Yesterday I got punched in the face. By a dog.
A dog with a concrete block for a head.
Much blood and a huge purple lip ensued.
The effect was fairly monstery.
I’ve befriended a couple of older dudes named Bruce and Bruce who live in the campervan park in the middle of rural nowhere, across the road from the beach near my house.
(Their name isn’t Bruce, though they do have the same name. And the same wide brim hats. And the same long grey beards.)
It’s a super quiet area, nothing going on. No shops or cafes within walking distance. Just a whole lot of sugarcane fields.
The Bruces sit in broken white plastic chairs on the beach every morning looking out to sea.
10am, beers in hand, ciggies in other hand, watching for whales.
One of them has a beautiful, big staffy rescue dog that I often see playing down on the beach.
Yesterday morning after my chilly sea swim, I got down on my knees on the sand and was patting the staffy’s head gently as I was chatting to the Bruces. The dog was so cute and seemed to be relishing the affection.
After a fair while stroking the staffy’s head, I stood up to head back to my car, and as I did the dog launched itself at my face.
It smashed into my lip with the full force of its concrete block of a head.
In hindsight, it may have also tried to bite my face, certainly the deep cut below my lip looks like it did.
I stood up in shock, unsure what exactly had just happened, my lip on fire, and the dog’s owner, Bruce, looking at me in horror, apologising profusely.
“She’s only used to hanging around us blokes” he said.
“Oh no, there’s blood dripping down your face” added the other Bruce as he rummaged in his pocket for a tissue.
There was too, a fair bit of it.
I looked down at the staffy. She was cowering just near me, looking at me as though unsure if she was about to get in trouble.
My first thought was “I wonder what happened to you.”
I told the Bruces not to worry. I knew I’d just stood up too fast and given her a fright.
I headed off, slightly dazed, a piece of paper towel held to my face, half of one lip now the size of 5 lips.
Nev had a few words with me about how I should be more careful making sudden movements around rescue dogs. God knows what kind of abuse that dog might have experienced before being rescued.
I’ve thought about that dog a lot since it happened, not least because every time I pass a mirror I catch sight of a dark purple lipped monster.
Even though I was in pain, part of me really wanted to give that dog another hug and make it feel ok again.
“You should never give that dog a hug” adds Neville sternly, and he’s probably right.
But I feel sad for the dog.
I know what it’s like to feel like that.
I’ve known what it’s like to feel joyful when people gave me affection. But fearful too, and jumpy.
I know what it’s like to have friends or family pull away suddenly when I didn’t expect it. I’ve felt confused, hurt, triggered. And I’ve snapped at them (in my head, certainly, and sometimes out loud, too).
I’ve hurt people too, when I didn’t mean to.
A few days previously, this video about Snappy, a rescue dog in Bali, made me cry so much that BGB had to stroke my head to calm me down.
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“That was me!” I wailed “I was Snappy!”
“So many people are Snappy! And no one realises, Snappys need love and understanding too!”
I sobbed a bit more, also while laughing at myself, and BGB kissed the top of my head and told me how much he loves me, even when I’m accidentally snappy.
Which thankfully, rarely happens these days. Largely thanks to the tools I now teach in the Bloody Good Life program, and a lot of somatic trauma work and therapy.
When we experience difficult experiences that we didn’t know how to integrate as children (trauma or otherwise), we form defensive strategies to protect ourselves.
Most of us have done this in some shape or form.
Some of us turn to alcohol, drugs, shopping, smoking, workaholism.
Some of us shut down our emotions and become cold and withdrawn.
Some of us become people pleasers. Or martyrs. Or overgivers with no boundaries.
Some of us become controlling, perfectionistic, rude, aggressive, or all of the above.
It’s easy to feel sorry for people who display some of these strategies.
But those of us who turn to numbing, shutting down, anger, snappiness, control freakery and perfectionism — it’s sometimes less easy to see the hurt underneath.
Much easier to judge and blame people for being controlling, arrogant, bossy, snappy or rude. And to snap back.
I’m not saying we need to condone anger or aggression, nor tolerate bad behaviour.
But when we meet people who are Snappy — even as we do what’s needed to do to keep ourselves safe —
Try to hold in mind that people are that way for a reason.
Only hurting people hurt people.
Snappy, cold people need our kindness and compassion just as much as that staffy.