Thursday, August 11, 2016

Demon Puppies in the Dark

I've spent the vast majority of my life avoiding my demons; most of the time by running from them like an adrenaline-fueled Olympic track star. I've tried to shut them up with food, alcohol and a slew of other unhelpful means. I shoved them into the deepest closet I could find within myself, turned off the light and bolted the door shut. I go about my daily life, pretending they are not there. All the while they are clawing at the closet door, screaming, crying and trying to get free. I continue to do my best to ignore them and go about my life, pretending they are not there. Every so often, one will get loose. I've got to chase it down, sedate it and cage it back up. Then I go about my daily life, pretending it isn't there.

The process is exhausting and I've spent an unbelievable amount of my energy trying to keep those assholes under wraps. Trying to stop them from getting out of control and running the show can feel like a full time job some days. They sound so wild and unhinged in there. I can hear them gnawing at the door jam, scratching the walls and screaming words I can't make sense of. It's terrifying to listen to and it is no wonder I have always steered very clear of that closet.

One day, after a particularly epic flare up of my demons, I decided enough was enough. I could hear them wailing and going absolutely bonkers in there. I knew that what ever was going on in that closet, it needed to stop and I was ready for a fight if necessary. I flung open that closet door, flipped on the light, marched in and took a good look around. What I found in there shocked me to my very core. What I saw in that closet were not crazed, evil demons at all. Instead, I found a litter of neglected, scared and hungry puppies. They were not breathing fire and plotting my demise in there. In fact, I found them barely able to comprehend themselves let alone conceive of harming me. The conditions I had been keeping them in were an embarrassment. The tiny space, no bigger than a coat closet, housed several of these little puppies. They were crammed so tightly in there; crawling and fumbling all over each other. The walls and door were deeply etched with frantic, panicked claw marks. Their poor little bodies were bruised and emaciated. And finally, I heard their voices perfectly clear for the first time. What I had thought were menacing, feral screams were actually whimpers of longing to be seen and heard. They were cries for help and desperate attempts to draw attention to the intense, life-long suffering and neglect they have endured.

I stood there and watched as those poor little puppies ran around completely distraught. I so badly wanted to help them, to comfort them and make them feel better but I didn't even know where to begin. So, I decided to simply observe them; paying careful attention to how each one moves, vocalizes and interacts with the others. Once they realized they had my attention and that I wasn't going anywhere, they started to calm down a bit. This provided me the opportunity to start to learn a little bit about each one of them. It wasn't easy at first. In fact, it could be down right overwhelming and terrifying. There were times when they would all start yelping at once and I couldn't figure out what they needed. Sometimes, one of them would retreat fearfully to a corner of the closet and I would have to spend hours trying to coax it out. Other times they would all start crying hysterically for no apparent reason. I would get so frustrated trying to figure out why or what to do for them.

Regardless, I know that I alone am the only hope for these puppies and if I didn't help them, no body would. They are MY demon puppies after all - MY responsibility to care for. To this point, I had been doing a horseshit job and I wanted that to change. I made the commitment to do better and started by listening. When they cried, I immediately responded - even if I wasn't sure exactly what to do. I asked questions, challenged them and tried to give them comfort. It was a rocky process of trial and error, but getting to understand their inner workings was absolutely critical for being able to help them. I gave each one a name and spent time trying to understand who they are and what they individually need from me. Surprisingly, as time passed, I found that I had actually begun to develop a relationship with my puppies. Slowly, they have started to trust that I will respond to their needs and understand that they don't have to resort to screaming, clawing and crying. They are beginning to realizing that I am there for them and not only do I know how to help, I actually love them and really WANT to help.

Every once in a while, something happens and one of my pups starts really freaking out. I will admit, it kinda freaks me out too when that happens. I hear that old, familiar screeching and my initial reaction is to run the other way. However, I have to remind myself that I have nothing to fear and that I have the ability to manage it. There is a beautiful quote that I love from a song by Hozier, called The Arsonist's Lullaby. It says, "Don't you ever tame your demons but always keep them on a leash." I think it is important to remember that those wild little beings will always have wildness in them. It is part of who they are. I understand this because I understand them. My demon puppies will always have a wild streak that I won't ever be able to fully tame. However, there is no reason I can't teach them how to walk on a leash with me. They have important things to remind and teach me. They are teaching me how to love and care for myself in a deeper, more meaningful and healthy way. They remind me of where I've been in my life, just how far I've come and how much I've overcome. This wild bunch of puppies may have never been something I wanted or asked for. They were dropped off on my doorstep in the middle of the night, left to me by people from my past and were born out of traumatic experiences I've been through. But at the end of the day, it doesn't matter where they came from. They live within me and therefore will always be mine to care for. They are mine; mine to walk through the crazy dog park of life with.

