What Happened When I Stopped Running

This past year has felt a bit surreal. As if the world was unplugged and we are collectively holding our breath, waiting for it to be plugged back in and spring to life like my laptop after a hard shut down.

Some writers I know have been absolutely unable to write. Their worlds disrupted understandably.

I was not one of those writers.

But for all the writing I’ve done, very little of it has been anything published or publishable. Instead, I’ve stayed still and listened to my soul, allowed my heart to release all that it had been holding close.

I stopped running, both literally and figuratively. The joy I used to find in my early morning jogs through our hollow dissipated and it became a chore I felt guilty if I neglected. So I gave myself permission to stop running.

Now I walk, usually with a dog on the end of a lead and a book on my earpods. Instead of heading out when the sun is barely up, I wait until the day has warmed.

I’ve found a new rhythm. Not rushed or frantic, but deliberate and present. It was time I slowed down.

Ever since May 25, 2019, I have been running from my own heart, dodging a pain I thought was too great to bear, unable to face a dark guilt that I was certain would strangle me. It took this a worldwide hard stop for me to stop running from the sadness that has colored my days since the loss of my dog Frankie.

The pain of not just losing him, but how I lost him and my own culpability in that loss was something I’d allowed to swamp my heart. I’ve gone through the motions of life, overcompensating to keep the illusion going that I’m fine, just fine. Yet inside I was ashamed and guilty and so, so achingly sad. It has been nearly two years, a normal person would have let go of some of that by now, after all, he was just a dog.

Instead of continuing to run, I’ve stopped and waded into the overwhelming emotions that suffocate me when I allow myself to remember or when I attempt to pick apart the why’s and the if only’s.

The truth is that I am a rescuer, but I could not rescue the dog of my heart. Instead I chose to protect my daughter and all the potential victims who could have followed. I know that was the right decision. I would make the same decision again. In a heartbeat. But that certainty does not comfort my heart that struggles with the guilt and shearing pain.

I think sometimes we qualify grief, and this year there has been much to grieve. Aside from the devastating loss of life, there have been a million other sorrows. Missed graduations, sports season, proms, and rituals left holes that will never quite be filled. The kids (and parents) who grieve those losses have a right to be sad. So many disappointments, missed opportunities, empty imitations, and nowhere-near-the-same virtual versions have colored our lives this past year and left our hearts riddled with grief even as we anticipate with joy the end of the pandemic that has taken so much. We can’t get that time back. We can’t recreate the memories we lost, the milestones ignored or honored with a paltry zoom event.

I think I’m not the only one who has been sad this year and maybe that knowledge gave me the courage to face up to my own sadness. Or maybe it was the forced stillness. I could no longer travel or keep busy or redirect my emotions. Instead, I sat with them. I felt them. I gave them legitimacy, and leaned into them hard.

And I wrote. And wrote. About sadness and guilt and regrets but also the joy that Frankie brought to my life.

I looked for the lessons and found so many. I connected the moments and realized that while there has been breath-taking pain and unanswerable questions, there have also been many good, even miraculous things that have happened because of that loss. Blessings have come from a tragedy that I wish with all of my being had never happened. Growth and connections and opportunities that never would have been if my path had stayed smooth and uninterrupted.

So I’m grateful. And I know I won’t go back to running—not in my sneakers and not from my emotions. This is me. Imperfect, scarred deep, but with an open, raw heart that I’m willing to expose in the hopes that it will help another hurting heart.

So I’m writing now, placing it all on the page, as painful as that is, in the hopes that it will lead me to a place of healing and of hope.

I hope you are writing, too. Finding words to celebrate and to honor, to memorialize and to understand what this past year has taught your own heart.

Hey, thanks for reading. I know you’ve got lots of options, so thanks for sharing a few of your minutes with me.



My latest novel, Blind Turn is a mother-daughter story of forgiveness in the aftermath of a fatal texting and driving accident. Learn more about it and find out how to get your copy here.

If you’re curious about what else I’m up to, check out my website, CaraWrites.com.

If you’d like to subscribe to my (sometimes) monthly e-newsletter, click here.

And If you’re a dog lover, check out my other blog, Another Good Dog. And if you want to know what is really happening in the animal shelters in this country, visit, Who Will Let the Dogs Out.

I’d love to connect with you on Facebook, twitter, or Instagram, and I’m thrilled to get email from readers (and writers), you can reach me at carasueachterberg@gmail.com.

My book, 100 Dogs & Counting: One Woman, Ten Thousand Miles, and a Journey Into the Heart of Shelters and Rescues was released July 2020 from Pegasus books and is available anywhere books are sold, but if you’d like some help finding it (or want to read some lovely reviews), click here.

Author: Cara Sue Achterberg

I am a writer, blogger, and dog rescuer. I live in the darling town of Woodstock, Virginia in the Shenandoah Valley with my husband and three rescue dogs (who rescue me on a daily basis). Find more information about my books, my dogs, and all my writing adventures at CaraWrites.com.

3 thoughts on “What Happened When I Stopped Running”

  1. My dog Molly (second dog, got as a puppy, a canine soul-mate), who was more to me than “just a dog” by a LOT had become an old dog. I was heading to Colorado and I knew that she — at 16 — couldn’t make the trip easily. A friend whom Molly knew offered to take her while I was gone. Molly went to my friend’s house the afternoon before I was going to leave. Within an hour she had put her head between two vertical boards and broke her neck trying to get out of my friend’s yard and home to me. I live with the fact that I should have taken my dog and adapted to her abilities. I can’t undo that. I made a decision I thought was good, but it wasn’t good and there WAS (for me) a better choice that I didn’t take. I underestimated Molly’s bond and in my own mind and heart a part of me will always be a monster. You didn’t do anything wrong with Frankie — a fact which doesn’t ameliorate your sadness but is nonetheless true. I don’t see that you have any reason to feel guilt, though remorse, sure, wishing things had gone differently. But, just as I can’t go back to 2002 and make a better choice you could not have changed or controlled Frankie’s reaction. It was his. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. thank you for sharing your story, Martha. I am learning to accept that we all do the best we can with what we know at the time. We make decisions from the best part of our hearts for our animals and that’s all we can do. Finding a way through the fall out is one more price we pay for loving these creatures the way we do.

      Liked by 1 person

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