My dog farts… A LOT. When Otis was a puppy and I had just brought him home someone said to me, “Oh, a boxer…. Get used to the rubber burning farts.” I had no idea what he was talking about. My baby was so cute and cuddly and perfect, what could he possibly mean by that? Now I get it. Yes, Otis farts a lot and they smell like burnt rubber. Not a great smell.
So, that might not seem like a big deal… Otis farts a lot. Yet, it has become a very big deal. It has become a huge strain in my relationship. I recently went to a conference and when I got back I heard all about Otis. Otis stinks. Otis farts and it’s disgusting. Otis dug up the garden. Otis cried all night long. As I was listening to all of this I felt one thing, guilt. I felt guilty that my boyfriend wasn’t able to sleep because of Otis. I felt bad that he had to deal with my puppy and it was such a hassle¬– or more to the point, a burden. Man, is this a sore point for me.
I grew up in Colorado and my family loved two things, to hike in the summer and ski in the winter. I sucked at both. I just couldn’t seem to catch my breath when we hiked. My brothers would race up the mountain and I felt like I had a 100-pound weight on my back. I wheezed, had headaches, and often snuck into the woods to throw up. What was wrong with me? I sucked at hiking. My conclusion: I don’t belong in this family. It wasn’t until my 20s lying in a hospital bed in the ER with high altitude pulmonary edema did I realize that I didn’t suck at hiking. I was experiencing acute altitude sickness as a kid. I was sick, but I interpreted it as a character defect and in inability to belong.
In the winter you’d think I’d rejoice because we didn’t hike anymore, but there was ski racing. I hated two things about skiing– being cold and going fast. This did not bode well for my racing career. It was so bad that when I skied down a run everyone would clap for me when I got there. I think they thought it would be encouraging. Not at all. I was humiliated. I was so bad the kids literally needed to cheer for me. Yikes. I sucked. I didn’t belong. My family LOVED skiing and I hated it. What was wrong with me? Everything.
Feeling that I didn’t belong in my family was a devastating hurt. It broke my heart, my spirit, and my sense of self-worth. I didn’t know what to do with this overwhelming pain that seemed like would never go away. I felt hopeless and not living seemed to be the only solution. I thought about killing myself all the time.
Much later I learned Thomas Joiner’s model for the desire for suicide. It is made up of two things; thwarted belongingness and perceived burdensomeness. It made instant sense to me. Yes, I profoundly felt that I didn’t belong where I once had. I also deep down… way down… felt like a hassle… a burden. This was something I COULD NOT own. I couldn’t hike, I couldn’t ski well and people had to wait for me and cheer. This was so profoundly painful and devastating I told myself I would never be this again. I would NEVER be a burden.
I got really good at not being a burden. So good it was like I was invisible. I never asked for help, spoke up, or made waves. I said yes to whatever anyone wanted me to do. I often went without what I needed because the very last thing I wanted to be on this planet was needy. I certainly wasn’t a burden, but I had so profoundly lost myself in this well of pain. I would rather die than ask for help. I don’t think I’m alone in this.
So, when I heard all these things about my sweet puppy it tapped into this sense of perceived burdensomeness. I felt like Otis was a burden, which translated into me being a burden. No way. I immediately felt defensive and no surprise, the conversation deteriorated. It’s been a very challenging few weeks for us as a couple. We’ve struggled to stay together. We’ve hurt each other.
As I’ve been with the pain of feeling disconnected from someone I love and feeling like a burden, I reached out. In these conversations I started to come back to myself, my spirit, and my sense of self-worth. I made a commitment to myself that I would spend 20 minutes a day reflecting on gratitude, what I want to create, and who I want to serve. I moved from suffering around this pain to using for my upliftment.
This pain was teaching me something new. I’ve done a lot of gratitude work in the past. I’ve kept gratitude journals, etc. But I’ve always listed the things that were easy to be grateful for, the things going well in my life or the things I love. What about the things not going so well? Or the things I don’t particularly care for? What if I could be grateful for the things most challenging to love? Doesn’t this sound familiar…love your enemy? I’ve been practicing loving the things that are hard. The results are not what I thought. My guess was that this would help me not feel so bad, to be more okay in the upset. What I’m actually experiencing is self-love and belonging. I’m loving myself in a way I haven’t before. I’m more accepting and more at peace AND I feel a sense of belonging on a greater plane than I’ve known. Fascinating. Suddenly the upset around Otis and my boyfriend has great purpose. It’s giving me a greater capacity to love. ASTOUNDING!
I thought I’d try something new with this as well. As I was sitting on the couch this morning snuggled up with Otis, I’d thought I try to find gratitude in his farts. Well, when he farts in a way he is communicating he loves me. He is comfortable and relaxed enough with me that he is able to fart without even waking himself up. I decided that the next time he farted I would translate that into him telling me he loved me. Right on cue.. pfffffffffffftp….I smiled so wide. My boy certainly loves me and there I had it, fart transformed. It’s all in the willingness to choose love, even when it’s hard…or smelly.