Avila has me thinking about life differently these days. Something in her past traumatized her and it impacts our relationship today.
We were told she was a stray.
While that may have been her truth as she made her way into the shelter, it is apparent she was once a house dog.
Avila is a quick learner. She has mastered the routines of life in our household. Joseph and Rayann will tell you about how routines are essential. Chances are they will speak of it with an eye roll or while exhaling their breath, but they understand.
Avila has mastered the morning and nighttime routine of putting on and removing her collar. She has learned that each time of day means we are living within a different space.
Early mornings mean breakfast in my study and then time on her dog bed.
Noonish is an opportunity to go upstairs and use the dog door to explore the great outdoors.
Evenings are spent alternating from “her chair” to the floor. She knows that couches and all other chairs are off-limits. She has “her chair,” and she loves to sleep the evenings away in it.
Owen’s Safe Space
Avila has also learned that Rayann’s room is off-limits. That is Owen’s safe space. Owen can go in there and hide from his “sister.” Avila will stand in the doorway to Rayann’s room, quietly inviting Owen out to play. I have found her lying down just outside the room, stretched across the hallway until Owen decides he is ready for some fun.
Signs of Trauma
Avila may have been a stray, but she also learned some things before her time on the street.
She also had some difficult experiences.
Avila will run to greet me just about everywhere. The only exceptions are my two recliners.
I have a recliner in my study and one in the living room. When I am sitting in either of those chairs, Avila avoids me. She walks past with her head down and constantly keeps an eye on me.
If I go to raise or lower the footrest, she jumps up and runs across the room. It is not a joyful run. She is cowering, tail between her legs.
Someone, some man, did not treat her well. Avila is traumatized by that relationship, and it has impacted our relationship.
When Avila first came to be with us, she hung her head, kept her tail between her legs, and slunk her way towards me every time I called her. She was expecting to be hurt.
Over time she learned that far from being hurt, she would receive love and affection from me.
Today she rushes to my side, tail wagging and whole body shaking with excitement unless I am in a recliner.
Something about a recliner holds images of bad things in her mind. It causes her to act out of character and keep her distance. If our relationship took place only when I was in a recliner, it would be a struggle.
Avila Got Me Thinking
What experiences in my life have caused me trauma?
How does my response to trauma impact the way I form relationships today?
I wonder if some of my “difficult relationships” result from trauma that I or the other person is struggling to process?
Imagine if someone has a terrible boss. They expect every workday will mean being yelled at and spoken down to. When that person moves to a new job, they carry with them the trauma of that experience. Their relationship with the new boss is influenced by what they experienced in the past. They are taking steps to protect themselves from being hurt each day. As they take steps to protect themselves (from a danger that might not exist in the new job), the new boss is wondering why they are so hard to get to know?
During this COVID season, I am taking an online class. The facilitator invited us to think about respect as re-speculating, or to say it another way; to take a second look.
Our first glance at someone, something, or an experience is most often self-focused.
- What’s in this relationship for me?
- How can this benefit me?
- Will this give me pleasure?
When we re-speculate or look at something for a second time, we make time to see past ourselves into the truth of a person or situation.
Jesus was a master re-speculator. He always saw past the obvious into what was taking place within the core of a person or situation.
What would it mean for me to respect all that is around me enough to see how past experiences are shaping our interaction, how they are speaking into a situation?
Back to the Recliner
When I am sitting in my recliner and Avila slinks by me, avoiding any interaction.
I could take it personally. Avila does not like me. If she is going to snub me, well I am going to ignore her.
The challenge is to NOT take it personally.
To respect her past.
My heart breaks at the pain she obviously experienced, and I pray she will one day overcome it.
I trust that as I continue to respond to her with love and compassion, she will one day end up sitting with me in my recliner.
May we grant each other the same grace.