It's been almost exactly a year since I put my little Bella pup to sleep. I still miss her every single day and my heart still aches at the thought of never seeing her again, but the pain has eased a bit over the past twelve months. The loss of her has been one of the most painful experiences I've had to face (those of you with pets know just how difficult it can be to lose one), but since she's been gone I've learned a lot about mourning, loss, and finding comfort in times of sadness. I've discovered that I'm stronger than I'd once thought, and I've learned that difficult situations—even those filled with negativity and heartache—can be overcome with the right attitude and actions.
It's been tough not to have Bella in my life, but looking back on it now, I can identify some actions I took to make the year without her bearable. It's been by no means easy—I still cry about her probably once a week—but it's gotten a lot better since last year, when I spent the early days of March sobbing, my heart literaly aching at the loss. Below I've listed some of the things I did over the past year to make the loss of my beloved dog easier to bear. If you're going through a difficult time, or know someone who is, I hope these suggestions will help you stay positive and make the most of your moments (even when it's so hard to do).
I STAYED POSITIVE DURING HEARTACHE BY . . .
. . . LETTING MYSELF BE SAD.
Being sad isn't fun. It's not a state I like to find myself in and my initial reaction is to avoid it. Like the Nat King Cole song, I wanted to hide every trace of sadness (which I do not recommend doing). Now that I'm three years sober, truly avoiding sadness can be pretty difficult to do. Without some sort of mind-numbing agent, it was hard not to return to the sad feelings, especially when they were so fresh, and over the years I've learned that avoiding feelings of sadness usually doesn't work out so well. So, instead of running from the sadness, I decided to sit with it for awhile. For the first couple of days, I let myself be sad. I treated myself to sick days—lounging around, watching my favorite movies and not focusing on work. In the first few days, I wasn't able to eat without feeling really sick (it's astounding how much loss can physically impact us!) so I couldn't treat myself to any snacks, but I would have had I been able to stomach it. I coddled myself, doing all the things I loved to do, while allowing myself to cry as much as I wanted to and feel as sad as I needed to. But I set a limit for myself on this. I knew I wanted to allow myself to experience the sadness, but I didn't want to dwell in it. So after a few days, I did what I could to move forward.
. . . EXPLORING NEW PLACES + SITUATIONS.
Shortly after losing Bella, my boyfriend invited me to go on a business trip with him to Princeton University in New Jersey. I didn't really have much interest in journeying north—I was on the hunt for a new puppy and was considering looking at one the same day he was planning to depart for the trip—but I ended up deciding to go with him, figuring that a change of scenery would do me good. It did. Even though I was still terribly sad (I spent a good part of the day crying in the hotel room), it helped not to be in my apartment, a place heavy with memories. It helped to be in places I'd never been in before, experiencing new things. A few weeks later we ventured to Disney World (another place I'd never been) and that too was a wonderful distraction, a fun adventure filled with some of my favorite beloved childhood characters. These trips didn't erase the heartache but they certainly helped me to see that that the world is filled with so much to see and do and that sometimes you have to push yourself out of your comfort zone in order to push mind out of the sadness.
. . . FINDING AN (ADORABLE) DISTRACTION.
A lot of people wondered if getting a new puppy a mere two weeks after losing my dog was a good idea ("are you sure it's not too soon?" was a common query), but to me it felt right. Even though I knew there would never, ever be a replacement for Bella, I was certain, deep down in my heart, that a puppy would make me feel better—or at least distract me from my pain. I was right. Though there were some tough times in the beginning (who knew puppies didn't sleep through the night!?), I've never regretted my choice to find a new little pup, Barkley, to love. In dealing with all the new-puppy-mom tasks, I was able to put my heartache on the back burner a bit. It didn't remove the sadness I was feeling, but it helped me to direct my attention from what had happened in the past to what was happening in the present (something you have to do constantly with a curious, trouble-making puppy!). One of the best things about finding a distraction—especially one in the shape of a little ball of puppy fur—is that it really helps you to stay present and keep your mind from dwelling in sadness.
. . . FOCUSING ON WHAT I LOVE TO DO.
As the months progressed, the pain of losing Bella eased somewhat. I found myself going days without crying (something that seemed like a miracle at the time!), and one of the things that helped me to move toward a more positive state of mind was focusing on what I loved to do. On the very day same day that I lost Bella, I'd been contacted by a publisher interested in working with me on a book. In the months that followed, I threw myself into working on a proposal, spending countless hours drafting ideas and crafting outlines. It was a busy time and that busy-ness was a welcome escape from focusing on my sadness. While I still missed Bella constantly, I was able to focus on securing a book deal (which I did last August! yay!) and then I was able to get to work on the book, which has been such a rewarding process. While all that was happening, a few other good projects came my way and I was able to dive into those, directing my energy into creative and fulfilling pursuits. At first, it wasn't always easy to concentrate on my work because I was so darn sad, but every day it got a little bit easier and I soon saw that the more time you spend doing what makes you happy, the less time you have to harp on your heartache.
. . . TAKING IT ONE DAY AT A TIME.
For me, one of the trickiest parts of losing Bella was thinking to myself, "I'm never going to see her again. Never." When I allowed my mind to wander into the dark place of eternal loss, of thinking I'd never again spend time with her, it made it so much harder to move out of a place of sadness. So I tried a trick I learned in therapy: taking it one day at a time. Instead of thinking, "I'll never see her again," I told myself, "I'm not going to see her today." Even though this didn't change the facts (I probably won't ever see her again, though I'd like to think there's some way I will), shifting my thinking to focusing on today instead of all the days in the future really helped to make the loss easier to bear. I used the same tactic to make it through the really tough days. Instead of allowing myself to panic at the thought that I'd always and forever be missing her, I encouraged myself to just get through the day. Every day I did this and, gradually, it got easier and easier to get through each day. Taking it one day at a time, especially right after the loss, was an essential tactic for staying positive even as my heart continued to ache.
The loss of Bella was an incredibly difficult situation for me to overcome. For others, this kind of loss might not be so devastating, but for me it was heartbreaking. It's taken me a long time to even hear her name and not start to tear up, but it's pretty amazing what a difference time, the right mindset, and a few choice actions can make. It's literally astounding to me that I've made it through writing this, reflecting on the year without her, without breaking down and crying. If you're going through a difficult time or suffering from a loss, I hope these words will inspire you. I hope they will remind you that it's possible—even in the darkest moments—to create your own light.