live with us after his mother died. I suppose you could say he had a longer history with the cat. But for all intents and purposes, the cat only came into our lives in a meaningful way after we were together.

And, honestly, I didn’t get it.

My mom was the infamous cat lady. Growing up, we had 30 of them. They lived in their own house. A guesthouse we called the “cat house.” It was my hangout. Where I went to watch TV and get away from the craziness in my home. And it was my job to take care of the cats.

So I knew cats. And, besides, I always thought of myself as the nicer of the two of us. My husband will pester that cat to within an inch of her life. She’ll get all huffy and growly, and he still won’t quit poking and yanking at her. And yet, he could hardly sit down without her climbing up into his lap.

But lately, I’ve noticed that’s no longer the case. Our dog no longer favors his “dad.” If I’m upstairs and Hubby is downstairs, he’ll position himself near the stairs where he can keep an eye on us both. And the cat? Now, I can’t sit down without her getting up from Hubby’s lap to sit on mine.

So I started thinking about why that is, and found it had less to do with a change in the animals than a change in me.

I realized I gave the animals a lot more time and attention these days. It used to be that I was too wrapped up in the dramas that were consuming my life to pay a lot of attention to them. I was irritable often, and when I was feeling like that, I was likely to push them away.

Up at the land, I’d get up in the morning to go for a hike that would be too strenuous for our dog, and I’d let him out to do his business and take off alone. When we came home, I wouldn’t pay any attention to the cat until everything was unloaded and unpacked, laundry and mail sorted, dinner made etc. I had work to do. I wouldn’t pay any attention to the cat until I sat down, which often wasn't until just before bed.

I was pleasant enough to our pets and I would never have thought of doing them harm. But, really, there was not much to love about me.

These days, when we go up to the land, I’m much less likely to go on a long hike alone, but grab our dog for a more leisurely walk. When we get home, the first thing I do is call for the cat and give her some love. In general, I’m more aware of our pets. I don’t walk by without acknowledging them in some way. I’m more patient. Kinder.

In truth, I love them more. And now they love me back.

None of this was a conscious effort on my part. It just came with recovery when, as the Big Book promised, I began to lose interest in selfish things and take more interest in my fellows. It spilled over into everything. Even my pets.

As I write this it occurs to me that my daughter might be a little jealous of my new relationship with my pets. Because the truth is that I treated her, and all the other people close to me, in the same way I used to treat my pets.

I didn’t mean to neglect her. But I was always busy. I worked a lot, put myself through school. When I wasn’t doing those things, there were chores: groceries, laundry, bills. I wasn’t likely to take notice when there was so much work to be done.

I got involved in my own dramas. I thought my life as a single parent was hard and I couldn’t see my part in any of it. I was the victim. I was tired and irritable, and in the down times I had, I just wanted quiet and to be left alone.

I didn’t cause my daughter’s addiction. But I did contribute to her dysfunction. And that’s what’s so hard to finally understand. I always thought God gave me a child who was my spiritual sandpaper because she pushed every button I had. Where I craved quiet, she was loud. When I just wanted to disappear into my work or a book, she was always in my face.

I understand now that she was only trying to be seen and heard.

“LOOK AT ME,” her actions screamed. “LISTEN. TO. ME.”

But I didn’t know how to do that. I treated her the way my mother treated me. It was the only thing I knew.

Knowing that makes me sad, but I can’t change it. I can’t go back in time and be a different mother than the one I was. I did the best I knew how. The only thing I can do today is make different choices. I have made my amends to my daughter. But more importantly, I try to be a better mom.

Not by trying to fix her problems or by offering advice about how she should live her life. I used to think that was love. Today, I know that when I help my daughter I hurt her. But by loving her unconditionally.

I never knew how to do that. If she made choices I didn’t agree with, I was not okay with that and I let her know. Today, I allow her the dignity of making her own choices and finding her own solutions.

I also allow her the dignity of accepting the consequences of her choices.

That’s made all the difference. Now that I accept that the consequences of her actions are hers alone, I’m able to love her, without judgment, whatever her choices and circumstances. And yes, it’s true. I love her more. And that’s the miracle of recovery.

Hubby and I are off to the land today. I hope you all have a wonderful 4th of July weekend. Please let me know you stopped by while I was out so I can return the courtesy when I get back. Meanwhile, take good care.


  1. Excellent insight! An unusual share, but still Recovery-focused and interesting. Thanks!

  2. Boy, Kathy, this post cuts close to the bone with me. What I wouldn't give to be able to have a "do over" with my daughter. To be able to worry less and be more present, to be less stressed, less living inside my own head. It's my greatest regret. I do what I can to make amends, but it does pain me.

    Have a wonderful holiday weekend.

  3. I can relate to so much of this post from the animals to the daughter. Thank you for writing it and sharing it.

  4. I think it is that way with everyone, pets or people. If we are kinder and more loving, we receive kindness and love in return. I remember in my first marriage seeing things that I did not like and believing the problem was all my first husband. Now with my dear Hubby the little stuff that would have driven me over the top long ago are just little things and they don't have importance. I have learned how to love. Isn't it wonderful? To say to people that what can make a difference is the change we make in our selves is really monumental.

  5. " I got involved in my own dramas. I thought my life as a single parent was hard and I couldn’t see my part in any of it. I was the victim. I was tired and irritable, and in the down times I had, I just wanted quiet and to be left alone."

    Boy how I can relate to that paragraph. This is something I have to be really mindful of.

    I hope you enjoyed your time at the land! I know I'm really looking forward to my time at the lake after the holiday weekend!

  6. hope ya have a fun and safe 4th too! :)

  7. My animals love me and I love them. I think that some of the serenity comes from the animals too. Have a good trip to the land. I'm having one to the sea. Back at ya after the fourth!

  8. Pets are amazing creatures. They teach us so much about ourselves. Have a great happy 4th of July weekend.

  9. This really made me smile. I had an image of animals rubbing their little heads against you...purring... :) And I agree with Syd...animals can be a great part of the healing. Stay safe out there....

  10. Great post. Animals are wonderful. My last dog kept me sane through my late husband's cancer and death. His fur held all my tears and when the sun would come up he would make me get out of bed and walk with him. He showed me that even in the worst of times, there is still hope and beauty. Getting ready to get a new puppy. It's time. Have a great July 4th.

  11. I can so relate to this post. Thanks so much for sharing. Your openness and honesty are truly wonderful things. I hope you had a wonderful weekend. You deserve it!

  12. funny, my dogs like me better in recovery :) my big boy used to lay by the bathroom as I threw up every night...I guess he's happy to lay by the bed as I read these days, probably smells better too...

  13. An excellent post!!! I can relate very much to how you used to function. It's often hard to stay present and live in the moment and just relax and BE with those around me. Thank you for sharing this. It's really a helpful reminder to me.

    Hugs :) and happy fourth!