Last week a stray dog followed me and my dog, Scott, home.
I went inside to leave Scott with my husband and when I came back she was gone, but I peeked around the side of the house and she instantly came trotting through the parking lot. I spent the rest of the morning sitting with her on our stoop, trying to convince her that I meant no harm.
My first intention was to pick her up and take her to the shelter myself, but pretty soon I was thinking I wanted her to be our very own pet. I scooted closer and closer and closer to her and pet her and gave her food and treats and eventually, I grabbed a slip collar and put it over her head. She freaked out. I thought she was going to choke herself. She didn’t run away from me, though. She continued to hang out on our stoop, even after I ran inside to use the bathroom and grab a quick breakfast.
My next plan was to pick her up. I touched her on the neck, on the head, and eventually she let me rub her belly and I even put both my arms around her torso, picking her up slightly, but every time I brought my body any further in to completely lift her up off the ground, she ran away. She never left my sight, but she let me know she wasn’t too happy about what I was trying to do.
A little after noon, I decided that I didn’t have the skills needed to make this stray my pet. Plus, we had our own dog to contend with and he wasn’t too happy about her presence on the front stoop. I called animal control and figured I had given her food, water, and enough safety that she was able to rest her eyes. I had had a wonderful morning well- spent in the presence of a sweet dog, what more could I ask for? But, as I told people her story I couldn’t stop thinking I wanted to adopt her. My husband, who also loves dogs, checked the shelter for me and we began making plans to adopt her if no one claimed her.
I visualized having this pet so much that it felt absolutely real.
Then, after talking with a neighbor, I found out that our Homeowner’s Association (HOA) doesn’t allow us to have more than one dog. There are a lot of rules our HOA seems to turn a blind eye to, but I have never seen any neighbor walking more than one dog. This felt like a rule we’d easily get in trouble over.
I was devastated. I laid in bed with my husband who I’d woken up to share this awful news. We schemed and we planned and kept thinking we’d find a way to make it work. I had felt so deeply for this sweet little dog and believed so truly that we could bring her into our home and give her a happier life that when a stupid rule dashed my dreams, I couldn’t bare to simply let it go. I wobbled back and forth between my decision for a day or two and each time someone would try to offer a suggestion about how I could adopt the dog anyway, I would feel heartbroken. I felt sick to my stomach. Between the sadness of losing this dog who I’d come to view as a new part of our family and the anger I felt toward our HOA for having such a stupid rule, I found it hard to lay my emotions down and carry on.
The evening after I found out about the HOA dog restriction, I was talking on the phone to my husband and he made a comment about how he wouldn’t mind lying to the HOA and I began crying with the weight of the indecision I felt. He wanted to adopt the dog, too, but he wasn’t so emotionally wrecked by it as I was. When I feel things, I feel them so deeply. As I cried, my husband told me that it was okay that I wanted to do both things and that sometimes you have to choose logic over emotion.
Ultimately, logic won.
For four days, I rode around in my little emotional bumper car. All I wanted to do was tell everyone how excited I was about adopting the dog. Then, when that came crashing down, all I wanted to do was tell everyone about how much I hated our HOA.
Balancing my deep emotions with the obligations of everyday life has always been hard for me, but as the obligations of everyday life increase I have had to find some strategies to get through these emotional windstorms.
1. It’s okay to want two things at once.
What my husband told me on the phone that evening after our disappointment has really stuck with me – it’s okay to have an understanding of both what makes logical sense and what feels right emotionally. Acknowledging that both of these states – the emotion and the logic – can exist at one time is important to keep from trying to suppress one in favor of the other. Just because I chose the more logical path doesn’t mean that I don’t still feel deeply about the dog. It doesn’t mean that I don’t wish it could be different, it just means that I made a decision.
2. Feel the feelings. Feel them deeply.
Trying not to feel an emotion because you’re worried that you’ll feel too deeply won’t allow you to carry on with your life anymore than resigning to the fate of lung cancer while smoking cigarettes will help you survive.
After I found out about the dog restriction, I kept trying not to cry because I felt silly that I was crying over a dog (again). I’d already cried when animal control took her away, and now the HOA was keeping her out of my grasp. How many times was I going to cry over this dog? But, once I allowed myself to cry again, it was easier to move on. When I recognized that I had felt for her deeply and it made me sad when I lost her, then I accepted the feelings. I cried and then I accepted the situation. I allowed myself to focus on something else. I can’t say I’ve completely moved on because I’m still inwardly cussing out our HOA and kind of sort of thinking about ways to sneak that dog just to spite them, but I can now focus on other things besides my emotions.
3. Focus on a goal
At first, my husband and I were focusing on the goal of adopting the dog despite the restriction. Then, as we realized what kind of stress and pressure we’d be living under and decided not to adopt the dog, we found a new goal.
My husband and I have been dreaming about getting into a new house for a while now, and this situation with the HOA gave us the push we needed. We both dream of having a family one day, and our current home only has one bedroom. Our dog Scott would love to have a yard, and we only have a balcony. We’d love to find a less restricting HOA or get out of one altogether and we were given the push we needed to move forward.
The goal could be as simple as an everyday task like cooking dinner or doing laundry, but even if that’s it, my emotional energy can be funneled into that task. Focusing on a goal isn’t a way to suppress my emotions, but it’s a way to begin moving out of a heavy emotional state. If I talked about my emotions until I sorted them out, I’d be talking about them forever. After a good cry, I just have to take a step away and start carrying on with my life.
. . .
This list feels a little stilted, but that’s because I’m still learning to better handle my emotions. I’ve spent a lifetime stuffing my emotions down to my toenails, and now I’m learning how to feel emotions without being wrecked by them. I still hide them, often, because it’s hard to feel things so deeply, but what kind of experience would I be making out of life if I hid from these feelings?
During the four hours I sat with the stray dog, I discovered something – the moments in life that make me feel the deepest feelings are the most worthwhile. Feeling deeply is what it means to be human, after all.
Are you more likely to hide from your emotions or welcome them freely? Did you grow up in a household that encouraged or discouraged deeply felt emotions?