Tonight I asked my mom if there was any chance she would consider allowing me to have a dog. Her answer was the same as last time: absolutely not, not a chance, never. And as I surprisingly fell into an instantaneously depressed state, I let Daniel know and he challenged me to consider why. I thought about it and it came down to a simple reason: I want a living, breathing companion to curl up with when I get sad, celebrate with when I’m happy and know they won’t abandon me the way my father did. Yeah, I know, that’s pretty deep from just getting told “no” to a dog that I don’t even own. However, as my counseling has continued, I’ve been able to start looking past the surface feeling and find the one bubbling up from beneath.
You see, my dad was my world growing up. I was a total “daddy’s girl” and liked sports and fishing and fixing appliances… anything with my dad. My mom was a relatively small character in the play of my childhood, to no real fault of her own. I can’t blame someone who had a domineering, unloving, manipulative husband for not being able to take a stand. (Ok, that doesn’t sound quite right. My mom obviously played a huge roll in my development and in keeping our family as stable as she could but when it came to my conscious – and unconscious – interpretation of our family dynamics, there was my dad and only my dad). It’s a bit complicated though, because for as long as I can remember, I’ve also been afraid of my dad. For no real discernible reason, I feared him. (Thankfully, I’ve now realized my fear was justified all along).This fear led to a largely fake relationship involving pretending, lies and acting… but to me, that was just how father-daughter relationships were and he was still all I knew. All I wanted was to be enough. A good enough daughter, a good enough athlete, a good enough student… the list goes on. But I never was enough for him.
I can’t even begin to explain the complexity of the damage he caused on my young, impressionable mind. I have so many self-aggressive, punishing, guilty, black and white, devaluing, punitive systems in me at the early age of 20 it even surprises my professional counselor. But even when I disliked my dad, when I feared him, when I hated him, and when I wished my mom had called to tell me he had died instead of telling me about his infidelity… even then. Even then I loved him. I love him more than I want to admit, more than I can express. He’s my dad. That’s something that never changes. The problem is, because I love him that much, the level of pain I feel knowing he walked out on me because of his narcissism reaches into every area of my life. I wish I could just compartmentalize the pain and only feel it when I want to… but that’s not how it works. In fact, I tried that and it led to me dropping out of my first college mid-semester because I couldn’t concentrate a day more.
So it really about the dog or is it more? Both. To me, that dog represents a powerful relationship I could nurture and enjoy without any judgement or negativity from the other party. I would be enough for my pup. When I was depressed, I would remember that there is a lovely, loving life counting on me and sinking into a deep depression just isn’t acceptable or productive. And on top of it, this life would want nothing more than to be with me and comfort me and return every ounce of love I gave it (and probably more).
This dog would be everything I wanted from my dad and never got: unconditional, judgement-free, real love. That’s the amazingness of dogs; God really knew what he was doing when he created them.
For now, I’ll have to find another way. The bear my sweetheart gave me for Christmas, Bobbo, can only provide so much comfort (and believe me, he provides a lot for a stuffed animal). With my human companion 250 miles away for the next long while, I’ll need to find something. This is usually when Christians say that God would be all I need in this situation and he can provide the comfort and while I agree, that will be the topic of another time. There are just some times when I need physical love and kisses and this is one of them. On goes the journey.
If you struggle with depression and are an animal lover, I highly recommend giving one a try. It is well accepted that dogs, llamas, horses, and even miniature horses are some of the great therapy animals that can bring light into your darkness. The scale ranges from organizations that have reputable training for animal therapy to the pet already in your house. Animals are amazing creatures; I have personally seen the beneficial effects of this type of supplemental therapy and would recommend it to those who might need an extra lift. And if animals aren’t your thing, there are other options. Some people get joy out of painting, writing, visiting the elderly, volunteering at various organizations. I’ll keep looking if you do because we must always remember to keep fighting, keep believing, keep loving.