My dog bit me.
And I am pissed.
I swore to that SOB as to my family that if he ever bit me or anyone else again, I’d get rid of him quicker than a free PSL in a Michigan autumn. Vivid dreams of kicking him into the drywall project in my white-blanketed mind and my finger is cocked over the “Publish” button on the Craigslist ad I’ve had saved in my drafts for months. It says, “Free (stupid) Dog.”
“I don’t know if I’ll ever forgive that dog,” I told my wife the morning after the incident.
And in addition to my throbbing thumb and pulsating fury, I sense a bout of anxiety simmering underneath. It’s a familiar fear that circulates the notion that those whom I love most will someday hurt me or desert me. It’s a fear even the mildly anxious know too well.
When will someone I love bite me? When will someone I care about hurt me? And will I have the ability to forgive them?
“Everyone will let you down someday,” claims rationale. But it’s to what extent that I fear the most. When will I get to be too much for someone? Not enough? When will that person finally say, “this isn’t working for me”? And where does this fear even come from?
I don’t make a habit out of getting dumped, and I wasn’t deserted in a shopping mall as a kid. Yet, I have a nagging anxiety that clings to my dearest relationships as if those who love me are prying my fingers off as I sink into the quicksand of my own worthlessness.
It’s not rational, but it’s real.
Sometimes, even the cutest, cuddliest, furriest dog still bites and shakes an attached thumb like a dead mouse in his teeth. A trust was broken that day, a line was crossed, a bond was severed. And he’s just a dog! When trusted individuals let us down, the emotional wounds cut deeper than anything physical, and the scars on the heart and mind are more gruesome.
I figure I can take this opportunity, with a band-aid on my thumb, to plan healthy ways to cope with the inevitable letdown of loved ones by reflecting on the unfortunate situation with my dog. Here are some ideas for how to respond when your best friend bites.
Take Time To Process
After licking my wounds and cursing out my dog, I basically didn’t acknowledge him for a solid two days. And, looking back, that was a good move. I just stepped away. I ignored him. I took time to process.
When relational anxiety has us clinging on for dear life, we can wind up figuratively strangling the people we love (it’s like Lenny in Of Mice And Men. Read it). So, if someone hurts us, instinct could have us grasping even tighter onto the relationship. And, while I didn’t do this with my dog, a bad habit can often have me apologizing to a person who hurt me, simply as a weak attempt to brush any conflict under the rug. But, that is not taking time to process.
Even when every emotion in you wants to respond reactively, and the relational anxiety you feel is like the fierce waves tossing a rocking boat, try to take a breath, take your time, and step away. Process the situation on your clock. Give it time.
Make An Effort To Forgive
The resentment toward my dog bubbled on my tongue in creative swear words and pledges to send him away to a “special farm.” When he bit me, the wound got infected (only not with the myriad of infectious diseases in household pets I found on Google). I was infected with bitterness, and, if unattended to, like any other slow crawling disease, bitterness can grow and grow, blackening the soul.
You’ve probably heard it said before, but I’ll say it again: a refusal to forgive someone only hurts the person in whom the bitterness rages. When you are oppressed by someone you love, you really only have two options. You could be bitter towards them, allowing the infection to make you sick with hatred and anger, or you could forgive them, setting yourself free.
Beau Taplin said, ““I forgive you. Not for you, but for me. Because like chains shackling me to the past I will no longer pollute my heart with bitterness, fear, distrust or anger. I forgive you because hate is just another way of holding on, and you don’t belong here anymore.”
On the third day after the incident, despite my attempts to keep him away, Wendell jumped on my lap and licked my face. My anger had a moment of weakness, and my guard collapsed. I did not forget that he bit me, but because I took time to process, and made an intentional effort to forgive him, I started to see the situation in a different light.
Maybe, I startled him.
The day he bit me, he snatched a piece of food off of Isaiah’s high chair and was collecting the goods beneath the dinner table. I dove down there to try and retrieve the food, and…I think I startled him.
That’s, at least, what I’m choosing to believe.
With all that in mind, I’ve found the freedom to move on. Again, I haven’t forgotten–I certainly haven’t forgotten–especially with a one-year-old and another baby on the way, but I’m moving on healthily. I’m back to rebuilding trust and reestablishing boundaries between the alpha dog and the pet.
Sometimes, however, when someone we love hurts us, moving on could look different. We could actually move on…away from them. And that’s okay. In fact, often the anxiety that keeps us clinging to a person is relieved when something happens that finally forces your grip to loosen. Maybe when a person hurts you, it’s a good sign and blessing of an opportunity to step away.
When someone hurts you, move forward or move away–it’s your decision. I’m confident that if you take the time to process and make the effort to forgive, you can trust yourself to decide wisely and move on appropriately.