Self-Soothing

June 17, 2009

In Sam Sheridan’s A Fighter’s Heart he talks about dogs that will fight for forty-five minutes without letting up versus the dogs that quit earlier.  He quotes a trainer: “All this care, you must love the animal, and if the animal loves you back, you will get a dog that fights past forty-five minutes, an animal with gameness. If there is love, the dog will fight to the death…without it, the dog will not show heart.”

A dog whose trainer beats it to make it mean will rage and tear but run out of steam early. It’s the loved (love here not taking an easy definition) dog, the dog that not only trains with but connects to its trainer, the dog with heart, that will die before it quits.

In eighth grade, we had to wrestle in gym class.  I wrestled Mike Haft, the bully. He was big and solid and he got me on my back and I let him take me without a fight. I’ve relived that moment differently in my mind at least a thousand times. I didn’t prove myself then and I’ve proven myself many times since but still that moment haunts me.

My friend has a two year old, and she and her husband are slowly going mad trying to get him to sleep through the night. They’ve tried letting him cry it out, and they’ve tried letting him sleep in the bed with them.  They’ve tried detachment and they’ve tried attachment, and are confounded by the hard fact that no matter how many childrearing philosophies there are out there telling you the right way to raise your kid, each is his own special little (hard) case. Some will be easy and some will be hard.  Some will sleep and some will slowly drive you insane.

Fourteen years ago I was a hardcore attachment parent.  I knew (knew!) that if I gave my baby everything she wanted she would not know need, and would know the world was a good safe place, and would be contented.  But my cute little Hobbesian bundle of complicatedness flew in the face of everything I thought I knew.  I gave her all I could and she only wanted more. Now, at fourteen, she wants me to tell her how to make jell-o.  Where’s the ice? she asks.

I don’t know how to self-soothe and so am consequently constantly flirting with compulsion (long ago cigarettes, now alcohol, now sex) — never quite permitting it to do harm but never quite able to get enough either.

It occurred to me last night, restless and agitated next to sleeping Courtney, unable to deep-breathe myself down into unconsciousness, thinking only of the one thing that would soothe me but unwilling to wake her (even if I had…), that I have heard of few if any successful rescue stories. You can love it and you can give it some peace, but can you ever get its tail out from between its legs? I am trying to learn that in our cores we are all good, and satisfied, and safe, but I see so much hurt and hardness and danger. If I were more religious it might feel easier to have this sin washed out of me suddenly in a moment but I just keep getting hung up on how many thousands of neural paths have to be rerouted. Old dogs, new tricks… Or, once a cur always a cur, isn’t that how it goes?

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