I wondered that this weekend as I leashed up Chico to take him to the vet. He loves going for walks, so he chattered away and walked in circles to tell me to hurry up with the leash when he realized I was taking him out. We scooted out the door before the other two realized what we were doing, and headed for the car.
As we ducked out the opening garage door, Chico turned around to look for his companions. Except they weren’t there. He turned around and started walking back. I tugged on his leash and opened up the back hatch. Chico looked back once more, saw that he was alone, and darted for the house.
It took some effort, but I finally pulled him over to the car and lifted him into the back. But he was not happy. He circled and whined. He panted and drooled. By the time we got to the vet, he had shed what looked like half his coat and had drooled so much there was a wet spot on the bed he sat on.
On the drive home, I was reflecting on what might have caused Chico such anxiety. He doesn’t love the vet, but this reaction was way beyond his usual going-to-the-vet stress response. So what might it be?
It dawned on me that perhaps the last time he had ridden in car by himself, he was leaving behind the home he had known for so many years and coming to ours. He had been uprooted from the home he knew and loved and left at a home he had to grow to love.
Could he have thought that I was not simply taking him to the vet, but instead taking him away from his home to a new family?
Was there something about that morning – the prospect of getting in a car by himself – that was familiar?
I’m not sure if Chico actually experienced déjà vu, but something caused him anxiety at the idea of taking a car ride alone. He wasn’t thinking about the four years of love we’ve shown to him. He wasn’t thinking about the walks we take or He wasn’t thinking about the belly rub and kisses and he got that morning. He was reacting to something instinctual from his past.
Sometimes I find myself responding like Chico. I step into a situation and anxiety overwhelms me. Sometimes I can identify the cause, but other times, there is just the vague sense that something feels familiar – and dangerous.
But like Chico, most of the time I’m wrong. Most of the time, I’m reacting to history instead of living my present reality.
How do we learn to let go of old fears? How do we reset those déjà vu reactions to ground ourselves in the present and let go of the fear of the past?
I can’t say that I’ve got the final answer. But I’m learning that praying helps. So does taking a moment when those feelings kick in to remember that I am never alone. And reminding myself that I have a choice in how I respond in those situations.
As for Chico, he was relieved to get home to his fur-siblings. He ran in the house and was greeted by two excited sisters. They sniffed and snorted and licked one another for about five minutes. Then they all decided a nap was in order.
Life is stressful. Keep calm and take a nap.