I struggle with the way I keep finding myself in the place of being afraid of my own imperfections.
I give everyone else a mile - but not myself. Somehow I don't think I've earned it. Or even worse -- its not that I expect more out of myself than out of others, its that I have a fear of being seen failing. And because failure is such a frightening concept, I do two very destructive things: I apply the word "failure" to many more situations than to which it actually applies; and I will do practially anything to avoid failing or being seen by others as what I believe is failing.
In 2007, not too long after I moved into this house, I bought horses again after more than a decade of what I think of as the 'years when I wasn't really myself.' The horse I bought to be my 'perfect horse' illustrates beautifully another one of my more troublesome character defects: I decide in my head what the perfect situation will be and then proceed to make it happen without making sure the steps I am taking actually match the outcome I desire.
I bought a mother/daughter pair based on little more than the shape of the younger mare's head and the discovery that she shared bloodlines with my old horse. 8 years old, never ridden, not touched at all in at least two or three years. Sounds like a great prospect for a woman in her 40's who hasn't ridden in ten years, right?
I started doing some work with her only to quickly find out I was really out of my league. I sent her off for professional training with a wonderful trainer, I took her to clinics, but ultimately she was the horse I could not trust. She would explode for the silliest of reasons, or even for no reason at all. I grew fearful and nervous of her, and became concerned with the fact that I could get seriously hurt because of her. The day I realized I could not stand to ride her I cried for what seemed like hours. After she had a full year off of being used for anything I paid another trainer to put sixty days on her and I found someone who was interested in buying her. I spent $700 for sixty days of training and let her go to her new home for $300. (Never ever ask me for financial advice.)
But was it a failure? Or was it a difficult situation that resolved successfully because in the end both the horse and I got what we needed? She got trained by someone who helped her lose her tendency to flip her lid and a new owner who thinks she's the best horse in the world. As for me, I got Bugs, who has done more for my skill and confidence than I would have ever guessed.
Still, I confess I thought of it as a failure for a very long time. I felt guilty for having let that horse down, for not being the right person for her.
This week I find myself in somewhat of the same situation.
I have for quite some time been consumed with thoughts of my dog Lady, who passed away a couple of years ago. She was a one of a kind dog, gentle and kind with everyone. I wish I could imbue every family dog with her temperament, because she was perfect with children, perfect with smaller animals, perfect with people. And I've gotten in my head the idea that I want another dog just like her. Last fall we adopted a mastiff mix who ended up being aggressive. After that disaster we waited a little while and then adopted a different mastiff through a rescue. She was - is - a lovely dog, loves everyone she meets, loves going places, loves lounging, loves cuddling. But after two months with us she went from being "interested" in our cats to wanting to eat them. The same day she went after Tucker - he was only mildly hurt, thankfully - she then proceeded to try to eat our little dog Gizzy.
It isn't hard to know what the right answer is -- its much easier to rehome one dog than it is five cats and a football with legs Chihuahua -- but it has been extremely difficult to come to terms with that answer. The best answer to me would be the one where we spend a lot of time diligently working with her on her training and she becomes safe for the little animals in the house. But for that to be very feasible, I would have to become a different person with a different life.
Training a problem dog takes a great deal of dedication and effort; I have the desire, but I'm terribly short on time. If I did decide to give the time, then one of the people or the rest of the critters would have to be deprived of their fair share of time, for who knows how long. As I write this out I am nodding my head at the inescapable logic; but it is a challenge to get my emotional self to stop telling me what a failure I am for not being the perfect home for this dog.
I can visualize what it would be like to be the person who doesn't take a poor fit as rejection or failure; but I am not that person, not yet. I think - I hope - that someday I will be. In the meantime I will continue to repeat to myself what a friend of mine told me what I wailed to her about how badly I had failed as an adoptive home for this dog: "It is not a failure to do the right thing for your family and for the dog." Knowing and feeling are so terribly often disparate concepts in this head of mine.
I think perhaps I might be less prone to these scenarios if I stopped trying to take on so much. Of course, that's another person I hope to be some day -- the person who stops trying to drink the world from the end of a fire hose.
How to turn the me that is overwhelmed and thinks she's failing into the me who is peaceful and OK with the way the world works, that is the ultimate question.