Lesson #2: Self-love and healing
Full disclosure - Simba and I began our journey toward self-love and healing LONG before quarantine ever began. Bear with me for a moment as I offer a bit of context and framing. I promise, it’ll all make sense in the end...
It was right around Christmas of 2017, and after many months of going back and forth on it, I FINALLY decided to go ahead and pull the trigger; I was ready to adopt a pup! Barring the details of my fervent “adoption-search,” there was nothing particularly special about it - sorry. I had that prototypical, cliché, “love at first sight” encounter that everyone always talks about when they walk into a shelter. I just knew he was the one! Sooo original, I know… We locked eyes - blah, blah, blah - and before you know it, I was signing my name on the dotted line and picking up shit-bags and chow. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say we were talking about my military enlistment ha.
No, all jokes aside, despite the incredibly cliché sequence of events, something special took place that day. I don’t really know how to articulate it, but it was almost as if he and I just knew that we were bound for one another. It was as if we knew that we needed one another’s love - one another’s well, healing. Intuition aside, neither of us could’ve predicted the power and magnitude of what was to come...
***Trigger warning - We’re about to get into the feels y’all***
Now, let’s take it even one step further back. Why was I even looking to adopt a dog in the first place, you might ask? Well, in many ways, my life had come to a head nearing the end of 2017. I was completely inundated and in over my head - drowning, if you will. This may come as a surprise to those of you who know me, and for those of you who do not, well, here goes nothing…
By the age of 27, I’d been living with PTSD, depression and anxiety - undiagnosed up until then, that is - for the better part of my life. I was just a man desperately attempting to outrun himself - avoiding “the work” of leaning into my early childhood and ensuing adult trauma - in hopes that, well… to be honest, I don’t really know what I hoped for. Not to sound all hyperbolic of sorts, but yeah, I was COMPLETELY fucking lost. Like REALLY, really lost! After 27 years, I had essentially exhausted all means of trying to “will” my way out of the deep, dark well that is depression. I was REALLY struggling to keep up with the facade I had created - a mask, if you will - of pretending as though everything in my life was fine and dandy. Despite my best efforts, I was completely out of options with nowhere to turn but the one place I had altogether avoided - inward.
The day I met Simba was the day I began my journey inward toward self-love and ultimately, healing. These were not concepts I had ever fully embraced prior to him. As a brief side note, I think it’s worth noting - I use the word fully here, because in my mind the idea of healing made perfect sense, yes. However, embodied healing - the sense of truly feeling it in one’s soul and in one’s bones - had forever eluded me. It wasn’t until I met Simba that I finally began to recognize just how important that distinction was, and furthermore, understand why that “felt-sense” was so incredibly difficult for me to access.
Speaking of access and recognition, Simba showed me that what I needed more than anything - what I needed in order to heal - was to feel well, safe. I needed to not feel judged. I needed to feel as though I could trust. Something or someone - anything, for that matter. Up until the point of Simba entering into my life, my heart was so heavily guarded that I was incapable of trusting anyone. In my mind, how could I, after all? Trusting meant that I’d have to let go. I’d have to let go of a lifetime worth of control mechanisms that I had carefully crafted - an impenetrable fortress surrounding my heart - in order to survive. Seemed like a tough sell to a guy like me at the time, and to be quite frank, I wasn’t buying...
As fate would have it, however, the universe decided to throw me a bone. I had found my Trojan horse, and for the first time in my life, I stood a fighting chance. Simba’s love - his very presence alone - found a way to infiltrate the steep walls surrounding my heart. He found a way into the fortress that I had so meticulously built to protect myself, and he showed me that, yes, even I was capable of receiving love. Me, Austin, deserving of love. A novel concept that for 27 years I simply could not accept. It’s sad to admit, but the world is full of monsters that sometimes rob us of our most fundamental human need of all - love.
Monsters are scary. And so too are the moments that you find yourself existing in the “unknown.” Never before in my lifetime had I allowed myself to exist - not even for a single moment - unguarded. “Unguardedness” was my unknown. The very idea of vulnerability was absolutely terrifying for me. And yet… my goofy, wide-eyed, new companion, Simba, created the conditions for me to do just that. To feel safe enough to practice being vulnerable. To practice taking off my mask and putting on my soul.
Unmasked me was well, different. Simba and I would spend our days alone playing and laughing and cuddling with one another… I made stupid faces and shouted weird sounds that I would never dare show the world. The mask of masculinity would never have allowed this. Things that were once embarrassing began to feel normal, and I began exercising playfulness and well, joy. I ventured inward and found the child inside me that I had forgotten was there. And for the first time in 20 plus years, I allowed that inner child to come out and experience the warmth of the sun upon his cheek. I allowed my younger self to see and to feel the light of day - a feeling I had long forgotten.
And that my friends, was what I had been missing all those years. I had forgotten how to feel. I had forgotten because “it” was buried under a lifetime worth of pain and suffering. And yet, there it was, just sitting and waiting for me to unearth it - when I was ready.
Something was different this time around, however. This time, I possessed a new secret weapon. I had a guide; I had Simba. Working together, we excavated our way inward to the soul of my younger self. With his support, we unlocked the tomb of emotions that, for so long, had been tucked away. And it was there in that very space that my healing began. Simba and I sat in that space, together, as we still do to this very day, and we felt ALL the feelings. We told younger Austin that it’s okay, you’re safe now. We told younger Austin that you’re not in danger anymore. We told younger Austin that what happened to you was not your fault. No child - no person - should ever have to go through what you endured. We told younger Austin that you’ve always been enough. You were enough then and you are still enough today. We told younger Austin that you were always deserving of love. We told younger Austin... now go and be free. Stand in your truth. Stand in love.
Simba taught me that.
Stay tuned for next week's read where we dive into lesson number three of, Lessons from My Dog During Quarantine.