Anyone who knows us is aware how stupidly besotted my wife and I are with our two dogs, Fred and Betty. I'd like to say I can't imagine life without them, but something happened a couple of days ago which means that is no longer true.
It was the end of their daily walk, and I let them through the gate out of the forest, expecting them to run to the car as they usually do. I was miles away in my head, busy with thoughts so important that I can't tell you what they were. I console myself that it wouldn't have made any difference to have been more present, but I can't be sure. Instead of heading right into the car park, Betty suddenly turned left, which leads to a road about fifty feet away. I wasn't immediately concerned, she comes back when I call...mostly, but it's not something she'd ever done. A treat awaits them in the car, and that usually trumps anything else.
"Betty, come!" That should have done it. Not a twitch from her. I can see from her posture that her nose has hijacked her and I no longer exist. Worse still, Fred is happily joining in the naughtiness, like a school boy bunking off. Things suddenly feel like they're happening quickly. I start to panic. I can hear a lorry approaching along the lane, although a hedge hides it. Obviously it hides her from it, too.
"Betty, come!" If something doesn't work, repeat it, but more loudly, right?" I'm frozen to the spot screaming at her. The lorry is louder, and she's nearly at the T-junction. I've always believed that, when push came to shove, if she didn't respond to a command, she'd respond to the emotional content of my voice, and my calls are now full of it. Panic, utter fear, growing despair. I can tell from the noise that the lorry and Betty are about to occupy the same bit of space.
My screams turn into "No!!!" Just that. No command. Certainly not one she understands. I'm screaming so hard it feels like I've pulled my larynx out and have thrown it at her. Fred is more responsive, and turns. Betty keeps going, not running away from me, just following a higher imperative.
"No!!!!!" I'm aware that in a split second my brain has taken the present situation and run a number of futures based on it. In a split second I've seen her dead. I've seen me taking her home. I've seen me telling Bex. I've seen the pain, and the grief to come, and that's only the scenarios my conscious has an awareness of. From the way my heart feels about to explode in my chest, my body has had the time to access many more of them. And all in a split second.
"No!!!!!!!!!" I'm aware what that word is about. It's denying that future. It's my attempt to push it back, to unmake it, to freeze it. Anything but this now. Betty keeps moving. The lorry keeps coming.
As sheer luck would have it, she ran into the centre of the road from the middle of the intersection rather than turning right onto the lane toward the lorry. That matter of a few feet gives the driver the chance to see her, and I hear him brake. She seems him, and dances out of the way too. I expel enough held breath to inflate a Zeppelin, and wave my thanks. Betty resumes the scent and runs down the road as if nothing has happened. I can hear another car coming the other way, so one nightmare ends, and is replaced by more possibilities. I sprint about eighty yards down the road behind her, accompanied by a very confused Fred now, who has come back so doesn't understand why I'm still calling 'come!' and continuing to run. The car is behind me, so I'm not worried about it. I keep to the centre of the road so it can't overtake me and get to Betty, and the road beyond her is clear. After what seems an age, her nose releases her from its slavery and returns her ears, and she turns and comes back, oblivious to my trembling, pukey, terrified state. I'm reminded of when my mum would smack me when I did something like fall out of a tree. I understand the anger that comes for that kind of fear, and restrain myself, pick her up and carry her back to the car, satisfying myself with beaming the full force of my incandescent rage at her. She looks back at me from the boot of the car, and I'd like to think she gets it. I'd like to.
By the time Bex gets home an hour later I've stopped shaking and my stomach has settled, but I still cry when I try to tell her. Obviously I'm in shock, because normally I'm very manly.
So, why am I telling you this?
I believe, to the core of my being, that every experience is a learning opportunity. And I couldn't let this one be an exception. Clearly, one bit of learning is that Betty will never, ever, leave a fenced place without being on a lead. The circle of trust has been broken. I've told her. She gave me an eyebrow. That girl has an attitude.
But that's not the learning, so I got to thinking.
If I look back for other occasions in my life when I've felt so helpless, so utterly incapable of influencing a situation, where I've surrendered to an imminent horror, none spring to mind. I'm sure if I persevered I could dredge a few up, but why burn happiness doing that? I'm fortunate to be able to count this as a major event. But, at the same time, there are occasions in my recent present when I've responded to a situation as if I was that helpless, as if the world, or another person, held all the cards and I was a passive recipient of fate. I see it in my clients all the time. I call it ELOC, or having an external locus of control. When we're ELOC we expect other people to behave toward us in a certain way in order for us to feel a certain way. If your partner is in a good mood, then you are. If your boss praises your work you feel your confidence grow. It leaves us being blown about by the winds of circumstance, needy for people or things to cling to in order to make us feel good about ourselves - which makes us prey in a society that surrounds us with promises that this car, or that perfume, those clothes or that person, will give us the feeling about ourselves that we feel we lack.
Its antidote is ILOC. An internal locus of control. It's the difference between "Something should be done" and "What can I do here?" It transforms you from a passive passenger on this sailing ship of a life, into its Captain. Choice is at its heart. In any situation we can choose our response, nobody else can impose it on us. Nobody and nothing can make you feel bad, worthless, stupid or unlovable without your permission. Some would even say that I could choose my response had Betty been run over. I don't disagree with them, I just know I'm not that good at ILOC yet, and not sure I want to be.
So the first learning I've taken from this is that such situations, where I am truly powerless as to the outcome, are vanishingly rare. I suspect they are for you too, when you think about it. So from today I have a new question to ask myself in my journey to ILOC Jedi Mastery when finding myself in a situation where I'm in danger of surrendering my power to choose my own fate:
"Is this a Betty moment?"
Anything less than those feelings can serve to remind me that it isn't, and I can choose to continue on as the master of my destiny.
The second learning was just a reminder really of something I already know, but a good story to illustrate it.
Two nights later I was lying awake at 2am, awoken by some thoughts I should have held at bay better. By coincidence Bex was awoken by a leg cramp. The advantage of a Cognitive Hypnotherapist husband is that I was able to talk her leg into relaxing in a few moments, but our conversation woke Fred who, ever the opportunist, asked politely from downstairs if they could join us. So we let them. Within minutes he's tucked into the curve of my stomach, and Betty is imitating a rucksack on Bex. I find it very calming to have a small dog fall asleep with you.
As we settled back down I had drifted back to the Betty moment, and sleep was eluding me as I replayed it and my heart started thumping again. Then I heard Betty snoring. She was clearly not so troubled. Two people (and I know, but I count Betty as people) can be in the same situation, but have a very different experience of it. Things are what you make them. Mainly.
It's always good to be reminded of that. Actually, no it's not. But you know what I mean.