Initially, I hesitated to publicly name and introduce my pups. They are a very personal part of me that I don't always want to acknowledge let alone share with other people. But I decided I was going to anyways. It is a good challenge for me to be more open about my personal struggles and if airing them in this way is helpful to someone else, then it is completely worth it to me. So, without further ado, allow me introduce my own, personal litter of demon-puppies:

Tilly: Uncertain, unsure and has difficulty making decisions. Doesn't trust herself. Takes on too much and doesn't ask for help. Easily confused, overwhelmed and quickly shuts down emotionally.

Things she says: "I don't know what to do!" "You are not capable of this." "You don't even know what you are doing, just stop." "This is too much for you to handle." "Give up now before things get worse."

What she needs: Reassurance and support. She needs to be reminded that I am there to help and that she doesn't have to do everything by herself. She needs frequent reminders of how much she is actually accomplishing and to give herself credit for it. 

Leela: Child-like, fearful, anxious and mistrusting of others. Shy and withdrawn. Craves connection but keeps others away. Lonely, lonely, lonely. Can become despondent and desperate at times. experiences being frozen and paralyzed.

Things she says: "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry for even being alive." "Just leave me alone." "I'm completely alone and always will be." "No one understands you and they don't really want to." "It is safer to just be alone. No one can hurt you that way."

What she needs: Mothering and nurturing. Needs encouragement to engage in self-care and to do things that are fulfilling. She needs encouragement to reach out for support from others and to allow others to provide support to her.

Gash: Impatient, harsh and demanding of perfection. Angry and rage-full at times. Self-loathing, self-critical and easily frustrated. High, unrealistic self-expectations. Self punishing and self degrading. Lashes out at or responds to others without thinking first.

Things she says: "What the fuck is wrong with you?" "You are such a lazy piece of shit." "If you can't things right (perfectly) don't even bother." "You don't deserve love or people to care about you." "You really need to get your shit together." 

What she needs: Patience and understanding. She usually acts up when feeling out of control, uncertain or fearful about something important. Most often, she really just needs to be comforted and reassured that everything will be alright. It helps her to be reminded of her personal power and strength.

Fluffy: Feels it is best to be unseen, invisible and unnoticed. Feels vulnerable and exposed and wants to hide. Full of shame. Keeps self safe by remaining less successful, under the radar and fat. Self-sabotages to prevent being successful or becoming too good at something. 

Things she says: "Are you sure you want to do/say that?" "Keep your mouth shut." "Nobody wants your opinion because it's bullshit anyway." "Just stay home. The world doesn't really need you anyway." "You are fat and ugly, cover yourself up." "Who do you think you are?"

What she needs: Validation and recognition. She needs to be reminded to focus on the things that make her special and unique. It helps to point out specific characteristics, talents, gifts and abilities that she offers the world. It helps her to reflect on times she has helped others or been successful in achieving something she has worked hard for.

Morta: Hopeless and depressed. Sees only darkness and despair. Feels undeserving, worthless and like no matter what she does, it will never be enough.

Things she says: "What is the point of even trying? No matter what you do, it will never be enough." "Nobody really cares about you or how you feel." "Fuck it all. Just give up already." "It would best if you were not here. You have nothing of value to offer anyway. Maybe you should just die." 

What she needs: Perspective. She needs to be reminded to find and focus on points of gratitude and love in the world around her. She often acts up when she is overly tired, stressed or hurt. When this is the case, she needs space and time to herself. She needs to sleep and do things that are self-nurturing.

Just as a final note, I want to say that I hope I have not given the impression that facing, figuring out and healing your personal demons is simple. I've only just scratched the surface and shared a fraction of how deeply my puppies' wounds go. My intention was to offer a different perspective on something we all experience with hope of making an absolutely terrifying experience, a little less scary. Love to you and your puppies always.

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