November 23, 2019

My personal CBT Toolkit

When Inkling died suddenly in March of this year, it made me realize how much of a load I had been carrying throughout the year, and how much I was leaning on my dog to provide a framework for balance and strength.

Inkling was gone, and during a week of bad news about The Huz's cancer, and the death of my father-in-law, it really destabilized me. There was a mix of guilt and shame. I felt lost, invisible and unable to cope. The edge of the cliff rushed up to me and beckoned.

At my husband's urging, I signed up for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Really it was like going to a class where I was the only student. My therapist was wonderful; she recognized the way I learned visually, and guided me at my own pace. She also told me I was already using some CBT in my thinking, which was super encouraging.

I'm not really qualified to explain in depth as to what CBT is, but I can share that it provided me with ways of thinking that I could practice whenever I encountered a trigger: to recognize it, analyse it and deal with it. And let's face it, life is full of triggers, right?

My personal CBT Trigger Island.

At the end of the therapy, which lasted about four months, my final assignment was to create a "tool kit". I drew a map of Trigger Island, a danger-scape with all the pitfalls and traps I might encounter in myself or others: you'll see the Quicksands of Grief, a flaming Passive Aggressive Snowman (hot and cold!), Fear of the Unknown Haunted House, a Forest of Depression and Isolation, and the Howling Winds of Change, to name a few. The edges of the map are possibly the most dangerous of all.

My personal Mindfulness Cards.

There's also a set of  Mindfulness Cards, and Power Cards. I use the mindfulness skills to help give me a chance to recognize, unpack and analyse things that happen or that I do. Power cards are things that I can actively do to move myself forward, and put things in perspective, either with my thoughts or my actions.

My personal Power Cards.

I created Green Flags and Red Flags, so that I could recognize when I'm doing well, and when I'm getting into trouble. Funnily, the Green Flags were harder to nail down, perhaps because we tend to take them for granted when life is humming along as it should.

My personal Green Flags and Red Flags - they have little pictograms on the backs but no way to show them here.

If CBT was offered in schools, I think more people would have the skills to cope better when life throws them a curve ball. More of us would understand why we feel what we feel, what others are going through, why they behave the ways they do, and how to counter or protect ourselves with assertiveness and respect.

Inkling is gone, and even though I have another dog now, I still miss him so much. Grief is interesting; it seems to steal your joy but it also gives you an opportunity to grow, and I'm grateful for that.

Love you guys,


March 30, 2019

My Inkling.

I’m grieving hard. I don’t want to forget. Writing it down helps.

Inkling the Newfoundland dog is in heaven, probably.
I'm not really religious, but he looks so darned cute with these wings.

I love dogs, and I’m especially fond of Newfoundland dogs. I’ve had other dogs before and mourned them at their passing. But Inkling was more than just my dog, he was a support system. I leaned on him because I'm susceptible to so many things including alcoholism, morbid intrusions, and depression. The attention Inkling demanded saved me from spiralling. His solid dependence was my strength. I raised him with the utmost care, using positive reinforcement and force-free training. We went for walks in the forest, and we had daily playtime. I fed him wonderful home-prepared food and treats. I taught him to do some amazing tricks – he was so clever. Inkling never had a punishment, a swat, or a leash jerk. He would not have understood it if I yelled at him. He trusted me. And when he showed signs of fear reactivity to strangers, barking and lunging at them, I rolled up my sleeves, educated myself, and did the work. I counter-conditioned and desensitized him to triggers like strangers, horses, car rides, and the vet. I muzzle-trained him – Inkling loved the muzzle! None of this was easy or quick, but we did it. Our bond deepened, and, over time, he calmed. Some might say I doted on him, but the focus on his needs kept me from veering off the road.

What happened to Inkling? Some yarn got tangled up in some bark and found its way into him. He had emergency surgery to remove the obstruction from his tummy. He didn’t make it. He was only three and a half.

I am plagued with “if only’s” and “what if’s”. I try to keep them at bay but the mind circles round and round, caught in a loop of repeating scenarios where the outcome is different, to make sense of the loss, to cope in some way. One of these scenarios is that, somehow, the yarn from my crochet clung to the back of my trousers and fell away in the garden without me knowing. Thinking this gave me some comfort. I mean, people tell you not to blame yourself, and in my head I know that dogs just eat stuff. But…I had worked so hard to keep him safe, nagging at my kids to pick up their socks, to not bring home gum with xylitol in it, to shut the toilet lid, to keep all the trash bins up out of dog-reach. I had trained Inkling to “drop” and to “leave it” in case we encountered a potential foreign body. In the end I wasn’t able to keep Inkling from ingesting 12 inches of yarn. I never even saw it go in him. I didn’t keep him safe and I will regret this forever.

Everywhere at home, I feel my Inkling. His leash and harness on the footstool; I stop and sniff them when I walk past. Opening the freezer in the laundry room, packed with containers of raw dinners, each one carefully weighed to precisely 2.2 lbs; giant freezer bags filled with home-made treats; tubs of Kong stuffing mixture; and some soft cooked food I prepared for when he would have returned home from the vet because I believed he would live. That freezer is filled with love.

The wooden stand for food and water bowls, the dog bed in my studio, the grooming table in the garage, and the slats of wood that cover up the gaps in the garden fence: my husband made all these things for Inkling. The toys carefully put away, the muzzle I trained him to love, the carpets I’d put down for traction at playtime, so many brushes, and the dog hair in that found its way into everything, including the cookie I’m now munching.

I will miss our quiet bond. The way I communicated my wishes to him, the way I could read him. The subtle nuance of hand gestures, tone of voice, and complex dog signals, the tension of impulse-control and the joy of the release command, together these things made my world good. In the last week of his life, spent in the Intensive Care Unit, Inkling was not triggered. The ICU team were gentle with him, and he allowed all the necessary medical interventions, and there were many, with nary a growl. They could even cuddle him. He was suffering a lot after the surgery but he did not have fear-based anxiety. He was a brave boy and a very good boy.

We were with him. I held Inkling's gigantic head in my hands when the vet gave him the dose, my face down on the floor close to his. I told him we were going to go outside and play. Just like a Newf, he began to snore.

I can’t believe he’s really gone.

March 28, 2019

Lost in Space

We like to believe that we keep our dogs on a leash, but the reality is that it is we who are tethered to them.

Inkling left us yesterday; he was only three and a half, but nonetheless a robust 160 lb Newfoundland with a deep and mighty WOOF! He was with me every minute that he was awake and I gave him all the time, care and love a dog could want. In return, he kept me focused, slobbered all over me and let me stroke his beautiful fur.

Rest in peace, Inkling. I am adrift without you.

March 15, 2019

Five Years Sober

Today, I acknowledge you, my pretty, clever, elephant. You are a part of me now.

I was at a "Port Tasting Party" last week and someone asked me if I'd tasted the Feist. When I explained that I wasn't drinking because I'm an alcoholic, the person was surprised that I could handle being at a party like that. I'm not immune to triggers; they do surface sometimes, but it's rare and they're so fleeting. Then came the questions and we slid effortlessly into a conversation about how I struggled in darkness before quitting drinking five years ago.

Isn't it funny how you have to step into the light to see your shadow?

March 6, 2019

My kids are superheroes.

I drew my kids as superheroes.

This was kind of a cool exercise, as an artist and as a mom; I had to really think about their characters, their individual strengths and gifts. I had fun with the poses and costume details.

Also, no one knows a superhero's back story like their mom.

If your kid was a superhero, what would their power be?

February 14, 2019

Love You Like

I wrote a poem for The Huz.

Happy Valentine's Day.