By Brenna Topham, RDN, LD
Nature Knows is a series exploring the natural tendencies of animals, and how to use these tendencies to better understand ourselves.
This week, I decided to foster some puppies. Life just isn’t busy enough I guess! They are estimated to be between 6-8 weeks old; they are very new to the world and are having many ‘firsts’ which is such a joy to watch. One of their many first was the daunting and evergoing STAIRS!
They were mostly kept upstairs, but by the second day they started getting really curious as to what was downstairs. So that means they must face the tall and scary steps!
So what did they do, sprint down immediately, take it one by one? Tumble down and hope for the best? First they had to figure out how to reach their paw over and down onto the next step. They reached and pulled back, looking somewhat frustrated at times.
Excuse my puppy voice! They were trying so hard!
In recovery, sometimes the first step takes a while.
It’s hard to do something you’ve never done before. You might stand at the top of the recovery stairs, looking down and feeling daunted by how many steps there are to the bottom. Maybe it’s a spiral staircase, and you have no idea what’s around the first turn. What if you get halfway down, and realize you want to come back up? What if you slip and fall? What if you get there and decide you don’t want to be at the bottom?
But what if you stay stuck.
What if you only live upstairs for the rest of your life. What would you be missing? What would you be safe from? Is it worth it?
First steps come first. You don’t know how easy or hard the other steps will be if you never take the first step.
The puppies practiced reaching their little legs down over and over. Sometimes they’d get frustrated and bark at me, asking to just be picked up and carried downstairs. Sometimes they’d run away from the stairs completely and return a few minutes later.
Finally, one of the puppies reached just far enough and makes it down the first step.
Andddd immediately stepped back up.
Once the first step is taken, you realize how real the stairs are. Even if you know you can take the steps, and have the ability to, it may seem like too much to do anymore steps. You’re still a long way from the bottom, and maybe you don’t have the strength to do and the steps at once.
When I wasn’t looking, suddenly the brown puppy appeared downstairs! She learned how to take the first step and took all the steps at once.
The brown puppy is no less deserving of going down the stairs than the second. They both tried hard to make it down the first step and struggled nonetheless. The brown puppy might have found herself at a place on the stairs that was easier. Maybe she wasn’t distracted and could focus on the stairs instead of the toys upstairs.
Recovery can be situation dependent and rely on your access to resources that effect recovery decisions.
It’s unreasonable to expect everyone to recover at the same rate, or when we say so. Everyone has to learn how they can get themselves down the recovery stairs.
Everyone is in a different “stage” of recovery. These stages are:
Precontemplation: you don’t see a need to change. This was when the puppies were first brought home and didn’t know that they had a way to go downstairs, or that downstairs even existed.
Contemplation: you see reasons to change and reasons to stay the same. You might wonder what it would be like on the other side. The puppies were in this stage as they began looking down the steps and barking at my dogs below.
Preparation: you begin to gather tools to help you change. You may begin therapy or nutrition counseling. This was when the puppies practiced stretching their arms to make it to the first step
Action: time to put your plan in place! You might go to a treatment center, start a meal plan, and use alternate coping skills. This was when the puppies took the first stair step and realized they could walk down the stairs. One even went down backwards!
Maintenance: Upkeeping your progress and continuing recovery oriented behaviors. The puppies must walk up and down everyday to continue building strength!
The black puppy needed lots of coaxing. He would sit at the top and bark for me to carry him. But, if I carried him every time he would never learn. That would be enabling his fear of the stairs. Instead I sat next to him and encouraged him to reach his paws out, and praised him when he placed his paws on the step below.
The black puppy realized he was too scared to go down head first and needed to get creative. He figured out how to scoot down bum first, and use his paws to hold on to the step above him so he could go down slowly and controlled.
They did it!!!
Everyone is capable of learning how to live in recovery.
The way you make it down the recovery steps might be for different reasons, a different way, and a different speed. You can do this! We believe in you. We are here to cheer you down the steps and pick you up if you fall!
Brenna Topham, RDN, LD
P.S. The brown puppy (named Saddle) and her siblings, and many more dogs, are available for adoption at K-9 Angels Rescue.