Somewhere along the way, my fearless, overconfident, full-of-herself German shepherd lost her confidence in going outside after dark. This has been going on for two weeks now. Since I got her eight years ago, she's been spending almost all of her days outside where she has a porch with a roof, tubs filled with water, a doghouse filled with straw, and a yard filled with interesting things to sniff and watch. Her favorite thing to do in the summer is snap up wasps and flies. I can tell it's been a good day when the porch floor is littered with the carcasses of yellow jackets. This is not a habit I discourage my dog from doing. She is free to destroy all the yellow jackets she wants.
Some days she sacks out full length on the porch and takes a nap. Other times she sits on the porch and watches the cars go by, or growls at the crazy neighbor across the street while he putters around, hollering at his dog and just generally making a nuisance of himself. She is free to glare at him and his customers all she wants. Being a tattoo artist he has started attracting gutter trash as far as the next town, including several ex-boyfriends, and I don't mind it if Tess wants to sit and glare across the street and make everyone nervous.
Tess and the outdoors are old friends. I consider her a house dog because she is in the house with me when I'm home and I keep her inside on days when the weather is particularly nasty, but for the most part she enjoys the outdoors. There is a lot more for her to do and see when she's outside rather than being bored in the house while I'm at work. Plus she absolutely adores her walks. As soon as I put my sneakers on she starts doing the doggy happy dance and she's content to be outside all day, running and sniffing.
So what's her deal lately with going outside after dark? In the past I would open the back door and she'd practically knock the screen out in her hurry to race out and down the steps of the porch to do her business. She's just an active dog anyway so everything she does requires rushing so as not to miss anything. These last couple of weeks I call her to go outside, usually around nine o'clock, and she'll race for the door until I open it. Then she stands there, head lowered ears back, peering around my legs like she thinks the bogeyman is waiting for her out in the yard. I encourage her to go out, she continues to stand there. On several occasions she actually turned tail and ran away.
At first I thought she was just being silly so I tossed her butt outside anyway and closed the door, expecting her to get over herself and go do her business.
Instead she crouched on the porch huddled against the door like something was out in the yard that might eat her if I didn't let her in as soon as possible.
I finally had to actually go outside with her, go down the stairs, and stand at the far end of the yard to show her that there was nothing scary in the yard.
Normally she follows me wherever I go. I stood on the far end of the yard; she crouched on the porch and stared at me with big eyes.
You have got to be kidding me, dog.
For three nights I had to go outside with her, stand at the far end of the yard, call her to come to me, and then stand there and wait for her to pee. Then the last couple of nights she went outside with no problem, even after dark, and ran down the porch steps to do her business just like the days of old. Apparently after witnessing me fling myself into the wild dark unknown and come back unscathed, she decided it was safe to attempt it on her own.
We have had no issues with this since.
I kind of feel like my dog in that respect. Somewhere along the way I lost my confidence. Confidence in my ability to do my job, confidence in my interactions with people, including dating, confidence in my writing. I've developed fear. Fear of the unknown. I stand at the edge of what used to be my life, when I used to know what to expect and be content with that, and stare into the darkness frozen with fear because I have absolutely no idea what's going to happen next. What will happen if I step out into that unknown darkness? It used to be a familiar darkness. We may not know exactly what will happen next every day of our lives, but most of us live a life where we can reasonably expect certain things to go a certain way. I no longer have that certainty or that expectation. What was once familiar is now the edge of a cliff and I'm afraid to step over it for fear of falling into something worse. The alternative is more terrifying - staying frozen in this place for the rest of my life, needing to move forward out into the dark abyss of my backyard but too paralyzed to do it. Tess doesn't want to go out by herself at night. She needs me to go out first, cross the yard, and stand at the far end to prove to her that everything is fine and it's safe to pee. I need a similar guide. I need someone to walk ahead of me and assure me that everything is going to be okay; to stand at the far end of the yard and encourage me to keep coming because there is nothing to be afraid of. We're all scared of something though. The crippling loneliness is what scares me. It's here in this place I am now if I remain frozen by the door, wishing I could move forward, and it's present should I choose to move forward into the unknown darkness because there is no one to go with me.
Will I lose my job due to economic downturn and budget cuts?
Will I publish my book and become a known author like I've always dreamed?
Will I ever find a kind, decent man to have a relationship with?
Will I recover from my issues, my depression, my anxiety?
What is my purpose in life?
Will I bridge the breaches between me and some friends - breaches I don't understand, breaches I wish never happened?
Will I be okay? And how can I know?
Tess is different in one respect, though. She trusts me and follows me blindly. She is okay now and has no more trouble going out to the yard in the dark. She had faith that I would lead her into safety even though she didn't know what might await us in the black abyss of my backyard after dark.
I do have someone like that myself. There is trust and there is belief. Now I just have to let go and have faith that He will lead me into safety just as I've led Tess. She trusted me and believed me and she is fine.
Why can't I do the same?
Once again my dog is a wiser role model, someone whose example is worth following. If she can find the courage to move forward, I should be able to do the same.