I had a most unfortunate experience this week of coming home from work and finding my dog had ingested 15 times the amount of a medicine that was prescribed for an adult human. My dog is about 70 pounds so she’s a big girl but she still had a stay in the ICU for a few days. The evening I took her to the ER I was sitting in the waiting room going over and over in my mind the things around the house she could get into.
What if she opened the cupboards in the kitchen? Hmm, I’ll have to empty out all my lower kitchen cabinets. Or maybe I should get baby locks.
What if she gets the Clorox Wipes off the counter? Well, I just need to clean off my countertops totally.
What if she chews up a bottle of shampoo or soap or shaving cream or Listerine? Shoot, I’m going to have to get another set of cabinets for the bathroom.
And then I said to myself, “STOP.”
In reality, there was no way I could have guessed she would be able to reach onto the counter where that medication was kept. I could have kept the medication in the cabinet with the Tylenol, Motrin, etc. but there is a reason I keep it on the counter. The fact is there is no possible way we can remove all risk from the lives of our furry friends. Accidents happen.
I applied this thought to my life. Choosing to get out of bed is usually a very difficult decision when we are ill because of the predictability and ultimate safety of being ill. Choosing to stay in bed all day certainly has a way of seeming to remove much of the risk of life. We don’t feel well, no doubt, but we feel protected. Life isn’t going to seek us out in bed. We aren’t going to run into an old friend or wait in line at the grocery store or get into a car accident if we don’t leave the bed.
Getting out of bed suddenly opens us to experiencing life; experiencing all the things we avoid at all costs by choosing to stay in bed. A big skill in DBT is ‘opposite action,’ implying that if you feel like isolating in bed all day, get out and go to lunch or to the park.
It is, no doubt, difficult to think about all of the risks that we encounter every day. Maybe your job involves a high level of risk or maybe you have a difficult commute. Weather conditions can invite risk into life. Just talking to another human being can sometimes by risky. Truth is what gives our lives substance is being willing to step out of our comfort zone, out of our “bubble” so-to-speak, and experience life.
If you stayed in bed all day and chose to continue to live a life of illness, you could think that nothing unpredictable would ever happen. In reality, there could be a house fire, you could have a heart attack, or an intruder could enter the house. While the risk of those events may be small, it is certain that you would never experience excitement, joy, amazement, hope, confidence, and many other wonderful emotions that come from meeting life head-on, and that would be an absolute tragedy.
Just as I thought about the unreality of removing all risk from my dog’s life, I realized that I can’t remove all the risk from my life either. So I can choose to live life in bed or in the world. I choose the world and am mindful of doing things I need to do to minimize risks that exist. I wear my seatbelt and I cross the street at crosswalks, for example. Could I get hit by a car? Sure. I could. But I could also see happy people, hear the birds chirping, feel the sun, and smell the food wafting out of the cafes. Those experiences enrich my life. Placing myself out into the world offers me the opportunity to feel authentically hopeful and alive. Not to have that is the greatest risk of all.