On the outside, Daniel was just another young man. But inside he was a very angry, hurt and frightened child. He couldn’t talk to anyone about his pain because in his experience, no one would listen. Instead he imitated the downward spiral of destruction he learned from his cold, broken family.
Daniel had been thrown out of school over and over, sometimes for a short while, sometimes for good. Over the years he’d tried rehab after rehab. Not only hadn’t he gotten clean, he’d managed to leave his last residence in handcuffs in the back of a police car. Daniel couldn’t hold onto a job for more than a month. He fought with his coworkers and was nasty to the bosses who’d given him a chance. He’d even crossed the one person who believed in him, his grandmother, when he stole money from her purse.
Daniel wouldn’t hear of therapy. He said it was just “words, words, words.” He didn’t trust words. Too many times they’d been only empty promises. He trusted no one, least of all himself. He hated himself, hated the way he’d become like his parents. And the more he hated himself, the more he did all the same things that had hurt him so much growing up.
Daniel knew his drinking and drug use was a serious problem. Every so often he’d try to get sober. But after only a few daysת just when he thought he saw the light at the end of the tunnel, he sabotaged himself and went on a degrading bender. Waking up in his own vomit, not knowing what he had done or for how long, only fueled Daniel’s rage at himself and the world.
Daniel was a smart man. His self-taught IT skills meant he had always been able to find a way to work and make a little money, but the time was fast approaching when he might not be able to hold it together long enough even for a short work stint. He was freelancing from his dirty, broken down, studio apartment. He had a girlfriend, or a sort of girlfriend, someone who was even more damaged than he was — an addict who was content to spend her days getting high and sleeping on the grimy, torn sofa-bed. Nicole made him feel good about himself because she was a bigger mess than he was. He felt good that he took care of her by buying her drugs and giving her a safe place to use them.
Daniel was starting to think about getting clean again when Nicole announced she was pregnant. Daniel walked out on her. He couldn’t take care of himself, and the broken illusion of his care for Nicole plunged him into the worst anger and depression of his life. A week-long binge ended when he beat a man in a bar so badly it was unclear if he would survive the beating. Daniel was back in jail and at the lowest point in his life. But he was still so unable to trust or believe in himself or anyone else that he told his court-appointed attorney he would rather go to prison than rehab. Daniel’s long-suffering grandmother offered to pay for his rehab, but he still stubbornly clung to his habits, not caring how much he punished himself.
On the night before his sentencing, he lay awake thinking about ways he could kill himself while in jail. In the morning, he scraped himself off the floor and agreed to go to rehab. A few days later, he entered Retorno Drug Rehab.
Daniel had no trouble making his lack of trust and his anger known. No matter how many times he was told, “We love you,” he couldn’t hear it, not inside, not in his heart. And then he started caring for the animals. He resisted at first. The absolute trust they place in their guardians was too much for him. Daniel didn’t know how to be trust or be trusted. And love? What was love?
But a funny thing happened. As Daniel had to attend to all the animals’ needs — feeding, grooming, cleaning their cages, and even playing with them — he began to slowly unfold. As he gave the animals the care and attention that he’d never received, he started to heal, a little at a time. He took his responsibility seriously, and the animals adored him. As they spoke to him in a language of love that wasn’t just “words, words, words,” Daniel began to use words for the first time to help him on the road to healing and sobriety.
Grishka, a very old cat, was his special friend. He kept her clean and groomed. He made sure she was kept warm to soothe her arthritis. Daniel, the angry, tough guy, cried for hours when Grishka passed away. For the first time he could remember since he was a child, he cried freely. He loved Grishka and she had loved him. Daniel really felt he had done something worthwhile in taking care of her. He felt like a decent person.
Daniel has been sober for five years now. He has a good job. He tracked down Nicole, and rescued her and his son. He is a single dad, a loving father, who spoils his son (and his three cats), wrapping him in love while setting limits. Daniel knows that sometimes you have to embrace the things you fear the most to heal. And sometimes you need help, support, and love — even if it starts with the love of a little old cat.