The dark colored spots on the entry rug caught my eye when I opened the back door. I first wondered if Kevin, my constant canine companion, had gotten into a discarded carton of blueberries in the trash, which he had never done. With a sinking feeling as Kevin came limping and whining toward me, I quickly realized that the droplets were blood. Behind him, destruction was everywhere, including an overturned living room lamp and broken and askew front window blinds. What in the world?

I stepped into the kitchen to get a wet paper towel for his bleeding paw and saw that items had been knocked off the counter, and the kitchen blinds above the sink were broken. Clearly, Kevin had hurled himself at every window trying to escape to find me. A quick look into other rooms showed chaos everywhere, including blood drops on every fabric and flat surface: the rugs and chairs and my bed and the kitchen counter and top of my desk and even in the shower. The blood’s source was a toenail broken off where the nail disappears into the paw along with other cuts on the foot – injuries presumably caused by a splintered blind. The shambles of the house matched Kevin’s rapid panting and the terrified look in his eyes.

The worst thing about the whole scene was that it was all my fault. I had made a huge tactical error by leaving Kevin in the house instead of securing him in his “safe space.” (I always emphasize the positive and don’t use the “crate” word while talking with him.) What I intended to be, at most, a forty-minute absence turned into seventy-five when the grocery store’s checkout machines locked up, and I was stuck with a conveyer belt and cart full of items and multiple other people in line behind me.

As a rescue dog, Kevin had experienced a lot of trauma in his earlier life, which set up intense separation anxiety after he bonded with safe people. When my quick return didn’t happen, this calm, loving dog – my “best guy ever” – had a canine version of a ferocious panic attack. He wasn’t destructive in the normal sense, like chewing up stuff or peeing in the house. He must have been TERRIFIED at being alone and gone berserk trying to get to me. He was out of his customary circumstance of being tucked into a secure space, and he panicked.

On my side, I was trying to be kind to Kevin with this experiment. He willingly enters the crate at the end of our safe-space routine, which apparently assures him that I’ll eventually return. But he also won’t nap in the crate, and he howls when I’m gone very long, which breaks my heart. I thought he’d like better being unconfined, especially since my training activities in preparation for hiking Kilimanjaro are keeping me away for hours at a time. That’s a big change because he always went with me daily to Bethesda and almost everywhere else. We were very rarely apart.

To work on Kevin’s ability to be comfortable alone outside the crate, I had left him unconfined in the house for 10–15 minutes a couple of times recently to see how he adjusted. He was fine, and I thought he’d be OK for this longer errand and would lounge on the couch or bed, which are his favorite places. Boy, was I WRONG!!

Instead, we both were traumatized by the escapade. When I first got home, I held Kevin for a long time to comfort him and staunch the bleeding, and I cried with his every whimper. It took hours to get the worst of the damage cleaned up that evening, plus a good portion of the next day to cycle all the throw rugs and linens through the wash. Over the next week, I had to untangle the window blinds that could be salvaged, purchase multiple sets of new ones, and pay someone to replace them. Worse, I’ve watched Kevin nurse his hurt paw that only recently seems to have lost its soreness.

The second I first realized what had happened with Kevin, I was struck by how the dramatic scene illustrated what I had felt most of my life. This destruction was the clear and tangible representation of my longtime desperate fear of being abandoned. Here was my historical interior landscape on stunning display.

I know what it’s like to be undone with the pain of abandonment and loneliness, and I suspect that many of you do, as well. I’m also very familiar with the destruction, including self-destruction, that kind of terror can prompt. Trauma is a powerful tornado that wreaks havoc internally and externally.

Anger toward Kevin never entered my mind, because I get how trauma’s landscape can quickly become turbulent. I felt only compassion for him and gratitude that he wasn’t hurt any worse. The annoyance was fully self-directed because Kevin depended on me to keep him safe, and I let him down. Oh, what a clear reminder about protective boundaries. Often, I look him in the eyes and tell him that I am so, SO sorry.

More importantly, the experience was also a clear visual of the power of a Loving Presence. I didn’t fuss at or punish Kevin; I held and comforted him. How much more does a loving God attend to our pain, even when – especially when – we have gotten into a huge mess of our own making, or we have been impacted by the unwise or even abusive behavior of others.

I’m beyond grateful that trauma and fear of abandonment very rarely rule my life these days. Recent years of deep personal work have led to choices no longer driven by fear, and the payoff has been immense healing. I’m no longer afraid of being alone. I know beyond any doubt that a  loving God is always with me, will meet my needs, and continually has my best interests at heart.

I don’t know if it’s possible to heal Kevin’s traumatic past enough to calm fully his fear of being alone, but I know it is, indeed, possible for me and it is possible for you. Seeing this dramatic picture of trauma played out in sweet Kevin’s terror gives me more compassion for myself and for others. It’s a reminder of the important shift that’s now informing trauma treatment: The question isn’t what’s wrong with you, but what happened to you?

Now, that’s a healing viewpoint for Kevin and for me and other traumatized animals and people and perhaps even for the world. What a gift.

Marnie C. Ferree