If there is one thing I have learned about recovery, I have confirmed it is the loneliest experience one can have in adult life. If you disagree, that’s fine. This is quite the subjective statement. But I’m sticking to it. And I have my reasons for believing it. Over the years of working on my own healing and helping others to heal, it has become painfully obvious that loneliness is our constant companion. Part of the reason is our own struggle with trusting other humans. I don’t say this to victim-blame. Of course, we don’t trust other humans. When the hell have we ever been given a reason to trust anyone? Vulnerability only came with horrible consequences. And when we continually meet people who do and say the same things as our abusers, we can’t find any safe relationships to break our cycles. So we end up isolated in recovery until we can release enough of our trauma to end our relationship patterns. When we combine that real isolation with the emotional flashbacks of being lonely in childhood, it quickly becomes the loneliest experience.
It isn’t fair. Those of us who are willing to take on this journey deserve support. And it seems impossible to find. Not surprisingly, many of us turn to the animal kingdom. I am no exception. I grew up with cats. They got me through the darkest of times. I didn’t have cats consistently, but there were two cats around for enough of my childhood years that I found support with them. I never got to see a cat to a natural end of life in childhood. There was a horrible raccoon fight and a move to England that shortened my time with them. But in adulthood, I have had the privilege of living with two more cats for 15 and 14 years. Cats have been there for me.
But I was never a dog person. In childhood, we had one dog for a very short time before my mother gave up on him. He was highly energetic and she didn’t want to deal with that. Of course, she blamed me for not taking care of him. I was 11. It was just another example of how everything was my fault. So when I met my husband, I wasn’t too keen on the idea of having a dog. But he wanted a dog. I decided to find him one that I could tolerate. It would have to be a small dog. We settled on a Yorkshire terrier. He wasn’t one of those tea-cup things you see in celebrity purses. He was a normal size yorkie weighing in at 12-13 pounds fully grown. When I picked him up from the breeder, I didn’t have a name for him. We brainstormed for three days before my creative husband said the perfect name. We lived in a neighborhood called Church Hill. It is my favorite place in the world. And when my husband said “Winston”, I knew that was the right name with a little adjustment. Our pup became Sir Winston of Church Hill in that moment. And he lived up to the name.
It wasn’t long before my husband let me know that the dog was mine. The dog had completely attached to me. He would not leave my side. But I didn’t want a dog. I knew nothing about dogs. I didn’t know how to train a dog. (He was never really trained.) But I had a dog. And that was that. Winston was stubborn. He never took no for an answer. In a way, he was there to trigger me. But he was there for so much more. Less than two years later, the twins were born. I was scared about how he would accept them. Would he include them in his circle of protection? It isn’t always a sure thing with little dogs. But he did. He loved them just as unconditionally as he loved me. He definitely loved them more unconditionally than I did at first. And he was MUCH more accepting of them than the cats who stayed as far away as possible until the twins were about 8 years old.
But the twins brought something with them. They brought an opening of all my suppressed trauma. They brought panic attacks. They brought flashbacks. And as I healed, they brought a mass exodus of everyone who was a danger to them and me. That was a lot of people. As a matter of a fact, that was practically everyone. The twins were there. Where else would they go? (My parts used to tell me they would leave if they could.) I had a couple limited friendships. The cats were hiding or outside. And there was Winston, wagging his tail, looking at me with those eyes, telling me I wasn’t completely alone. He tried to stay low maintenance with the single mother who had no support, but he had some health problems. And he was there on all those very dark days as I processed the horrible things that happened to me. And as I recovered memories, I realized there had been a dog just like him (literally the same type of dog) who had been a part of a pivotal abandonment trauma in my childhood. I adopted this dog to resolve my trauma without even knowing it.
But Winston knew it. He knew exactly why he was here all along. He was the one who would bring me through the worst of my adult years. He would bring me through the loneliest time. He would get me past the suicide risk and the lack of support from the human world. He would make this time bearable and help give me the strength to raise my kids. And he did his job well. He did his job until two days ago when he finally succumbed to kidney disease. (That’s not true. He would have held on forever. I had to make the hardest decision of my life because he was too stubborn to go.) I won’t be getting another dog. The universe orchestrated this dog and I appreciate it. But I’m still not a dog-person. I’m a Winston-person. To be honest, he was like a cat-dog with his attitude and untrainable nature. Winston will always be mine. But my dog season is finished. He came. He did his job. He went. And I am grateful and heartbroken. I had the only support I would have accepted. And he did it perfectly.
Good boy, Winston.