My beloved Peanut. My rescue beagle. My best friend. Fifteen years. My companion through the thick and thin of depression and addiction without judgment. She was gone. I had lost my only child.
As I tried to grasp my first real experience with the loss of unconditional love, I did what I do so often to help me heal. What many do when they lose their beloved pet, sibling, parent, best friend. What had come to be my solace and a means of advancing my recovery. To let out emotions that I often found difficult vocalizing but had to be release. The recovery art of expressive writing. I wrote Peanut a letter.
“My best friend of 14 years has crossed the Rainbow Bridge. We called her Peanut. She was a rescue dog. A beagle mix.
When my ex-wife Nikki suggested we get a dog all those years ago, I resisted. I had many excuses. Excuses that hid the truth about why I did not want a pet. When it came to being loved, I was completely closed off to anything or anyone who offered her love to me, including Nikki.
I did not love myself so how could anyone or anything, even a dog, love me? I was hiding from myself in the abyss of alcohol, drugs and bulimia for nearly half my life — since I was 19. Nikki knew none of these things. I was a master at hiding. However, she knew I had built a wall, preventing her from getting close to me. She hoped the unconditional love of a dog would tear that wall down.
Nikki took me to the “Rescue Weekend” at the local Pet Smart. She had already picked out the dog. She introduced me to Flower. Flower licked my face furiously as if she was trying to heal all of my pain at once with all of the love she could give me in that instant. When we got her home, we decided that the elongated body with brown splotches on her black coat made her look more like a Peanut than a flower. Thus, Peanut became part of my life.
Peanut did not save my marriage to Nikki . I was too closed off and afraid of being loved or loving someone else. Healing and allowing myself to be loved would take more time.
Then came April 7, 2007. A new girlfriend of about a year, Amanda. An alcohol and drug-induced blackout. Then came April 8, 2007. The start of my recovery. A journey that would keep me clean and sober and eating-disorder free to this day. A journey that Amanda would show her ability to love deeply and believe in me, forever standing by me. Today we are engaged.
A journey through which Peanut would always be at my side. I worked from home so there was rarely a moment when she was not sleeping next to me, on my lap, or licking my face as she did that day at Pet Smart.
As I moved forward in recovery, I would have actual conversations with Peanut, apologizing to her for not giving her the attention she gave back to me when I was drinking, drugging and purging. I would cry. I would grieve the little dog that had so much love to give but wasn’t getting back.
The recovery journey forced me to deal with Peanut’s declining health with unmasked feelings as the passing time took its toll on her. It was hard. The anticipatory grieving. The denial. But, no matter how bad she felt, she was always there when I came home. Always barking in disappointment when I left and she saw the “suitcase monster” come out when either Amanda or I had to travel.
As her health became worse, with Cushing’s and congestive heart failure, the lawyer in me knew Peanut’s time on earth with me was coming to an end. The heart that she opened up in me to express my feelings and love others did not want it ever to end.
As Peanut took her last breath, Amanda and I held her in her favorite blanket. I whispered to her over and over that I would see her again. Strange words coming from someone who never considered himself spiritual in either recovery or religion. I considered myself more agnostic than anything. However, in that moment, as I held my beloved Peanut during her final moments, I found myself in a divine foxhole. Was I just an “agnostic in a foxhole” or something more? I truly believe it was always there. The doubt of my belief and apathy. The wondering if there was something waiting for me. A flickering flame in a gas stove waiting for something to ignite it.
I continue to grieve my best friend. I know it will get better. I will always be grateful to Nikki for knowing what I needed to open my heart. I am forever grateful to my fiancee, Amanda as she stands by me, comforts me, even as she grieves herself. Amanda saw that part of me that Peanut opened up, even in my worst moments. I am also grateful beyond measure to my father, mother and brothers who are always there for me.
And, of course, I am grateful to Peanut. Thank you, sweet Peanut, for giving me the gift of unconditional love. You gave me the gift of allowing myself to be loved. You gave me the gift of faith. I now know there is something in the here-after for both of us.”
I will see you again. No doubt, you will lick my face furiously.
After Peanuts passing, I continued to struggle with the contradiction of my humanist bent and the overwhelming feeling that I would and will see Peanut again. She will in fact lick my face furiously. Does that same higher power who will bring us back together help keep me sober? I don’t know. I do know that in death, Peanut once again opened my heart to the possibility that can happen. For now, that’s my spirituality. That’s my faith. It’s a start. I also started attending my 12-step meetings more regularly. I met with my sponsor.
Did I need a “higher power” in a religious sense? No. I needed the connections. I needed to share my overwhelming grief in as many forums possible. I had to cry. I did cry. I cried with my sponsor. I cried within the group. Seven years earlier I had told my sponsor that losing Peanut would send me out of the room to alcohol and drugs. He told me that when I had better sobriety that would not be the case. I am not going to b.s. you. That afternoon as I pounded the kitchen counter in agony, screaming at the top of my lungs how sorry I was for putting her down, the thoughts crossed my mind. I knew what to do. I’m still sober.