Thursday, November 3, 2011

Lashing out…

I wrote recently about my emerging interest in running, and the exciting day I finally learned “to pace myself.” Well, like most serious new pursuits, my growth as a runner has included negative moments too. And I want to share something today that inspired neither pride nor pleasant feelings!

It’s about my dog, since I bring Fawkes on most runs. Which is good theory: Exercise for me and the puppy, all in one fell swoop. I’m healthier; she’s happier, and so eats fewer sofa cushions. It’s become where now, when I reach for running shoes, her tail begins wagging mightily in anticipation.

But the downside of Fawkes-the-canine-running-partner is her great, big lack of self-control. Especially around squirrels. Like in the movie Up, when a squirrel enters view, my dog stops everything to focus all attention on that little beasty. But rather than simply stare, Fawkes runs after the squirrel, initiating an unsolicited game of chase. In our backyard, that’s cute and funny. Indeed, the one time she actually caught a squirrel, Fawkes was so surprised/confused, it wiggled out and ran away before Fawkes decided what to do. But when I’m running, with Fawkes on her leash, every squirrel she chases means another strong pull against my arm and shoulders. Thus, I must stop my regular stride and breathing, restrain her, tell her no, then tug her along.

Mostly, this behavior’s just a nuisance, one I hope to train away. But I’ve learned that the longer the run goes (i.e. the more tired we both get), the worse her attention span becomes. And…the worse I respond. I recognized this dynamic soon after we began running together. Early in runs, she’ll go for squirrels, and I’m like, “No big deal.” Later on, though, when I’m sweating hard and breathing heavy, I’ve found myself yelling at my dog, aggressively and angrily- No! Stop!- trying to intimidate her into obedience, or whatever. I’ve made scenes in the middle of the street even- awkward dog owner screaming at pet. Not that anyone’s ever watching, but still, we use positive reinforcement with her as much as possible, since dog trainers claim that’s most effective. But apparently, when I’m tired, my patience plummets, and at least in this instance, I act in ways I don’t approve.
As I said, I’m learning about myself though running, even lessons I’d prefer to need! But at least, since I identified the tendency, I’ve become less controlled by it. Now, when I’m tired and Fawkes tugs, I restrain both her and myself! But I haven’t eliminated the instinct entirely. It’s still present, alas, and waiting to lash out.

Have you ever felt something similar? Not to avoid blame, but I suspect this whole “reacting poorly when I’m tired” phenomenon isn’t unique to me. Consider parenting. Since this happened, I’ve thought, “God bless my parents!” For not acting ridiculous when I was bratty and they were super tired. Sure, I remember times when they’d snap or lash out irrationally. But they did so much less frequently than I suspect they felt the urge, given how often I pushed and how tiring life can be! And never in abusive or damaging ways. Or how about schoolteachers? I remember some who seemed arbitrary with their punishments or emotionally fragile, even though they faced similar circumstances as other, more effective teachers. Perhaps they simply hadn’t learned to cope well with fatigue.

Years ago, I heard a Martin Luther quote that basically said, “I pray one hour a day. When I’m busy, though, I can’t survive with less than two.” I always thought that goofy, but this experience has shifted my perspective. I wonder if Martin also became less kind or patient or focused when fatigue, stress and busy-ness threatened to overwhelm. I know prayer, especially when done ahead-of-time(!!), helps me moderate the exhaustion factor and endure difficult times. That’s true for running with my dog, but also work, relationships, paying bills- whatever threatens emotional tranquility. But the key, perhaps, is simply learning what triggers you to lash out, and committing to responding better when they’re set off. That helps me, at least. And Fawkes, I’m sure, is grateful.

Grace and Peace,

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