a close up of Arlo, the belgian malinois, standing on green grass, facing the camera with a relaxed happy face and open smiling mouth

The Maligator Challenge!

I’ve just spent a restless night not getting much sleep and being woken up every hour or so.

We have a dog who lives with my partner and last night said dog, Arlo, had a sleepover with me. My partner was taking a well-earned break away with some friends and I offered to look after Arlo for him. For anyone who knows about dogs, he’s a Belgian Malinois and requires A LOT of mental stimulation and training. They're know as "maligators" because of their powerful jaws and their drive to bite. They're not to be taken lightly and require experienced handling – I had to prepare myself mentally and had to get a “training plan” in place ready for a simple sleepover. Cute, fluffy and easy he is not!

He is crated in my bedroom overnight which works well – he settled down really quickly and we got to sleep no problem. But, I’m a really light sleeper and every time he made noises or shifted about, it woke me up. So, I didn’t have the best night’s sleep and I had to get up at 6.00am to take him out in the freezing rain for a short toilet walk.

Nothing with Arlo is easy… even getting ready to go out involves a mammoth amount of prep! I had to get togged up in the appropriate layers, remembering hat, gloves and head-torch. I had to measure out and take some of his daily food allowance in a food pouch around my waist. I had to get his attention before opening the door by doing some commands and getting eye contact with him. I had to get his lead on in exactly the right way and make sure his tracker and his collar light were on so I could see him. By about 6.20am, we were walking out the door, into the dark and the driving rain.

I’m lucky in that I live in the middle of nowhere and am surrounded by countryside, there wasn’t another soul about and so I could let him off-lead confidently to do his own thing. It felt kind of healthy and good to be out walking in the early morning cold, keeping half an eye on the flashing light in the distance that was Arlo’s collar. Despite the interrupted sleep and the early start I felt alive and refreshed.

It always strikes me that this is one of the gifts that sober living gives me. The ability to cope better with less sleep and the ability to manage early mornings and early morning commitments. Someone said recently in the Facebook Group that sober living has given them their mornings back and that’s exactly how I feel.

In my drinking days, I would not have coped well with the responsibility of looking after Arlo. His routine and the rules around it would have meant nothing to me once I was drunk (which I would’ve been). I wouldn’t have bothered crating him. I would have had some drunken idea about how lovely it would be to have him on the bed with me instead of in his crate. This would have undone all the good work my partner has been doing with his crate-training and night-time routine. After a broken night’s sleep, I would have been in no fit state to manage all the preparation needed to walk him first thing and to then spend 10-20 minutes every hour or so doing some intense training with him.

I know exactly how it would have gone… I would have struggled to get out of bed so I would have tried to carry on sleeping at the same time as feeling guilty that he needed his toilet walk and not being able to sleep. I would not have had the patience to get all the preparation done properly and the wherewithal to give him an enjoyable, interactive walk with lots of games and stimulation along the way so he would’ve been on-lead, it would have short and would have been a lot less fun. I would’ve tried to go back to bed and back to sleep afterwards but he wouldn’t have let me because he wouldn’t have been worked hard enough to be tired out. Both he and I would’ve ended up frustrated and miserable and I would have been counting the hours down for my partner coming to take him so I could go be miserable in bed and then try to recover.

Every now and then, I do something where I think, “I never could have done this when I was drinking” and I really appreciate those moments. So, walking along in the cold, dark, sleety rain this morning, watching a flashing light bobbing along in the darkness ahead of me was one of those moments. And, feeling confident, alive, present and happy while I was doing it too.

If you’re new to sober living (and, even if you’re not), it’s worth noticing those moments when you’re performing better, doing better, feeling better because you’re sober. It’s worth recognising them, reflecting on them and celebrating them. Anything you can do to raise your conscious awareness that living sober is bringing you all kinds of gifts that you wouldn’t have had if you were still drinking helps to keep you positive, motivated and strong. When you can recognise all the things you’d be missing out on if you were drinking, it ups your motivation to stay sober and helps you to stay strong in times of stress and challenge.

Sober living keeps on giving...What gifts has sober living brought you already today?


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