My Rescue Dog Rescued Me From Opioid Addiction

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From trained therapy dogs to spoiled lap dogs, there’s no doubt our canine pals are amazing. And without the strength and love of my dog, I never could have overcome opioid addiction.

Some dogs play vital roles in assisted therapies, while others are tasked with jobs like searching for drugs, tracking the scent of a missing person, or alerting parents of a child’s oncoming seizure. More often than not, however, dogs serve as (wo)man’s best friend – loving us unconditionally and without an ounce of reservation.

I owe my life – and my sobriety – to Barley, a now 15-year-old Beagle/Schnauzer mix who renewed my belief in love, loyalty, and our possibilities. One look at his fuzzy little face and I melt.

Inseparable Friends

Like most wonderful things in life, I found Barley by chance. It was literally a case of being in the right place at the right time. I was minding my own business when this scruffy little 5-week-old puppy came bounding up to me…and I instantly fell in love.

I went door-to-door in search of anyone who might know his owner. When I finally tracked this person down, the poor living conditions shocked me. I clearly remember thinking, “No wonder Barley ran away from this place.”

I could feel tears welling up in my eyes and a quickly growing sense of anger stirring in my spirit. “I don’t care what it takes, there’s no way I’m leaving him here. I’m going to rescue this dog,” I said to myself.

In chatting with the “owner,” it was clear she didn’t care about this precious pup. She said I could “have the damn mutt” if I wanted him. Before she could get out another word, I scooped Barley up, quickly walked away, and never looked back.

Once we got in my car, Barley jumped over the console and into my lap. I looked down and told him, “We’re going home, okay?” He immediately turned his head to the side, stood up on his hind legs, and laid his face on my neck. He knew he was safe. He knew he’d been rescued.

I grew up around dogs my whole life, but Barley was special. He’s the first dog I owned as an adult and, since I lived on my own, I could keep him inside. This sweet rescue dog won my heart, and I never went anywhere without him. We were absolutely inseparable…at least until drugs took over my life.

Loving (and Neglecting) My Best Friend

Like many other people, I started taking prescription opioid painkillers to treat a legitimate injury. In just a few short months, I developed a severe dependency on Vicodin. I was in over my head and, deep down inside, I knew it.

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When you’re addicted to opioids, the bulk of your time is spent feeding that addiction. Every day, without fail, my only goal was to avoid withdrawal symptoms. I neglected my family, my friends, my job, my health – and my dog.

I often left Barley with my brother for two and three days at a time. Before I started abusing opioids, I would have been beside myself if I hadn’t seen my best buddy for a whole day, much less two or three. When I wasn’t dropping Barley off with family members, I was sleeping, working, or out looking for more pills.

I’d drive around with my poor dog in the passenger seat, riding shotgun while I was on a mission to find more drugs. And on these Vicodin-fueled trips, Barley would sit to my right, his head proudly stuck out the window, ears flapping in the wind, and nose working overtime to process scents in the air. He was so happy and content to be with me. But I was too sick to see it and too lost in addiction to care.

What an absolute waste of precious time.

Breaking My Opioid Addiction

My addiction to opioid painkillers spanned the better part of two years. And then one day, quite out of the blue, I decided it was time to get sober. I found an outpatient addiction treatment program that offered the specific therapies I needed, called them up, and made my first appointment. It’s the best decision I ever made for myself.

I took my recovery seriously and gave it everything I had to give. I understood that, if I didn’t break the shackles of my addiction, I’d never make it out alive. I honestly couldn’t bear the thought of relapsing.

After a few months went by, my body was rid of the drugs and the withdrawal sickness. Physically I felt wonderful; mentally I was a mess. I  just felt so lost and incredibly unsure of my place in the world.

No matter where I went, I was sure that everyone saw me and knew my dirty little secret. I was an addict in recovery, and I was scared out of my mind.

Why would anyone want to be my friend? How could I ever make up for all the pain I caused? Who would ever want to love someone like me?

And then the answer licked me in the face.

My dog, my Barley, never ever left my side. My precious dog loved me no matter what kind of disease I was fighting. Every day that I didn’t have the self-esteem or courage to show my face to the world, Barley could sense it. And he would bounce around, pawing and prodding me to take him outside. He’d take his wet nose and push me, quite literally, out of the bed.

Looking in his eyes, I knew exactly what he was trying to say:

“Look mom, I love you. I’m here for you. Now get your butt up, stop feeling sorry for yourself, and let’s go live this day to the fullest.”

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Embracing Life After Opioid Addiction

Believe it or not, after a few weeks of simply walking my dog and being present in the moment, my whole demeanor changed. And the miracle is that, once I began to go outside, soak up the sunshine, and breathe in the fresh air, I wanted more out of life – more out of myself.

It no longer satisfied me to hide in the house and punish myself for the mistakes of my past. I still had the support of family and real friends. I stopped worrying about things that didn’t matter. I let go of the fear and chose to embrace every day.

For too many years, I walked around believing I rescued Barley. The truth is he rescued me as much as I rescued him.

I am alive and sober today, and I owe it all to my best friend. My Barley.

Images courtesy of Pixabay and Nikki Seay

the Take-Away

From trained therapy dogs to spoiled lap dogs, there’s no doubt our canine pals are amazing. And without the strength and love of my dog, I never could have overcome opioid addiction. Some dogs play vital roles in assisted therapies, while others are tasked with jobs like searching for drugs, tracking the scent of a …