I was once given this visual during a cord cutting meditation.
Imagine you are holding a bunch of helium balloons, each balloon representing someone in your life you have difficulty letting go. One by one, focus on each person and then when you are ready, release the balloon from your hand and that person from your heart.
As I closed my eyes, people I had loved and lost swayed above me. I held their face in my mind and felt the irrational unwavering loyalty I still held for them, pierce my heart. My hands painfully gripped the strings of the balloons tight, unable to release them. Then when I finally did, hot panic rushed to my face and anxiety filled my chest.
I didn’t learn the proper lesson about letting go until I adopted my cat, Alice. The transition from the chaotic life I had been living to the calm one I was seeking was still underway. I went from an alcoholic household, to one toxic relationship to another, trauma bonding and igniting my codependent patterns and behaviours that were meticulously rooted within me.
I moved into a space where I could live alone and began to painfully sit with myself. Although feeling alone felt familiar, actually being alone felt foreign. No distractions, just me. Despite being alone, chaos seeped into my life disguised in many forms. Loneliness was the most difficult one to alleviate. It taunted me. Sitting in the depths of my chest it was a frequent visitor that triggered my need to soothe the void.
So, what do you do when you are lonely, single and avoiding the bad behaviour that once filled that void?
You get a cat.
I went shelter to shelter on the hunt for a feline friend. I didn’t really know what I was looking for, but let me tell you, my codependent heart was throbbing. Walls lined with cages and rooms overflowed with cats. It was overwhelming and heart breaking and I went home empty handed.
It was a Sunday in October when I got a call from a friend saying a blotched tabby had wandered into her yard calling for help after the latest snowfall. She was very small, less than one year old, with no collar or tattoo in her ear. Unable to keep her, my friend begged me to take her in.
How perfectly aligned, I thought.
I climbed four sets of stairs to my apartment door, holding down the lid of a cardboard box that this stray cat was eagerly trying to escape from. Once inside, I slowly opened the box and she quickly scurried underneath my couch. I told myself to be patient, but couldn’t help feeling awkward tension between us. I found a pillow and blanket and made her a little bed on top of my own. When she finally came out I picked up her tiny, frail body and placed her on her new bed. She was exhausted, but too hesitant to sleep. I lay in bed and watched her, as she stayed in an alert position struggling to keep her eyes open. She was a beautiful cat. Her fur was a kaleidoscope of black, grey, white, brown and orange. White fur outlined her green eyes and she had a soft pink nose. Her eyelids eventually grew heavy, and once she slept, so did I. After a few days of adjusting to each other she returned to my bed every night, sitting on her pillow. We slowly built trust with each other and it was the beginning of my first healthy
I named her Alice. She was sweet, gentle and social with all our visitors. As I was petting her one morning my hand lightly stroked her belly and despite her small frame her stomach felt swollen. All morning I was researching why this could be. She had been a stray, so the list of possibilities were endless. I skimmed over intestinal parasites, ringworms, constipation and pregnancy and quickly booked an appointment with the veterinarian.
“I think there will be about five kittens,” Dr. Nolan repeated, as I picked my jaw off the floor.
“Five? But she is so small,” I said in disbelief.
“There are at least 5 kittens inside that belly,” she said, amused with my reaction. “So, what will your decision be?”
“Decision?” I asked.
“Would you like to keep them? Or terminate them?” she asked in a serious tone.
Not realizing that was an option, I looked at Alice and her swollen belly and said, “We will be keeping them.”
There it was. Had chaos found its way back in my life? Alice and I headed home and began to prepare for our little family.
Watching the innate behaviour of a mother cat preparing for her babies was fascinating. Every night she would review the birthing stations I had set up for her with cardboard boxes and blankets. Alice began ripping up the cardboard boxes I had propped up to ensure she had a soft surface for delivery. Her stomach continued to expand and her nipples started to protrude. She began licking the hair away around her nipples to make them an easy target for the little ones to find. I was on edge hearing phantom sounds and distressed meows, knowing at any moment it could happen.
One morning I woke to a faint squeak! It was starting. I hurried carefully to my closet to see Alice cleaning her first kitten. I had never seen a newborn kitten before. It was wet and the size of a kiwi. Alice licked away the thin sac that surrounded the first kitten, then gently gnawed at the umbilical cord, while contractions and pushing began for the next kitten. She was mechanical and intuitive, effortlessly delivering each kitten. First a grey kitten, then an orange kitten, then a black kitten, until I started to lose count. Once each kitten was clean and free to aimlessly wiggle their immobile limbs, I was able to get a better look at them. Their eyes were closed shut, and their tails were only a centimetre long. They had innate instincts that guided them towards Alice’s chest, each one finding a free nipple and beginning to suckle their first meal. Three hours later and my closet was filled with 7 precious newborn kittens. Alice lay back exhausted but attentive as they all fed, and I sat in awe with what I just witnessed.
My prophecy had come true. Chaos had snuck back into my life like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. At first, my job was easy. Alice kept her babies in the closet and wasn’t comfortable with them being moved for about two weeks. She was attentive to every sound they made. Once their eyes were open and their instinct was to move, my apartment became their playground. One moment they were erratically playing with each other. The next moment they hunted Alice down to nurse, then lay intoxicated with bellies full of milk. All seven of them would bundle together in the middle of my living room floor taking up as much room as a dinner plate. Alice would sit perched above them with only moments to close her eyes before they were awake again and chaotically running about.
I now know that I didn’t really get to know Alice until after she cared for and raised her kittens. She came to me pregnant and I watched her sacrifice her body, attention, energy and love to her newborns. They ate and then she ate, she cleaned them and then she cleaned herself. She was meticulous in her duty as a mother. Once they were old enough to give away, though, she began to display astonishing behaviour that I watched with reverence. This was the lesson I desperately needed to learn from. I watched her care for and prioritize the needs of her kittens when it was necessary for her to do so, and then when that sense of urgency and dependence was gone, I watched her let go of the need to take care of them.
As we gave each kitten away I thought of the balloons swaying above me and my white knuckles that were determined to hang on to each balloon. Then, it hit me. The universe literally sent my fragile, weak, codependent, nurturing heart the cutest little creatures for the purpose of loving them and letting them go. This mother cat and her seven babies came into my life to remind me of my own very present wounds. My codependent heart still needed to heal. Alice was showing me how one can love and nurture deeply and when it was time, let go.
Now, did I learn my lesson? Not exactly. I have 4 cats now. When I thought I had approached a place of calm, seven kittens came into the world to remind me I had lots of work to still do. I say this with the utmost gratitude, it is all thanks to Alice.
Jessica Jones is a teacher living in the Manitoba prairies. For the past year she has been actively writing and sharing her experiences with co-dependency, alcoholism, and the impact it’s had on her and her relationships. Her interests include psychology, photography, and her brand-new podcast called Mulch. For more stories and articles by Jessica follow her on Instagram @from.mulch, listen to her podcast Mulch or visit her website frommulch.com.
Featured Image provided by Jessica Jones