Tips You Can Learn From Your Dog - For People With SUD and Their Families
1. Take better care of yourself.
The survival instincts of dogs are strong, while they need humans to do things they cannot, like refilling their water and providing dog food - they always make time for themselves. Often times, family members will spend so much time focusing on their addicted loved ones that they forget to set boundaries or make time for themselves. Dogs teach us that self-care is key to survival.
2. Live in the present.
Dogs literally live in the present. However, people tend to live in the past, present and future. Some people are held back by their past and unresolved trauma. Some try to self soothe to avoid feeling any pain in the present. Mindfulness of the moment can help you to realize that the past is in the past for a reason, and the present it the only time you have control over.
3. Learn to "let it go".
While they can be traumatized by abuse, a dog will usually not remember that time it chewed your favorite shoe and made you mad and they definitely don't harbor or carry around any secret shame about it, same goes to you - be the master of letting go, like your dog. Given all the turmoil they’re facing, families of addicted loved ones can become overwhelmed by negative emotions, but research shows that learning to let go of the smaller stuff and release negative thoughts can help you come back to difficult situations with fresh eyes.
4. Speak your mind.
Dogs bark relentlessly when someone disrespects their turf or they need your attention. Dogs will let you know their needs and they don’t politely decline to speak up just because other people don’t want to hear. If you’ve kept things bottled inside for fear of upsetting others, try to discover your voice and use your bark when needed.
5. Get Some Rest.
Dogs are master sleepers. They can sleep anywhere at anytime. When they know they need it, they sleep. Now, as humans this isn't as realistic, but you can bite off a little bit of advice from a dog meaning that when your body is telling you to slow down - SLOW DOWN. When was the last time you took a nap, or put your feet up and sipped tea? Living with addiction puts people on high alert and stresses their nervous system. Dogs are on high alert too, and they’re built to be alert to the smallest noise, but they rest in between. Practicing mindfulness can help you sleep and improve the quality of your rest, which can enhance your ability to cope.
6. Stop and smell the roses.
When a dog goes on a walk, they stop and smell literally everything. Again, this isn't a reality for a human, but it is a metaphor for enjoying the little things in life. How often do you stop and smell the aroma of coffee brewing in the morning or the scent of food before you eat it? Many of us, and especially families of addicts, spend a lot of time rushing from one moment to the next, dealing with one crisis after another. Compassion fatigue is a real thing when dealing with a loved one with an addiction. But if you blend moments to meditate, or just breathe, you can counteract some of the stress. Whenever things get overwhelming, go for a mindful walk with your dog. Look at the flowers and things around you. You may notice beauty despite the difficulties you’re facing and feel a greater connection to the world.
7. Find the good.
Dogs can be left alone all day and yes, they can get lonely. But the moment that door opens up and their owner is there they are jumping and yelping with joy. The tail wags and the long day is suddenly behind them. Sort of like life which is filled with every day challenges, life with an addicted family member can make it even more so. Embracing those moments that are joyful, and actively seeking out more of them every day - like a dog discovering a ball or a bone in the backyard - find the things that give you joy.
8. Love wholeheartedly.
It can be hard to love someone who has hurt you or brought destruction to your family. It can be even more difficult to love yourself. However, dogs do this unabashedly. They love and are loyal to us no matter what. They accept us for all our imperfections. If you can find it in your heart to love your addicted loved one without condition, recognizing that they are battling a disease, it will help your healing as well as theirs.
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