Archive for July 12th, 2009

My counselor likes to say that much of the process of healing involves “unfreezing”.  The organism’s response to overwhelming trauma – when there is no possibility of fight or flight – is to freeze.  The deer in the headlights, the rabbit frozen in the field.  Some animal behaviorists speculate that there is a kind of grim adaptive value in the ability of animal that has been caught by the predator to go semi-unconscious, to kind of black out.

When my little Buddy came to live with me about 15 months ago, he was in many ways a fairly frozen ( 8 1/2 year old) pup.  The course of our time together has in many ways been a process of him gradually melting.

There had never seemed to be much question that he had been abused in his first six months of life, before his previous person adopted him from a shelter.  And that person for some reason had a belief that he did better if you didn’t give him too much attention.  So, after probably experiencing the overwhelming trauma of abuse as a pup, he then dealt for many years with the insidious trauma of marginal neglect.  No chance to really heal there.  Thinking of his development this way helped make sense of the fact that – with no actual abuse since he was first adopted – he was still absolutely terrified of men.

If the melting of early trauma is thought of a process of awakening from a bad dream, there are still going to be times when we go back into the dream.  If the path Buddy has followed over these last many months has been one of learning to accept and even, finally, ask for love, it seems that sometimes the old dream of love scarcity takes over.

Buddy more and more luxuriates in my loving attention – sometimes even seeming, in the moment, to get kind of filled up…enough that he seems happy and content to then move off to explore, lie in the sun or just do whatever.  But other times it seems that the bad dream has more taken over, that he momentarily is just not able to let love in.

Tonight was a classic example.  He asked to come in the house – something he rarely does in this nice summer weather, when he wants to be outside almost 24/7.  This usually is a signal that he is wanting to be with me even more than he wants to be out in the back yard.  But when i plopped on the floor next to his bed in order to give him some attention, he came over to let me pet him for only a minute or so before moving a few feet away, plopping on the floor in his classic moping pose – looking away from me.

I knew right away that this was not his contented form of separation.  He was clearly mopy (dare i say sad, or even depressed?  he was definitely depressed when he first came to me.)  It sure seemed to me that some frozenness had taken him over.  So i pursued him: i slid across the floor to sit right up next to him and resume petting him.  For maybe three minutes he completely ignored me.  Then he let out one of those deep sighs that indicate that he is relaxing.  In just another minute or two he was completely engaged with me – repeatedly throwing his head up towards me as he does when he is excited about connecting with me, and giving me huge eye contact.  He then deeply received my petting attention, occasionally letting out little moans of pleasure.  When, ten minutes later, i started to disengage, he kept throwing a paw on me in the classic doggie gesture of “No, don’t stop yet!”

It’s hard to watch Buddy go back and forth, heal and then regress, come out into the light and then go back in the deep weeds.  But then it’s hard to watch myself go through this process, too.

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